September 30, 2006

Don't think you need to worry about electronic voting? Read this

Every electronic voting machine manufacturer has ties to the Republican party, and there have been over a hundred ways to break into the systems and alter the results demonstrated already.

Everyone should read this, Dick Liebovitz and other's in charge of supervising elections using such machines especially.
But as midterm elections approach this November, electronic voting machines are making things worse instead of better. Studies have demonstrated that hackers can easily rig the technology to fix an election - and across the country this year, faulty equipment and lax security have repeatedly undermined election primaries. In Tarrant County, Texas, electronic machines counted some ballots as many as six times, recording 100,000 more votes than were actually cast. In San Diego, poll workers took machines home for unsupervised "sleepovers" before the vote, leaving the equipment vulnerable to tampering. And in Ohio - where, as I recently reported in "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" [RS 1002], dirty tricks may have cost John Kerry the presidency - a government report uncovered large and unexplained discrepancies in vote totals recorded by machines in Cuyahoga County.

Even worse, many electronic machines don't produce a paper record that can be recounted when equipment malfunctions - an omission that practically invites malicious tampering. "Every board of election has staff members with the technological ability to fix an election," Ion Sancho, an election supervisor in Leon County, Florida, told me. "Even one corrupt staffer can throw an election. Without paper records, it could happen under my nose and there is no way I'd ever find out about it. With a few key people in the right places, it would be possible to throw a presidential election."


Is this story suspicious? Nah.
Then, one muggy day in mid-August, Hood was surprised to see the president of Diebold's election unit, Bob Urosevich, arrive in Georgia from his headquarters in Texas. With the primaries looming, Urosevich was personally distributing a "patch," a little piece of software designed to correct glitches in the computer program. "We were told that it was intended to fix the clock in the system, which it didn't do," Hood says. "The curious thing is the very swift, covert way this was done."

Georgia law mandates that any change made in voting machines be certified by the state. But thanks to Cox's agreement with Diebold, the company was essentially allowed to certify itself. "It was an unauthorized patch, and they were trying to keep it secret from the state," Hood told me. "We were told not to talk to county personnel about it. I received instructions directly from Urosevich. It was very unusual that a president of the company would give an order like that and be involved at that level."

According to Hood, Diebold employees altered software in some 5,000 machines in DeKalb and Fulton counties - the state's largest Democratic strongholds. To avoid detection, Hood and others on his team entered warehouses early in the morning. "We went in at 7:30 a.m. and were out by 11," Hood says. "There was a universal key to unlock the machines, and it's easy to get access. The machines in the warehouses were unlocked. We had control of everything. The state gave us the keys to the castle, so to speak, and they stayed out of our way." Hood personally patched fifty-six machines and witnessed the patch being applied to more than 1,200 others.

The patch comes on a memory card that is inserted into a machine. Eventually, all the memory cards end up on a server that tabulates the votes - where the patch can be programmed to alter the outcome of an election. "There could be a hidden program on a memory card that adjusts everything to the preferred election results," Hood says. "Your program says, 'I want my candidate to stay ahead by three or four percent or whatever.' Those programs can include a built-in delete that erases itself after it's done."

It is impossible to know whether the machines were rigged to alter the election in Georgia: Diebold's machines provided no paper trail, making a recount impossible. But the tally in Georgia that November surprised even the most seasoned political observers. Six days before the vote, polls showed Sen. Max Cleland, a decorated war veteran and Democratic incumbent, leading his Republican opponent Saxby Chambliss - darling of the Christian Coalition - by five percentage points. In the governor's race, Democrat Roy Barnes was running a decisive eleven points ahead of Republican Sonny Perdue. But on Election Day, Chambliss won with fifty-three percent of the vote, and Perdue won with fifty-one percent.

Read more here.

6 Comments:

At 10/01/2006 11:44 AM, Blogger Benton Harbor said...

Dope, please site your references to your statement "Every electronic voting machine manufacturer has ties to the Republican party." The same could be said about the Democrats. Don't amke statements without citing some references.

But that's beside the point. If you remember, this whole voting problem came up because of the debacle in Dade County during the last election. Interestingly, they used the same system as we did in RI County. How come voters in RI County could "master" the old punch system and the voters in Dade couldn't?

So because of that, counties across the country had to spend taxpayer money to fix a system that wasn't broken, but one that was fraught with people who couldn't read, follow directions, or didn't have the strength to push the stylus through the little perforated square.

Yes, I see plenty of problems with some of the new machines. But I hardly think this a Republican conspiracy as you make it out to be. The proof, either way, could be in the pudding in a month if what you say is true.

 
At 10/01/2006 12:37 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

B.H,

That's a legitmate question asking my source for the fact that the four manufacturers of electronic voting systems have strong Repulican ties, but apparently you didn't make it to page 3 of the article or you would have read it yourself.

I find it odd to hear anyone apparently arguing that nothing should be done to ensure that the bedrock activity of our system of government isn't subject to being corrupted by a few strokes of a keyboard.

