In the Autumn 2004 issue of the NZ Skeptic, we reported on Vicki Hyde’s prediction in the Dominion Post that George Bush would win the US presidential election. Given that this was at the height of the scandals over Abu Ghraib prisoners and the lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, it seemed a bold claim indeed, on a par with her prediction that the All Blacks would miss the 1999 World Cup final. But once again, history has shown our chair-entity to be better at the prophecy game than almost any of the professional seers.
There is, however, a small but nagging sense of unease over the election. First, there is the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official results, which were particularly pronounced in key swing states. Exit polls almost invariably produce results which are very close to the final vote tallies, and where there are discrepancies, as in the recent Ukrainian election, this is generally taken as a sign that the election has been rigged. Yet the mainstream media have almost universally adopted the line that the US exit polls must somehow have been in error. The alternative, that the world’s most powerful nation is politically corrupt, is apparently unthinkable.
The use of electronic voting machines which provide no paper record able to be checked subsequently is also a concern, as is the fact that the software which runs on these machines is deemed to be commercially sensitive, and not subject to outside scrutiny. This is doubly worrying given that Wally O’Dell, the CEO of Diebold, the company which provided most of the machines, sent out a fundraising letter in August 2003 in which he promised to “deliver Ohio’s electoral votes” to Bush. Ohio, where exit polls suggested John Kerry should have received 52% of the vote, was of course narrowly won by the incumbent president, providing him with the crucial electoral college votes he required to take the election nationwide.
Then there is the curious fact that Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the man responsible for overseeing the running of the election in that state, was also the Bush-Cheney Ohio campaign co-chairman. As one commentator has said, this is like the coach of the New York Yankees being made chief umpire for the World Series.
The internet is awash with conspiracy theorists claiming the election was stolen. Conspiracy theories thrive when information is withheld; the role of cold war secrecy in fostering the Roswell myth is a classic illustration. Whether you believe them or not, these theories will not go away until there is some transparency in the US electoral system. There needs to be a paper trail so that meaningful recounts can be carried out. Voting machine software must be open to inspection. Officials with clear conflicts of interest need to stand aside from the process. Until then, the results of US presidential elections deserve to be regarded with scepticism.