Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Electoral fraud in America -- it works just like buying elections

The New York Times > Opinion > Krugman: Fear of Fraud
This year, Florida again hired a private company - Accenture, which recently got a homeland security contract worth up to $10 billion - to prepare a felon list. Remembering 2000, journalists sought copies. State officials stonewalled, but a judge eventually ordered the list released.

The Miami Herald quickly discovered that 2,100 citizens who had been granted clemency, restoring their voting rights, were nonetheless on the banned-voter list. Then The Sarasota Herald-Tribune discovered that only 61 of more than 47,000 supposed felons were Hispanic. So the list would have wrongly disenfranchised many legitimate African-American voters, while wrongly enfranchising many Hispanic felons. It escaped nobody's attention that in Florida, Hispanic voters tend to support Republicans.

After first denying any systematic problem, state officials declared it an innocent mistake. They told Accenture to match a list of registered voters to a list of felons, flagging anyone whose name, date of birth and race was the same on both lists. They didn't realize, they said, that this would automatically miss felons who identified themselves as Hispanic because that category exists on voter rolls but not in state criminal records.

But employees of a company that prepared earlier felon lists say that they repeatedly warned state election officials about that very problem.

In my industry (health care IT) we work with matching problems all the time. Accenture's matching rule was incompetent; they probably spent about 30 minutes designing and testing it. I suspect the work was a bit of a "freebie", done in gratitude for that 10 billion dollar contract. They wouldn't even have had to deliberately bias their work, all they would have to do is not pay attention and then bias the testing towards their employer's primary concerns. Mistakes that favored Democrats would get caught, mistakes that favored their Republican employers would be missed.

It's the same way political donations corrupt the political process. Direct quid-pro-quo bribes happen quite often, but the big effect is ensuring the "right" person gets the money to buy voters. The "right" person will, by virtue of the beliefs for which they were selected, vote the "right" way.

Now I'm worried. I can see why Kerry is assembling an outstanding legal team to supervise our elections. Too bad the Supremes have already demonstrated the power of assembling the "right" people.

Thank you, Miami Herald and Sarasota Herald-Tribune!

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