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Oh, Cruel Fate To Be Thusly Boned Or How To Steal An Election
October 25, 2006 10:41 PM   Subscribe

A manual for electoral apocalypse in America. Quite a bit's been written both on MeFi and other places about how bad Diebold machines are. Rolling Stone wrote an article about election fraud in 2004 that was discussed here on MeFi. Tonight, Ars posted a very thorough, very clear article about how we are completely screwed if we do not enact expensive, fundamental changes in how we handle elections in America. It's too late to do anything about the elections in a couple weeks, but perhaps steps can be taken to fix things before 2008...
posted by sparkletone (45 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
that after it happens not only will we not have a clue as to what has taken place, but if we do get suspicious there will be no way to prove anything.

Well, I'm already suspicious, but because of what's said above there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it. And no one in Congress is listening, even though it means their jobs. Why? I have no idea.

All I know is, if Karl and George's predictions come true, and the Republicans break even or, heaven forbid, gain seats in this next election, it's gotta be proof positive the system is rigged.
posted by fungible at 10:53 PM on October 25, 2006


Why? I have no idea.

There was a weak attempt by some House Democrats to investigate some of the election results in 2004. There was this report (pdf link) about problems in Ohio, and some noise about Diebold problems.

Nothing was ever done.

My theory then was that, among other things, many politicians aren't terribly interested in a costly-to-implement system they can't game so easily.
posted by sparkletone at 11:02 PM on October 25, 2006


There was a weak attempt by some House Democrats to investigate some of the election results in 2004.

The 109th Congress hasn't been very interested in investgations.
posted by homunculus at 11:23 PM on October 25, 2006


...perhaps steps can be taken to fix things before 2008...

Of course, the ones in power in 2008 (and thus the ones to initiate and oversee the "steps") are likely to be the ones that most benefited from any election fraud in 2006.

Summary: We're fucked.
posted by spazzm at 11:24 PM on October 25, 2006


I second the "We're fucked" sentiment.
posted by aubilenon at 11:25 PM on October 25, 2006


For the sake of the country, I rather hope that some hacker gives Jenna Jameson all the votes from Utah precinct 69, or something like that.
posted by gsteff at 11:37 PM on October 25, 2006


Not to ruin the ending or anything, but... oh hell, here's the last paragraph:

My own personal fear is that, by the time a whistleblower comes forth with an indisputable smoking gun—hard evidence that a large election has been stolen electronically—we will have lost control of our electoral process to the point where we will be powerless to enact meaningful change. The clock is ticking on this issue, because a party that can use these techniques to gain control of the government can also use them to maintain control in perpetuity.
posted by chrominance at 12:02 AM on October 26, 2006


What can you expect when these things are funded by people who think the internet is a series of tubes? It's totally fucked, and as long as we all get to watch the superbowl once a year and buy cheap gas, it's all good, right?
posted by maxwelton at 12:24 AM on October 26, 2006


I've never understood why so much of the US insists on using electronics when so many other places (regardless of level of development) use paper and mark an X on it with a pen. It's cheap; it's reliable and it works. And you can count it as many times as you want.
posted by rhymer at 1:17 AM on October 26, 2006


Summary: We're fucked.

As per post title: Ask not for whom the bone bones, it bones for thee.

I'm very, very worried. Somewhere under the cynicism is a tiny grain of optimism. I'm sure that'll get ground out eventually, but for now, it remains.

But just as likely, there will be, eventually, a smoking gun that proves someone did something very naughty on a very large scale, and only then will we see some substantive change.

We will take precisely one step forward, and precisely one step backwards and declare ourselves to be done with the whole mess.

