Down the Rabbit Hole with Democracy and Three Urgent Pleas

By Sheila Parks


Who used to have it in the USA, and who has it now? People with white skin privilege? People who were born male? People with piles of money, much of it stolen from other people’s labor?

I often hear European Americans from all walks of life talking about democracy in the USA – how they want to reclaim it, like in the good old days – and I wonder about how differently from one another we experience this country. This is not our land; not my land nor your land. When European Americans arrived over 500 years ago, we murdered with bullets and small pox blankets – that we intentionally gave to them – the Indigenous people who had lived in balance here for thousands of years. Then we enslaved people of African descent to build the country’s wealth, and kept women – who did not even get the vote until 1920 – second class citizens and the property of men for even longer.

The United States government is not a shining light. We never have been, and we are not now. While it was never really good for too many people, what has changed here in the USA is that it has gotten worse, not better. Our own elections system is now a corporate-controlled charade, with big money pulling all the strings and using electronic voting machines to rig the elections. And as we pretend to spread “democracy” all over the world, what we are really spreading is a devastating complex of illegal, immoral wars, both here and abroad.

When our children and grandchildren ask me what I am doing in this crucial time to stop our government from murdering people at home and abroad, I want to be able to tell them that I am doing everything I possibly can to get democracy in this country for all the people, for the first time ever, and to end these brutal behaviors everywhere. Don’t you?

Clicking and sending emails and online petitions against the myriad, devastating problems facing us now is fine as far as it goes. But half-measures avail us nothing. Pleading with the people who make and then carry out the murderous policies of the USA government is time wasting at best and ridiculous at worst. Yes, we did get to keep some funding for Planned Parenthood, through an Amazonian effort.

We here in the USA need to follow and emulate the examples of the people in Tunisia, Egypt and Wisconsin. The people of Tunisia and Egypt non-violently resisted immoral and murderous governments, and they won. Tunisia has ruled that there must be equal numbers of women and men who are candidates in their upcoming July election. Egypt is still in process and we look especially to what they do about women’s rights. Juan Cole and Shahin Cole have written a wonderful article: “An Arab Spring for Women”.

During the Mubarak reign of terror, Egypt used to count its ballots by hand, a close Egyptian friend has told me. Everyone knew those elections were rigged, she added. That means that when we suggest to the Egyptian people that they continue to hand-count their votes now, but with very different protocols, to safeguard the counting and election, we have a different job ahead of us from demanding that here in the USA we hand-count all the ballots.

The Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, wrote recently about helping Tunisia with “free and fair elections.” Part of OSCE’s mandate is fair elections. The OSCE site has this unbelievable final report summary on the 2004 USA presidential election that they were invited to observe; OSCE thought the election was fine. The assistance of OSCE for Tunisia might not be so helpful.

Wisconsin must continue the magnificent uprising it has begun against the corrupt politicians who are attacking unions, the middle class, and women’s rights.

However, Wisconsonites, please take heed: Doing recalls on hackable electronic voting machines, the same machines that put in office those you are trying now to recall, is not such a good strategy (see more below). I have been involved in the current wave of Voting Rights since the 2000 presidential election in Florida. I have observed two hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) recounts in real time. I have also observed several HCPB elections in real time, and have written about these elections and other voting rights issues. These papers can be found on the web site of the non-profit organization I founded Center for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots. The site has much information on it about the hacking of the machines by researchers and computer experts, documents in favor of hand-counted paper ballots elections, and other related topics.

FIRST URGENT PLEA: We here in the USA must non-violently resist our immoral and murderous government: with direct action, civil disobedience, civil resistance.

Immoral wars abroad against Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and supporting Israel in its wars against Gaza.

Immoral war at home against women and our bodies. Some still think that other issues need all our attention now and these are “only” women’s rights that we can attend to after all the other important rights are fixed. The savage attempted and successful attacks on women’s bodies by governors and both national and local legislatures feel like rabid dogs relentlessly biting us. Do you read Feministing, Angry Black Woman, Feministe, Ms.?

Immoral war at home against people of color. More African Americans are in prison now in the USA than there were in South Africa during all of Apartheid. See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. (1) Ask any of these inmates languishing in our vast prison complex – mostly on non-violent drug charges – how democracy works for them. Have you read Charles Ogletree, The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. And Race, Class and Crime in America? Ogletree includes stories of 100 African American men and shows how “race trumps class”. (2) Do you know that our prisons are now increasingly privatized, and that Dick Cheney is one of those making so much money on them?

Immoral war against Native Americans. Trapped on reservations plagued with poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse and record levels of suicide; Leonard Peltier has been languishing in prison since 1977, with a release date of perhaps 2040. “….how the Bill of Rights failed….Choke on your blue white and scarlet hypocrisy….” sings Buffy Sainte-Marie in My Country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying.

