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Maybe Hanging Chads Weren't So Bad After All

If there's one thing you learn as you grow older, it's that life is painted in shades of gray. I find it harder and harder to view any issue in black and white; if you really think about it, you can almost always see the other guy's point of view.

Take electronic voting, for example. In 2000, it sure looked like the old voting systems--punch cards, hanging chads, all that--were desperately in need of upgrading. It seemed pretty obvious that electronic voting systems would have avoided the whole Florida ballot controversy. I, for one, spent two months walking around muttering, "Gimme a break. They can drive the Nasdaq to 5,000, but we're still voting with punch cards?!"

Then came last Sunday's New York Times, which presented a terrifying report on Diebold, a leading maker of paperless touch-screen voting machines. Eight million of us will be tapping on Diebold computers in the next Presidential election.

So what's wrong with that?

Wrong Thing 1: Wally O'Dell, the company's chief executive, is a Republican fundraiser. He writes letters to wealthy Bush contributors vowing to "deliver" his state's electoral votes to the Bush campaign. He hosts campaign meetings at his house. He's also a member of Bush's "Rangers and Pioneers" club (each member of whom must contribute at least $100,000 to the 2004 re-election campaign).

No matter what your politics, you can't deny that there's a strong whiff of conflict of interest here.

Still, Mr. O'Dell wouldn't and couldn't go so far as to program his voting machines to deliver the next election to Mr. Bush, right? Even Oliver Stone would laugh at that conspiracy theory. But then:

Wrong Thing 2: The code in these machines is so insecure, somebody managed to copy a version of it from Diebold and post it online. Two studies--one by professors at Johns Hopkins and Rice University, one by engineering firm SAIC--found the current code to be sloppily written, with weak cryptography and "no evidence of rigorous software engineering discipline."

Wrong Thing 3: This one boggles the brain: The Diebold systems don't print. There's no paper trail, no "voting receipts." Data is transferred to the election precinct on a memory card in a format that only Diebold can read. If an election is ever in dispute, nobody can compare the digital results against a backup system. As an individual, you'd have no way of confirming that your vote was properly recorded.

(My favorite part of the Times article was the story told by New Jersey Representative Rush D. Holt, who's trying to make electronic voting more transparent: "Someone said to me the other day, 'We've had these electronic voting machines for several years now, and we've never had a problem.' And I said, 'How do you know?'")

Without a paper trail, there's all kinds of opportunity for mischief.

Wrong Thing 4: Diebold points out that the software is inspected and tested by election officials before it's certified. There's only one problem: Diebold engineers can slip in and make changes to the software even AFTER it's been certified.

Worse, they do exactly that. A Wired article quoted a Diebold engineer as saying that his team made no fewer than three rounds of software changes to the machines in Georgia's 2002 election for governor--after the machines had been certified but before the election began. (That election "ended in a major upset that defied all polls and put a Republican in the governor's seat for the first time in more than 130 years.")

But Ren Bucholz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (action.eff.org) told me that this kind of thing--casual, uninspected software updates to voting machines that have already been certified-- goes on all the time.

The bottom line: Diebold's voting machines appear to present an undetectable, easy, and tempting target for manipulating elections.

See what I mean? Even electronic voting turns out to be a gray area.

No, wait -- come to think of it, maybe it's a black-and-white issue after all.




Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich 10th District of Ohio

Voting Rights

Congressman Kucinich is seeking to ensure that voting is a right secured for all Americans. During the 2000 elections, there were numerous and serious problems at the voting booth in Florida and across the nation. Congress' response was the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2001. This legislation was designed to improve voting machines and voting processes. However, implementation of the Help America Vote Act, along with its funding and assistance to states, is far behind schedule. Additionally, recent analysis of voting machine software shows that these programs suffer serious internal flaws that threaten the security of votes case on such machines.

Privatized Voting, Private Interests

Under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the Election Assistance Commission is charged with establishing voluntary standards for voting machine software and creating an independent testing process for the software. However, this process is far behind schedule. Under HAVA, the Election Assistance Commission members should have been nominated by the President in February 2003. Unfortunately, these nominees have only recently been sent to the Senate for confirmation.

Without this federal review and testing of software, deeply flawed software has been marketed by companies and bought by states. An Analysis of an Electronic Voting System was recently authored by Tadayoshi Kohno, Adam Stubblefield, Aviel Rubin, and Dan Wallach. This voting software, produced by Diebold, has already been purchased by two states. According to this study, some of the most serious of numerous flaws permit a person to:

-vote multiple times, -view ballots already cast on a machine, -modify party affiliation on ballots, -cause votes to be miscounted, -create, delete and modify votes on voting machine, and -tamper with audit logs and election results.

