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2/29/04

Voting Machine Fraud


 

By Carolyn Kay

Address delivered to the Countdown to November: YOUR VOTE, YOUR FUTURE meeting sponsored by Chicago Rolling Thunder and the Mansfield Center for Social Justice on February 28, 2004

What if your bank told you they have some good news for you?  That they’re going to save themselves some money by not giving you a receipt on your ATM withdrawals any more.  And they’re going to save even more money by reporting to you monthly only the balance in your account, not the individual transactions that show how they reached that balance?  Sounds like those GEICO “good news” commercials, doesn’t it?  Good news for them, bad news for you.  Would you trust them?  Or would you run lickety-split to another bank?

But that’s exactly what the companies who make voting machines are telling us.  These same companies make cash registers and ATMs, machines that have an audit trail.  All business counting machines have an audit trail.  But not voting machines.  Why is that?

“What difference does it make?” you may ask.

As a computer consultant, as a person who programs computers, I’m here to tell you why it’s important.  It’s because I can make one thing show up on the computer screen, and add something else entirely into the totals.  One of the biggest problems I have after creating a new computer-generated report is making the designated recipients of the report check the numbers.  They think because it looks nice and neat, everything’s fine.  But I’m the one who wrote the code that calculated the numbers, and I know that there can be mistakes.  Or deliberate errors.

“Okay,” you say.  “Then give me a printed ballot to take home with me.  That will prove my vote counted the way I cast it.

Well, no again.  As a programmer, I can make the printed ballot show your vote as you cast it, but I can still count something else entirely in the totals.  A printed ballot is only part of the solution.  For a printed ballot to be effective in providing a check on voting machines, it would have to be verified by you and then put into a locked box, and then counted manually.  There should be manual counts at the very least in close elections, in a few randomly selected precincts, and in elections where the results were unexpected.

So if a physical ballot, counted manually, is the only safe way to determine votes, why are we spending billions of dollars on these machines?  Good question.  For a possible answer we have to look at who owns and who runs the companies that make them.

One of the original companies (Data Mark, which became American Information Systems, or AIS) was funded for a time by the ultra right-wing Ahmanson family of California.  According to his Senate website, “Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate, [Chuck] Hagel [R-NE] worked in the private sector as the President of McCarthy & Co., an investment banking firm based in Omaha, Nebraska, and served as Chairman of the Board of American Information Systems (AIS).”

According to political science professor Bob Fitrakis,

In 1996, Hagel became the first elected Republican Nebraska senator in 24 years when he did surprisingly well in an election where the votes were verified by the company he served as chairman and maintained a financial investment. In both the 1996 and 2002 elections, Hagel’s ES&S counted an estimated 80% of his winning votes. Due to the contracting out of services, confidentiality agreements between the State of Nebraska and the company kept this matter out of the public eye. Hagel’s first election victory was described as a “stunning upset” by one Nebraska newspaper.

Hagel won his second senatorial election with 83% of the vote, “the biggest political victory in the history of Nebraska,” according to his own Senate website.

AIS, which is still partly owned by Senator Hagel, bought a Texas voting machine company partly owned by the ultra right-wing Caroline Hunt, of the Texas oil family, and became Election Systems & Software, or ES&S.  ES&S, Diebold, and Sequoia are the three main voting machine companies.  Their machines count about 80% of American votes that are counted by so-called “black box” machines.  The title refers to the fact that you can see what goes into them, and you can see what comes out, but you can’t see how the machine transforms the input into output.

Diebold, one of the three major companies, is run by Walden “Wallie” O’Dell, a big Bush supporter.  O’Dell said in a 2003 Republican fundraising letter that he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.”  Diebold, headquartered in Canton, Ohio, has been selected as their voting machine provider by more than half of Ohio counties.  The company’s take will be $31 million.  And the CEO wants George Bush to win the election that his machines will be counting.

You may be trusting enough to believe that voting machines must be made by fine, upstanding citizens who would never cheat the public, but I must have been born a skeptic.  I don’t agree with much that Ronald Reagan said, but his “Trust, but verify” makes a lot of sense to me.  Vigilance truly is the price of liberty, because someone’s always trying to take it away from us.

You might tell me that I’m just a conspiracy nut, that people don’t do things like this.  Why, they’d have to hire criminals to get away with it!  And so they have.  Jeffrey Dean was a programmer and then a senior vice president of Global Election Systems, acquired by Diebold in 2002.  Dean is a felon, convicted and imprisoned at one time for embezzlement and tampering with computer files.  He’s the one we know about.

