Sunday, November 5, 2006

A Look Back At Bush's "Rubber Stamp" Congress

Back in 2006, the working title of this article used to be “Election 2006: Could Diebold Save the GOP?” but as more and more evidence mounts in the aftermath, that’s actually become a rhetorical question. The new question was would they, as increasing substantiation and public opinion seemed to be favoring the forgone conclusion that they surely could.

2006 CNN polls showed that as many as seventy-one percent of Americans disapproved of the job the GOP-led Congress was doing. The overall feeling toward Congress appeared to be one of frustration with both houses being fixated with passing legislation imposing strict Taliban-style religious morals instead of addressing our country’s more pressing problems.

This was the political party that had repeatedly swept into office on campaign promises of shrinking the government and limiting its powers over us. Instead we found our representatives concentrating on subpoenaing comatose Terri Schiavo, repeated failed and fevered legislation against gay marriage, quietly giving President Bush a blanket pardon for war crimes he hadn’t committed yet(?), freedom fries, and an obsession bordering on fetish with flag burning.

More pressing issues such as illegal immigration, Social Security, affordable health care, and a vanishing middle class had all taken a back seat, or worse been only given lip service... and a 700-mile fence to protect thousands of miles of border with Mexico.

On campaign promises of balanced budgets, there were millions of dollars constantly added to legislation that had nothing to do with the projects they were intended for (pork), Alaskan bridges to nowhere and $20 million of an out of control federal budget had already been set aside by this Congress for the War in Iraq victory celebrations?

The voting public became more and more outraged with revelations of the NSA spying on people without warrants, and our phone and financial records being examined without regulation. That Congress had even succeeded in rewriting the War Powers Act and found a way to legislate around the Geneva Conventions.

States were so frustrated with this congress that they resorted to raising the minimum wage on their own, because the U.S. Congress wouldn't do it. Our national debt in the year 2000 was $20 Trillion. According to the Government Accountability Office and taking into account unfounded liabilities such as Medicare and Social Security, at the end of last fiscal year our national debt was at $43 trillion and climbing in 2006.

Even more telling were 2006 polls showing that more and more Americans across the country seemed less and less confident that their votes would be tabulated accurately by electronic voting machines. A CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation showed that two thirds of voters believed that computer hackers or people working for candidates would deliberately manipulate the election results. Despite whether human tampering would happen or not, there was a glaring and still unanswered question mark back then...

Despite the fact that they had the capability and motherboard port for them, why did the overwhelming evidence seem to be that the voting machines were intentionally purchased without printers?

Those on the defense maintained that it was intentional to keep the cost down on each machine by avoiding the expense of paper and maintenance of a printer. Those against the idea maintained that it was to prevent evidence of tampering.

Anyone with even passing experience with a home or business computer knew how easy a glitch in a software package could occur causing loss of valuable data. For that reason more and more people were beginning to wonder why so many states didn’t seemed to be concerned about the blatant impossibility of an independent audit should the system fail or worse, if it were intentionally tampered with.

Diebold voting machines use basically the same motherboards as their ATMs, so it would be a simple matter to attach a printer. Then each voter would be given an anonymous and unique ID number. As each ballot was cast, the printer would add it to a roll, and the voter could then check his number against the printed record on his way out the door. In the case of a recount it’d be right there for all to see.

More and more people were raising the question: Would you do business with a bank whose ATMs didn’t give paper receipts? I used to have a sign behind my desk that read “If it makes sense, it’s against company policy!” That seemed to also be the government’s policy back then.

E-voting machines caused frustrating delays, breakdowns, and controversy in Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, California, and Florida, among others. Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich of Maryland had even gone so far as to suggest scrapping his state’s machines after his state’s September 2005 primary debacle and went low-tech instead until the bugs could be worked out of their systems.

Just for the sake of argument I’ll skip the studies that were done by such prestigious places as Princeton University, Carnegie Mellon University, The U.S. Federal Election Assistance Commission, Johns Hopkins University’s Prof. Avi Rubin, and UC Berkeley.

Just for the sake of argument I’ll even skip state alerts concerning the ease of hacking these machines from Maryland, Iowa, and California.

Maryland voters of both parties saw the problems first-hand. They increasingly became outraged at spending $100 million on machines that crashed and had to be rebooted, and seemed designed to prevent independent audits. The manufacturers, instead of admitting there were problems, began blaming human errors such as forgetting to distribute materials necessary to run the machines and insufficient memory cards to count the votes.

