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Published on Friday, January 31, 2003 by CommonDreams.org "If You Want To
Win An Election, Just Control The Voting Machines" by Thom Hartmann  Maybe
Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel honestly won two US Senate elections. Maybe
it's true that the citizens of Georgia simply decided that incumbent
Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a wildly popular war veteran who lost three
limbs in Vietnam, was, as his successful Republican challenger suggested in
his campaign ads, too unpatriotic to remain in the Senate. Maybe George W.
Bush, Alabama's new Republican governor Bob Riley, and a small but
congressionally decisive handful of other long-shot Republican candidates
really did win those states where conventional wisdom and straw polls
them losing in the last few election cycles. Perhaps, after a half-century
of fine-tuning exit polling to such a science that it's now sometimes used
to verify how clean elections are in Third World countries, it really did
suddenly become inaccurate in the United States in the past six years and
just won't work here anymore. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the
sudden rise of inaccurate exit polls happened around the same time
corporate-programmed, computer-controlled, modem-capable voting machines
began recording and tabulating ballots. But if any of this is true, there's
not much of a paper trail from the voters' hand to prove it. You'd think in
an open democracy that the government - answerable to all its citizens
rather than a handful of corporate officers and stockholders - would
program, repair, and control the voting machines. You'd think the computers
that handle our cherished ballots would be open and their software and
programming available for public scrutiny. You'd think there would be a
paper trail of the vote, which could be followed and audited if a there was
evidence of voting fraud or if exit polls disagreed with computerized vote
counts. You'd be wrong. The respected Washington, DC publication The Hill
(www.thehill.com/news/012903/hagel.aspx) has confirmed that former
conservative radio talk-show host and now Republican U.S. Senator Chuck
Hagel was the head of, and continues to own part interest in, the company
that owns the company that installed, programmed, and largely ran the
machines that were used by most of the citizens of Nebraska. Back when
first ran there for the U.S. Senate in 1996, his company's
computer-controlled voting machines showed he'd won stunning upsets in both
the primaries and the general election. The Washington Post (1/13/1997)
Hagel's "Senate victory against an incumbent Democratic governor was the
major Republican upset in the November election." According to Bev Harris
www.blackboxvoting.com, Hagel won virtually every demographic group,
including many largely Black communities that had never before voted
Republican. Hagel was the first Republican in 24 years to win a Senate seat
in Nebraska. Six years later Hagel ran again, this time against Democrat
Charlie Matulka in 2002, and won in a landslide. As his hagel.senate.gov
website says, Hagel "was re-elected to his second term in the United States
Senate on November 5, 2002 with 83% of the vote. That represents the
political victory in the history of Nebraska." What Hagel's website fails
disclose is that about 80 percent of those votes were counted by
computer-controlled voting machines put in place by the company affiliated
with Hagel. Built by that company. Programmed by that company. "This is a
big story, bigger than Watergate ever was," said Hagel's Democratic
in the 2002 Senate race, Charlie Matulka
(www.lancastercountydemocrats.org/matulka.htm). "They say Hagel shocked the
world, but he didn't shock me." Is Matulka the sore loser the Hagel
paints him as, or is he democracy's proverbial canary in the mineshaft? In
Georgia, Democratic incumbent and war-hero Max Cleland was defeated by
Chambliss, who'd avoided service in Vietnam with a "medical deferment" but
ran his campaign on the theme that he was more patriotic than Cleland.
many in Georgia expected a big win by Cleland, the computerized voting
machines said that Chambliss had won. The BBC summed up Georgia voters'
reaction in a 6 November 2002 headline: "GEORGIA UPSET STUNS DEMOCRATS."
BBC echoed the confusion of many Georgia voters when they wrote, "Mr.
Cleland - an army veteran who lost three limbs in a grenade explosion
the Vietnam War - had long been considered 'untouchable' on questions of
defense and national security." Between them, Hagel and Chambliss'
sealed Republican control of the Senate. Odds are both won fair and square,
the American way, using huge piles of corporate money to carpet-bomb voters
with television advertising. But either the appearance or the possibility
impropriety in an election casts a shadow over American democracy. "The
right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other
rights are protected," wrote Thomas Paine over 200 years ago. "To take away
this right is to reduce a man to slavery.." That slavery, according to
Hagel's last opponent Charlie Matulka, is at our doorstep. "They can take
over our country without firing a shot," Matulka said, "just by taking over
our election systems." Taking over our election systems? Is that really
possible in the USA? Bev Harris of www.talion.com and
has looked into the situation in depth and thinks Matulka may be on to
something. The company tied to Hagel even threatened her with legal action
when she went public about his company having built the machines that
counted his landslide votes. (Her response was to put the law firm's threat
letter on her website and send a press release to 4000 editors, inviting
them to check it out.