Isn’t it ironic that in Florida, convicted felons have to jump through hoops to get their voting rights back, but voting machine companies hire them and make them vice presidents.  If they know how to tamper with computer files.

“Okay, okay,” you say.  Enough already.  Just get some experts to study the programs, and make sure they do what they’re supposed to do.

But the voting machine companies won’t let anyone see the programming code.  It’s proprietary, they say.  They say it’s none of your business how your vote is counted.  Which reminds me of the quote attributed to Josef Stalin, “it doesn't matter who votes, what matters is who counts the votes.”  After all, Chief Justice Rehnquist reminded us in the Bush v. Gore decision that we have no constitutional right to vote for president.

But a PR person and political activist in the Seattle area named Bev Harris found a way to take a look at some of the programs.  While writing her book on voting machines, Black Box Voting, which is now available on the BlackBoxVoting.org website and from Barnes & Noble’s website, Bev discovered a treasure trove.  Diebold Election Systems had put much of its software, as well as copies of memoranda and other materials, on a server that had Internet access and had no password protection.

Bev was appalled at what she saw in these materials, and notified systems professionals and academics all over the country about what they contained.  Some college students took it upon themselves to copy the materials to keep them available to researchers, despite legal action by Diebold.

The condemnation of the software and the documented procedures is nearly universal.  Johns Hopkins University researchers, led by Aviel Rubin, said that the software is unsafe and vulnerable to hackers.  According to Rubin, the programmers embedded the system password into the programming code, a huge no-no for security of computer software.

Diebold says the Hopkins researchers are wrong, but in a test run by Michael Wertheimer at RABA Technologies, hired by the state of Maryland to test the security of its new voting machines, pretend hackers had a field day disabling and breaching the security of the machines.  According to the Baltimore Sun,

[O]n a recent morning at his offices, Wertheimer's computer programmers were practically giddy as they invented new ways to muck up an election. Some were simple - like the lock-picking or just yanking the cords out of a machine's monitor, disabling it for the rest of the day…

Diebold “basically had no interest in putting actual security in this system," said Paul Franceus, one of the consultants. "It's not like they did it wrong. It's like they didn't bother.”

According to The New York Times, “It was an ‘easy matter,’” for the pretend hackers “to reprogram the access cards used by voters and vote multiple times.”  Just like one of those Internet polls, isn’t it?  “They were able to attach a keyboard to a voting terminal and change its vote count. And by exploiting a software flaw and using a modem, they were able to change votes from a remote location.”

“But they just wouldn’t do that,” you say.  Let’s take a look at the 2002 election in Georgia, where Diebold machines were used in every precinct in the state.

Max Cleland, an incumbent Democratic Georgia senator, who lost three limbs for his country in Vietnam, was challenged by Republican Saxby Chambliss.  Despite vicious commercials comparing him to Osama bin Laden, Cleland was the clear favorite going into the November election.  Three weeks before the election, he led Chambliss 47 to 41 percent, well within the poll’s margin of error.  The hateful ads apparently had an effect on Cleland, but the polls taken the weekend before the election still showed him leading 48 percent to Chambliss’ 45 percent.  Cleland lost by seven percentage points.

In that same election, the incumbent Democratic governor, Roy Barnes, led his Republican opponent by nine percentage points a month before the election, but lost by seven percentage points.  Are you seeing a pattern here?

The machines are supposedly tested and certified, and then no changes to hardware or software can be made until after the next election.  But software “patches” were installed in Georgia after certification and before the 2002 election.  A former Georgia worker for Diebold has said that patches were installed that were never certified by testing authorities or cleared with state election officials.

The Diebold software was part of the problem, but the version of the error-prone Microsoft Windows used on these machines also caused many problems.  Another former Diebold worker says that his unsecured laptop was used to download a patch called “rob-georgia.zip” from the unsecured Diebold server and to install this Windows patch on many of the voting machines in Georgia.  This man’s first name is Rob, so maybe rob-georgia.zip doesn’t actually mean to rob Georgia Democrats of their votes.  Maybe.

