Rightwing, partisan, conspiracy theorists* and bloggers (and, perhaps, sore-losers*) such as Powerline's John Hinderaker have suddenly found religion when it come to the integrity of elections. At least now that it looks like MN's Sen. Norm Coleman (R) may be in trouble in his razor-thin re-election contest against challenger Al Franken (D).
At last check, there were just 221 votes between the two candidates, with automatic hand recount triggered and scheduled to begin November 19th.
The only thing that's particularly clear from Hinderaker's desperate and ill-composed screed over at his Republicanist blog, is that he has no clue what he's talking about. Being the generous fellow that I am, however, and more interested in helping to assure the person who actually received the most votes gets to be the winner of the election than I am in any particular candidate "winning" it, allow me to help him with a few of his misconceptions about the U.S. Senate race in MN, and about elections in general...
You'll have to make sense of his scribblings yourself, in general, as they seem more intended to inject partisanship and distrust into the race than anything else. But as "trust" in election officials or elections in general should never be required for citizen confidence in election results, I'll try to clarify a few points of confusion for the poor man.
The Myth of 'Secure Phone Lines'
First, his assertion that results from the flawed, error-prone and hackable optical-scan systems used across the state of MN to tabulate ballots have their "totals...uploaded electronically, via a secure phone line connected to the box, to the county where the precinct is located" is just silly.
What "secure phone line" has he been deluded into thinking exists? Or could even be afforded by all of these small precincts scattered around the state? Does he think the Dept. of Defense is now running elections in Anoka County, Minnesota?
If MN uploads totals via the Internet for "snap-tallies" to give quickly to the media on Election Night, that's a shame, since numbers can be easily tampered with during that telephonic transaction. That's why states like OH have banned such Internet transmission of results. Whether they do it in MN or no, I believe I can assure Hinderaker that there is no such "secure phone line" available to election officials to transmit Election Night results. So his faith in such technology (versus human beings, who he doesn't seem to trust) is misplaced.
Conspiratorial 'Democrats Fraudulently Adding New Paper Ballots'
Second, as reported totals have fluctuated over the last several days since the election, as precincts have been canvassed and vote totals and memory cards checked and double-checked, etc., the numbers have gone up for Coleman at times, and up for Franken at times. Where a margin favoring Coleman by some 700 votes out of appx. 3 million ballots cast existed on Election Night (that's not a "725-vote win" as Hinderaker misleadingly characterized it) has now shrunk to just over 200 votes total in favor of Coleman.
So Hinderaker asks this series of questions, some legit, some not, some misinformed, but all of them underscoring the need for transparency in our election process, and how much we've lost since officials --- including Republicans like Hinderaker who still seem to love electronic systems --- began entrusting our vote-counting to private companies and their flawed, untested, difficult-if-not-impossible to oversee, electronic systems using entirely secret software...
Many of those questions are good ones, but it's a shame Hinderaker felt necessary to present them as the basis for a conspiracy theory*, suggesting Democrats are trying to steal the election, rather than contacting officials and/or filing public records requests in hopes of answering those questions on his own, on behalf of his tin-foil hatted* readers.
It's unfortunate that he's such an unapologetic, divisive partisan (of the type soundly rejected by a mandate of the electorate last Tuesday) that he would ask: "What assurances are in place to prevent Democrats from fraudulently adding new paper ballots?"
Does he similarly care what assurances are in place to prevent Republicans from fraudulently adding new paper ballots? I do. I don't want anybody to cheat. Can the same be said for John Hinderaker? Or is winning at any cost all that he cares about?
But here's just one way he can begin to find out answers to all of those questions, if he really cares. He can make public records requests, in every MN county, for the invoices and receipts for the ballots as they were printed by the printing company. He can ask for an accounting of voted, spoiled and unvoted ballots and he can reconcile them against the numbers of ballots that were printed, and the numbers of voters who signed into the poll books on Election Day. The number of voted, spoiled and unvoted ballots, in each county, should be exactly equal to the number of ballots printed by the county, as demonstrated by their receipts from the printing company.
I hope that helps, John. BTW, the same needs to be done up in Alaska. But more on that mess --- much more --- soon...
Whacko Use of the 'F-Word'
In an UPDATE to his item, Hinderaker describes what he believes is "Hot off the presses, the first apparent evidence of fraud."
He points to an increase by 100 votes in a precinct in Mt. Iron, an area of St. Louis County, MN. The poll-tapes which offer the evidence that votes were mistallied by the county when they were originally phoned in are apparently dated "11/02/2008", two days prior to the election. Officials explain that the clock on one of the op-scan machines was set incorrectly, and that the "Logic and Accuracy" tests performed on that machine prior to the election also has a misstated date in the bargain.
That is not the "first apparent evidence of fraud." That is reason to ask questions and demand answers and transparency. Is it "evidence of fraud"? I suppose if you were desperate to make a prima facie case for concerns, one could, even if the explanation given by officials does make some sense, and there seems more evidence of administrative error and lousy voting equipment than "fraud". But if Hinderaker is going to use the "f-word" here, one wonders why he hasn't bothered to use it before, say, in Ohio 2004, or in any of the other myriad of elections before and since in which signs of actual fraud were both enormous and still-inexplicable (eg. See the mess in all races in Alaska tonight, or Al Gore, back in Volusia County, FL in 2000, receiving -16,022 votes on a Diebold tabulator --- that's negative 16,022 votes and it's never been explained by anyone to this day. Happy to offer a dozen more, completely unmentioned on PowerLine, if Mr. Hinderaker would like.)
The Non-Existant 'Universal Optical Scan Systems'
As to Hinderaker's stated faith in a "nearly universal" "optical scan system", whatever that means, as he refers several times in his piece, his love for electronics is dangerously and naively misplaced. Since he's suddenly concerned with election integrity, I'll suggest he click here to read a bit about the highly flawed and error-prone op-scan systems and computer tabulators used in Minnesota. He can learn a bit, quick like, both about the ones made by Diebold (which Diebold recently admitted drop thousands of votes without notice when they're uploaded to the central server) and the ones made by ES&S (on which "The same ballots run through the same machines yielded different results each time" such that they "reported inconsistent vote totals" during pre-election tests in Michigan just before last week's general election.)
I'll further hope Hinderaker will join me, and the rest of patriotic citizens of this nation who actually care about free, fair, accurate, verifiable and transparent elections in which every voter and every political party can have confidence.
If so, perhaps he'll even soon realize that the easier way to oversee and assure accurate election results is by counting ballots at the polling place, with everyone in the community watching and verifying everything, before the ballots are moved anywhere. That would allow for a decentralized, transparent count that could be publicly well-documented before any Democrats or Republicans or even Russian or Chinese hackers, were able to "fraudulently add new ballots".
But, somehow, I don't think Hinderaker gives a damn about any of that. He just wants to assault democracy --- and Democrats --- by spreading his whacko, rightwing conspiracy theories*. That goes for his PowerLine conspiracy theorist* partner, Scott Johnson who today wrote, without a shred of evidence for such a remarkable assertion, that "the election seems to be in the process of being stolen."
If they do care, I hope they'll read the above again closely, since it contains some help for both them and Democrats, including actions that each can take. I'm happy to advise any of them if they really want to try to ensure that this elections is counted accurately, as per the voters' intent.
* - All references to "conspiracy theories", "tin foil hats", "sore losers" and "whackos" etc. are meant as tongue-in-cheek ironic satire, and should never be used as a cynical and obnoxious bludgeon against any citizen who has legitimate concerns about the integrity of elections. All evidence, however, suggests that John Hinderaker does not fall into that category.