"I suspect they're getting ready to do this all across all the states,"
Matulka said in a January 30, 2003 interview. "God help us if Bush gets his
touch screens all across the country," he added, "because they leave no
paper trail. These corporations are taking over America, and they just
have control of our voting machines." In the meantime, exit-polling
organizations have quietly gone out of business, and the news arms of the
huge multinational corporations that own our networks are suggesting the
days of exit polls are over. Virtually none were reported in 2002, creating
an odd and unsettling silence that caused unease for the many American
voters who had come to view exit polls as proof of the integrity of their
election systems. As all this comes to light, many citizens and even a few
politicians are wondering if it's a good idea for corporations to be so
involved in the guts of our voting systems. The whole idea of a democratic
republic was to create a common institution (the government itself) owned
its citizens, answerable to its citizens, and authorized to exist and
continue existing solely "by the consent of the governed." Prior to 1886 -
when, law schools incorrectly tell law students, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that corporations are "persons" with equal protection and other
rights" - it was illegal in most states for corporations to involve
themselves in politics at all, much less to service the core mechanism of
politics. And during the era of Teddy Roosevelt, who said, "There can be no
effective control of corporations while their political activity remains,"
numerous additional laws were passed to restrain corporations from
involvement in politics. Wisconsin, for example, had a law that explicitly
stated: "No corporation doing business in this state shall pay or
contribute, or offer consent or agree to pay or contribute, directly or
indirectly, any money, property, free service of its officers or employees
or thing of value to any political party, organization, committee or
individual for any political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of
influencing legislation of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy
of any person for nomination, appointment or election to any political
office." The penalty for violating that law was dissolution of the
corporation, and "any officer, employee, agent or attorney or other
representative of any corporation, acting for and in behalf of such
corporation" would be subject to "imprisonment in the state prison for a
period of not less than one nor more than five years" and a substantial
fine. However, the recent political trend has moved us in the opposite
direction, with governments answerable to "We, The People" turning over
administration of our commons to corporations answerable only to CEOs,
boards, and stockholders. The result is the enrichment of corporations and
the appearance that democracy in America has started to resemble its parody
in banana republics. But if America still is a democratic republic, then
The People still own our government. And the way our ownership and
management of our common government (and its assets) is asserted is through
the vote. On most levels, privatization is only a "small sin" against
democracy. Turning a nation's or community's water, septic, roadway,
prisons, airwaves, or health care commons over to private corporations has
so far demonstrably degraded the quality of life for average citizens and
enriched a few of the most powerful campaign contributors. But it hasn't
been the end of democracy (although some wonder about what the FCC is
preparing to do - but that's a separate story). Many citizens believe,
however, that turning the programming and maintenance of voting over to
private, for-profit corporations, answerable only to their owners,
and stockholders, puts democracy itself at peril. And, argues Charlie
Matulka, for a former officer of one of those corporations to then place
himself into an election without disclosing such an apparent conflict of
interest is to create a parody of democracy. Perhaps Matulka's been reading
too many conspiracy theory tracts. Or maybe he's on to something. We won't
know until a truly independent government agency looks into the matter.
Bev Harris and The Hill's Alexander Bolton pressed the Chief Counsel and
Director of the Senate Ethics Committee, the man responsible for ensuring
that FEC disclosures are complete, asking him why he'd not questioned
Hagel's 1995, 1996, and 2001 failures to disclose the details of his
ownership in the company that owned the voting machine company when he ran
for the Senate, the Director reportedly met with Hagel's office on Friday,
January 25, 2003 and Monday, January 27, 2003. After the second meeting, on
the afternoon of January 27th, the Director of the Senate Ethics Committee
resigned his job. Meanwhile, back in Nebraska, Charlie Matulka had
a hand count of the vote in the election he lost to Hagel. He just learned
his request was denied because, he said, Nebraska has a just-passed law
prohibits government-employee election workers from looking at the ballots,
even in a recount. The only machines permitted to count votes in Nebraska,
he said, are those made and programmed by the corporation formerly run by
Hagel. Matulka shared his news with me, then sighed loud and long on the
phone, as if he were watching his children's future evaporate. "If you want
to win the election," he finally said, "just control the machines." Thom
Hartmann is the author of "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate
Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights." www.unequalprotection.com This
article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for
in print, email, or web media so long as this credit is attached.

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