Patricia Nell Warren

Cans of Worms at the Polls

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | January 13, 2008 3:26 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, election fraud, primaries

Many of us know in our hearts that this Presidential election will be a series of procedural nightmares. Fatal weaknesses in our voting system will be exposed -- and exploited by some -- as never before. The potential for throwing the United States into deadly chaos is real, at a time when we desperately need positive direction and dynamic change. Yet problems with vote counting have already surfaced, though the major media haven't talked about it much.

In New Hampshire, percentages on the hand count and the Diebold machine count came up with a shocking spread, according to unofficial analyst counts. Electronic voting machines gave the win to Hillary, with 53.23% against Obama's 46.77%. But hand counting gave the win to Obama, with 52.53% against Clinton's 47.47%. Naturally the Clinton people claimed victory, even though it came from the controversial Diebold machines. A lengthy report can be found at Salon.

I'm amazed that the Obama campaign isn't claiming their own victory by the hand count, which is more reliable. So far, the only candidate who is proactive on the problem is Dennis Kucinich. He got only 2 percent of the vote, so there's nothing for him in an official recount. But he's demanding one for all candidates. His own campaign will have to pay for it.

Meanwhile, another can of worms is being opened in Nevada. Clinton supporters are trying to juggle precinct boundaries and keep the big hotel workers union from electing the number of DNC delegates that the union expects to have under current state law. The union, Culinary Local 226, endorsed Obama and now they're insisting that the precinct re-juggling is an attempt to disenfranchise them. The New York Times had a report on the situation this morning.

Ideally, an election should be "one person, one piece of paper with a mark on it." Voters should be confident that the piece of paper will be counted accurately, and stored somewhere safely so it can be re-counted later if there's a question. But that ain't the way it works today. Blue Americans who see the Diebold machines as a Trojan horse rolled through the gates of the election system by evil Reds trying to hold onto their power must face the fact that some Democrats will use the Diebold advantage too. "Win at all costs" seems to be where our national election ethics has gone.

There are some strange wrinkles in state law that affect the vote count in primaries. Most of us are not aware of them. In New Hampshire, for example, the CNN talking heads have mentioned in passing that you don't have to be a resident to vote in a NH primary. All you have to do is declare an "intention" to move to NH by general election day. I can see some candidate's team rolling busloads of warm bodies with "intentions" into New Hampshire to vote.

A few years ago, I re-visited Spain, right after that country went through a similar tumult of voters wanting "change." Unhappy about their government's support of the Iraq war, and slowness to move Spain into the EU, the Spanish voters turned out in record numbers and upset the apple cart of the incumbent conservative Populist Party. They gave 43 percent of the vote to Socialist leader Zapatero and made him prime minister. It was an election where fraud might have crept in because the stakes were so high. Historically, the last century and a half have seen terrible struggles between the Spanish right and left, that led to civil war in 1936-39. But this time the highly charged voting had gone off without any major hitches.

I asked my Spanish friends how their country avoided the kind of pathetic squabble over election results that the U.S. had in Florida. "We have a tight security on voter ID at the polls," they told me, "and we use paper ballots. We think you Americans are crazy to use the voting machines."

Copyright (c) 2008 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.

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On NH:

The vote count there came up with that spread because the hand counts and the vote counts were counting two different groups of people. Rural areas were more likely to go Obama, and they were also more likely to use hand-counting instead of machine counting. In fact, the Salon article you linked says so much, and even says that more densely populated areas that counted by hand went for Clinton in an even larger percentage:

Let me say that again: In large areas, Clinton did better in places where votes were counted by hand than where votes were counted by machine. Does that mean that it was Clinton who was robbed, in these places, by voting machines?

The town-by-town results also closely follow the Kerry/Dean split, which makes sense since Clinton was running on pretty much the same issues as Kerry did and had access to the DNC Massachusetts GOTV operation that he did.

You say that "the controversial Diebold machines" were used in New Hampshire, but they simply weren't. The machines used there were the Diebold AccuVote OS, not the Diebold AccuVote TS. The difference is that the OS is just a counter of paper ballots, the TS is the touch-screen machine of Maryland and Florida fame. The only time the OS has been hacked was in a laboratory setting at the U. of Connecticut.