But it can never hurt to point people to a good piece on the problem that puts a lot of previously disparate facts in one place and explains them clearly.
posted by sparkletone at 1:47 AM on October 26, 2006


Fox, henhouse.
posted by Flashman at 2:52 AM on October 26, 2006


Jesus, America is such a backwards place in so so many respects.
In Canada, there's one body - 'Elections Canada' - that runs the show from coast to coast. You're given your paper ballot - the same whether you're in Newfoundland or Quebec or the Yukon, and a little yellow pencil, you go into a cardboard booth, mark your choice then come out and stick it into a box. 12 or so hours later, they're all counted and that's it, you have elected your MP and your Prime Minister etc. That's it, that's all it has to be.
Why does every goddamn county and parish in the US of A have to make things so complicated?
posted by Flashman at 3:01 AM on October 26, 2006


because they have a very long ballot, voting from the city dogcatcher up to the President of the country
having said that, the Diebold thing is indeed a bit of a joke at this point (I'm waiting for Soros to buy Diebold, by the way -- I'd be curious to see the Republican reaction, I suppose they'd be less... polite than the Democrats have been throughout this entire ordeal )
posted by matteo at 3:14 AM on October 26, 2006


Jesus, America is such a backwards place in so so many respects.
In Canada, there's one body - 'Elections Canada' - that runs the show from coast to coast. You're given your paper ballot - the same whether you're in Newfoundland or Quebec or the Yukon, and a little yellow pencil, you go into a cardboard booth, mark your choice then come out and stick it into a box. 12 or so hours later, they're all counted and that's it, you have elected your MP and your Prime Minister etc. That's it, that's all it has to be.
Why does every goddamn county and parish in the US of A have to make things so complicated?


In addition to being aggressive swimmers, Dolphins of the Future will do away with opaque computerized voting methods in favour of the aforementioned "Elections Canada" method. This will be a cold comfort for Canadians, however, as it will not stop the Dolphins from mercilessly clubbing baby humans to death every winter in the name of Dolphin fashion.

On the bright side, the 121st congress will be nicknamed The Fighting Delphinidae for its keen interest in investigating corporate malfeasance, and will ultimately curtail illegal activities by corporate badboys such as Halibuton and Finron.

Sadly, they will be incapable of sating their desire for rowdy group rapings, a scandal that will break only after a number of embarrassing and poorly written IMs are released:

how big is ur drsl fin?

i onno i dun mesure it

lolphin. u shuld. i am typing with my elongated beak-like snout right now...

posted by The God Complex at 3:41 AM on October 26, 2006 [6 favorites]


What would happen if in November, a coordinated 'denial of service' type attack took place in as many e-voting counties/precincts as possible, using the public attack vectors to delete/invalidate as many votes as possible in the most obvious (and non-recoverable) way. (eg everyone uploading the princeton virus to the machines)

This type of attack would (hopefully) be impossible to ignore by everyone concerned when these precincts/counties return 0 votes for all candiates...

And then what happens?
Election declared void? Re-run? Ignored?

As far as I can see it this is the only way in which people would start to wake up to the dangers of these systems of E-voting.
posted by nielm at 3:45 AM on October 26, 2006


because they have a very long ballot, voting from the city dogcatcher up to the President of the country

You'd think changing that tradition by not voting for absolutely bloody everything on the same day would be less hassle, not to mention less bloody terrifying, than implementing electronic voting. (Also, I was stunned when I found out Americans vote on individual, minor pieces of local legislation, have popular elections for things like police officials, etc.)
posted by jack_mo at 3:46 AM on October 26, 2006


If you've been keeping track of the news in the past few years, with its weekly litany of high-profile breeches

I don't watch Project Runway. But thanks.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:53 AM on October 26, 2006


And then what happens?
Election declared void? Re-run? Ignored?


I read something recently that indicated that disputed races would be settled by the current congress.
posted by srboisvert at 4:05 AM on October 26, 2006


On a side note... Although there's probably little that can be done about e-voting fraud in the upcoming election, its heartening to see the whole "citizen scrutineer" thing being cranked up to keep an eye out for any other shoddy practices that might be shoehorned into the process.