Immoral nuclear power plants. Building more of them is still on Obama’s agenda, even after Fukushima, now called worse then Chernobyl, despite the corporate media whiteout of the radiation now contaminating the water, soil and air across the globe. Do you know that Exelon, major nuclear power plant operator, was one of the highest contributors to Obama, both in Illinois when he was Senator and when he ran for the White House? Do you know that Representative Edward Markey, Democrat from Massachusetts, a high ranking and supposedly good player about nuclear power plants, has introduced legislation asking for new, better and safer nuclear power plants, rather than no more nukes, no more weapons of mass destruction?

Immoral war against the climate and the planet itself. As the climate crisis reaches its tipping point, the corporate government hides its ostrich head in the sand while cutting back on investment in sustainable, renewable energy, like sun and wind power.

Immoral war against LGBT people. Many suicides by LGBT youth and attacks and murders of LGBT people shine a bright light on the homophobia and heterosexism of our society. LGBT people still cannot marry in most states and the armed forces saga continues. There has never been enough money spent for AIDS research.

Immoral war against whistleblower Bradley Manning. After months of torture at Quantico, he is finally being moved to Leavenworth, a medium security prison. The army says the move had nothing to do with public pressure. Clicking and sending helped here.

Immoral war against our food supply with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) that are not even labeled. We have a right to know exactly what is in the food we eat. GMO’s have known health risks, “including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” GMO’s are also dangerous to the environment. “Up to 90% of U.S. soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets are now genetically engineered and routinely inserted into human and animal foods with no labels or safety testing.” See Organic Consumers Association, Millions Against Monsanto and Institute for Genetic Responsibility GMO Basics. And the latest crime against us: USDA now moves to let Monsanto do its own studies. Eat organic.

Immoral wars against most of its people. Now the government is at war with most of its people in all ways, except the ultra rich.

If I have left out your favorite screams and/or weeps, I apologize in advance. These are mine; I could have gone on and on.

SECOND URGENT PLEA: Please pay attention to those of us who, educate, write, investigate, litigate, legislate and talk about the rigging of our elections by all electronic voting machines.

The putsch with electronic voting machines is a more devious way of murdering us. There are two major kinds of electronic voting machines: Direct Recording Electronic (DRE’s / Touchscreens) and optical scan (op scans or opti scans) voting machines. My friend and colleague, Lucius Chiaraviglio, has most aptly renamed then “op scams.” All computer systems can be manipulated without detection, and so amount to an illegal, hidden ballot count. Do you know that our elections are owned and operated by a privatized voting machine industry?

The mess in Wisconsin now for the Supreme Court election has once again put vote counting and our elections in the spotlight. My friend and colleague, Victoria Collier, has published a significant paper on the subject at (Again, see below for more information.)

Rigging, tinkering with or manipulating elections is a bi-partisan equal opportunity. Republicans and Democrats are involved:


– Florida, 2000. Kathleen Harris, Secretary of State, with strong ties to the Republican party. See The Brooks Brothers Riot, where paid Republican operatives, pretending to be ordinary voters, tried to stop the recount in Florida.

– Florida, 2000. See David Barstow and Don Van Nata, Jr., How Bush Took Florida: Mining the Overseas Absentee Vote. (3)

– Georgia, 2002. Paraplegic liberal and popular Democratic Senator Max Cleland loses in an “upset victory” to conservative Republican Saxby Chambliss, as reported by Bev Harris in Black Box Voting, noting that there were six Georgia contests in which Republicans “won upset victories”.

– Ohio, 2004. Kenneth Blackwell, Secretary of State, with strong ties to the Republican Party, promises to deliver Ohio to Bush. See John Conyers, What Went Wrong in Ohio. (4) Conyers argues that many of the problems in Ohio involved Blackwell taking a major role in “intentional misconduct and illegal behavior.” “intentional misconduct and illegal behavior.”

– Wisconsin, 2011. The election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court was won by Republican incumbent Justice David Prosser by 7,316 votes. The difference is small enough between Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, to allow a recount. On April 19, 2011, the Independent candidate, JoAnne Kloppenburg who lost, asked for a statewide recount. She asked for a hand-count of ballots only in some districts, to be determined by working with the Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) Brad Blog has noted that recount protocol in Wisconsin allows only for a recount by the same machines that were used in the election, unless there is a court order for a hand-counted recount. Because some of the jurisdictions would have required erasing the memory cards from the election in order to make room for the data from the recount, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ordered a hand-recount in 31 counties, including another 14 municipalities in Milwaukee County and 34 municipalities in Waukesha County. Both Prosser and Kloppenburg went along with this. Here is an interesting description of what the recount will look like. From Voting News, there is more information about the Wisconsin Recount, here and here. Recount begins 4/27, 9AM.