States Purchase Insecure Software

As a result of this study, Maryland put on hold its purchase of Diebold voting machines. Later, an independent review confirmed the previous findings. It counted 328 security weaknesses, and concluded that: "The system, as implemented in policy, procedure and technology, is at high risk of compromise" (pg. 17).

Partisan Conflicts of Interest

The state of Ohio selected Diebold as one of four possible vendors for computerized voting machines. But in August 2003, the company's partisan conflicts of interest prompted public suspicion that the voting machine manufacturer was partisan. In August 2003, after returning from President Bush's Crawford, TX ranch, Diebold's chief executive wrote a fundraising letter where he stated he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

Diebold Internal Memos Reveal Knowledge of Software Flaws

These findings of software flaws have been confirmed by internal memos from Diebold employees. Diebold has harassed internet service providers with legal action for posting links to these memos. Congressman Kucinich believes that these memos show why transparency and public oversight are essential in the development of voting machines.

From conversations between employees at Diebold, including upper management, it is evident that they knew of insecure programs and made insecure changes to programs. Among these activities, employees:

-Permitted easy access to vote audit logs. Without requiring so much as a password, anyone could access the tabulation of votes and change the contents. (Memo from Nel Finber to Ken Clark, and Ken Clark response)

-Sold uncertified software (GEMS 1.14) that was used in elections, while knowing that numerous problems existed with the software. (Memo from Ken Clark)

-Changed voting software by sending uncertified patches and upgrades to customers, along with possible bugs (memo Ken Clark, re: GEMS versions, 6/5/2000)

-Contracted to "provide products and services which do not exist and then attempting to build these items on an unreasonable timetable with no written plan, little to no time for testing, and minimal resources. It also seems to be an accepted practice to exaggerate our progress and functionality to our customers and ourselves then make excuses at delivery time when these products and services do not meet expectations." (According to an employee upon resignation)

Stopping False Copyright Claims

Diebold has been using coercive legal claims to intimidate internet service providers and even universities to shut down websites with links to its memos and remove the memo content. Under copyright laws, however, universities are exempt, and posting links to the memos is not considered a violation of the law. By abusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Diebold has intimidated numerous internet service providers to comply with its requests. The damage is two- fold: 1) limiting the public's information about the security of its voting machines, and 2) expanding corporate control over our most free medium of expression, the Internet.

Congressman Kucinich is working to address these problems by providing some of Diebold's internal memos on this site to increase public access, drafting legislation to address software security problems, and working to investigate Diebold's legal abuses.

New Legislation

Congressman Kucinich is working with his Congressional colleagues to draft legislation that would create an open-source design process for voting machine software. This process would ensure public oversight and transparency, as well as establish the most secure voting software for citizens to cast their votes.

Are American Elections Fixed?
Don't Ask The Mainstream Media

By Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers
April 3, 2003

Imagine the following election procedure:

Paper ballots are marked, in secret and deposited by the voters in sealed ballot boxes. (So far, so good).

The ballot boxes are then delivered to the offices of a private firm, which is publicly known to be a supporter of and contributor to one of the political parties.

Upon receipt of the ballot boxes, the doors are locked and no one other than employees of that firm is allowed to inspect and validate the counting.

The ballots are then destroyed, after which the results are announced.

The firm’s favorite candidate is declared the winner. The final results vary radically from pre-election polls.

Sounds like a Soviet “election,” doesn’t it? Like something that a dictator might dream up to assure himself a lifetime office. But surely, such a “fix” is too transparently and shamelessly obvious for anyone to think he could get away with it.

And yet this scenario is an exact analogy, in all relevant respects, to the “computer screen” voting system that has been rushed into use, following the fiasco of the 2000 presidential election.


There are, in all, thirteen manufacturers of electronic voting machines, of which two, ES&S and Diebold, are predominant. Both are owned and operated by individuals with right-wing political views, who are heavy contributors to the Republican Party.

ES&S and Diebold machines use “proprietary” source codes (i.e., not available for public inspection and analysis), and leave no “paper record” of their tallies.

“Exit polling,” a reliable validation method which has proven to be much more accurate than pre-election polling, was “withdrawn” soon after the polls closed in the November 2002 election. Voter News Service (VNS), a consortium owned by the major cable and broadcast TV networks, reported that the system “collapsed,” due to “technical problems.”

In a comparison of the polling and results of nineteen 2002 election races (by www.scoop.co.nz), fourteen showed a post poll swing to the Republicans (many far outside the margin of error), two showed a swing to the Democrats (all within the margin of error), and three were “close to correct.” If the pre-election poll predictions had been correct, the Democrats would now control the Senate.

