Your Vote is the Property of a Private Corporation
March 12, 2003
By Thom Hartmann
right of voting for representatives is the primary right by
which all other rights are protected. To take away this right
is to reduce a man to slavery..."
- Thomas Paine
Santa Clara County, of all jurisdictions in America, should
have known better. They could have started by looking at Florida.
Jeb Bush stole the vote in Florida in 2000 by kicking thousands
of legitimately registered black voters off the voting rolls
because they had similar names to Texas felons, a feat well
documented by Greg Palast and the mainstream British press.
In a brilliant bit of misdirection, Bush portrayed the problem
as one of incompetent elderly voters, dumb minority voters,
and a problem with "chads" - unreliable voting technology.
Bush's answer was to install touch-screen voting machines
across Florida in time for the 2002 election. (In this, he
was following a similar course as Georgia, Texas, and 30 other
key states, in large part because of $3.9 billion in federal
funds offered by the "Help America Vote Act" passed just after
the 2000 election to encourage states to replace government-run
paper-trail vote systems with no-paper-trail computerized
systems from private corporate vendors.)
But in the November 2002 election, when some Florida voters
pressed the touch-screen "button" for Bush's Democratic opponent,
votes were instead recorded for Bush. "Misaligned" touch-screen
voting machines were blamed for the computer-driven vote-theft,
and when a losing candidate in Palm Beach sued to inspect
the software of Florida's computerized voting machines, a
local judge denied the petition, citing the privacy rights
of the corporation that wrote the programs.
This was followed by January 2003 revelations
that Republican Senator Chuck Hagel was the former head (and
a current stockholder) of the private voting machine company
that tabulated the vote in Nebraska - where he ran for office
and won - and that he had neglected to tell Senate ethics
investigators about it.
And in February of 2003, Bev Harris of www.blackboxvoting.com
noticed a wide-open FTP site. Harris had just done a Google
search on the company that tabulated most of the vote in Georgia
in the 2002 election. (That was the upset election that saw
popular war-hero Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam,
defeated by a poll-trailing draft dodger who campaigned by
questioning Cleland's patriotism.) Walking into the unsecured
FTP website, she says she found a software patch that was
apparently applied statewide to Georgia's voting machines
just days before the election, and a folder titled "rob-georgia."
And corporate control of America's vote has reached beyond
the borders of this nation. The last week of February, New
York's "Newsday" reported in a story by staff writer Mark
Harrington that: "Election.com, a struggling Garden City start-up
scheduled to provide online absentee ballots for U.S. military
personnel in the 2004 federal election, has quietly sold controlling
power to an investment group with ties to unnamed Saudi nationals,
according to company correspondence."
Fast-forward a few days to the first week of March, 2003.
Dan Spillane, a former software engineer for a voting machine
company that includes a former CIA Director and Dick Cheney's
former assistant on its board of directors, has sued his employer
for firing him when he pointed out holes in their system that
he claims could lead to vote-rigging. Although there is a
certification process for ensuring the honesty of votes tabulated
by computerized, touch-screen voting machines, according to
Spillane the system works "very much like Arthur Andersen
in the Enron case." (Anderson
Consulting has renamed itself, added Microsoft's CEO to
its board, and gone into the business of helping corporations
get contracts to perform previously-government-run services.)
Spillane filed his lawsuit the same week that Santa Clara
County, California decided to hand their electoral process
over to computerized electronic voting machines programmed
by a private corporation. The machines generate no paper trail
that can be audited, and when voting machine companies have
been challenged to produce audits of their vote or to disclose
details of their software, they cite the privacy rights that
come from corporations being considered "persons" in the United
Of all localities in America, Santa Clara County should
have been the wariest. This is the county, after all, that
sued the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886 over non-payment
of taxes and, in losing the lawsuit, paved the way for the
corporate takeover of the United States of America.
When the railroad suggested to the Supreme Court that the
Fourteenth Amendment, which freed the slaves by guaranteeing
all persons equal protection under the law regardless of race,
had also freed corporations because they should be considered
"persons" just like humans, the attorney for Santa Clara County,
Delphin M. Delmas, fought back ferociously.
"The shield behind which [the Southern Pacific Railroad]
attacks the Constitution and laws of California is the Fourteenth
Amendment," said Delmas before the Supreme Court. "It argues
that the Amendment guarantees to every person within the jurisdiction
of the State the equal protection of the laws; that a corporation
is a person; that, therefore, it must receive the same protection
as that accorded to all other persons in like circumstances."
The entire idea was beyond the pale, Delmas said. "The whole
history of the Fourteenth Amendment," he told the Court, "demonstrates
beyond dispute that its whole scope and object was to establish
equality between men - an attainable result - and not to establish
equality between natural and artificial beings - an impossible
The purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, passed just after
the Civil War, was clear, Delmas said. "Its mission was to
raise the humble, the down-trodden, and the oppressed to the
level of the most exalted upon the broad plane of humanity
- to make man the equal of man; but not to make the creature
of the State - the bodiless, soulless, and mystic creature
called a corporation - the equal of the creature of God."
He summarized his pleadings before the Supreme Court by
saying, "Therefore, I venture to repeat that the Fourteenth
Amendment does not command equality between human beings and
corporations; that the state need not subject corporations
to the same laws which govern natural persons; that it may,
without infringing the rule of equality, confer upon corporations
rights, privileges, and immunities which are not enjoyed by
natural persons; that it may, for the same reasons, impose
burdens upon a corporation, in the shape of taxation or otherwise,
which are not imposed upon natural persons."
Delmas had every reason to assume the Court would agree
with him - it already had in several similar cases. In an
1873 decision, Justice Samuel F. Miller wrote in the majority
opinion that the Fourteenth Amendment's "one pervading purpose
was the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment
of that freedom, and the protection of the newly-made freeman
and citizen from the oppression of those who had formerly
exercised unlimited dominion over him."
And, in fact, the Court chose to stay with its previous
precedent. It ruled on the tax aspects of the case, but explicitly
avoided any decision on whether or not corporations were persons.
"There will be no occasion to consider the grave questions
of constitutional law" raised by the railroad, the Court ruled
in its majority opinion. The case was about property taxes
and not personhood, and, "As the judgment can be sustained
upon this ground, it is not necessary to consider any other
questions raised by the pleadings."
But just as computerized voting machines can be reprogrammed,
so too, apparently, could a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The
Court's reporter - a former railroad president - took it upon
himself to grant corporations personhood in the commentary
(headnote) he wrote on the case, even though it explicitly
contradicted the Justices' ruling itself. (And to this day
other forms of association, like unions, unincorporated small
businesses, and even governments do not have personhood rights.)
But corporations have claimed the First Amendment right
of persons to free speech and struck down thousands of state
and federal laws against corporations giving money to politicians
or influencing elections; they've claimed Fourteenth Amendment
rights against discrimination to prevent communities from
"discriminating" against huge out-of-town retailers or corporate
criminals; and have claimed Fourth Amendment rights of privacy
that will prevent voters or public officials from examining
the software that runs their computerized voting machines.
Now corporations will be telling the citizens of Santa Clara
County how they voted. And those same corporations will use
the shield of corporate personhood - once valiantly disputed
before the Supreme Court by the County's attorney - to withhold
from the County's voters the right to "look behind the curtain"
at the corporate-owned software and computerized processes
that tabulate their vote. How sadly ironic.
Thom Hartmann is the author of "Unequal Protection: The
Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights."
This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission
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