Rage Against the Machines

Like a modern version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, well-meaning people battle corrupt mechanisms only to discover that the true enemies of democracy are human.

There will be time. August 31 was just the rehearsal. The real test, of course, will come in November. Let us pray for a wide margin.

Milestones on the Democracy Highway

Nov. 7, 2000 The closest presidential election in history comes down to a few hundred votes in South Florida, inadvertently showcasing the highly dodgy business of elections.
Jonathan Postal
The  garage band of democracy do-gooders, clockwise from back left: Marta Gillette, Courtenay Strickland, Franisco Pardo, Dan McCrea, Bud Gillette, Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, and Sandy Wayland.
Jonathan Postal
The garage band of democracy do-gooders, clockwise from back left: Marta Gillette, Courtenay Strickland, Franisco Pardo, Dan McCrea, Bud Gillette, Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, and Sandy Wayland.

May 10, 2001 Florida legislature decertifies punch-card machines and orders counties to upgrade to touch-screen or optical-scan voting technology by the 2002 elections. Sandra Mortham, a former secretary of state, is a lobbyist for Elections Systems & Software (ES&S), which is the first company to get its technology certified for use in Florida.

Jan. 29, 2002 Miami-Dade County buys 7200 voting machines for $24.5 million from ES&S, thanks in part to the efforts of lobbyist Miguel de Grandy.

Sept. 10, 2002 A primary election debacle is caused by a combination of glitch-prone technology, poorly trained poll workers, and a complicated ballot in three languages.

Nov. 5, 2002 A smooth, but extremely expensive, election noteworthy, among other things, for independent observers from the Center for Democracy, and the use of more than 3000 county employees, including police officers.

December 2002 Miami-Dade's supervisor of elections, David Leahy, resigns his post but chairs the selection committee to find his replacement. He's also given a well-paid position as an adviser to the county manager through November 2004 to help restructure the elections department. In stark contrast, his eventual successor is given a one-year contract which expired in June 2004.

April 29, 2003 County manager Steve Shiver offers the supervisor job to Constance Kaplan, even though she didn't make the selection committee's list of top picks -- until Leahy insisted she be included.

May 2003 Miami-Dade's Inspector General issues a critical report on the county's contract with ES&S, calling the machines hardly state of the art, and the vendors assertions about its capabilities misleading.

June 6, 2003 Shiver is forced out by an unhappy mayor, Alex Penelas. Meanwhile, the same day, an elections department tech discovers a glitch in the iVotronic auditing system and e-mails an ES&S employee about it.

Oct. 10, 2003 The elections department tech sends an e-mail to Kaplan, notifying her that a review of the Oct. 7 primary election in Homestead found that the iVotronic system's audit log failed to account for 162 ballots cast. The system's audit log did not recognize five of the touch-screen machines used.

Jan. 6, 2004 During a state House election in Broward and Palm Beach counties, 134 electronic ballots are cast without votes for any candidate. Without a paper trail, there is no way to determine whether those 134 voters really intended to make no choice. This seems relevant because the margin of victory was just twelve votes.

May 2004 ES&S admits there's a software glitch in the auditing system of its machines, but proposes a workaround solution for the fall elections.

June 6, 2004 Ed Kast, head of Florida elections division, suddenly resigns his post, reportedly because of mounting controversy over the state's flawed purge list of ex-felons said to be ineligible to vote.

July 2004 The elections department admits it lost important elections data because of computer crashes, stirring national attention. It later turns out that the data was simply misplaced. But the brief crisis has the effect of focusing county attention on the elections department.

August 31, 2004 Because of a large mobilization of county employees and low turnout, the primary election is relatively smooth and well-run.

Nov. 2004 Stay tuned...

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