<< Home << Visit NewsKing.com
Stealing Democracy: Election Scandals, Illegal Ballots, & Political Corruption
T.J. Newton

This article is a little bit different from the rest of the articles and presentations at NewsKing.com, neoNewton.com, and HomelandInsecurity.org because there is a rather complicated personal story involved. It is not an easy story to tell, because unlike the other articles and presentations on my websites, the personal story here relies mostly on my own experiences and impressions. But there is also a story here that is not personal at all, and it involves deception and lies on the part of the government that I hope will make most Americans think very critically about our election process, and our democracy.

In December of 2000, America was embroiled in a terrible battle over the outcome of the presidential election held in November of that year. Many said it threatened to tear our nation apart. The controversy centered around the results of votes in certain counties in the state of Florida, where so-called "butterfly ballots" were used in many of the voting precincts. The butterfly ballots seemed to produce a margin of error that became significant in a close race. In the presidential election of 2004, "punch card ballots," which may not have had the confusing "butterfly" design, also produced a margin of error that was significant. In fact, if such ballots were counted, it may have resulted in a victory for John Kerry. But before discussing the problems encountered in 2004, I want to first discuss the deeper problems with butterfly ballots that most people did not recognize in 2000, as well as the experiences I had after exposing those problems.

The butterfly ballots actually had a number of flaws, but the one that received the most attention was the problem of "hanging chads." I think the illustrations below may do a better job of showing how a butterfly ballot works, but it works much like a punch card. The voter punches out a "chad," which leaves a hole in the card. The card is then fed into a machine that "sees" the hole and interprets it as a vote for a particular candidate. The problem is that the machine does not always see the holes because the chad does not always get punched out like it is supposed to. When a chad does not get punched out like it is supposed to, it can remain partially attached to the punch card. When that happens, the vote isn't counted. A chad that remains partially attached to the punch card has been called a "hanging chad" or "dangling chad."

Complicating things further, sometimes the chads just "fall out" of the punch cards on their own, and when they do they may be left "hanging." But the device used to punch out the chads sometimes leaves a "dimple" in the chad, which may indicate that the voter intended to punch out the chad, and that it didn't fall out on its own. This has been called a "dimpled chad."

During the presidential election of 2000, the problems associated with hanging and dimpled chads became familiar to many people, and in the presidential election of 2004, the problems resurfaced with "punch card ballots," even though these "punch cards" may not have featured the confusing "butterfly" design. But in 2000, there were also a significant number of ballots that appeared to have votes for two presidential candidates. This was called a "double vote" or "over vote." It didn't make sense that such a large number of chads, dangling or not, fell out on their own, and the holes in the ballots were usually for the same two presidential candidates. Clearly, there was a bigger problem.

Could a possible explanation be found in another problem that seemed to escape most people's notice? Some people dismissed the testimonials from voters who indicated that the ballots were somehow confusing, calling the voters "stupid." And there wasn't a lot of attention given to the complaints from voters about chads that didn't seem to "line up" with the candidate they wanted to choose. But perhaps it was the feedback from voters that actually deserved the most attention.

There were several trials that resulted from the controversy over the counting (and recounting) of the votes in the presidential election of 2000. In one of those trials, a statistician showed how the number of ballots that were thrown out indicated a problem with the ballots. But one of the questions posed by the attorneys for George W. Bush continues to stick in my mind. It was when Bush's attorney asked the statistician if he was a cognitive psychologist who studied how the design of the ballots may have caused voting errors. The statistician answered "no," and the questioning moved on without any fuss. But it was a very interesting question.

The reason the question stuck out in my mind was that only days before the trial, I called the Clinton White House and presented my theory of what had gone wrong with the ballots. They thanked me and I never heard anything further. At the time, I had just entered graduate school, and could barely squeak out an explanation that made any sense at all. I didn't even know that the explanation I had given was called "cognitive," but I was working on philosophical problems in psychology (see neoNewtonian Philosophy), and happened to notice a major flaw in the ballots. Now that I have completed more of my philosophical research, I am more prepared to stand behind my ballot theory. As Bush's attorney pointed out, it is indeed a theory that involves a cognitive explanation about how the design of the ballots caused voting errors.

So, why were there so many complaints about confusing ballots? What was confusing? And why were people saying that the chads didn't seem to "line up?" Could it possibly be related to why so many people punched out the chads for two presidential candidates? My theory involves examining the way the ballots are designed, and how some people might interpret them in a way that could cause all of these problems.

The butterfly ballots used in many of the precincts in Florida had one column of chads in between two columns of candidates. For candidates listed in the left column, the chads were on the right, and for candidates in the right column, the chads were on the left. The design required voters two read across two columns in order to punch the correct chad for the candidate they wanted to select. This was unusual. I couldn't help but notice that it required voters to read columns in a way that they were not used to.