Video The Vote (YouTubular agit-prop PSA)

Election Day Legal Guide For Scrutineering Bloggers

(via Boing Boing, natch)
posted by jodrell banksmeadow at 4:57 AM on October 26, 2006


...delete/invalidate as many votes as possible in the most obvious (and non-recoverable) way.

What if, for example, machines in whole counties were set to vote one way only, so that the map of red/blue counties would look unmistakeably like, say, a smiley-face?
posted by spazzm at 5:02 AM on October 26, 2006


I have been considering this for some time, and I really don't see any way out of the central dilemna:

Since the people potentially perpetrating the fraud, are the same people responsible for preventing it (here in Ohio anyway), there is next to no chance of anyone ever being caught. Hell, Blackwell uses the 2004 election as a selling point of his campaign...smooth, fair elections! I am not making that up...

Anyhow, so the issue is, let's say motivated hacker for justice X successfully hacks a machine on election day, to remove all votes, or vote for the libertarian candidate, or some nonsense.

A huge investigation will come of it, and maybe some changes made, but not until said hacker has been tried and convicted of election fraud...and that is not a small thing (unless you are a politician, or exceptionally rich I guess)...

so, until someone is willing to be a martyr, I don't see how this is going to change....facts don't seem to work at all. You can show people evidence and examples (a la blackboxvoting) until you pass out from exhaustion, and no one seems to really care.
posted by das_2099 at 5:03 AM on October 26, 2006


Disclaimer: Self link + possibly blatant advertising ..but all relevant to this discussion..

--> As jodrell mentioned above, Video the Vote is at least trying to get people mobilized to record the 'retail' side of election fraud.

In fact, here in columbus, OH tonight , we are having a VtV training by the directer of 'American Blackout' (Ian Inaba), followed by a free showing of his movie @ 7:00 PM

So , if you are in OH (the heart of vote irregularities!), come by, and let's try to actually do something.
posted by das_2099 at 5:10 AM on October 26, 2006


My prediction: the Republicans will lose a few seats in the House and Senate, but not enough for Democrats to gain a majority in either. This will be the fig leaf of legitimacy placed upon the election; "See, the Republicans 'lost'. The system works."

Afterwards, there will be many, many reports of irregularities and vote tampering. Liberals across America will wail, gnash their teeth and make endless angry posts on the internet, but absolutely nothing of real substance will be done.

Prove me wrong, America.
posted by you just lost the game at 5:44 AM on October 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Here's one way to solve the problem quickly: Let's find some enterprising hackers to fuck up the entire election. Imagine if every seat this year went to Democrats, or even (shudder) Republicans. Or what if they all went to Ren & Stimpy? Anarchy!

I can guarantee you'd get some investigations then. At least, I would hope...
posted by fungible at 5:51 AM on October 26, 2006


Ah shit, now I like spazzm's Project Mayhem idea better.
posted by fungible at 5:54 AM on October 26, 2006


Another possibility: The Republicans lose, and immediately start screaming about vote tampering.
posted by Malor at 6:04 AM on October 26, 2006


You know what the right-wing talking point is on this? They say that dems don't want voting machines because we can't steal electronic elections. Machines don't lie. It's crazy.

They ought to realize we have just as much chance of stealing the election with this technology as they do. In fact, I bet at least a few adventurous types on both sides will try this year...
posted by delmoi at 6:07 AM on October 26, 2006


Another possibility: The Republicans lose, and immediately start screaming about vote tampering.

This is the most likely possibility.

If the voting machines are tampered with by the GOP — and by all indications they can be easily tampered with by someone with an agenda — but they lose anyway from massive popular vote backlash, their only hope is to game the entire democratic process with fear and uncertainty.

Hopefully, the November vote won't end in rioting and bloodshed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:14 AM on October 26, 2006


I've never understood why so much of the US insists on using electronics when so many other places (regardless of level of development) use paper and mark an X on it with a pen.

