Meanwhile, Collier reminds us, the "Election Assistance Commission" created by the law, the federal oversight office that was supposed to help ensure voting security, was so feckless that one of its chiefs, a Bush appointee, resigned in 2005, calling his office a "charade." That year, not incidentally, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was called a bipartisan effort, warned about the potential for great abuse from electronic-voting insiders, but reassured the American people that electronic voting was reliable so long as officials included a "voter-verifiable paper audit trail."
The CFER's 2005 report, led by lions-in-winter James Baker and Jimmy Carter, did more than just that. It also (to great public controversy) placed blame for election inaccuracies on the voters themselves, suggesting in great detail how states could force people to show more identification when they registered and voted. These recommendations paved the way for the current generation of odious new photo-identification laws, passed by Republican lawmakers in dozens of states. At the time, a handful of the commission's most vocal dissenters, the counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, presciently recorded their opposition:
While our election system is undeniably in need of substantial structural and administrative improvement, the burden of reform must not be borne by voters. The problems with American elections are not caused by American voters. They are caused by inadequate attention to election administration, insufficient resources, and unfair and unreasonable rules and procedures often designed and administered by elected or partisan individuals with an interest in the outcome of elections. Unfortunately, several sections of the Commission's report seem to shift the blame to regular Americans, and as a result, make recommendations that are likely to exclude a significant number of citizens from the political process -- especially those who have traditionally been disadvantaged by restrictions at the polls.
In other words, while Baker and Carter and company were focused on rules designed to stymie the efforts of a few illegal in-person voters, the wise men largely ignored the direct and obvious threat to millions of legitimate votes, the accurate and complete counting of which depends, then and now, on the good faith of unregulated companies and their employees, who operate with scarcely any government or public oversight. Add Collier's report to Tova Andrea Wang's excellent recent book The Politics of Voter Suppression, which shines the light on the long history of voter suppression in America, and it portends truly bad things for election night.**
Collier's work is chilling, too, for what it says about the politics of voting rights this election season. It's been a huge topic over the past few months -- sound and fury signifying less than nothing. Some of the loudest mouths in politics this year have come from local Republican officials in state like Ohio and Pennsylvania, battleground states, where a few thousand votes may again determine the outcome of the presidency. These politicians have made what they call "voting rights" their battle cry, arguing to anyone who will listen that they have proudly passed new registration and identification measures to ensure that "voter fraud" is laid low.
But the registration and identification measures aren't aimed at the individuals who control the electronic-voting companies that control the fate of millions of our votes. The strict new laws aren't designed to create greater oversight over the security of electronic voting machines or the people who program and run them. They don't bring Americans together in a common purpose of a fair vote. Instead, these brave politicians have chosen instead to pick upon those already-registered voters of their own state who are too old, or too poor, or too ill, to have updated state photo-identification cards.
Loudmouthed bullies like Pennsylvania state representative Darryl Metcalfe, a Republican from Butler County, have made clear what they think is the current threat to American democracy. It isn't private corporations being held largely unaccountable for the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of electronic voting. It isn't the cozy interactions between politicians and those companies. It doesn't come from the recent history of electronic voting irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere. It's not Congress' fault. Instead, it's the fault of "lazy" people who don't care enough to vote. Here is Metcalfe, dog-whistling, just a few months ago: