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CALIFORNIA SCHEMING

By Ernest Partridge 
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers

September 16, 2003

 

Early this morning (Monday) we learned that the notorious California Recall Election has been “put on hold” by a Federal Appeals Court. Unless the US Supreme Court finagles an expedited reversal (and we wouldn’t put it past them), this probably means that the election will be held in March.

The consensus of the media pundits is that this is good news for the Guv, and bad news for the GOP and their Austrian front-man. Current trends seem to indicate that the more my fellow Californians learn about this attempted putsch, the less they like it. Also, Ah-nold’s act appears to be ill-suited for an extended run, as more and more tidbits from his “colorful” past come to light. Moreover, a March recall will coincide with a Democratic primary, and that can only work to the Governor’s advantage.

So it looks like the attempted GOP coup might be terminated, and that Gray Davis will “be back.”

Here are some rather disconnected reflections on this political circus:


I

If the Supremes take the case, they will find themselves in a nifty and well-deserved trap. The argument for postponement – i.e., that two extant methods of balloting give “unequal protection” to the voters – sounds suspiciously like the Felonious Five’s grounds for the appointment of the Shrub in Bush v. Gore.  So if they want to devise a way to serve the GOP again by overturning the Appeals Court decision, they will contradict their justification for Bush v. Gore. But if they take Bush v. Gore as seriously as they expect us to, then they must support the postponement.

Of course, they can always quote that notorious escape clause in Bush v.Gore: “Our Consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”

But if they try that stunt, the Supremes will obliterate whatever credibility they might still retain.

And if they do, believe me, it will make my day!

II

The nerve of this case is the continuing use of “punch card ballots” by some 44% of the likely voters in California. These are reported to have an error rate of about 3%. The rest of the state uses the so-called “OpTech Ballot” which has an error rate of about 1%.

Having acquired a healthy (some would say “paranoid”) suspicion of new-fangled voting machines, I was, to say the least, concerned. (See our “Electoral Integrity” page, and my “Greatest Story Never Told”). You see, during my entire residency in California, my local polling place has used the punch-cards. But now I find in the Sample Ballot just received that we are to be blessed with the “OpTech Ballot,” with which I have had no previous encounter.

Not to worry!, I discover as I read the sample ballot. The method utilizes an individual paper ballot and a familiar technology known as a “pen.” The “hi-tech” is apparently involved in the subsequent scanning. In short, we have the “paper validation” that we opponents of “computer voting” insist upon. The Deibold Corp. is nowhere in sight.

So take note, folks. “Paper trail validation” is possible and apparently in place in California.
Insist on it in your respective states!

III

If some enterprising citizens cum lawyers (i.e., the ACLU) can successfully raise a ruckus here in California over punch-card ballots, then where are the law suits elsewhere about paperless computer balloting? 

There’s been beaucoup bitchin’ about these diabolical devices in the progressive internet, and the admirable Congressman Rush Holt (D. NJ) has proposed a worthy bill which, unfortunately, seems to be going nowhere.

But Where Oh Where are the lawyers!

Imagine a citizen, somewhere, sometime (and it had better be soon!), marching into a polling station and being told to “select” a candidate by touching a screen. Then imagine further the following conversation:

Citizen: “How do I know that my vote is being counted, and that this machine records the vote I intended?”

Poll Worker: “Oh, the machine takes care of that.”

Citizen: “But how can I be sure? Where is the independent validation?”

Poll Worker: “Its all in the software?”

Citizen: “But who checks the software?”

Poll Worker: “Oh, we can’t do that. The Software is “proprietary” – known only to the company that operates the machine.”

Citizen: “So company that supplies the machine can rig an election, and no one would ever know, for there is no independent check on the validity of the ballots?”

Poll Worker: “I guess its possible, but surely you can trust the company. After all, this is America.”

Citizen: “I want to call my lawyer!”

The corporate media won’t touch this issue, nor, apparently, will the Congress (many members of which, quite likely, owe their seats to paperless computer voting machines).

So if private citizens and groups like the ACLU can make federal case (apparently successfully) over punch card ballots, what is keeping them from making a case out of paperless computer balloting tallied by private and secret software?

Enquiring minds want to know!

IV

Ever since I first heard of this cockamamie two-stage recall ballot scheme, I’ve been wondering: who thought it up and, more significantly, what is its legal status?

For you non-Californians, here’s the scheme. Part I: Should the Governor be recalled (yes or no). Part II: If the Governor is recalled, select one of the following 135 to succeed him.

Two questions: (1) Was this scheme brought before the State Legislature and approved therein? If so, then that presumably settles it, and one is left only with additional proof of the goofiness of California politics. But (2) if this method is not stipulated by state law, then who took it upon themselves to impose this ballot on us citizens of California? And if they did, why then should the results of this election be binding?

Any lawyers out there with an answer? If so, let me know and I will publish it in a later edition of The Crisis Papers.

Unless, of course, said lawyer charges me for this service, in which case,
faggetaboutit.

V

Of all the arguments, pro and con, concerning the California recall, the most compelling, I believe, is that this election is part of a pattern of coordinated right-wing efforts unravel the fabric of our democracy. The people elect Bill Clinton, and immediately the “vast right-wing conspiracy” sets out to impeach him. Tens of thousands of Florida citizens (primarily black and poor) go to the polls only to find that they have been falsely disqualified through the connivance of a GOP Secretary of State and a private company that “purged” the voting rolls. A riot by “imported” GOP congressional staffers shuts down ballot counting in Miami-Dade County – a felonious act that goes unpunished. Ballot counting in Florida is halted by order of the Supreme Court which, in effect, appoints the President of the United States.

And now this: a mere ninety days after Gray Davis is re-elected Governor of California, a recall campaign is launched. 

Thanks to three judges on the Federal Appeals Court, the bum’s-rush has been halted, and we Californian’s have been afforded time for reflection and investigation.

Dare we hope that we’ve seen the high-water mark of the right-wing assault on our political institutions? Might California be the Waterloo of the “Regressives,” counter-revolution?

Looks like that’s up to us Californians.

Copyright 2003 by Ernest Partridge

 


Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications

Conscience of a Progressive:  A book in progress. 

Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".

 

 

Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances