Cassandra, Chanting: Fiction or Non-Fiction?
Review of A Novel About a Plot to Steal an American Election
by Ellen Theisen, June 1, 2008
“According to mythology, Apollo, the sun god, was so taken with Trojan Cassandra’s beauty that he gave her the gift of prophecy. When she did not return his love, he punished her with a curse. Reluctant to revoke a gift once given, Apollo’s curse was to make Cassandra’s prophesies fall on deaf ears.” ~Cassandra, Chanting, page vii.
But even though the plot is intriguing, it isn’t what I found most intriguing. And even though the book’s primary message of our election system’s vulnerability is as serious as it is true, the author’s stark revelation of that truth isn’t what captured my heart.
Cassandra, Chanting is a novel that — while copyrighted in 2008 — will be nothing short of too familiar to election integrity activists around the country.
The blurb on the jacket starts out by saying:
At the center of Cassandra, Chanting is a plot to steal the next American presidential election. Written by an election world insider who must remain anonymous, the novel exposes in authentic and chilling detail just how vulnerable our electoral system is today.
As a long-time election integrity activist, what I loved most about the book is that the anonymous author has clearly been paying attention, and he (yes, he) managed to put into novel form the Alice In Wonderland world that many of us have been living in for the past three, four, five, or even more years.
The author set his fictional conspiracy in the midst of the political and financial realities that impact American elections: the turmoil caused by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and the presence of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC, renamed the “Federal Bureau of Elections” in the book); the recent rush toward using easily “fixable” electronic touch-screen voting computers and the rampant indifference to the uselessness of their “paper trails;” the windfall suddenly available to voting system companies and the enormous control they now have over elections; the inequities and dangers inherent in the conflict-of-interest all too common in the voting system testing and certification process; and the political roadblocks that frustrate the efforts of informed citizens trying to do the right thing.
While one of his characters is a county clerk we’d all like to have run our elections, he also points to the obstinately ostrich-like response of many big-wig election officials when confronted with potential election equipment problems. He weaves in some odd disparities between exit polls and results — and even provides some highly entertaining explanations for those disparities.
Yes, the author’s been paying attention — to all of this and more. One has to wonder why he needs to be anonymous. The book’s hero and heroine hold key positions at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency not renamed in the book and generally portrayed in quite a favorable light. Hmmm...
Cassandra, Chanting isn’t only “an election insider's nightmare” about a “race against the clock to uncover the high-tech complexities of a plot to fix the outcome of the election” (as the book’s jacket promises). It’s a well-presented and readable integration of many of the complex, interwoven forces that enable, support, and foster the disease that presently besets our election system.
While the details of the plot may be fiction, the novel presents us with disturbingly detailed reality. Like “The Jungle,” this fiction points out non-fictional dysfunctions in our culture that cry out for resolution.
I won’t say it’s without hiccups. A statement, made in passing, that HAVA requires getting rid of punch card ballot systems caught my attention because the prevalence of that “myth” in the real world increased the stampede toward electronic voting. Somewhat more significant to the plot was the existence of an interested and diligent press — a treasure all too lacking in the real world of these United States. But overall, the author painted the true, and truly troubling, landscape in which our current election system resides.
From where I sit, this book speaks truth. I hope that Cassandra, Chanting is Cassandra, heard.
Purchase the book through Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.