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On the phone with Charlie Sears. We met in the late '60s, at Leroy's, then a seedy sportsbook in downtown Las Vegas. We were among the few who liked to watch the early NFL line go up on Sunday night.

From that, and through the considerable changes in our lives -- women, residences, jobs -- we've kept in touch, sometimes frequently, sometimes occasionally, sometimes very occasionally, but normally during the week before a presidential or midterm election. We've come to the habit of going over the election together and picking which races to bet. This was harder and easier to do in the beginning; harder to find a place to lay election bets and easier to handicap the races. Sometimes we made good money, sometimes we broke even plus a buck or two, but, so far, we've never finished in the red.

We've been reviewing senate seats, specifically the race in Tennessee. Sears says, "I don't like this whole midterm election."

"How come?"

"Don't trust the casino."

He's referring to electronic voting machines. The New York Times reports that 40 percent of registered voters are expected to cast ballots on paperless touch-screen voting machines this year. At least 23 states don't require a paper trail on all electronic votes. Eighty percent of this year's election ballots will be counted by four for-profit companies using proprietary software.

There's enough reliable information out there now that the subject of electronic-vote fraud should be in the same category as Barry Bonds and Game of Shadows. You may remember that Shadows, written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, is so meticulously documented that once you've read the book, there's no way a reasonable person can believe Bonds never used steroids. The same is true for electronic voting; if you look into it, there is no way a reasonable person can believe there hasn't been election-altering electronic-vote fraud.

The problem has been that nobody has an interest in pursuing an electronic-vote-fraud story. Democrats don't want to talk about it because they think the topic will label them as sore losers and because, well, because they're Democrats. Republicans don't want to talk about it because it's been working for them. Corporate media is terrified of it. It's a story that would take real work to report; it's complicated and the public won't listen to complicated stories...plus, they'll anger half their viewers/readers and all their sponsors, no matter what they say.

So, despite the work of a world of nonprofits, of public-interest websites, books, scholarly papers, all showing that large scale electronic-voting fraud is easy to do, has taken place, will take place, the topic has never been able to break water into public consciousness until this summer when Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote what became two articles that were published in Rolling Stone; they were, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" and "Will the Next Election Be Hacked?" Suddenly, electronic-voting fraud was visible, at least to the readers of Rolling Stone.

The unassailable proof that the story is now certified as mainstream arrived this week in a piece appearing in Time: "Can This Machine Be Trusted?" It's a breathtakingly shallow bit of hack writing, but it does serve to officially stamp the topic as safe enough to write about. Curious readers may wish to compare the Time story (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1552054-1,00.html) with Kennedy's piece (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/11717105/robert_f_kennedy_jr__wil) in order to experience, firsthand, how bad mainstream journalism can be.

Here's the deal: electronic voting machine manufacturers have fought to keep from providing a paper trail that would allow third parties to verify their electronic results, refused to allow public regulators to go over their source code and check for back doors, bad code, a thousand things. To put this in gambling terms, would you play blackjack in a casino that won't allow regulators on their premises, won't allow public officials to check their slot machines and go over their books?

You would. You have.

Okay, maybe you trust electronic voting machines well enough to vote, but you certainly wouldn't trust them well enough to determine the outcome of your election bet, particularly a bet that requires real money from your real bank account.

Of course not.

Which brings me back to the six political websites currently lined up on my computer screen. I say, "Well, we could go through the list, cull out congressional districts using electronic voting."

Sears laughs, "How about this? We have the latest polls. We'll retrieve the latest numbers from Intrade [an outfit that acts like a trading exchange in that one can buy and sell future contracts on candidates], and..."

Now I laugh, "If enough machines are hacked to change an election...and since we're talking about 40 seats, not that many need to be hacked, market predictors won't be any good either."

Big silence. Busy minds. Finally, "I'm going to pass on this election." Not sure who said it first.

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