Vote for green…I mean red – Part 3 / or Freedom 2003

February 24, 2009inf2241_classfi22410

Voting Machine Vendors Face Rebuff is States, By Sean Greene

This article outlines two voting machine companies and the problems they encountered in several US states. The two companies, Diebold TSx and UniLect, produced products that malfunctioned during test runs in California and Pennsylvania. Fearing malfunctions on a grand scale that could damage democracy, California rejected the use of such touch-screen voting machines. Despite these setbacks the companies are planning on developing newer and better machines they believe will not be a problem. We decided against using this article because it provides very little material to sink your teeth into and digest. It seems to be a news piece and offers very little criticism.

Electronic Voting Papers, by Anne-Marie Oostveen

Oostveen’s bibliography is lengthy and initally looked like a great resource. However, we decided not to use it because it is not an article. Additionally, Oostveen posted a disclaimer at the beginning of her bibliography stating that “I no longer work on an e-voting project and therefore I don’t update this particular page anymore with new electronic voting references.” Because of her notice we opted not to look too carefully at her bibliography despite the large number of articles and relatively current dates of publication.

Main Article: U.S.C TITLE 42 > CHAPTER 20 > SUBCHAPTER I-A > § 1973b (Suspension of the use of tests or devices in determining eligibility to vote

We decided to focus on the piece of United States legislation that forms the basis of voters’ rights in US politics, the main body of which is known as The Voting Rights Act of 1965. While our class and university is based in Canada, we thought that the explicit formulation and recent revision of the code worthy of comment.The initial portion of the code that caught our attention (1973b) reads as follows:

“To assure that the right of citizens of the United States to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race or color, no citizen shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his failure to comply with any test or device in any State with respect to which the determinations have been made under the first two sentences of subsection (b) of this section or in any political subdivision of such State.”

What is most noteworthy is not what the legislation says, but what it, as a codification of legally binding practices represents. Whereas before 42 U.S.C. ch.20 was passed, the implicit reference of the entire legislation is to voting practices that did discriminate against voters by some means based on race, or at least a possible historical threat thereof (more research would undoubtedly turn up many examples). Moreover, while explicitly formulated to address racial discrimination, the title does not rule out discriminating by another means altogether for some other motive. Our contention, that this potential discrimination and indeed even discrimination based on race is and was not eliminated by the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, finds support in a recent revision to the code titled Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Rights Act Amendments Act of 2006. It states in 2.(b)(6) that:

The effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been significantly weakened by the United States Supreme Court decisions in Reno v. Bossier Parish II and Georgia v. Ashcroft, which have misconstrued Congress’ original intent in enacting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and narrowed the protections afforded by section 5 of such Act.

Crucially for our purposes, the notion of intent highlights the shortcomings of the legislation, in any of its revisions. While the letter of the law states that discrimination based on race is illegal, the spirit and intent of the code has plainly not been realized as the 2006 revision demonstrates. Moreover, by only focusing on race, and only on a person’s ability to vote based on some arbitrary racial characteristic or categorization based on skin colour, a host of other discriminatory voting practices are not addressed.

Ironically, our voting machine discriminates against people who have trouble seeing colour. And while the Voting Rights Act specifically embodies an intent to not discriminate based on race, to have not achieved a complete elimination of such practices in the 40 years since its enactment bodes ill for any other group of voters whom may already be experiencing some kind of discrimination. Moreover, to have not resolved racial problems with voting only serves to delay addressing any other biases or discrimintory practices that the spirit of the law might encompass, for example discriminating based on gender, sexual preference, religion, or physical disabilities.

To see how this may well be the case, consider that there is nothing to say that one person’s subjective experience of colour is more or less true compared to someone else’s. While objectively there are demonstrable physiological differences amongst 7-10% of the the North American male population[1], for all but the most vibrant and common colours it is common to hear 3 different people arguing about the true colour of something. For example, a purple a coloured object might find 3 different observers describing three or more different colours e.g. mauve, lavender, violet, lilac etc. Thus, to build a voting machine that uses colour to gather votes from users is to make what is supposed to be an inherently objective practice into a subjective one. While our example may seem somewhat contrived and arbitrary, so too do the hinted at past practices of arbitrarily and subjectively discriminating against voters based on race sound repulsive and unfair.

Thus, while our device may not have been the most inspiring or well crafted, the act of building it, researching voting practices, and even examining legislation has been productive and meaningful.

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