Most people learn to read columns as they appear in magazines and newspapers. We read the left column all the way to the bottom, and then start back at the top of the page and read the right column. While we are reading the left column, the right column is "blocked out" by our mind so that we can concentrate on the column that we are reading. So I asked, if the right column of the butterfly ballot was "blocked out" by voters, would it explain the problems associated with double votes, confusing ballots, and chads that didn't line up? I am convinced that it does.

In the illustration below, a blue field covers the right column of a butterfly ballot to show that the column has been "blocked out." Next to the butterfly ballot, an illustration of a magazine article appears with the same blue field to show how the theory works. An explanation of the problem follows.

"Butterfly Ballot" Magazine Article

Because the right column may be "blocked out" for typical columnar reading, it could seem as though there are too many boxes (or "chads") that correspond to the candidates in the left column. It could also seem as though the arrows are not lining up correctly. A voter looking at the second two candidates in the left column of the ballot may attempt to punch out a chad for both the president and vice president, but in fact they would have voted for two presidential candidates. The instructions to "vote for one pair" add to the confusion, and could send the voter on a search for two boxes. In addition, some voters may have simply punched two chads because, perhaps believing there was something wrong with the ballot, they were unsure which chad corresponded to their candidate. The problems could result in double votes, or in votes that are altogether erroneous even though only one candidate was selected. Most importantly, it would explain the testimonials from voters involving confusing ballots and chads that didn't "line up."

So there it is. As the election controversy progressed into December, I became increasingly annoyed. As I mentioned, I had already explained the theory to a phone representative at the White House, with no results. I was very close to publishing the theory on my website, or attracting attention in some other way. And then one day, while I was on the phone having a heated philosophical discussion, my phone emitted a strange beep. I laughed it off and said, "they won't do anything unless they perceive a threat." Then the phone went dead. It was weird, and I was scared. I still don't really know who or what it was.

I somehow became inclined to agree that if the election controversy dragged on, it could tear our country apart. So I stayed quiet. Then the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 occurred. Still a novice of a beginner at philosophy and politics, I hoped the fact that I had stayed quiet would carry some weight as I criticized the USA-PATRIOT Act. I sent an email to Senator Paul Wellstone essentially expressing this idea, and watched as the Act passed, with Senator Wellstone voting for it. The event laid the foundation for HomelandInsecurity.org.

By this time, NewsKing.com was running full steam ahead, and although I was still very scared of my government, I continued to criticize the actions taken against American citizens after September 11th, 2001. I felt like I was still being harassed by the government, but I couldn't be sure, and I think that was the idea.

On the evening I emailed Senator Wellstone, I was walking from my apartment complex to the convenience store located down the street. A car pulled up next to me. I was actually walking in the woods adjacent to the main driveway of my apartment complex. The driveway was rather dark when the car pulled up, and it was only about 200 feet to the well-lit driveway of the convenience store. Three or four people were in the car. As I remember it, a man got out wearing what appeared to be a camouflage-style military uniform (what I call an "army uniform") and a burgundy beret-style hat. He looked at me and said "Howdy." "What's goin' on?" I replied, as if it were both a question and a casual greeting. "Just stretchin'," the man said. I walked on.

It was weird for several reasons. Obviously, I had just emailed Senator Wellstone. So there was the timing. Because my apartment bordered an interstate exit, needing a stretch made sense. But why had this car pulled into a dark driveway to stretch rather than going an extra 200 feet to the well-lit convenience store? And why would this guy leave his hat on for the whole drive (someone later told me "they have to wear their hat with the uniform," but I continue to see them without hats, too)? In any case, it seemed unusual to take a long drive in a uniform like that. I also thought about the fact that the exit to my apartment is near an Army base, but the base is the next exit, and the man didn't ask how to get to the Army base or even appear to be lost. I suppose, if I were to ask, the man might have said that he had just come from the base, but he couldn't have needed a stretch after traveling only one exit. Since I suspected his story was not true, I theorized that he may have actually come from the Army base... to harass me. Of course, it could have all been a coincidence, but the timing and circumstances were unusual enough to cause me some concern.

As the Congressional election of 2002 approached, I was optimistic that the direction of the country would change, and that there would be some relief for those of us unhappy with the ongoing abuses of freedom being carried out by the Bush administration. So I was devastated when Senator Wellstone's plane crashed just days before the election, killing him, members of his family, and some of his staff. It left me very uneasy.

