Auctioning the Magna Carta

You may have read the Magna Carta (considered to be the forerunner of the US Constitution) was auctioned off yesterday in New York City for $21.3 million. Some might think it strange to sell off what some consider to be one of the most sacred and historic democratic documents in the world. Really? Our government (pieces of it anyway in terms of policies, resources, protection, etc.) is auctioned off every day to the highest bidder in the form of campaign donations/investments and promises by wealthy individuals and corporations to politicians and regulators of jobs/income/favors.

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Electronic Voting Machines Undermine Democracy

Electronic voting machines and voting machine corporations came under sharp criticism in a report issued last Friday by the Ohio Secretary of State. http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/info/EVEREST/00-SecretarysEVERESTExecutiveReport.pdf

Cuyahoga Country was singled out in the report as needing to scrap its Diebold corporation-manufactured machines prior to the March, 2008 elections. The county Board of Elections met on Monday to hear from the Secretary of State’s office, voting machine corporation representatives, and the public.

The real issue before the Board of Elections was the issue of authority – one of maintaining public authority to ensure that public officials and institutions are in complete control in the collection, counting and reporting of public votes during public elections in the democratic selection of public officials.

Voting machine technology is private. It’s trademarked. It’s private property.

Corporations manufacture the machines.
Corporations program the machines.
Corporations service the machines.
Corporations “trouble-shoot” any problems with the machines.
Corporations possess the proprietary “keys” to the machines.
Corporations have the bottom-line authority over the machines.
In short, vote counting has become privatized or, more specifically, corporatized.

In the Project EVEREST report issued last Friday, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner stated on page 73 under the General Conclusions and Background section, 3rd paragraph:

“It has been said that elections belong to the people. Excessive dependence on any voting machine company to operate the state’s elections, when that company’s voting system is subject to trade secret or propriety information claims, result in a loss of transparency that should exist to assure election officials and the public that a fair and accurate process has been implemented for democratic self-governance.”

Exactly.

She concludes that same paragraph by saying:

“The information available to the scientists who performed the assessments of this study is some of the most comprehensive information available to date for any such study. This was not accomplished without the assistance and cooperation of the voting machine companies whose equipment and software were studied”

This is precisely the problem – having to rely on or depend upon the assistance and cooperation of voting machine corporations.

This is not public. This is not democratic. This is the main problem. Public “oversight,” public “monitoring,” public “advising,” public “watchdogging,” or any other word to describe the passive and deferential role the public has under the current vote-counting framework is unacceptable. It’s undemocratic.

Issues of Touch Screen vs Optical Scan is akin to choosing between paper or plastic at the check-out line and calling it a real decision to save the environment – while SUVs and smoke stacks are destroying the Earth’s ozone. Obviously we need verified voting with a paper ballot but the choice as presented is a secondary concern.

The real issue is public authority. The real issue is whether or not the public, via Boards of Elections, can actually be in control of the voting machine technology, proprietary program “keys,” servicing and counting. In other words, can public entities be actively in charge rather than passively watching what’s going on. There’s a profound difference.

Public entities need to take over and totally control this technology. Public elections are too important to have private for-profit business corporations in charge. Vote counting needs to be open, transparent, and verifiable.

The real choice is not paper or plastic. It’s authority. Citizen authority or corporate authority.

Hopefully, all county Board of Elections across Ohio will be wise enough to make the right choice.