Perhaps it is an exaggeration to speak of the 2000 presidential election as actually stolen; perhaps we should say, "mismanaged." And then again, considering the fact that half a million more votes were cast for Al Gore and the election was decided by questionable practices in a state run by the "winner's" brother, maybe "stolen" isn't too far off the mark.
But the reality is, with the new electronic voting technology that is rapidly becoming standard across America, we're unlikely ever to know again who really got the most votes in any election from President to Town Council, whichever party is running the government.
It may astonish many Americans to know that in the world's oldest democracy, we don't actually vote for President. What we vote for is an Elector, who is sometimes bound by law to reflect your opinion in his or her vote, and sometimes not. These Electors may split their state's votes by percentage, giving some to one candidate and some to another. Or, as is more common, they may follow a "winner takes all" system, whereby even if a candidate wins the popular vote by a single ballot statewide, all the state's Electors become his.
The Electoral College, which is the representative body which actually decides who becomes President, is one of the dirty little secrets the Founders built into our framework. Its avowed purpose was to prevent large or highly populated states from controlling the results of national elections. But a side benefit was to make sure that the people (which at the time meant white male landowners) wouldn't be given the ultimate say in who steered the ship of state. Just in case some popular demagogue came along who garnered public support but whom the establishment didn't trust, they had a fail-safe mechanism to prevent his actually assuming power.
Usually, the Electoral College's stamp of approval doesn't mean that much; the popular vote generally shows a clear winner, and the Electoral College endorses this. But when the margin of victory is within the margin of error, as in 2000 and as is likely again in 2004, then it behooves us to see just what the margin of error, or manipulation, is.
And with electronic voting, the margins for both error and manipulation are very high.
Unlike punch cards and other forms of written balloting, e-voting leaves no paper trail. The systems are not even open to public scrutiny; the source code for the programs that run these machines is proprietary, written and owned by the vendors who have developed the software and have been hired to count and record the votes. Even state and county officials are prohibited from viewing or examining the code which runs these machines; there is no oversight, and with no paper record to check, recounts or audits become virtually impossible.
Even with the best of intentions and the most honest of programmers, problems with e-voting abound. By 2002 several US states had replaced their old systems with electronic voting machines, and the results were less than encouraging. A programming error in Union County, Florida corrupted the final tally, and a manual recount had to be ordered. In Dallas County, Texas, touchscreen machines were found to be recording Democratic votes as votes for Republicans. Machine malfunctions in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, shut down 20% of polling places, and in South Dakota, a defective chip recorded hundreds of ballots twice. Lightly printed ballots created havoc in Nebraska, where the electronic system failed to read them; in that state's Adams County, no votes were counted at all.
Despite two more years to fix problems, not much has changed. Already in the 2004 primary season, Maryland vote counts were delayed due to glitches in the modem connections for the machines, and in parts of San Diego County the new machines malfunctioned, leaving hundreds of voters no recourse but to wait for hours, return later, or skip voting. In response, California's top elections official called for a criminal investigation and banned Diebold's newest touchscreen voting machines on April 30.
And when the potential for deliberate manipulation of the vote is factored in, the scenario of democracy in 21st century America takes on nightmare proportions. In the good old days of party bosses and ballot-box stuffing, it took a lot of time, effort and intimidation of the electorate or corruption of officials to get your candidate elected despite the will of the people. Today, with private source coding and wireless technology, races could be decided in advance, well before the polls open, or "rectified" later, by an overly enthusiastic partisan from his cell phone satellite hookup while enjoying a post-election latte at Starbucks.
Ironically, it was the Florida debacle with punch card technology and the scrutiny of those endless permutations of chads which caused the greatest momentum in the shift to the supposedly safer, more accurate e-voting systems. But what went unremarked at the time in the midst of the recount insanity was the fact that some of Florida's wards already had the new technology, and they performed even worse than those with the old-fashioned methods.
In Volusia County, a Diebold-made system (more on these folks later) malfunctioned early on. As would occur later in Union County in 2002, the problem there was not so much in the actual voting, which was done with paper and thus could be recounted, as with the tallying and transmission of those figures to the central ballot-counting computer. At one point, the Socialist candidate had picked up 9000 votes, Bush had 4000 added to his total that weren't his, and Gore showed a grand total of MINUS 19,000! The errors were only caught because an alert poll monitor noticed Gore's county-wide total diminishing as the day wore on, and reported it. Imagine the resulting fiasco if there had been no paper trail to refer to. But even at this, the incorrect numbers were one critical factor in CBS News' decision to call the state for Bush, a perception that allowed him to play the victor and cast Gore as the sore loser.