...which is also the most common method of voting in the US.

Electronic voting isn't inherently bad. It's useful in places with lots of old people, because you can have as many large-text ballots as you need without having to worry about running out of them. Likewise, electronic voting means that you don't have to worry about running out of ballots in Spanish or Chinese or Korean or Tagalog or French or Hmong or whatever. Electronic voting also makes it very easy to tell someone "Hey, you just tried to vote for two dudes for President. You can't do that. Go back and pick your Presidential vote again," or "Dude, you totally didn't vote for US House. Did you mean to do that?"

That said, the way to fix it is moderately expensive but obvious: use the e-voting booth to generate or fill in a human-readable ballot that then gets chunked into the scanner-box.

Jesus, America is such a backwards place in so so many respects.
In Canada, there's one body - 'Elections Canada' - that runs the show from coast to coast.


Not unless you live in a different Canada from everyone else. Last I heard, provinces ran their own provincial elections, and cities ran their own elections within boundaries prescribed by provincial law.

You're given your paper ballot

This will come as a shock to people who've been voting electronically or with optical-scanners for municipal elections.

12 or so hours later, they're all counted and that's it, you have elected your MP and your Prime Minister etc. That's it, that's all it has to be.

Yes. All we would have to do to have similar results would be initiate minor details such as abolishing the Presidency, eliminating popular election of Senators, and cease having unified state/local/federal elections. No problem. Shouldn't take more than a week.

The only reason that hand-counting votes works in Canadian confederal or UK Parliamentary elections is that it's one and only one office. Hand counting breaks down very quickly when the number of offices increases; this is why even glorious Canadian elections often use electronic counting methods for municipal elections.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:22 AM on October 26, 2006


Just want to point out to non-Americans that it's not like everyone here votes electronically. Voting methods differ by state. Here in New England, I'm still going to pull a lever on a big metal machine to cast my vote, like I have in every other election.
posted by smackfu at 6:36 AM on October 26, 2006


Hopefully, the November vote won't end in rioting and bloodshed

Wrong; hopefully the November vote does end in rioting and bloodshed, because it's the only way anything significant will change.

In a perfect world, one or two politicians would be killed by angry mobs, but I can't say I'm holding my breath for that.
posted by aramaic at 6:38 AM on October 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Hand counting breaks down very quickly when the number of offices increases; this is why even glorious Canadian elections often use electronic counting methods for municipal elections.

So? Divorce the Holy Election day. The most elections you can have in the vast majority of the country for Federal office is four -- President/Vice (as a combined ballot), two senators (this assumes a special election for one of them), one congressman. On average, you'd have two elections. You always have your state rep, and you'd usually have one Senator or the President up as well.

The bingo case is one of the 3 house seat states that elects everyone at large. They'd typically have four marks to make -- At large House x3, and two out of every three elections, they'd have Senator. The big ballot for them would be six -- both senators (one a special election), all reps (every two years) and the President (every four years.)

However -- these states are also the states with the lowest populations, so hand counting become more feasable. Counting six elections for Wyoming is trivial to counting three elections for Illinois, but even then, we're talking three to six marks per ballot, max -- or you can fix the few at-large states into districts.

How do you count them fast? You have multiple counters, of course. A counts the first line, passes to B, who counts the second line, etc. Trivial in a nation with the population we have.

State and Muni elections move to another day, or to the odd years (New Jersey votes state offices in odd years now). There, if you insist on seventeen ballot amendments and thirty seven municipal ballots, you can use whatever farking tech you want.

But the idea that we have too many votes to count in federal elections is nonsense. A good part of this nation will cast *one* federal vote this year, for a represnetative. I'll cast two. A few people will cast four.

This not only isn't intractable, it isn't even hard.
posted by eriko at 6:49 AM on October 26, 2006


The only reason that hand-counting votes works in Canadian confederal or UK Parliamentary elections is that it's one and only one office. Hand counting breaks down very quickly when the number of offices increases; this is why even glorious Canadian elections often use electronic counting methods for municipal elections.