“The state where the biggest upset occurred, Georgia, is also the state that ran its elections with the most electronic voting machines.” (The “swing” to the Republican was from 9-12 points). (Scoop). }

Finally, and most significantly: Does all this suggest that “the fix was in”? Perhaps. Is there any way of knowing this? Absolutely not: The exit polls were cancelled, there is no independent record (e.g., on paper) of the ballots, and the machines and their software are not available for inspection.

In sum, writes Thom Hartmann:

You’d think in an open democracy that the government – answerable to all its citizens rather than a handful of corporate officers and stockholders – would program, repair, and control the voting machines. You’d think the computers that handle our cherished ballots would be open and their software and programming available for public scrutiny. You’d think there would be a paper trail of the vote which could be followed and audited if there was evidence of voting fraud or if exit polls disagree with computerized vote counts.

You’d be wrong.

So is it possible, just possible, that the electoral “fix” is in, and that as a result nothing short of a revolution will ever budge the Republican Party from control of the Congress and the White House? In other words, is it not conceivable that our “democracy” is more than “threatened” – it is in fact finished, done for, kaput? And we are not even aware of it?

This issue of ballot integrity – the very heart of a democratic politics – should be the number one political issue in the United States today.

And yet, this issue is totally absent from the mainstream media. I can testify that I have not heard or read a word about it on television, the radio, or the commercial press.

Have you?

It seems that the studies and reports of this potentially ultimate betrayal of our democracy, are confined to the progressive internet. (For “gateway” to this issue, see “Electoral Integrity” at this site).

Meanwhile on the progressive internet (while it lasts!) the optimists hopefully predict that the Bushistas will be thrown out of office in 2004. On the other hand, the pessimists suspect that due to “national emergency” the 2004 election will be cancelled.

But if our worst fears about the betrayal of our franchise are true, both speculations are moot. Why should those who own the ballot boxes and who program the “proprietary” software (meaning, “those who count the votes”), fear, much less cancel an election when they control the outcome? Of course there will be an election following which George Bush and his Republican Congress will be proclaimed “the peoples’ choice” – a result which will be predetermined by those damnable “black boxes” – “the peoples’ will IN, and Garbage OUT.”

Only an aroused public can prevent this – a public demanding investigation by the media (fat chance!) and/or the Congress or state legislatures.

We can well imagine the rebuttals to these concerns: “Aw, c’mon! These are paranoid ravings! Surely you can’t believe that our national elections are fixed and that our national leaders are not fairly and honestly elected?

Well, perhaps our critics are right. The ballot boxes, and hence our elections, are 100% copasetic. But, given the nature of the technology, how can we know this? Moreover, and fundamentally, don’t we have a right to verifiable guarantees that our votes, all of them, will be counted?

If our elections are to be fair races, then neither party should have any objections to the adoption of rigorous validation procedures, most notably (a) random inspection of computer voting machines after the election, (b) publication of the software code, and (c) paper “receipts” given to each voter to inspect upon completion of his voting, to be then deposited in a “backup” ballot box.

“Backup” validations procedures, most notably a preservation of paper ballots, have been implicit in our elections from the very founding of our republic. Until now, that is.

These methods for protecting our fundamental citizen rights to free and fair elections are simple, straightforward and compellingly obvious. Accordingly, if any political party or faction objects to such validation procedures, especially if supporters of that party manufacture, own, program and control those machines, we should immediately become suspicious and demand accountability.

Again, perhaps the condition of our franchise is entirely benign and our fears are unfounded. But we are entitled to more than the word of the partisans who own and control the machines.

It is up to the citizens to demand legislation that mandates accountability and validation in our elections. And if our senators and congressmen do not support such legislation we must then insist that they explain their opposition.

While we demand action at the federal level, we must at the same time take the issue up with the states. Best case: find a state government with a Democratic Governor and legislature, and insist that they launch an investigation. If they hit “paydirt,” then their discoveries will have immediate application to the nation as a whole.

Candidates defeated in questionable elections should file suit, and then use the weapon of legal “discovery” to full advantage.

We must demand investigations of the election of 2002, including a thorough technical examination of the computer voting machines and their software. Simulated machine-generated voting distortions should be attempted and studied (e.g., software which converts 50/50 input to 60/40 output). Error detection programs must be required in the software.

Finally, we must insist that unless these and the aforementioned safeguards (e.g., paper receipts) are met, unconfirmable balloting must be outlawed outright.

This is all so simple, so obvious, so fundamental to the integrity of our (alleged) democracy.

So why do we hear nothing about this in our Congress?

Why are the media silent about this issue?

Causes one to wonder and to harbor dark suspicions, doesn’t it?

Spider Hole for Saddam

Humanity's most valuable possessions are privacy, solitude, and anonymity.

Mediocre times produce the very worst that the world has to offer: Reagan, Bin Laden, Bush, Hussein, Sharon, and Blair. None but the feeble minded could draw inspiration from such a ghastly lineup of "leaders".

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