On June 13 of this year, state election officials in Florida revealed that voting machines in 11 counties have a software flaw that could make it impossible to institute recounts come November's election. Critics charged that the voting officials who approved the new system, all appointees of Jeb Bush, were aware of the flaw in advance and certified it anyway. Included in the problem districts are Miami and Broward counties, two Democratic strongholds that were also the scene of much of the 2000 debacle.
Of course Florida's voter tampering last time around wasn't restricted to faulty machine malfunction. Over 173,000 "close matches" from a former felon's list were thrown off the voter rolls, a massive disenfranchisement of a predominantly black, Democratic population (in Miami-Dade, for example, blacks are 20% of the general population, but comprise 65% of the removal list, and vote Democratic almost 95% of the time). Although Florida has a law prohibiting former felons from voting, which dates from Jim Crow days following Civil War Reconstruction, this law had not been enforced for over 70 years, until 1999. This year, despite protests from civil rights groups and the fact that over 43,000 of those erroneously removed in 2000 are still on a waiting list to have their rights restored, Florida is at it again, with another list of over 47,000 new names to remove.1
So what is it about Florida that attracts these problems, other than the obvious fact of a little brother wanting to make his contribution to the family scam?
A quick comparison of the charts of George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, the USA and the State of Florida is quite illuminating, in an obfuscating kind of way. Twenty-two and 13 would seem to be the critical degrees, give or take.
In one quadrangle of energies, we see Jeb Bush's (2.11.53) Sun at 22 Aquarius, conjoined Florida's (3.3.1845) Mercury at 27 and Jeb Bush's own Mercury at 29, these last two straddling the singularity of Black Hole Hekate at 28 Aquarius. Mercury linked with a Black Hole can certainly impel topsy-turvy voter conditions, unexpected outcomes, and a real possibility of malfeasance or manipulation. After all, one of the prime movers in the recount fiasco in 2000 was Mercury making a direct station exactly atop a Black Hole at 29 Libra on Election Day (thus trine Florida's Mercury), so we've seen what it can do. The connection to Florida's Governor's Sun by its own voter base, Mercury, and its Governor's powers to direct the voting process, also Mercury, is a triple threat to democracy which has potentially national ramifications.
This powerhouse is exactly sextile from Jeb Bush's Sun to Florida's 22 Aries Pluto, indicating power and control issues, as well as projects done in secret out of the light of day in the Sunshine State. It is also exactly opposed Jeb Bush's own 22 Leo Pluto, activating his personal and dynastic ambitions and any tendencies he may have to play dirty. Finally, it is exactly inconjunct the USA's Neptune at 22 Virgo, a sure sign of deception and behind-the-scenes jiggery-pokery, a now-you-vote-it, now-you-don't game of chance with the nation's political future.
Interestingly, Ralph Nader, whose support in Florida arguably cost Al Gore the 2000 election, has his own Pluto also exactly in this mix. From 22 Cancer, it forms a Yod, or Finger of Destiny, with the nation's Neptune and Jeb Bush's Sun at apex. Nader's Jupiter at 22 Libra is also in exact aspect to each point in this pattern. And not to be outdone, Gore and Kerry both tie into these energies as well. Gore's Uranus at 22 Gemini is completely enmeshed within the pattern, and could indicate the abrupt jolt and disastrous upset his candidacy took in Florida in 2000. Kerry's Saturn at 23 Gemini is more assertive and also slightly out of kilter with the resonance of the pattern, perhaps disrupting its effectiveness; it could also prove his undoing there.
The second pattern is also quite revealing. A Pentagram of energies focused on the exact conjunction of George W. Bush's and the USA's Suns at 13 Cancer includes:
- A square from these to the nation's 14 Libra Saturn (the Presidency itself) atop Black Hole Nemesis at 13 Libra,
- An inconjunct to Florida's Saturn (its Governor) exactly atop Black Hole Attis at 13 Aquarius,
- A trine to Florida's Sun (showing the venue for the energy to manifest) at 13 Pisces,
- And a sextile to Jeb Bush's Jupiter (indicating a desire to push the limits and aggrandize oneself or aggressively promote one's interests) at 13 Taurus.