With Diebold refusing to allow independent studies of their systems “for security reasons”, it was anyone’s guess what undiscovered problems still inhabited the machines. Compound that with only 27 out of 50 states having any kind of paper trail attached to their election results, and you see the problem.

What caused all this suspicion?

In 2004’s presidential election, Ohio’s poll results showed a close race, but one that exit polls showed Senator John Kerry was expected to win. In 2003 the head of Diebold blatantly declared at his Republican $1,000-a-plate fundraiser that it was his intent to ensure President George W. Bush Ohio’s electoral votes. CEO Walden O’Dell asked everyone at the dinner he was hosting to raise up to $10,000 each towards Ohio’s Republican Party. This chain of events should've also eventually benefited the Ohio Secretary of State’s (you know — the guy who was in charge of the Ohio election results) May 2006 Gubernatorial primary campaign. Fortunately for Ohio he was overwhelmingly defeated.

At the time Ohio’s Secretary of State Ken Blackwell owned shares of Diebold stock, a fact that he didn’t disclose until the last moment of financial disclosure two years later in April of 2006. In his position of power Mr. Blackwell recommended that Diebold not only be awarded the contract to tabulate the closely contested 2004 Ohio elections results, but certified Diebold as a vendor to provide Ohio with e-voting machines. A former Diebold Contractor named Pasquale Gallina donated $50,000 to Blackwell’s campaign.

Oh, did I mention that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell coincidentally was George Bush’s 2004 Presidential campaign co-chairman?

Mr. Blackwell’s stock was a side issue, because he didn’t have enough to really influence Diebold. What was the issue was that Mr. Blackwell had the power as Ohio Secretary of State to put millions of dollars directly into Diebold’s pockets. Mr. Blackwell did his part by providing only one or two voting machines in areas most likely to fall to John Kerry, causing long frustrating and discouraging lines, while providing as many as six or more machines in lightly populated rural areas where Bush had strong support and Church bus loads of voters.

Was it any wonder that true or not, people were skeptical about their votes being counted? Factor in how much the voting districts were gerrymandered by the Republican party in the previous twelve years, and it’s a wonder that the GOP were worried-though in Blackwell's case it was justified.

My home state of Ohio became a litmus test of whether tampering had been done. In the state that put Bush back into office in 2004, things weren't going so great for the Republicans. The GOP was trailing by double-digit numbers in some races across the state from governor to dog catcher.

“Sure bet” candidates were floundering to the point of the National Republican Party pulling money out of Ohio to help other candidates because they seemed to be a lost cause. Tabulations in the state in poll after poll were showing voters believing Ohio was on the wrong path by overwhelming percentages. They also showed Ohioans turning against the war in Iraq specifically and the direction the country was taking in general. As local factory after factory closed statewide and moved to foreign soil, and major businesses such as K-mart were up and vanishing, good paying jobs were being replaced by low paying employment.

Ohioans were raiding their bank accounts to pay the bills and watching their pension benefits being slashed by big business. With both federal and state legislatures refusing to raise the minimum wage, any rise in the median income was eaten up by health care insurance premiums spiraling upward. Also it hadn’t escaped notice that the price of gas at the pump had nearly doubled in six years. Ohio’s Republican Governor Taft pleaded guilty to corruption charges, Ohio’s Bob Ney, who was convicted and disgraced, refused to leave office. Ohio’s workman’s compensation program had been wracked by the “Coingate” scandal.

Republican Ken Blackwell’s once-strong campaign was faltering in the final hours along with Debra Pryce’s wavering support in favor of Mary Jo Kilroy after being linked to the Foley scandal. It used to be a no-brainer that Senator Mike De-Wine would be reelected, but he was trailing far behind Sherod Brown so badly, he’d been forced to literally campaign against his own party, who seemed to had given up on him. The negative campaign ads on both sides were finally getting so bad that no one was paying attention any more, and turned-off voters were basing their decisions on what they thought of George Bush, his war in Iraq and the non-performance of Congress in general.

An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll put national approval of Congress at the lowest it’d been since 1994, and we all know what happened then. Of those polled 52 percent said they would vote Democrat versus only 37 percent voting Republican. Given the wide margin that most Democrats then held on their lead going in to the November elections, if Republican candidates won in a matter of weeks, alarm bells would be going off nationwide.

Ironically, it was the Republicans crying foul after the elections... but no one seemed to feel sorry for them.

WARNING: Reproduction of this article is forbidden without the author's permission
© 2006-8 by Jet in Columbus

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