By 2004, most voters in the US may well be voting by touch-screen systems, provided by a handful of companies, mainly private. Routine oversight of the counting process is effectively impossible. Even in the event of a court challenge, there is no sure way of telling that the votes have been allocated correctly. I asked a spokesman for Diebold, one of the largest firms involved, how a losing candidate would know they had lost. "Our machines undergo a battery of tests undertaken by independent testing associations for logic and accuracy," he said.
Fine - in theory the machines are perfect: we all have computers that never go wrong, don't we? Unfortunately, there appears to be nothing to stop to a corrupt company, a corrupt official or a corrupt (or merely incompetent) programmer subverting the democratic will.
There has, naturally, been zilch coverage of this issue in the mainstream American press - because the White House hasn't mentioned it. But conspiracy theorists on the web (see, for instance, ecotalk.org and bartcop.com) are hard at work. The Florida election was, of course, a shambles again in the 2002 midterm election, especially in the primaries. The conspiracists, however, are concentrating on two other states.
One is Georgia, where all the votes in 2002 were cast on Diebold screens. The sitting Democratic senator and (to general astonishment) governor were both defeated in the election. Nine of Diebold's 12 directors are listed as Republican donors. The other case is Nebraska, where more than 80% of the votes last November were counted on machines produced by the leader in the field: ES & S. Nebraska handily re-elected its Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, who just happens to be the company's former chief executive and remains a major shareholder. I do not remotely suggest either election was rigged, though Charlie Matulka, Hagel's beaten Democratic opponent, has protested in a manner somewhat unusual for a candidate who only got 15%. This is probably all just paranoia, but the Paranoid party has as much right to participate in elections as anyone else - and to know how and why they have lost.