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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]


What Lies Beneath
The Unworthy Motives Behind Boxer’s Election Bill

[Carol Platt Liebau] 12/15/03   

Much has been written over the past week (one standout is by Hugh Hewitt over at the Weekly Standard) about the phenomenon of an increasing number of prominent Democrats marching in lockstep into the fever swamps of paranoia. Most memorably, Howard Dean has referenced an “interesting” theory that the President of the United States was warned in advance by the Saudis about the attacks of September 11.

Now, a new Democratic conspiracy theory is making the rounds, raising fears that electronic voting machines may lack adequate security – or even be used as a Republican weapon to “hijack” elections. This “issue” was pursued early on by Paul Krugman, the canary in the coal mine for many of the Democrats’ most cherished conspiracy theories – primarily because the president of Diebold Elections Systems (one of the biggest manufacturers of the new electronic voting machines) is a major Bush supporter. Democrats including Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards have likewise jumped on the issue, murmuring darkly about nefarious forces at work. And theories about a sinister nexus between the manufacturers and Republican forces are thriving on left-wing web sites.

Not surprisingly, California’s own Barbara Boxer, the Barbra Streisand of the Senate, has decided to insert herself into this increasingly contentious issue, proposing legislation which, on its face, seems innocuous enough. Boxer’s bill would provide federal (read: taxpayer) money (of course!), this time in order to ensure that states’ electronic voting equipment provides receipts to voters. Although California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has announced that such a system must be in place here by 2006, Boxer’s initiative would move the deadline forward to 2004 (incidentally, the year of her own reelection) and extend it nationwide.

So is it coincidence that Barbara Boxer has stepped forward with a bill addressing electronic voting just now? Not likely. In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News last Thursday, she noted, “We want to make sure voters are confident that their vote counts, that nobody is going to mess with the machine.”

How exploitative. How silly. How distinctly Boxerian.

Someone needs to ask Senator Boxer: Does she really believe that the danger of widespread and systemic vote tampering that she invokes is likely? If she does, she needs to find a comfortable, sunny spot in a rocking chair next to Howard Dean and get some serious rest. But if she doesn’t, why is she validating conspiracy theories that she knows lack merit? Could it be a convenient, if deeply cynical, way to energize her party’s liberal base, as she gears up for a challenging reelection campaign? Or is it simply easier than boning up on the tough issues?

But let’s be charitable. Perhaps Senator Boxer is truly committed to ensuring that every vote counts. And if that’s the case, it’s certainly worth asking if she’ll follow that principle to its logical conclusion. In an age of electronic machines that can print paper receipts, shouldn’t there be some kind of “smart” technology that will ensure that only the ballots of legal, properly registered voters are counted? In a state where no identification need be shown before casting a ballot, that kind of reform would restore Californians’ faith in the fairness of the electoral system, more than a simple paper receipt. After all, contrary to the liberal myths about vote counting in Florida during the 2000 election, the state’s efforts to purge felons from the voting rolls did NOT prevent eligible voters from casting ballots – rather, they resulted in more than 6,500 ineligible felons voting, according to the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, and Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

But then again, perhaps for Senator Boxer, some kinds of fraud are worse than others. Or paranoia may just look like good policy from the vantage point of the fever swamps.


CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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