The OS also requires that everyone use a paper ballot. I don't know if your Spanish friends know how the ballots are being counted in their country, but the people of NH all used paper ballots just like they do, except for a few handicapped people. It was just a machine that counted them, much like a Scantron machine that gets used to grade tests in schools.

In fact, the fact that NH used the OS instead of the TS is the only way that the recount that Kucinich is asking for is possible. If there wasn't a paper trail, then there'd be nothing to recount.

There also isn't much incentive for Clinton to have stolen this election. NH has a decentralized voting process - it's controlled by county instead of the state Dep't of State. For her to have hacked the system, she would have had to have had operatives working for her all over the state breaking into the machines (and none of them got caught, of course), for results that would easily be overturned with a recount. And all for what - to get a few more votes? Both she and Obama got 9 delegates - there weren't any "winners", so to speak. A recount, even if it follows the rural percentages, won't change that.

And she would have gone through all of that and risked tremendously hurting her reputation at a critical time for nothing? She was first in her class at Yale Law, I don't think she's that dumb.

The Salon article you link to even calls this a "conspiracy theory" and that "The charges don't hold water". Dana Houle said:

Many folks immediately suspect that any election results they found surprising—and whether they know enough about local and statewide voting patterns to be surprised is always a good question—are most easily explained by malfeasance by the Diebold corporation or exploitation of its machines. There are many problems for these folks who look for the most exotic (and maybe reassuring) explanation for an election result they don't like, but in this case, let's start out with a fairly basic one: voters in every town in New Hampshire cast their vote on a paper ballot, and in more than half of the towns in New Hampshire, the paper ballots are counted by hand.[...]

But ultimately, there's tremendous arrogance and/or ignorance at play when people assume that Hillary Clinton's victory in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary is or might be explained by election fraud. Has it not occurred to those people who know little or nothing about voting patterns in New Hampshire that the hundreds of staffers on the Obama and Edwards campaigns, who've immersed themselves in past voting data and models of expected vote turnouts for Tuesday, wouldn't these staffers have noticed discrepancies that might warrant a recount? If Tuesday's results really were the likely result of malfeasance, the Obama and Edwards campaigns would be raising holy hell. They would be seeking a recount, and investigation of the voting, and they would be doing it because they saw the irregularities in the vote results.

These are pretty large charges to raise against the folks who run elections in NH, the Clinton campaign, and, by extension, the Obama and Edwards campaigns (for not doing anything about it). And the facts just don't support election fraud.

And yeah, the K-man should have to pay for this. NH tax payers shouldn't have to pony up to satisfy his paranoia.


The situation there is quite different from the way you described.

First, this isn't about gerrymandering or lines between districts - this is about whether the at-large districts created on the strip for hotel, restaurant, and casino workers unfairly advantages those workers. It can't be about gerrymandering since gerrymandering is about the lines between districts - at-large districts' only lines are those between states. And it's not like anyone's disputing those.

You're wrong to say that "Clinton supporters" are at work here. It's the state's teachers' union that's suing. Whether they break for Obama, Clinton, or Edwards is another question entirely, but they are flatly a union that hasn't endorsed anyone. (Am I sensing an anti-Clinton bias here, first accusing her of stealing an election and then accusing her of gerrymandering?)

The Clinton/Obama dynamic comes from the fact that there are a few known Clinton supporters in the teacher's union, and they filed suit to get rid of the at-large districts right after the Culinary Union endorsed Obama. I honestly think that the NY Times was reading a bit too much into that, since the teachers' union does have a point - special districts were created for hotel, etc., workers and none for their workers who have to work at the same time, but that's besides the point. The Clinton/Obama dynamic is implied, and not as explicit as you make it seem.

The situation could also be explained by a rural/urban dynamic as well, since the teachers' union workers were spread throughout the state and they often work outside their district, the culinary workers' union's members are mostly in Vegas. In fact, the lawsuit is basically about how Las Vegas gets a disproportionately large amount of representation.

That's all in the article you linked.

Voter fraud~

Sure, it's possible that busloads of people (not getting into the class/race implications of that concept) were brought in to vote for Clinton. Has anyone seen these buses? I'd imagine that a fleet of buses would be rather hard to hide. Does anyone have records of her chartering a fleet of buses large enough to steal an election? I'd also imagine that it'd be rather expensive.

