In the movie The Matrix, humanity has become subjugated to machines. Stupidly, we built machines that were so powerful that they became capable of thought and, when they disagreed with us, the machines decided to take control.

This is not a new concept in filmmaking. Remember the passive aggressive computer HAL in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey? He too decided that his programming conflicted with the desires of the humans around him, so he took charge – with unfortunate consequences for the humans caught in his programming’s crossfire.

After a lot of reading this past week, I’m coming to the disturbing conclusion that the election may have been stolen by the machines. Specifically, glitches, errors, and outright fraud perpetrated via the array of computerized voting machines in use around the country may well have had more than a passing role in the election of George W. Bush.

According to numerous websites, reports of problems with voting machines have been coming in by the thousands. In one precinct in Ohio, where a total of some 600 voters are registered, more than 3000 votes were recorded for – you guessed it – George W. Bush. Live on CNN on election morning, a woman in Florida recounted to the reporter that after she had carefully selected every Democrat running in the election, the voting machine displayed her choices for review and, sure enough, every Republican opponent was selected instead. Thankfully, election monitors were nearby and were called in to document the details and to demand that the machine be shut down for repairs.

It is worth noting that I have been unable to find any reported errors in favor of Sen. John Kerry or Democratic candidates.

I am far from a luddite. This website is hosted on a Unix-based server that I built and maintain (well, with a little help). But I have run my own email and web servers for the better part of a decade now. I am addicted to high-tech gadgetry, and despite the best efforts of Microsoft to breed suspicion and distrust in their competence, I still entrust my most sensitive data to their applications and operating systems.

I’m also far from a conspiracy theorist. But I’ve been around the block enough to know that there are many fewer coincidences than some would have you believe. And where there’s either power or money involved, the incidence of pure coincidence is even more rare.

Either the voting machine design and manufacturing industry is populated exclusively by the most daft morons in a thousand generations, or there’s something rotten in Denmark. (Well, actually, I think the Danes use reliable paper ballots…) Be that as it may, while I’d like think the best of those folks who have designed and built machines like the Diebold AccuVote and other devices, I have come to the conclusion that they must be blithering idiots, willfully inept, or criminally evil. And there’s evidence of all three.

Are they blithering idiots? Perhaps. After the 2000 election debacle in Florida, who decides that the “answer” is a technology incapable of performing a recount? Yes, yes, the idea is to get the vote tally right the first time so that you don’t have to recount. But, come on! This is our democracy here! We’re a pretty advance species, but this is still an era where even rocket scientists can mix up yards and meters and turn a multi-million dollar space probe into a pancake on the surface of Mars. Yet, the apologists for wonky voting machines refuse to admit that problems could even exist.

Are the voting machine people willfully inept? Apparently. The simple solution to the electronic voting problem is to create a paper trail. But somehow the idea of attaching a printer to the voting machines strikes the dipshits at Diebold as being about as sensical as affixing windshield wipers to a nanny-goats backside. They just can’t seem to figure out how that’s going to work, and may require several more election cycles before they have mastered the whole “spool of paper and itsy-bitsy dot matrix printer” thing.

On her radio show, Randi Rhodes recently recounted the story of a mayoral runoff in 2002 near West Palm Beach, the scene of the crime in 2000. Now, a special election for a mayoral runoff in a little town in southern Florida is not something that most folks will get excited about. But in one precinct, apparently 78 votes went uncounted. The voters had turned out for the special election, signed into the books, gotten their little smartcard, inserted it into the voting machine, cycled through the ballot, DECIDED NOT TO VOTE FOR ANYONE, pushed the button to record NOTHING, handed their card back to the poll worker, taken a “Yes! I Voted!” sticker, and gone home.

When the loser of the election – who lost by only a handful of votes – sought to contest the election, the registrar of voters, Theresa LePore, called him a sore loser and declared that the machines had functioned perfectly. LePore is best known as the creator of the infamous Butterfly Ballots that won the Jewish vote for Pat Buchannan in 2000. Pressed by reporters, South Florida’s answer to the question of whether the brain dead can live functional lives, blamed voters who were clearly too stupid to work the machines. Theresa, sweetie, it’s not the voters who are stupid here!

Finally, we turn to the question of whether the voting machine people evil. The evidence mounts. When the CEO of Diebold announces he’s “committed to delivering the election” for George W. Bush, every American should think twice about entrusting their vote to that company’s products. After the 2002 elections in Georgia, a post-mortem on their wonky voting machines uncovered a previously unknown software “patch” called “ROBGEORGIA.” The results of that election sent draft-dodger Saxby Chambliss to the U.S. Senate, ousting triple amputee Vietnam hero Max Cleland. Rob Georgia indeed!

When asked to turn over samples of their code to the Secretary of State of California, Diebold turned over false information, which is a crime. This led the Secretary of State to decertify an entire category of Diebold machines. When asked in other places to open their source code for review, Diebold and other voting machine manufacturers have claimed their code is a “trade secret” and should not be subject to review. In several instances, courts have apparently bought that argument.

I’ve been involved in a lot of litigation involving trade secrets. The rules for handling trade secrets in litigation are well defined, and anyone claiming otherwise should be told to go “Cheney” themselves.

But even then, there’s a higher rule that should be at play: Thou shalt not fuck with our Democracy. When it comes to protecting the sanctity of our voting process, no expense should be spared, no safeguard should be overlooked, and no stupidity should be tolerated. In a country that is as closely and as bitterly divided as ours, “close enough” is not good enough. Never before in the history of America has not one, but two elections for President been as susceptible to questions of legitimacy and skepticism as the reign of George W. Bush.

If we do not get to the bottom of these questions now, these grievous wounds to our Democracy will continue to fester, putrefy, and ultimately poison the body politic. Some may question whether our system could survive the ouster of a President because of election fraud. But my question is: can our system survive a Grand Theft Presidency?

As an American, I’m embarrassed that I have to ask this question.