A huge standing ovation to Kloppenburg for her courage, for standing strong and for her refusal to cede and cave a la Gore, Kerry, and Coakley in Massachusetts. And some possible perils: By now there is no secure chain of custody of the ballots and ballot boxes (if there ever was one) and that will present very serious problems for an honest recount. Not only must she do a statewide recount, but also she must use the same methods for the recount across the whole state (which is not going to happen, alas), or she could perhaps be in the same fix as Al Gore was in Florida, 2000. See Bush, et al. vs. Gore, et al. (5) and Paul Lehto, J.D. on Bush v. Gore. And the entire recount must be done by hand, (which both sides have already agreed not to do, another alas), or else the ballots will be passed through the same op scan machines that were used the first time and could have been rigged then, and could be rigged in the recount. Then there are the DRE’s that cannot be recounted, just the same results printed again from the same machines. I hope she will have her team take pictures of each and every ballot, whether recounted by hand or op scans. Of course there are no ballots for the DRE’s, so there can be no pictures. You can send an email to the Kloppenburg Campaign:


– Why did Al Gore not protest the Supreme Court appointment of George W. Bush as the next president? As he rolled over without a fight, he stated, “…And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession….”. What unity? What democracy? With an appointment to the presidency in a political vote by the Supreme Court of the United States? See also Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. (6)

– Why did Obama, in his acceptance speech in Chicago, proudly talk about the elder woman, a former slave of African descent, who put her finger out and touched the screen for his name? He knew the dangers thereof; he has been contacted by scores of voting rights activists, as has Clinton, et al. “….And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change….”

– Was Obama’a statement a prelude to Hillary Clinton asking India to help newly born Egypt with its elections? India uses paperless Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the worst possible technology, though an Election Commission is now calling for a “paper trail of votes cast.”

THIRD URGENT PLEA: We need secure hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections now.

That each of our votes is counted as cast is the bedrock of democracy. Voting rights are the rights that all our other rights stand on. We need more organizations to take a stand for totally transparent, secure hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections, where we are not asked to “trust” the results.

At The Center For Hand-Counted Paper Ballots, you can learn how several jurisdictions in the United States hand-count their votes. These are observations I made in real time of hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections. Scroll especially down to Acton, Maine. This could be a model for the whole country.

Vote Rescue, in Texas, founded by Vickie Karp and Karen Renick, is the only other organization dedicated solely to hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections, with no fall back position or compromise they are willing to make for political motives.

The following are some necessary elements of secure hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections:

– Hand-counting is done for all races and initiatives, not only federal.
– The hand-counting process will be easily understood by a fifth grade student.
– No precinct is larger than 1000 registered voters.
– Hand-counting is done at each precinct, immediately after the polls close.
– Poll books of voters checking in and poll books of voters checking out must exactly match.
– Get rid of all e-poll books.
– The number of ballots counted must exactly match the number of ballots distributed. .
– The number of ballots printed must match the number of ballots distributed, voted, and not voted
– No absentee ballots will be allowed, except for people in dire need and these ballots must be accounted for, managed, and counted in a procedure that is yet to be written.
– Hand-counting is done by teams of opposing parties on the ballot, chosen by
the parties themselves.
– Other smaller parties can also be on hand-counting teams, in addition to those opposing parties on the ballots – e.g. Greens.
– Hand-counting is done by new people coming in to count, not those who have been working at the polls all day.
– Hand-counters are paid a very good hourly rate. This not only pays for one of the most important jobs in a democracy, but also keeps the money in the community and is far less expensive than buying, maintaining, upgrading and storing electronic voting machines.
– Hand-counting is done in full view of the public.
-Hand-counting is done twice and the results must match.
– Hand-counting is videotaped by any member of the public who want to do so, while it is being done and also by official videographers, one from each opposing parties on the ballot.
– Hand-counting results are posted at the precinct, in the windows, after the counting
so that all can see easily after polls close.
– No electronic voting machines, computers, or modems of any kind are allowed in any part of the hand-count with one exception.
– The exception is that one electronic voting machine will be allowed in each precinct, e.g. an Automark, for people with disabilities to use. Under no circumstances whatsoever will any other voters be allowed to use this especially designated machine.
– The hand-count, which has been done twice, will be the official count of the election from each precinct.
– This section on chain of custody and security of the ballots and ballot boxes is a work in progress.
– Ballot and Ballot Box Transportation & Ballot Storage (last two sections) by Doug Jones gives many details of how to secure the ballots and their boxes
– See more details of security of ballots and their boxes by Sheila Parks. Scroll down to third paragraph from the end
– Ballot boxes will be of clear plastic with a lock on each of the four corners. These boxes will be kept in full view of the election officials and the public at all times, from before the official opening time of the polls until the official election results are posted in the windows of each precinct.
– The locks on the ballot boxes will have two keys only, that is, one key will open two of the locks and another key will open the other two locks.
– There will be only one key for each of the two keys above. There will be no copies of keys.
– A Republican election official will hold one key and a Democrat election official will hold the other key.
– The ballot boxes will not be opened until all votes have been cast and the polls are
– The ballot boxes will be opened in full view of the public.
– After the votes are hand-counted, the ballots will be placed in steel containers with seals on them.
– A secure chain of custody for the ballots and ballot boxes must be written from the precinct level to where they will be stored.