There were many surprises in the 2002 election, not the least of which is the frequent appearance of the number 18,181.  According to the San Antonio Express-News there were not two, but three instances of the number 18,181 being the margin of victory.  Republican victories.  Always where voting machines were used.  In the same county on the same day.  The chances of these results being coincidental are astronomically high.

The people who make voting machines may be the most honorable people in the world.  But they may not be.  How will we know, if we can’t examine the programming code and we can’t recount individual ballots that have been verified by the voter?

I haven’t even scratched the surface of the information available on these machines, but with all these anomalies, and “stunning upsets,” and “biggest political victories ever,” always in favor of Republicans, always using machines owned by Republicans, we just have to be suspicious.

Doubts intensify when we start talking about the other shenanigans in the 2000 and 2002 elections:

·        Precinct voting locations changed without notice to the voters—always in highly Democratic districts.

·        White police roadblocks in highly African American communities.  African Americans voted 90% Democratic in 2000.

·        Announcements that all fines must be paid prior to voting.  A bit of an intimidation factor.

·        Announcements of the wrong voting day—that Republicans vote on the real election date, but that Democrats vote the next day.

Then there’s the big daddy of all election shenanigans, the purge by Florida election officials of tens of thousands of registered voters because they had a name similar to the name of a convicted felon.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast has done the most work on this purge.  You can visit his website, GregPalast.com.  About half of the purged voters were African Americans, though Florida’s African American population is only 15% of the total.  Again, African Americans are likely Democratic voters.  The Florida governor and secretary of state, who was in charge of election matters, were Republicans.

Without action, these machines will be in place in November, just in time to send George Bush back to the White House in a “stunning upset.”

Here’s what you can do:

·        Stay informed.  Visit these websites early and often:  BlackBoxVoting.org, VerifiedVoting.org, and VoteWatch.org.

·        Lobby—for a properly handled audit trail, for recounts to check the totals, for exit polls to determine where the results are unexpected, or even for manual ballots, if you believe as I do that these machines are a monumental waste of money.

·        Send letters to the editor.  Don’t let the media off the hook.  Make them report on this issue.

·        Sue. Bev Harris sued the state of California to stop the use of machines without an audit trail in the state’s March 2 election, but judge threw the case out for “not enough evidence” that the machines could be tampered with!

·        Vote absentee.  There’s a whole movement geared to forcing votes to be counted manually.  But check your state and county laws on this.  In some areas you have to swear that you’ll be out of the county or the state on election day.

Sources:

Bald-Faced Lies About Black Box Voting Machines, Bev Harris, Scoop.co.nz, 7/10/03

Black Box Voting, Bev Harris

Chambliss Ousts Cleland in Ga. Senate Race, PBS NewsHour, 11/5/02

Counties shun new voting machines, Mark Naymik and Julie Carr Smyth, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/16/04

Democracy at Risk, Paul Krugman, The New York Times, 1/23/04

Did E-Vote Firm Patch Election?, Kim Zetter, Wired, 10/13/03

Diebold, Electronic Voting and the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, Bob Fitrakis, Columbus Free Press, 2/25/04

How to Hack an Election, Editorial, The New York Times, 1/31/04

If You Want To Win An Election, Just Control The Voting Machines, Thom Hartmann, Common Dreams News Center, 1/31/03

Judge denies electronic voting challenge to March 2 elections, Jim Wasserman, Associated Press, 2/18/04

Md. computer testers cast a vote: Election boxes easy to mess with, Stephanie Desmon, Baltimore Sun, 1/30/04

More Calls to Vet Voting Machines, Louise Witt, Wired, 8/4/03

Our Brave New World of Voting, Michael I. Niman, Pittsburg Pulp, 11/6/03

Security Poor in Electronic Voting Machines, Study Warns, John Schwartz, The New York Times, 1/29/04

Study raises concerns about electronic voting machines, Erika D. Smith, Akron Beacon Journal, 8/18/03

Voting Machine Controversy, Julie Carr Smyth, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8/28/03

Voting Machines Blasted by Scientists, Scoop Media and Bev Harris, Scoop.co.nz, 7/25/03

Voting machines violate Constitution, Lynn Landes, Online Jou8rnal, 4/15/03

Who is counting your vote? Diebold & Bush vs. the public interest, Barbara Jean Hope, People's Weekly World, 01/17/04

Winning vote totals uncanny in Comal, Roger Croteau, San Antonio Express-News,  11/8/02

Series page

 


Last changed: December 13, 2009