The "Voting Machine Switched My Ballot" Stage of the Election is Here

Why every election comes with a panic about stolen votes.
Photograph by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The age of electronic voting machines has inaugurated the age of the 11th-hour panic about technology stealing votes. Every cycle, when voting begins, some citizens using the machines produced by Diebold and its competitors call news desks, insisting that their ballots were rigged, in the darkness of the polling booth.

In 2008, Tennessee voters reported that their ES&S machines were turning McCain votes into support for Barack Obama. In November 2010, the victims were people who wanted to vote against Harry Reid, but were repeatedly denied, before a clerk sorted things out. November 2012, it was Republicans in Ohio who told Fox News that their Romney votes were transmogrified into Obama votes. ("My personal opinion is that she hit it too hard," insisted an election clerk.)

But it used to be Democrats who panicked about the e-vote. The best cultural time capsule of that paranoia–which fueled a fairly robust conspiracy theory that George W. Bush stole the Ohio vote–remains a pre-2008 Simpsons special clip, in which Homer Simpson tried to vote for Obama and was brutally murdered by a rigged contraption.

Early voting has pushed up the schedule of the panic–which, it should be remembered, is based on real humans worrying that their votes were switched. This year's viral outbreak began in Illinois (naturally), where Republicans hope to have a breakout year, and state representative candidate Jim Moynihan attempted to vote for himself.

"Moynihan voted for several races on the ballot," reports Paul Miller at the conservative, "only to find that whenever he voted for a Republican candidate, the machine registered the vote for a Democrat in the same race."

Like every vote-rigging story, this led to a bureaucrat huffing about a "calibration error." Occam's razor: That's what it is. If you're going to rig a machine–and, for the record, you should not–you will not rig it to reveal its trickery while the voter is still watching. NBC's briefly popular Heroes made this clear, revealing the wisdom of vote-rigging after the voters have left and the machines can be tampered with, preferably through the use of undetectable powers.

When will voters stop worrying about partisan forces stealing their elections. Likely never. Conspiracy theory research is clear about this; trust in the "establishment" is low, trust in government is lower, and voters are very willing to believe the worst about the people who want to run them. Until their candidates win. Then the election was probably fair.

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