Many of the best activists on voting technology issues use the words "integrity" and "security" in their language of reform. In a historical vacuum, there is every reason to be concerned about the "integrity" of our elections and the "security" of our ballot casting. It is clear, however, that many e-voting activists are not well enough aware of the the political history of voting rights in America. I got into a discussion about this with Sheila Parks, who cofounded Coalition Against Election Fraud, in which I am active. Sheila asked me to write something that could be forwarded to other activists. What follows is a slightly edited version of what I wrote for her earlier today.
Long before electronic voting activists started alerting us to the unregulated, error prone, unverifiable voting systems that are being put into place all over the country, the words "integrity" and "security" were right wing code words for keeping people of color and low income people and students out of the voting booth. The connotations are that some folks do not have enough "integrity" to vote and therefore we must "secure" the voting process from the participation of such dark skinned, low-income, former felon (etc.) fraudulent voters.
Those of us who care about voting rights should be emphasizing "access," not "integrity." I understand why e-voting activists want to talk about security and integrity vis à vis machines, but voting rights and reliable voting systems are much too interrelated to allow the rubrics to get so confused and muddied. I would suggest words like "transparency," "accountability," "verifiable," "auditable," "fair," "accurate," etc.—always making sure to specify we are talking about elections, elections officials and voting equipment.
"Ballot security programs" are what the Republican Party has called its
disenfranchisement strategies since the late 50s/early 60s: you can
read a good overview of the history of ballot security programs here:
Directly related is the so-called "ballot integrity movement." Here's something I posted to an email list back in the fall:
The word "integrity" has a very specific meaning within the Civil Rights
Division of the DOJ. The simplest explanation might be this bit from
Jeffrey Toobin's recent New Yorker article, "Poll Position,"
The Attorney General had come forward [in 2002] to launch the Voting
Access and Integrity Initiative, whose name refers to the two main
traditions in voting-rights law. Voter-access efforts, which have long
been associated with Democrats, seek to remove barriers that
discourage poor and minority voters; the Voting Rights Act itself is
the paradigmatic voter-access policy. The voting-integrity movement,
which has traditionally been favored by Republicans, targets fraud in
the voting process, from voter registration to voting and ballot
counting. Despite the title, Ashcroft's proposal favored the
"integrity" side of the ledger, mainly by assigning a federal
prosecutor to watch for election crimes in each judicial district.
These lawyers, Ashcroft said, would "deter and detect discrimination,
prevent electoral corruption, and bring violators to justice."
Federal law gives the Justice Department the flexibility to focus on
either voter access or voting integrity under the broad heading of
voting rights, but such shifts of emphasis may have a profound impact
on how votes are cast and counted. In the abstract, no one questions
the goal of eliminating voting fraud, but the idea of involving
federal prosecutors in election supervision troubles many civil-rights
advocates, because few assistant United States attorneys have much
familiarity with the laws protecting voter access.
We can expect the DOJ and the Republican party to be
talking increasingly about "voting integrity" in the coming months and
years. Using the same or similar language may confuse things for
anyone who isn't following the goings on in federal law enforcement.
In addition, the current staff attorney for the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, Hans A. Von Spakovsky, "is a former board member of the Voting
Integrity Project, which ran the disputed purging of alleged felons
from Florida voter rolls during the 2000 election. Von Spakovsky was
the director of the Center for Technology and E-commerce at the Georgia
Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank based in Atlanta." (
People for the American Way)
The same New Yorker article notes:
In a recent speech at Georgetown University, von Spakovsky suggested that voting integrity will remain a focus for the Justice Department, and that voter access might best be left to volunteers.
There's much more in the New Yorker article about von Spakovsky and his "voting integrity" agenda and his right wing background.
Listen carefully when right wingers talk about "voting rights" and "election reform." You will almost always hear the words "secure," "security," "integrity," and "fraud."