Paul Krugman (where's that Pulitzer?) has a typically savvy column today, on Saving the Vote:
Everyone knows it, but not many politicians or mainstream journalists are willing to talk about it, for fear of sounding conspiracy-minded: there is a substantial chance that the result of the 2004 presidential election will be suspect.
When I say that the result will be suspect, I don't mean that the election will, in fact, have been stolen. (We may never know.) I mean that there will be sufficient uncertainty about the honesty of the vote count that much of the world and many Americans will have serious doubts.
How might the election result be suspect? Well, to take only one of several possibilities, suppose that Florida – where recent polls give John Kerry the lead – once again swings the election to George Bush.
Much of Florida's vote will be counted by electronic voting machines with no paper trails. Independent computer scientists who have examined some of these machines' programming code are appalled at the security flaws. So there will be reasonable doubts about whether Florida's votes were properly counted, and no paper ballots to recount. The public will have to take the result on faith.
As Krugman notes, once one combines the voting machine issues with Governor Jeb Bush's attempts to disenfranchise (via the manipulated 'felons' list) and intimidate Black voters (a traditional Republican pastime here), a close pro-Bush Florida outcome will inevitably be subject to doubt. Krugman proposes that voters be given paper ballots on request to create a paper trail.
That seems very reasonable, except for one thing. I'm actually more worried by something Krugman left out: old fashioned absentee ballot stuffing. We have a lot of that down here in Florida, and we catch a few of the perps every election. Or rather, we used to catch them. Now that the Jeb Bush and the Republican legislature have abolished the witness requirement for absentee ballots, there's no longer going to be any way to tell if one person is responsible for a suspiciously large number of votes —so it's going to be open season on ballot fraud. And the more that people turn to paper in fear of electronic voting the more that 'noise' will camouflage the work of the ballot-stuffers…