Join us, as our young campaign volunteer learns about touchscreen voting…
“One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine! Ten! YAY!” The little girl finished her turn at hopscotch and turned to face her cousin. “Now it’s YOUR turn, Cousin Pavel!”
Pavel chuckled and moved over to the bigger hopscotch image on the pavement, on the other side of the swingset. “Okay, Kira, but once you’re in college, you have to use the BIG hopscotch game, like me. Okay?” His little cousin nodded, and he started hopping.
Pavel may have been a bit old for hopscotch – he WAS over eighteen, after all, and already in his second year of college – but he was back home for the day, and his cousins were visiting, so you can’t blame him for taking the 8-year-old to the city park and introducing her to the old games. She lived in the country, and hadn’t played hopscotch before.
As he hopped from side to side on the third pair of “side-by-side”squares, he noticed an old man sitting at a park bench across the park, watching and smiling. Could it be?
Sure enough, it was Pockets, the Deputy Committeeman over at 51stWard Party Headquarters, and, well, Pavel sure thought he had aged in the months since he’d seen him last. Pavel didn’t know exactly how old Pockets was; the old man had been a fixture at headquarters for generations. Pockets might well have worked there ever since Jefferson and Madison founded the party, centuries ago (not that the Founders would recognize their handiwork for what it’s become, of course).
Pavel waved to his old friend (Pockets thought of himself as Pavel’s mentor), just as his aunt signaled from home that it was time for Kira to come back in and help make dinner. Telling Kira he’d be home in a while, he sent her on her way, and headed over to Pockets’ bench.
It was a familiar sight – whether in his office at headquarters or a park bench in the open air, Pockets looked exactly as he always did: typing away on his laptop, with a bottle of beer and a bag of pretzels at his side. Pavel started to question the beer, then realized, no local policeman would give the deputy committeeman any trouble for an open beer bottle in this ward!
“Hiya, Pockets!” he said as he approached. “Enjoying the fresh air today?”
“Nahh,” muttered the old pol, shaking his head. “Just had ta get out of headquarters for awhile. They’re doing some printing on our noisiest copier, and what with it bein’ so close to my desk, I usually leave while the big runs are going. This one’ll take a coupla hours, so I figured I’d get more done out here than in there anyway. So how ya doin’ son? Back from college for a few days?”
“Yup! Our cousins are staying with us for a week, so I figured I’d come home to visit for a day anyway. I can’t miss more than a day of school, but I’d hate to miss my cousins’ visit completely!”
Pockets sighed. “I can’t get away from work. I was just sittin’ here on facebook, watching cat videos for a couple minutes, watching kids swinging, and then you went and showed your cousin how to play hopscotch, and I was back to work again. No rest for the wicked, eh Paully?”
Pavel apologized, with a confused expression. “Sorry we disturbed you, Pockets. Was Kira yelling the numbers too loudly?” Pavel had never known Pockets to have a hearing problem before, but it made sense in context…
“No, no, Paully, don’t misunderstand me.” Pockets took a healthy swig of his beer as he shook his head. “No, I was in my old world; didn’t even notice the counting. But when I saw you go hit the side-by-side numbers, it pulled me back to reality because of duh news, that’s all.”
Now Pavel was completely baffled, and asked to explain. With a sigh, the old man spilled it.
“Okay, son, you know how we have two ways to vote in Cook County nowadays, either by paper ballot or by touchscreen?”
“Sure, Pockets.” This wasn’t news… the touchscreens had been taking the country by storm ever since the technology was available, usually as an option, not as the only voting method.
“Well,” Pockets began, “ever since the so-called ‘butterfly ballot’ accusations of 2000, when we were able to convince the country that people didn’t know who they were voting for if the ballots were in book form, we’ve been shouting that people need a way to vote that makes it absolutely certain that they’re voting for who they want to vote for.”
“Makes sense to me,” Pavel replied. “What’s wrong with that?”
"Well, son, dat’s the thing… there’s nothing really wrong with making the ballot bigger, or using a bigger font or something, so that people are sure they’re voting for who they want to. Even though we made up the whole thing in Florida…”
Pavel interrupted. “Made up? Huh? I heard that thousands of old people thought they were voting for Gore, but they accidentally voted for Buchanan instead!”
Pockets chuckled and munched on a pretzel. “Yeah, dat’s what we said, all right. But that’s not what happened. What the party did was to call a bunch a senior citizens and plant the idea in their heads. ‘Who did you intend to vote for?’ ‘Did you notice that the Buchanan line was right next to the Gore line?’ ‘Are you positive your vote went to the guy you wanted?’ ‘A lot of people are worried that their vote went to the wrong guy… might you have made that mistake too???’ It was brilliant. People started screaming bloody murder.”
It took a lot to shock Pavel after all these years, but this WAS a revelation. “I thought they compared vote totals, and were surprised at the high level of support Buchanan got, making that area an aberration?”
Pockets shook his head with glee. “Nope, Paully, we made it all up! It was, uh, whaddaya call it, Post Hypnotic Suggestion.” He raised his bottle in a toast, took a swig, and continued. “Or whatever they call it. The whole thing was planted. The Buchanan numbers were consistent with similar demographics in other areas. No reason at all to assume there was a problem with the ballot or that anyone had accidentally voted wrong.”