Both these patterns are active now by transit. Pluto just formed a retrograde station at 22 Sagittarius in March, and will be back at 20 by Election Day, on its way to 22 in January 2005 shortly before the next Inauguration. Neptune will cross 13 Aquarius during the Republican Convention this August, on its way to form a direct station at 12 Aquarius in October, then reprise its appearance at 13 in December, when the Electoral College meets.
These connections have disturbing ramifications for voting in the swing state of Florida this year, and its effect on the election's outcome. But even more disturbing is the sense that electoral shenanigans may only begin, and not end, in this Bush family fiefdom.
Lending credence to the suspicions accruing to e-voting, and adding fuel to the fire of the controversy over them, is the fact that all three of the major manufacturers of the nation's electronic voting systems have strong political and financial ties to both the Republican Party and the Bush Administration. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Walden O'Dell, chairman and CEO of Diebold, stated in a Republican Party fundraising letter last August that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." With his voting machines running a proprietary code that no one can inspect, that might not be too hard.
O'Dell is a "Bush Pioneer," the quaint, folksy term the Administration uses for contributors pledging to raise $100,000 or more for the re-election campaign. He has been a guest at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. One of Diebold's directors, W.R. Timkin, is also a Pioneer, and has raised over $350,000 for Bush; since 1991 his family have contributed more than $1 million to Republican candidates. The Diebold company itself, nationally known for their ATM network and currently number 3 in e-voting systems, has contributed over $325,000 to Republican interests since 2000, mainly to Bush and Ohio's Republican Governor, George Voinovich.2
But Diebold isn't the largest e-voting manufacturer, nor the one with the strongest Republican ties. Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska claims that honor.
Originally known as American Information Systems, ES&S operates thousands of voting machines internationally, which were responsible for malfunctions and miscounts in Hawaii and Texas in 1998, and technical problems which caused the elections to be suspended in Venezuela in 2000. AIS, now ES&S, also has an exclusive contract with the State of Nebraska, and was chaired until the mid-nineties by Chuck Hagel.
If that name sounds familiar, it should: Hagel is the senior Republican Senator from Nebraska. An investment banker and president of McCarthy & Company, Hagel assumed the chairmanship of ES&S in 1992, but resigned his position just months before winning an upset victory in his first political campaign, the Nebraska Senate race in 1996, against popular former Governor Benjamin Nelson (who four years later would handily win a Senate seat against another opponent).
In 2002 Hagel trounced Democrat Charlie Matulka in a re-election bid, and when his opponent protested Hagel's ES&S connection and requested a hand recount of the vote, he was refused on the grounds that the margin of victory was too great to allow of mistake. Hagel still owns over $1 million of stock in McCarthy, which owns 25% of ES&S, the company which counts almost 85% of the votes in his races. No wonder he's winning.
ES&S has also been plagued by voting-related scandals, including several since 2000 involving bribes to elections officials in Arkansas, Florida and California.
No slouch in the bribery and graft department is Sequoia Voting Systems, the second largest e-voting provider in the US. Sequoia has been involved in a kickback controversy with the Louisiana Commissioner of Elections, to whom they paid $8 million to buy their machines. Non-disclosure of this little detail led to the cancellation of Sequoia contracts in several Florida counties, but not all. When in 2002 a losing candidate for city council elections in Boca Raton demanded that Sequoia's voting machines be examined by experts for fraud or tampering, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LaPore (she of the infamous "butterfly ballot") replied that Sequoia's contract with the state prevented such scrutiny, as their equipment and programming were "trade secrets," and any "tampering" by non-Sequoia technicians would void the company warranty.
In early July 2004 a group of Democratic congressmen, with Florida 2000 and the new e-voting systems in mind, made a formal request to the United Nations for UN poll monitors for this year's presidential election. Unfortunately, the UN will not intervene unless the request comes from either a national government's State Department or an electoral authority, but it would probably be a good idea. A Scripps Howard news service analysis of the presidential vote in 2000 shows a "dropoff" rate (i.e. the percentage of potentially "missing" votes determined by the differences between actual votes counted and reported votes cast) calculated state by state, ranging anywhere from 0.6% to 3.9%. In Florida alone the dropoff rate was 2.9%, obviously well beyond the official 537-vote margin which gave the state to Bush.
Having set the stage for potentially massive electoral fraud, what can the sky patterns for Election Day 2004 tell us? The picture isn't pretty.