Furthermore, there are several problems with our voting process, not only that our votes are not counted as cast, because of the fraud and error associated with all electronic voting machines, but also, that even if these problems were all fixed, the electronic voting machines would continue to rig our elections. And even if we had secure hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections, the problems listed below would still exist. Our voting system is a hydra-headed weapon of mass destruction:

Suppression of the votes of students, low income people, African Americans, Latinas, elders.
– A whiteout of the news from any candidates the corporate media does not want to be elected.
– A whiteout of the news from the corporate media of any of the fraud and rigging that voting rights activists have been pointing out and writing about at least since Florida 2000 presidential race.
– Corrupt election officials who run our elections and have strong past and present ties to the right wing of the Republican Party.
– Corrupt and/or incompetent voting election officials from both Democratic and Republican parties, and most likely all the other parties too.
– Endless corporate money into coffers of candidates.
– Requiring of voter ID photos, which are issued only by the state, e.g., Department of Motor Vehicles, in order to vote.
– Absentee ballots, with both parties increasingly calling for more.
– Mail-in voting
– The election of two senators from each state means, e.g., that the voters in North Dakota and Vermont have an influence that is hugely disproportionate to voters in California.

April 15, 2011, as the House passed the brutal 2012 Budget Resolution on Friday, April “….During the debate, nine protesters were removed from the House gallery. Sitting in various parts of the visitors’ chambers, the protesters, mostly young men and women, would stand up one-by-one and ad lib lyrics to the “Star Spangled Banner” and “We Shall Overcome….”

April 21, 2011 at a breakfast with Obama, some of his donors sang a song to him about Bradley Manning, before they were ushered out.

April 2011. The arrest of young, pregnant women and young mothers, students at Catherine Ferguson School in Detroit, Michigan. The students and one teacher were arrested for protesting the closing of their school, as they were sitting in the library and refusing to leave the building. The police were not gentle. The direct action takes part toward the end of the whole segment, but the entire video, by Rachel Maddow, is well worth watching.

April 27, 2011 at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, NY, Thirty-seven arrested as they protest use of Drones.

Imagine if we were to go to all the legislatures, local and national, all events where officials gather, and wherever there is injustice – and let the gangsters and mobsters there who are robbing and murdering not only us, but also at least seven generations after us, know that we are there not only watching them but also resisting in real time. We must heal our country and our beloved and beautiful planet Earth.


1. The New Press, New York and London, 2010.

2. Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

3. The New York Times, pp. A1, A17, A18, July 15, 2001.

4. What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election. Paper. Academy Chicago Publishers.

5. 531 U.S. 98 (2000).

6. Anchor Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York, paper, 2008. Prologue, pp 1-9; PART TWO, Chapters 11, 12, 13, pp. 165-208.

Sheila Parks, Ed.D., Founder, Center for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots

Thanks to Bev Harris, Jean Weber, Lucius Chiaraviglio, Marguerite Rosenthal, Michael Collins, Paul Lehto, Victoria Collier.

The author is totally responsible for the text as well as any errors in it. Sheila Parks, Ed.D., is an Organizing Consultant who lives in Boston, MA. She is a long time feminist and peace & justice activist/organizer on many issues and has been involved in the current wave of voting rights for five years.

One response to “Down the Rabbit Hole with Democracy and Three Urgent Pleas

  1. In the first place we are a REPUBLIC. We are not a Democracy and the Founders had absolutely no intention of creating one. In the second place, I do not think universal sufferage makes much sense in the economic context of this Republic. To carefully consider candidates for office and varied ballot measures requires leisure and intelligence. It is not that the working masses lack capacity, it is they lack the energy and time to formulate opinions of their own that are not promulgated by an interest group that does this work for them. The election of the man called Barry Sotero clearly indicates that the capacity of the public to think for itself is quite limited. I recognize this is not an ideal world, however we are disingenious to the utmost when we blather about public participation and refuse to think about precisely what we mean.
    To use a brutal analogy: school children if given a vote surely will not vote for more homework and harder classes.

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