Pavel paused and nodded his head. “I get it… the idea was just to plant doubt in the legitimacy of Florida’s numbers, as the case of Bush v. Gore played out, right?”
“Yeah, Paully, that’s part of it. But in addition, I think the party knew that there were dumber people, ya know, people who give up easier, so ta speak, who were getting frustrated by the voting process and were stopping voting entirely. Since these are our kinda voters, we want them to turn out more, not less, so we started seeing what we might be able to do to come up with something that would make voting so easy, and maybe even so fun, that it would pull these kinds of voters in for sure.”
Pavel began to understand. “The touchscreen is like a video game, isn’t it? You see a picture of the candidate, push a button to vote, watch the video slide over to the next race… for some people, that could be thought of as fun!”
Pockets nodded vigorously. “Exactly, Paully. How do we bring in the voters who are too bored to go vote? Make it fun for them!”
“That doesn’t sound like what our Founding Fathers had in mind for election day, does it?
“Heh, heh… Nahhh, it doesn’t, does it, Paully?” He took a swig and continued. “I was all for it, at first. Bring in more voters; the more people voting, the better we do. The more uneducated voters, the better of a chance we have. It all makes sense. But there’s a downside. It’s the fraud.”
Pavel was baffled again. “How does this work differently than anything else you do, Pockets? You still have the paper ballots to mark during the lulls, you can still manufacture absentee votes and fake registrations… how does this stand in your way? Is the security that much better on the touchscreens, Pockets?”
Pockets shook his head No… as he got up and tossed his empty bottle in the wastebasket (there was a recyclables bin right next to it, but Pockets didn’t seem interested in it). Pockets reached into a satchel that Pavel had mistaken for a laptop case, and took out a fresh beer bottle, then continued.
“Nah, Paully, the problem is that fraud is too easy with the touchscreens. Never thought I’d say this, but it’s almost irresistible. With paper ballots, nobody SEES you do anything wrong. You mark the absentees back at headquarters when there’s nobody around, or ya work with other volunteers to roundtable a petition form, or a send in people to say they’re someone else; as long as there’s nobody to ask for an ID, ya can get away with all this stuff. Nobody outside the process gets to see it.”
“So what’s the flaw, Pockets?”
He shook his head and took out another pretzel. “You haven’t seen the news this week, have ya, son?”
“Nothing about this.”
Pockets sat up started gesturing with his pretzel. “In Illinois’ 56th district, there’s this Republican named Jim Moynihan. He’s running for state rep, and early voting started up this week… so he figures he’d make a campaign thing out of it and get a press release out. He goes to his early voting location, and casts his ballot on Day One, right? Perfectly normal.”
“Yup, perfectly normal.”
“Well, Moynihan wants to look modern and tech-savvy, of course, so he goes to the touchscreen machine. He tries to vote for himself, pushes the button on his name, and whaddaya think happens?”
“The cursor jumps to the other one and registers his vote as a vote for his opponent, Michelle Mussman!”
“Yes!” Pockets took a swig of his beer and continued. “So he tries again, and it does it again. He tries to vote for a couple other Republicans on the ballot, and each time it jumps to the next square over and registers it as a vote for the Democrat!”
“Omigosh. Um, um, did he call the state’s attorney?” Pavel was holding in the laughter by now, because this was just too precious, but he couldn’t let on; he tried to keep a straight face. He looked very concerned as he asked “I suppose he filed a formal complaint?”
“I dunno,” said Pockets…. “but he worked with the election judges for awhile, and they finally figured out that if you hit a Republican button smack in the middle, it registers as a Democrat, but if you hit it away from the button, like in the corner of the square, then it registers for the Republican you’re aiming for. It’s crazy, but they seem to have bought the idea that it was just ‘calibrated wrong.’”
Pavel thought a moment, and said “Well, that IS possible, Pockets. Every point on a touchscreen has to be calibrated. The screen and the image behind it aren’t REALLY related at all; you have to calibrate the touch sensors. So it COULD have just been calibrated wrong.”
“On three different races, Paully?” Pockets snorted. “Come on, son, you’re smarter than that. Even I don’t believe it. What do you think the voters are gonna think when they read about this story?”
Pavel said he didn’t know.
“Well, then, I’ll tell ya.” Pockets started ticking off imaginary bullet points in the air, using a pretzel as a pointer as he often does. “They’ll think about the news stories of illegal aliens voting, and of ACORN’s fake registrations, and of politicians paying people for their absentee ballots, and of all the double-registrations… Heck, one of our candidates for Congress in 2012 was caught voting in two states in the same election… not a nobody, not a functionary, not an old hack like me, but a Congressional nominee! It’s all in the press now, it’s all available to be googled now…”
Pockets was beginning to look exhausted, even exasperated. “These touchscreens are just too much, ya know? With everything that Breitbart and O’Keefe revealed over the past coupla elections, and all the efforts by True the Vote and other watchdog groups, people are beginning to realize how much vote fraud there is, and how dependent we are on it. We’ve spent fifty years – my whole career – dependent on the idea that vote fraud is just a Chicago thing. Now that people can see that we do it all over the country, we should get smarter, ya know?”