Well, no, but that wouldn't really stop people from accusing her of stealing the election.

This is rather interesting that this is being posted on an LGBT blog that originated in Indiana, since there's currently a Supreme Court case about Indiana's voter ID law. The law requires that people show a driver's license to vote or get a state ID. From NPR (an article that provides a pretty good summary of the case):

The Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union went to court seeking to block the law, noting that there is not a single recorded case of voter-impersonation fraud in Indiana's history. A federal appeals court acknowledged that the law poses a heavier burden on groups that tend to vote Democratic — minorities, the poor and the elderly. But, the court said, the burden is slight.

It's been pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, of course, because while there hasn't been a single known case of voter fraud in Indiana, the new law has disenfranchised many minority, poor, and elderly voters who can't meet the requirements of the new law.

While a tight voter ID law may work in a European country that has a longer history of state regulation of identification than the US (I don't know about Spain, but a cop in France can stop you anywhere, on the street, at work, on the train, and ask you for ID and you have to show it. I've been stopped before myself, mainly because I have a bad habit of going for long walks when I can't sleep), it's not going to prevent something like the Florida debacle of 2000. If a partisan election official stops a recount before it's had a chance to be completed, it doesn't matter if people presented ID or not. If a Supreme Court stops the recount on partisan lines, using paper ballots (which Floridians used in 2000) isn't going to change anything. And if there aren't enough ballots, machines, or booths for everyone (like in Ohio in 2004), there really isn't much that presenting a state ID can fix, other than, I suppose, to disenfranchise people and free up machines.

Alex, I'm not going to do a lengthy rebuttal to your very lengthy comment. You and I will have to agree to disagree.

The point of my post was actually to talk about the potential for voting problems throughout the campaign...and the Clinton team is certainly coming in for more criticism of their tactics in the last couple of weeks, even from other Democrats. This week David Mixner said in his current newsletter, "There has been a disturbing trend emerging from the anything-to-win Clinton campaign. At first, my tendency was not to write about it because I thought it might be one or two isolated incidents."

You have a right to your viewpoint, and I have a right to mine. In the Nevada situation, my opinion is based on the New York Times story I cited -- and subsequent Times stories and other media stories as well -- which specifically mention efforts by Clinton supporters to keep as many Culinary Local members as possible from voting.

Regarding the New Hampshire vote count, many blogs and media reports have shared my concerns. The voting machines, for instance. Quite a number of Americans do view ALL of these devices, whether voting machines or counting machines like the OS model you're defending, as vulnerable to manipulation and possible threats to voting accuracy. In my opinion, this makes all of them "controversial."

Re NH voter residence: as per a U.S. military website at, "The law has always been that a person acquires a new domicile by going to a place with the INTENT [my emphasis] to reside there permanently." I did not finger the Clinton campaign in this regard. But could SOMEBODY'S campaign figure out how to work that intent angle for more votes? Sure.

I think I've made my point.

MSNBC is trying to make the issue in NV part of the whole race debate too:

"Next up for the Democrats were precinct caucuses Saturday in Nevada. There, Clinton's supporters awaited a court ruling on a lawsuit seeking a last-minute change in rules they agreed to months ago. Their objective was to prevent several caucuses along the Las Vegas Strip, where thousands of Culinary Workers Union employees — many of them Hispanic or black — hold jobs. The rules were approved in March, when the former first lady was the overwhelming national front-runner in the race. But the union voted last week to endorse Obama, and the lawsuit followed.
Edwards is campaigning aggressively in both Nevada and South Carolina, and his aides circulated a memo during the day saying both his rivals were "deeply flawed." It said both Clinton and Obama might be unable to win the White House in November, and that Edwards, alone, was strong enough to fight the Republicans and corporate interests all the way to victory."

Similar to the New York Times article I think they're making too much of that...maybe reading into it. As Alex pointed out:

"the teachers' union does have a point - special districts were created for hotel, etc., workers and none for their workers who have to work at the same time, but that's besides the point. The Clinton/Obama dynamic is implied, and not as explicit as you [or MSNBC-- insert here is mine,] make it seem."

I'm actually more offended by some of the media presentation of these issues than I am by the candidates.

BTW-- the bolded part is mine (strictly for emphasis)