Sunday, April 09, 2006

Interview in Stop Smiling Magazine + E-Voting 2006 Crisis

A terrific student of Ron Shavers' and mine, Michael Moreci, chatted about books and art with me a few months ago in a Chicago cafe, and the result, "John Keene to the Genre Police: You've Just Been Made, My Sons," is up at Stop Smiling Magazine. Thanks, Michael, thanks to this past year's and the year before's English 392 classes (if any of you read the piece you'll see your imprints all over it), and thanks also to Ron!


There are many excellent, highly informative notices, essays and articles across the web on the problems with our voting systems. Here's a very recent one I found by John Gideon of VotersUnite.Org and VoteTrustUSA.Org, on The Brad Blog, which regularly reports on the disaster that we call our US voting system. Yes, it has always been problematic. Yes, the article is alarmist. Yes, we should take it as seriously as possible and be as active in our local communities as possible to ensure that uncertified, flawed or otherwise screwed up voting systems (from the striking of people from the voting rolls to the disenfranchisement of former convicted felons to undercounts and miscounts in areas with large numbers of poor and working-class voters to harassment, intimidation and electioneering, etc.) and machinery (easily hackable, non-robust, no paper trails, etc.) are not in place. There are have extensively documented problems with every major election since 2000, including the ones last year and earlier this year.

The Brad Blog: 'E-Voting 2006: the Approaching Train Wreck"

An excerpt:

Normally this space is taken with my ideas of what are the "Top 5" voting news stories for the week. Today I am going to use this space to talk about what I see as the beginning of a disaster in the making with our elections. This isn't the election fraud that some point to when they talk about the vendors and some elections officials. It's not about recounts or audits. This is a real, get your hands around it, happening problem that will disrupt our election process if we do not do something about it now. While we have been involved in all of our issues about Direct Recording Electronic (DRE or "touch-screen") voting machines or paper ballots the electronic voting machine vendors have been wreaking complete havoc across the country.

So far this year two states have conducted primary elections. In Texas there is at least one candidate who has stepped forward and has challenged the election because of anomalies in vote counts and known voting machine failures. One county's machines counted some votes up to 6 times which resulted in approximately 100,000 more votes being counted than were cast. Though the vendor, Hart Intercivic, initially blamed the problem on human error, they finally had to admit that it was a programming error and not poll workers or voters who had erred. In Illinois some county officials are threatening to withhold final payment of funds on contracts with Sequoia Voting Systems because of failures with their machines that ended with results in the primary not being known for over a week after the voters went to the polls. In both states the involved vendors were very successful in the media with deflecting the blame from their machines to "human errors" or "glitches". However, when you listen to people who were there and who saw and worked through the problems you get a very different picture...


  1. I forget--and I'm not sure why--your incredible grace. The interview brought it back.

  2. It was a wonderful interview. Your many mentions of Wilson Harris have create this paradoxically desire to simultaneously run out and get the book, and to stay far, far away because it's probably too damn hard for me anyway.

    As you talked about fiction and poetry being only linguisitic approximations of experience a writer hopes to make, I kept thinking that language for its own sake is very much a part of the project for you, for most writers, too, wouldn't you agree? From the sonic mellifuities, semantic precision, to the graphic display on the page; apart from, or in dialectic with, any attempts to render lived experience into language. Sorry. My two cents.

    Kai in NYC

  3. This is another quickly-developing story, from Investor's Business Daily.

    Hugo Wants Your Vote
    Posted 4/5/2006

    Elections: If 9-11 taught us anything, it was to be wary of asym- metrical threats from hostile entities no matter what size. We might just get ambushed again if the Venezuelan government ends up controlling our elections.

    Don't think it can't happen. A Venezuelan-linked company called Smartmatic has bought out a U.S. electronic voting device firm called Sequoia, which holds contracts for elections in Chicago and elsewhere.

    U.S. foreign investment bureaucrats aren't worried because no military secrets are involved. But that kind of thinking can blindside our democratic institutions as we look for threats to our hardware.

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the foremost meddler in foreign elections in the Western hemisphere and has been accused of secretly financing candidates in Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Mexico. Why wouldn't he be interested in influencing vote outcomes here?

    He's already trying to influence our politics through a congressional lobbying effort and a cheap fuel program for welfare recipients explicitly linked to congressional participation.

    These and other shenanigans signal interest in influencing perceptions in the U.S.

    There's plenty of domestic white noise about electronic machines to cloud the issue. But the problems Chavez could cause are in a different league.

    Even as regulators dismiss security threats, the performance of Smartmatic in Venezuela's own elections raises questions.

    For example, 82% of voters there sat out last December's Smartmatic-operational congressional race on shattered confidence in the system.

    The Smartmatic machines are capable of controlling the speed at which votes are transmitted, creating long lines to discourage voting. They can also instantaneously tally as results come in, giving favored sides information to manipulate turnout.

    Mathematicians accuse them of flipping results. And combined with fingerprint machines, they can match votes to voters, violating ballot secrecy.

    There may be no problem with Smartmatic working U.S. elections, but just wait for a close call and see how credible the result will be. With as many problems as U.S. elections have seen, the one thing it doesn't need is to import Venezuela's electoral wreckage.

  4. Keguro, thanks for the compliment.

    Kai, Harris's The Palace of the Peacock or some of his stories might be the Harris works to start with. He becomes increasingly dense through the books, so that the later works are considerably more difficult, but almost all of the themes and archetypes of the characters that interest him are in the earliest works.

    Anonymous, I thanks for the long post. Our voting problems long predate the presence of a Venezuelan company's machines over here. Were they involved in 2000 in the Florida debacle? Weren't most of the problems in Ohio related to domestic companies? We need to have a paper trail, transparent voting procedures, and uniform standards across the US.