Pavel nodded. “Yeah, it’s like in the movie ‘Guys and Dolls,’ right, Pockets?” Pockets didn’t seem to get the reference, so he explained. “Lieutenant Brannigan is reminding everyone that the heat is on, so Nathan Detroit can’t find a place to hold his floating dice game. He finally does, but having the heat on certainly reduces the amount of gambling going on. What’s happening now is that we’re getting all the warnings that the heat is on, but instead of heeding the warnings and keeping a low profile for a few elections, we’re doubling down and making it more obvious than ever that it’s what we do!”
“Exactly, Paully!” shouted Pockets, as he wiped the beer and crumbs off his mouth and got up, now starting to pace back and forth… “The touchscreen is the worst because it’s so easy to cheat with it, it’s almost irresistible, but the voter will see it when it happens, as it did in the 56th district this time. But there are so many other things about the touchscreen… it could be programmed to display right, but record a different vote in the background… it could be programmed to record votes on races that the voter skipped on purpose… it could be programmed by anybody, maybe the election judges, maybe the county board of elections… it could even be programmed back at the software company, remotely. One guy could steal a whole election, all by himself, with these things!”
Pockets finally sat back down in a huff, and took another swig.
“But isn’t that what you want, Pockets? You’ve always complained about how much work all this is, going after the election piece by piece, absentee by absentee… wouldn’t it be great if we could just do it all ourselves and be sure of the outcome?”
Pavel was genuinely wondering what Pockets would say to this line of logic, and he awaited an answer.
“Paully,” the old man asked, “didn’t you ever hear of plausible deniability?”
“Well, that’s the issue here. We’ve always taken care to make sure that our election enhancement could be blamed on local hacks like me, or maybe a candidate’s over-anxious volunteers, or a private nonprofit that just went too far. That’s critical to our whole deal. Every Democrat knows we do this, but we’ve always made sure that our candidates themselves have clean hands. It can’t be pinned on them.”
Pockets just shook his head. “Maybe it’s not worth it anymore, Paully. I just can’t take it. It’s become too hard. We’re taking such a beating in the polls, we hafta make up more and more votes every time. Millions of illegal immigrants to legalize in time for the next election… finding new ways to dump military absentee ballots so they can’t be counted or can’t arrive on time… coming up with ever-less-believable excuses to refuse to demand Real ID at the polls. It’s just crazy, but we’ve gotta do it to hold on to some of our seats. We’re getting our clock cleaned this year, even with election enhancements. Can you imagine how badly we’d do without them?”
Pavel shook his head, and brought him back to the subject of the touchscreens. “So what should we do about the touchscreens, Pockets? Should we ban them entirely? Or just manage them smarter?”
Pockets thought about it for a minute, then finally said “I think we should run them honestly. If we ran them completely honestly, it would probably work in our favor… but it’s just too hard to resist. I don’t think the touchscreen machines will ever be trustworthy. Republicans have taken to calling them ‘Fraud Machines’ even before the 2012 election. There were reports from coast to coast in 2012 about machines flipping people’s votes from Romney to Obama, right before their eyes. It’s irresistible to people like you and me, Paully, and you know there’s only thing to do when something’s irresistible: Remove the opportunity.”
Pavel asked for clarification. “So you’re saying, we Democrats can’t resist the urge to tamper with touchscreens, so we should oppose them completely?”
“Yeah, Paully. As long as we have something we can program to turn a vote our way, we’ll find a way to do it. ” Pockets took a final sip, finishing his second bottle. “It’s just what we do, Paully. For fifty years, we’ve become so good at vote fraud we’re addicted to it. We can’t live without it, even when we’re at risk of getting caught. It’s what Democrats do.”
As the old man tossed yet another empty bottle into the wastebasket, Pavel decided Pockets might indeed know what he was talking about, where addiction was concerned.
As Pockets headed back to headquarters, Pavel headed home, to have a conversation with his parents, and to start warning every Republican he knew to watch out for touchscreen voting machines.
And when he brought cousin Kira back to the park for hopscotch after dinner, he had a whole new thought to picture in his head as their feet hopped from square to square on the cold pavement.
Copyright 2014 John F. Di Leo, John
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance trainer who was an election judge, precinct captain, and party area chairman in the Cook County of the 1970s and 80s. He remembers the old machines with levers and switches, the hanging chads of the butterfly ballot, and probably every kind of optical scan ballot there is… and he’s seen enough to know better than to ever trust a touchscreen ‘fraud machine.’
This is a work of fiction. Pavel, Pockets, The Boss, and the rest of the denizens of the 51st Ward are fictional characters, and bear no resemblence to any person, living or dead. Unfortunately, the vote fraud that they discuss in these Tales of Little Pavel is all too real, as demonstrated by a growing multitude of press accounts, arrests, and convictions.
Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included. Follow John F. Di Leo on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on Twitter at @johnfdileo.