These systems obviously present a clear threat to the right to be certain that your vote will be counted.

As to your choosing to blame voters for the messed up elections in FL, I think that's neither fair nor honest.

There were many reasons the vote in FL was a fiasco which I won't go into now. But one very simple cause of the "hanging chad" was due to the fact that poll workers never bothered to empty the little plastic ballot holders.

In a short time, the little areas in the ballot holders designed to catch the chads would fill up until they were directly under the ballot.

When voters punched their vote, the stylus was kept from going all the way through.

That's not the fault of voters.

And the butterfly ballot was clearly poorly designed and resulted in Pat Buchanon receiving a huge majority of votes in heavily jewish and liberal Palm Beach county. Even Pitchfork Pat himself said something was obviously wrong.

I was going to marvel that anyone could read this article and come away not thinking anything needs to be done. But then it's apparent that you haven't read it.

 
At 10/01/2006 7:52 PM, Blogger nicodemus said...

At the risk of sounding reactionary, I think that going back to the good old fashioned paper ballots would be the most "honest" and foolproof way of doing it. Either do the X in a box or the "scantron". When John G. was County Clerk this was called the OMR or "optic mark reader", where you fill in the oval with a pen. Nice and simple. Computers tabulate them but at least there is a ballot. No punch cards. A system that is exclusively computerized, i.e. touch screens and so forth, are too suspicious and easy to be hacked.

We need a method where there would be a paper trail.

If it prolongs the counting, so what?! We don't need the networks to tell us who the president is by midnight. The media is part of the problem with all their damned exit polls and projections.

All election authorities should wait until the following Saturday and then announce their results at noon in the town square.

 
At 10/01/2006 10:19 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Actually Nico, you're on the cutting edge. Many experts on this matter are recommending a sort of blend of he systems where the computers could be used but also generate an auditable paper record.

The certainly must be a way to make these systems, if not 100% tamper proof, then damn near it.

And really, isn't it certainly worth the effort? Without honest and reliable elections, we're going to be in big trouble.

(and yes, I know they've been dirty since the get go... but they can always improve)

After all, if the elections had been clean, it's not only possible but probable that George W. Bush would have never been president.

That alone should be a sufficient argument for fixing things.

 
At 10/02/2006 8:27 AM, Blogger Benton Harbor said...

Dope, why did you change your original response to my post from yesterday? Your orignal one was very good. Wasn't it terse enough? Or did you need to emphasize the Republican ties or imply that I don't think something should be done?

Although you brought up a good point about the punch-card system that I hadn't thought about, my main point was that the voters of RI County could handle the same system with ease, that Dade County voters couldn't seem to handle. And this caused many counties and states to spend money that really didn't need to be spent.

I agree with your original statement, that we should expect better of those who supervise elections and that I shouldn't totally blame the voters of Dade themselves.

I did go back and read the entire article last night. After doing that, I decided that the best system overall might be the punch-card system (assuming the election supervisors empty the fallen chad compartments from time to time).

Old mechanical voting machines had parts break that would not allow vote count or to operate at all. Optical scanners might not read a vote if it weren't dark enough. Obviously the computer systems have programming flaws that reps from either party could control.

Nico said it best... there should be a paper trail and who needs to know the outcome of an election before midnight the night of the election. Simple is better.

 
At 10/02/2006 12:30 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

BH. My original response was written immediately after I read your comment and before I could scan the article to find exactly where the information you wanted was located.

After I found it, I thought it would be better if I gave you the direct citation and linked to it.

Nothing more.

And yes, there appeared to be no problems with punch cards in R.I. County. But R.I. County is not exactly Dade County, trust me. There's probably twice as many Carribean and South American immigrants in Dade County than the entire population of R.I. County, not to mention an enormous population of retirees, and minorities who could be expected to have some trouble voting.

But that said, the punch card system does have it's plusses, first among them a physical, recountable, paper record of each vote.

But electronic voting is more efficient and easier to work with, and can actually be more accurate, IF the system is refined and modified to both harden the system against hacking and also produced a paper record which could be audited.

And since a large number of counties already have the electronic systems in place, including Rock Island County, it would seem to be best if the county clerk could instead simply ensure that all possible actions be taken to ensure that disasters can't happen, and no one can "steal" an election through hacking the system.

There are readily available protocols and methods to guard against fraud with these systems and though I'm sure much is being done, as each exposure of vulnerabilities is revealed, the administrators need to adapt and update their proceedures to guard against them.

It's like what everyone has to do to keep their PCs secure. There's always new ways devised to break into computers, and then means are employed to block these "hacks".

This means that computer owners have to update their computers on a regular basis and download and install patches to block hacking vulnerabilities.

The same applies to updating anti-virus software.

It's simply a fact of life that county clerks which use computerized voting will have to be vigilant and establish an ongoing program to both monitor vunerabilities as they're discovered, and employ means to guard against them.

 

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