Many questions hang over the 2012 election. What will the unemployment rate be, and will it hurt Barack Obama’s prospects? How will Mitt Romney hold up in one-on-one debates? How will both candidates bridge the enthusiasm gaps in their parties’ bases? Who’ll control Congress? Will Scott Brown or Elizabeth Warren carry the day in Massachusetts? Here’s one Democrats are asking: Will new state actions requiring photo IDs for voters, purging voter rolls and restricting voter registration drives hurt their candidates? And here’s one almost no one wants to think about: Will the private companies who build and handle voting machines steal the election?
A few people are trying to sound the alarm. Computer experts warn that touch-screen and optical scan voting systems can be easily hacked. Journalists point to irregularities in past elections. Academics analyze voting tallies and exit polls. Activists probe the policies and the politics of the companies to which America has outsourced its elections. Here in Massachusetts, Mike Ferriter and Sally Castleman try to get the attention of elected officials, without much luck. They bring videos, expert studies and serious concerns that U.S. elections could be — and may have been — rigged, and get nothing but shrugs.
Conservative Republicans interested in making it harder to vote have money, media, think tanks and lobbyists pushing their solutions through Red State legislatures. The people pushing for an honest, transparent vote-count haven’t even been able to get an appointment with the Massachusetts Secretary of State. There are two questions to answer about the way we now count votes. The first: Can an election be fixed? The answer to that one is an easy yes. Optical scan vote-counters operate on instructions carried on memory cards. Change those instructions — so that Candidate A starts with an extra 50 votes, for instance, or that every 10th vote for Candidate B will be switched to Candidate A — and you can change the count from that machine. Those instructions can be programmed to disappear once the count is complete.