Primarily we see Mercury, indicator of the voice of the people, the actual ballots/votes and the voting process in general, at 27 Scorpio, scouring through the last degrees of the sign most concerned with secretive matters, manipulation and deceit. From this degree Mercury is conjoined a Quasar at 28 Scorpio, implying pervasive manifestation of its effects, and it is further colored by a square to a reality-warping Black Hole at 28 Aquarius and an opposition to a controversy-provoking Maser at 28 Taurus.
Galactically sensitive planets acting out on the world stage tend to manifest extremely archetypally, often one-dimensionally. Mercury's essence is naturally that of the Trickster, a quicksilver quality of crafty misdirection. Remember that as Hermes, Mercury was the patron god of cheats, thieves and liars; self-interested deception is his stock in trade. Mercury is also exactly trine to a Black Hole-conjoined Saturn at 27 Cancer, perhaps an indication of the Administration's attempt to "adjust" the election's outcome. Further, Saturn and Mercury in the sky on Election Day exactly aspect the nation's Pluto at 27 Capricorn, by opposition and sextile, which could be read as the behind-the-scenes power of the presidency influencing the electorate in secretive or deceptive ways, and as the muffling or suppression of the people's voice in a bid to maintain control.
Neptune, another celestial often involved in moments of illusion and deception, is firmly planted exactly atop a Black Hole at its station direct degree of 12 Aquarius, in close square to the 10 Scorpio Sun for the election and trine the nation's Saturn at 14 Libra, also conjunct a Black Hole. Neptune/Sun could be a sign of a confused electorate; Neptune/Saturn implies deceit in the obtaining of the presidency. Neptune is very clever at covering its tracks, and getting others to wear blinders about the reality of a situation. It can contort and reflect reality in ways we may not even be aware of, throwing up a very effective smoke screen until things have gone too far and reality intrudes with a vengeance. This galactic sleight-of-hand doesn't augur well for a clean, fair election. At the least, expect honest delays and miscounts; at worst, outright fraud.
Already in early July, Homeland Security Department head Tom Ridge warned of "chatter" which indicated that al Qaeda was planning a major attack to disrupt the elections, although it did not raise the security threat level from yellow to orange. This dovetailed nicely with a request from DeForest Soaries, head of the newly-minted Election Assistance Commission, established by Congress in 2002 to help states modernize their voting systems, for which, read: convert to e-voting.
Mr. Soaries noted that 9/11 occurred on Primary Election Day in New York State, and that the state was able to postpone the election, but that no such governing authority exists to make this decision on a national scale, should similar attacks occur.
Ridge followed up his warnings by asking Ashcroft's Justice Department to determine the legalities of postponing the national election, citing the need to "secure" it. No US presidential election has ever been postponed, not even during the Civil War. When counseled to consider this option in 1864, Lincoln replied, "The election is a necessity. We cannot have a free government without elections; and if the rebellion [by the Confederacy] could force us to forego, or postpone, a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered us." Stay tuned, it looks like a bumpy autumn! 3
1. On July 10, 2004, Florida elections officials, who had stonewalled requests for public viewing of the voter removal lists for months, indicated the lists were flawed and would not be used. Inspection of the lists had shown that of the almost 48,000 names, 28,000 were registered Democrats, 9500 Republicans, and the rest unaffiliated. But the big news was that Hispanics, who in Florida form a very reliably conservative constituency, had "accidentally" been left off the rolls; of the blacklisted 48,000 former felons, only 61 were Hispanic. Governor Jeb Bush stated that "not including Hispanic felons that may be voters on the list was an oversight and a mistake," caused by a "glitch" in merging several databases. Additionally, 2700 persons who had received clemency and had their rights restored were still on the lists, plus another 300 who might have qualified for removal on the same grounds; initially, Florida attempted to require these individuals to re-register, but later relented.
2. On June 6, 2004, the Diebold board of directors responded to increasing criticism of its conflict of interest by passing an amendment to its business ethics policy, preventing its top officials from making "contributions to, directly or indirectly, any political candidate, party, election issue or cause, or participate in any political activities, except for voting."
3. On Thursday, 22 July 2004, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution stating that no agency or individual should be given the authority to postpone the date of a national election. The resolution passed by a resounding 419 to 2, lawmakers citing the need not to look vulnerable in the face of terrorist action, and to remove a possible temptation to postpone elections for political purposes. The resolution does not have the force of law, being merely an expression of opinion by House members.