After the election, I started HomelandInsecurity.org. Since then, my life has gotten progressively worse. But although I feel miserable, I didn't feel like I could just stay quiet as another election was stolen in California.

The governor of California, Gray Davis, was elected democratically by California voters. But his opponents decided to force a recall election by using a loophole in California law in an attempt to reverse the democratic process. The situation eerily resembled the 2000 presidential election because Al Gore was democratically elected by a majority of voters, but due to "loopholes" exploited by his opponents, was forced to concede the election. And like the 2000 presidential election, there was money, politics, and greed involved in the California recall. In 2000, it was impossible to convince some people to even consider the seriousness of exploiting the democratic process, and many in California took the same corrupt view. So I don't want to waste my time trying to convince those behind the recall that it is wrong to steal our democracy. But after the 2000 election, it seemed everyone agreed that the ballot and election process needed reform, and that butterfly ballots were problematic.

What has surprised me about the California recall is that some precincts may have relied upon butterfly ballots, and that no one seems to recognize the seriousness of the problems with our ballot and election process. Far too many people seem resigned to the idea that it is impossible to prevent the stealing of an election, and that is very frightening.

Even more frightening is the fact that it continues to happen, and could happen again. In the presidential election of 2004, many voting precincts used "electronic ballots." The problem with many of these machines is that they do not produce a paper record of the votes, leaving the machines vulnerable to hardware and software errors, as well as hackers. Computer experts who have examined versions of the software have expressed concern about the security, and other glitches have already caused serious problems during the 2004 primaries. The excuses for not including some sort of "paper backup" in the electronic voting process are both weak and suspicious. Diebold, the largest manufacturer of the machines, has cited excuses which include something along the lines of "printers produce more wait time," "someone could mess with the paper backup," "the printer could jam," and a few others. First of all, for the kind of printer used in a cash register or ATM machine, the queue to vote would have to be extremely large before significant wait time could be attributed to the printers. As for the other excuses, the idea of a "backup" means that there would be an electronic record to compare to the printed record. It would mean the votes would need to be corrupted two ways instead of one, and that simply makes the system more secure. I really don't understand why the voting machine industry is fighting this so hard, but it has been rumored that a representative for Diebold contacted a representative of the Bush administration and stated the company would make sure "all the votes for Bush" were counted. It may be an insignificant comment, if the rumor is even true, but given the company's fight against paper backups, it only adds to the suspicions of those who want to protect our democracy. Even after the 2004 presidential election, this problem remains.

Another problem with the presidential election of 2004 was that many precincts relied on "punch card ballots," although they may not have featured the confusing "butterfly" design. These ballots produced errors that were significant enough for some people and organizations to conclude that if the ballots were counted, John Kerry would have won the election (Palast par. 11). And like the presidential election of 2000, some people resorted to insulting voters whose votes were not counted, saying that these voters just "can't make up their minds on the choice of candidate for president" (Palast par. 24). To make matters worse, some voters could have been harassed at their polling location by poll and legal workers who attempted to deny some voters their right to vote, or simply frighten them away from the polling location (Palast par. 16). These kinds of tactics, along with unacceptable ballots, weaken our democracy as well as people's trust in the democratic process.

In doing my own part to protect our democracy, I thought I would try to show some of the deeper problems with butterfly ballots, punch card ballots, and the new and dangerous "electronic ballots." At the same, I thought it was important to share my experiences in the politics of our "democracy." Hopefully, people will learn from what I have gone through (and what I am still going through), and maybe even gain a better understanding of some of the articles and presentations on my websites. Whether anyone listens to me or not, I hope I can add something to the effort to make America's future brighter, freer, and more democratic. Although I remain optimistic, the results of the 2004 presidential election do not lead me to believe America is getting any better.

Selected Works Cited:

Palast, Greg. (2004). Kerry Won. http://www.tompaine.com/articles/kerry_won_.php. 17 November 2004.

Want to Know More?
If this presentation has you asking questions, check out NewsKing.com for additional articles and presentations, as well as links to neoNewton.com and other sites where answers are waiting! Click HERE to visit NewsKing.com!

Feedback will remain anonymous unless you specify your email address here:
email (optional)
How did you like the presentation?
I liked it.
I thought it was okay, not great.
I didn't like it.
Was the presentation clear and understandable?
It was crystal clear.
It was a little hazy.
It was covered with a dense fog.
Image verification
(To reload the image without Javascript, use the Reload button in your browser instead.)

Enter the Security Code displayed above:
Feedback, including comments entered above, will remain anonymous unless you specified your email address.
THANK YOU! -T.J. Newton

About This Website / Disclaimer

© Copyright 1998-2004 T.J. Newton. Click HERE to read the terms and conditions of copyright. All rights reserved.