This video never stops being important.
So, today I did a bit of research on electronic voting machines following Wired’s ThreatLevel post on NY State voting machines – half of the machines bought from Sequoia Voting Systems seem to be broken in various regards, not even counting the unverifiable counting mechanism itself.
The reaction to electronic voting machines totally fascinates me. Voting is the act that creates the idea of the American democracy, and when people lose touch with that act, the whole facade of participation starts to fall apart.
I particularly like the metaphor of ‘black box voting‘, because it echoes the Marxist commodity fetishism critique of capitalism. Essentially, exploitation through capitalism occurs because the means of production occurs in a ‘black box,’ that mystifies the actual conditions of labor and produces the thing known as profit – surplus value. The ‘liberal’ critique of exploitive production in capitalism (think Whole Foods, Fair Trade foods) calls for a demystification of those conditions of production, and tries to open up the black box by challenging the conditions of production, but without unlocking the central question – how surplus value is created to make profit for the owner of the means of production.
So, folks agitating to get our voting machines working again, to protect elections, are like the people trying to buy fairer foods through the capitalist commodity chain – they may make things a little more transparent, but can’t get to the core exploitation that makes growers sell at prices lower than what buyers pay, and makes buyers pay more than the sum total of ‘parts and labor’ going into the product. We may have cleaner elections, but the basic problems at the core of American representative democracy remain.
We only have two parties. All our Presidents have been men. All have been white. Almost all rich. Etc, etc…
I think people latch on to the idea of electronic voting machines, and their mystical powers to steal elections because it condenses the basic alienation of American politics. Jesus, riots and wars start over problems smaller than what went on in 2000 and 2004, but who’s going to die for Al Gore? Or John Kerry? (At least one person got tasered. Probably more, now that I think of it)
What happens with voting machines is no more or less mystical (or serious) than what happens when Democrats sweep to victory in 2006 only to refuse to impeach Bush, and fail to stop the war. It’s all out of our hands, things happen in Washington politics that boggle the mind, no matter who wins elections. In the same way that people constantly seek to erode the power of the ‘black box’ commodity fetish, try to concoct a talisman that will ward off exploitation through capitalism, eliminating electronic voting has become the talisman meant to ward off a collapse of our democracy. (Tellingly, most electronic voting activists are Democratic partisans, doubtless the most alienated and betrayed group in American politics. See Stop Me Before I Vote Again)
Upshot: I wonder if latching on to electronic voting to describe the problems in American governance is helpful. I like it because it allows me to dismiss sometimes tedious discussions about the election, when I’m feeling particularly grumpy or busy, but other than that I’m skeptical that fixing the machines fixes the machine.
EDIT – Here’s a link to more info on the NY voting machine problems.