Why the New Hampshire recount is important

There are a couple of excellent posts up on why even though there are plausible explanations for the discrepancies in candidates’ results between hand-counted and machine-counted precincts, the recount in the New Hampshire primary is a good thing.

In Off the Bus on the Huffington Post, after giving some background on the vulnerabilities of the Diebold (now renamed Premier Election Services) voting machines used in New Hampshire, Kirsten Anderson puts things in a broader context:

The demand for a recount isn’t about the New Hampshire primary–anything short of a result showing Obama winning by more than say, 5% would still put the vote within the realm of a Clinton “comeback” from Iowa. It’s about the amount of distrust that voters have in the machine voting systems–machines which studies have shown to be not just hackable, but often poorly conceived and constructed.

Jon Stokes on ArsTechnica discusses the implication on the presidential campaign of uninvestigated claims of vote fraud by Clinton, and similarly highlights the loss of confidence in the election process:

From my perspective, this is what’s really at stake in the ongoing e-voting controversy: the government’s inability to fulfill its obligation to prove to the public that our elections are fair makes our democracy so much more fragile, and so much more susceptible to cracking under the shock of a major election controversy.

A few months ago I was talking to a friend about voting fraud, and she asked me whether any US elections had been affected yet. For the less-sexy topic of fraudulent disenfranchisement, the answer’s clearly yes: denying votes to millions of people across the country does sway elections, and the Supreme Court case on unnecessarily burdensome voter ID laws is likely to have a huge impact on the 2008 elections. For voting machine fraud, it’s not clear; between the vulnerable machines and lack of meaningful checks-and-balances, the opportunities for fraud are certainly there, and it’s possible that somebody’s gotten away with it without being discovered. Or maybe not; there just isn’t any way to know.

As they say in Plan 9 from Outer Space, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?” Well, with proper audit trails (which the machines used in New Hampshire support), you can investigate; and it’s worth doing so.