Once again, I apologize for the lack of “freshening.” I was working on a short paper, but I didn’t want to post a “sorry, but I’m working on a short paper” message because every time content is freshened here, it “pings” the, um, “pingers” on other sites with links to this one. Then readers click through and are greeted with the equivalent of “sorry, nothing to see here!” So stuff just sits here getting stale and moldy until I can attend to it again. (But help, in the form of two able-minded colleagues, is on the way. Really.)

I’ve been trying to get my hands on the Christopher Hitchens article in the March Vanity Fair since I first heard about it a few weeks ago, and I finally found a copy today. Contrary to what at least one of my rightward-leaning friends believes (OK, I only have two rightward leaning friends), Hitchens does not strike me as a “liberal” journalist by any stretch of “media bias” imagination. The subheader on this article even finds it necessary to disclaim: “No conspiracy theorist, and no fan of John Kerry’s, the author nevertheless found the Ohio polling results hard to swallow…” There is not a lot of new information in it, if you’ve followed the Ohio story at all, but it is effectively assembled and discussed. It’s not available online, so I’m typing in some choice segments:

(from p. 216)But here are some of the non-wacko reasons to revisit the Ohio election.

First, the county-by-county and precinct-by-precinct discrepancies. In Butler County, for example, a Democrat running for the State Supreme Court chief justice received 61,559 votes. The Kerry-Edwards ticket drew about 5,000 fewer votes, at 56,243. This contrasts rather markedly with the behavior of the Republican electorate in that county, who cast about 40,000 fewer votes for their judicial nominee than they did for Bush and Cheney. (The latter pattern, with vote totals tapering down from the top of the ticket, is by far the more general-and probable-one nationwide and statewide.)
In Montgomery County, two precincts recorded a combined undervote of almost 6,000. This is to say that that many people waited to vote but, when their turn came, had no opinion on who should be president, voting only for lesser offices. In these two precincts alone, that number represents an undervote of 25 percent, in a county where undervoting averages out at just 2 percent. Democratic precincts had 75 percent more undervotes than Republican ones.

In Precinct 1B of Gahanna, in Franklin County, a computerized voting machine recorded a total of 4,258 votes for Bush and 260 votes for Kerry. In that precinct, however, there are only 800 registered voters, of whom 638 showed up. Once the “glitch” had been identified, the president had to be content with 3,893 fewer votes than the computer had awarded him.

In Miami County, a Saddam Hussein-type turnout was recorded in the Concord Southwest and Concord South precincts, which boasted 98.5 percent and 94.27 percent turnouts, respectively, both of them registering overwhelming majorities for Bush. Miami County also managed to report 19,000 additional votes for Bush after 100 percent of the precincts had reported on Election Day.

In Mahoning County, Washington Post reporters found that many people had been victims of “vote hopping,” which is to say that the voting machines highlighted a choice of one candidate after the voter hard recorded a preference for another. Some specialists in election software diagnose this as a “calibration issue.”

Machines are fallible and so are humans, and shit happens, to be sure, and no doubt many Ohio voters were able to record their choices promptly and without grotesque anomalies. But what strikes my eye is this: in practically every case where lines were too long or machines too few the foul-up was in a Democratic county or precinct, and in practically every case where machines produced impossible or improbably outcomes it was the challenger who suffered and the actual or potential Democratic voters who were shortchanged, discouraged, or held up to ridicule as chronic undervoters or as sudden converts to fringe-party losers.

He also discusses the suspicious “lock down” at the Warren County administration building, when Republican election administrators suddenly announced concerns about terrorist attacks – citing FBI reports which the FBI denies making – and blocked reporters from monitoring the vote count. And he declares:

(p. 218)Whichever way you shake it, or hold it to the light, there is something about the Ohio election that refuses to add up. The sheer number of irregularities compelled a formal recount, which was completed in late December and which came out much the same as the original one, with 176 fewer votes for George Bush. But this was a meaningless exercise in reassurance, since there is simply no means of checking, for example, how many “vote hopes” the computerized machines might have performed unnoticed.

To those who say that a vote tampering enterprise of this magnitude would require “a dangerously large number of people,” Hitchens says he spent time with an anonymous expert involved in the manufacture of voting machines, who did not happen to believe that tampering took place, but who assured him that it could be done by a very, very few people:

This is because of the small number of firms engaged in the manufacturing and the even smaller number of people, subject as they are to the hiring practices of these firms, who understand the technology. “Machines were put in place with no sampling to make sure they were ‘in control’ and no comparison studies,” she explained. “The code of the machines is not public knowledge, and none of these machines has since been impounded.” In these circumstances, she said, it’s possible to manipulate both the count and the proportion of votes…The Ohio courts are currently refusing all motions to put the state’s voting machines, punchcard or touchscreen, in the public domain. It’s not clear to me, or to anyone else, who is tending the machines meanwhile…

Hitchens concludes his story:

The Federal Election Commission, which has been a risible body for far too long, ought to make Ohio its business. The Diebold company, which also manufactures ATMS, should not receive another dime until it can produce a voting system that is similarly reliable. And Americans should cease to be treated like serfs or extras when they present themselves to exercise their franchise.

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