In the days and weeks following the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and after the 2002 midterms, the issue of irregularities produced by the use of electronic voting machines blew up into a major issue in the blogosphere and in the left-wing press. But for the mainstream media, not so much.
By March 2006, Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman were able to sum up the outrage felt by elements of the left when they complained that no “major national publication[s] … have seriously investigated how these very electronic machines were used to help steal the presidential election in Ohio 2004, or to defeat two electoral reform issues in Ohio 2005, or to swing key U.S. Senate races in places such as Georgia, Minnesota and Colorado in 2002.”
This is all to say that people were ready and waiting for the ‘06 midterms to get messy. Compounding the trepidation was an October 2005 report by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office that found [PDF] that “concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes.”
That’s why, in the days leading up to the 2006 midterms, we took note of some stories about problems with the machines showing up in big-name publications. In the November 6 issue of Time, Michael Duffy pointed out that of the more than roughly 80 million Americans who were preparing to cast their vote, a full 90 percent “will either cast their vote on a computer or have it tabulated that way.” His piece chillingly outlined all the ways in which a machine can malfunction, either erasing a vote, failing to recognize a user, or recording the wrong vote.
On November 4, the New York Times’ Ian Urbina checked in with his own lengthy piece about the teams of lawyers the Democrats, Republicans and private interest groups were dispatching around the country in order to either challenge — or beat back a challenge to — the validity of the results.
On October 25, Amy Goldstein of the Washington Post reported that, according to a study done by Electiononline.com, “at least 10 states, including Maryland, remain ripe for voting problems … because they have a combustible mix of fledgling voting-machine technology, confusion over voting procedures or recent litigation over election rules — and close races.” Just a day earlier, the Post had published a story by Leef Smith outlining some of the specific glitches that computerized voting machines were being shown to manifest — like cutting off the last names of some candidates.
On election day, blogs like Talkingpointsmemo.com and others dutifully cataloged reports of faulty machines around the country, and when taken with the foreboding stories in the mainstream press, we got the distinct feeling that this whole thing was about to get nasty.
Indeed, the early returns looked messy. In a day-after piece, the Times’ Urbina gathered together some of these reports, while noting that “Common Cause, a nonpartisan voting rights group, said it had received 14,000 calls from voters reporting problems, about 2,000 of them in Pennsylvania,” and that the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law had received some 16,000 calls by Tuesday night, about 2,000 of which came from Ohio. Also on November 8, the Times’ Tom Zeller Jr. wrote a piece about how blogs were watch-dogging — and cataloging — problems with voting machines around the country.
And then, a great silence fell over the land. Or so we thought.
There seemed to be little in the way of follow up. Were there big problems or not? But then again, we were sticking to the big newsweeklies and a couple of “national” papers — the Times and the Post.