Hacks, lies and the vast right-wing e-voting conspiracy

This week's commentary on the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy is certainly dramatic. Hacks, lies and videotape, by blogger Brad Friedman (The Brad Blog, "A Leading Voice in America's Pro-Democracy Movement")  is sure to advance conspiracy theories and inflame emotions about electronic voting. Just don't look to this piece for unbiased opinion, rational discourse, or constructive dialog.

I would have liked to have seen a more balanced critique of the HBO documentary, its making and its subject matter. Instead the story comes off more as an endorsement of the author's own conspiracy theories and personal assumptions about the intentions of politicians and election officials in general and Diebold in particular. (For an entirely different take on the documentary, see 'Hacking' Doesn't Crack the Code in the Washington Post: "...'Hacking Democracy' doesn't actually show democracy's corruption. The documentary merely suggests the possibilities and tallies the suspicions, leaving viewers to come to the obvious conclusion.")

While Friedman's approach may make for good television and tabloid journalism, it's also destructive. It goes beyond debate or bringing to light problems to paint a black and white view of the parties involved as either freedom fighters or villains and scoundrels.

To the author's credit, he admits up front that he's biased, but then he immediately uses a quotation from the HBO film to discard his conspiracy theorist label and set himself up as the good guy, fighting to save our "crumbling democracy" from the corporate evil doers.  Passages like this one fall solidly in the Oliver Stone camp: "...I have come to find that there is nothing -- no scientific evidence, no scientist period, and no anecdotal evidence -- to even indicate that our public democracy has not been hijacked by small group of private, partisan industrialists ..."

I am not saying that voting systems and processes don't have problems. What I am saying is that this kind of dialog is not constructive and in fact makes matters worse by polarizing the debate about what the real underlying problems are and how to solve them.

Despite some fear mongering in the press over e-voting technology, there are some voices of reason. A recent Washington Post story, Conspiracy Theorists Inflame E-Voting Debate, took aim at the e-voting paranoia online. And Michael Duffy's Time Magazine story, Can Voting Machines Work? offers a more balanced assessment. After citing the many problems with e-voting systems and the deficient procedures and the people problems that surround them he concludes: "In a country of 300 million, it is far preferable for partisans, poll workers, defensive voting-machine manufacturers and voters to adjust to the new technologies, eliminate their weak spots and work to keep human errors to a minimum. In that way, voting by machine may someday be no more mysterious than making a visit to the ATM."

If only.

Thanks to Mitch Betts for contributing the Washington Post story links.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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