I'm a canadian, though I now live in England ,and getting on in years. I have never ever used anything electronic while voting in Mississauga (a burb of Toronto). Your little caveat at the end about glorious Canadian elections using electronic COUNTING methods is a nice devious rhetorical slight of hand. Are you trying to trick people by conflating voting and counting as the same thing?
posted by srboisvert at 7:13 AM on October 26, 2006


Your little caveat at the end about glorious Canadian elections using electronic COUNTING methods is a nice devious rhetorical slight of hand. Are you trying to trick people by conflating voting and counting as the same thing?

Of course not. As I noted, the most common method of voting in the US is to make marks on pieces of paper, but these are then fed into optical scanners. The same systems are also used in at least some Canadian municipal elections. Some Canadian cities have also used direct electronic voting or internet voting.

It's the linked article that almost-but-not-quite claims that counting and voting are the same thing.

I have no particular support for electronic voting as it stands, especially when the solution to the various problems is glaringly obvious. It just annoys me to no end when people chime in who seem to be wilfully ignorant of even their own country's electoral practices and laws.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:12 AM on October 26, 2006


I'm not sure why a viable solution needs to be expensive. Oregon has been doing vote by mail for a few years now, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. I can vote without standing in line at a polling place, I can research issues and positions while I'm marking my ballot, and there's a tangible paper trail in the event that a recount is required.

Frankly, it seems like moving to vote by mail should be a cost savings, compared to buying Diebold (or comperable, or, dare we hope, better) electronic voting machines, renting polling places, paying poll workers, etc.

What's lacking is the political will to make it happen.
posted by browse at 10:41 AM on October 26, 2006


I'm not sure why a viable solution needs to be expensive. Oregon has been doing vote by mail

Any system that involves physical ballots that are ever out of the direct physical control of the voter or elections officials is inherently insecure. Horrifically so.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:27 PM on October 26, 2006


You'd think changing that tradition by not voting for absolutely bloody everything on the same day would be less hassle, not to mention less bloody terrifying, than implementing electronic voting. (Also, I was stunned when I found out Americans vote on individual, minor pieces of local legislation, have popular elections for things like police officials, etc.)

But we don't vote for absolutely bloody everything on the same day. Non-partisan offices are traditionally elected in the spring, for example. Some governorships and other offices on a four-year schedule are timed against the federal elections, thus 2002 and 2006 my state elects the Governor. Chicago's Mayor gets elected in odd-numbered years!

Referenda and things like school capital projects get put to the people at the next election by statute, whichever that is.

And Americans elect Sheriffs at the county level, but rarely police chiefs, who are generally subject to city officials.

In any case, the solution is not to have more election days. There's trouble enough getting people to show up when they have a state legislator at the top of the ballot. When my mother was on the county board, the total votes seesawed between about 1000 in important-election years and about 150 in off-years.

There is an argument for reducing the offices subject to election; my county still has an elected coroner, for example, and after the last one was found stealing prescription drugs from the deceased, we're going to transition to a medical examiner appointed by the county board. But that takes several years (ordinance and budget considerations). Dogcatcher is the traditional US joke for an office that really has no purpose being elected, but very few places (mostly in the South, I think) actually do so anymore.
posted by dhartung at 12:41 PM on October 26, 2006


you just lost the game summed up my feelings exactly. This is what I've been telling everyone I know. I'm not holding out much hope, or really, any hope at all.

My girlfriend tells me that the day after Bill Clinton got elected, she walked out the front door and felt like she could breathe again. I'd like to experience that, but frankly, I doubt it's going to happen.
posted by interrobang at 1:01 PM on October 26, 2006


Voting by post has caused problems in the UK with fraud.
posted by athenian at 2:24 PM on October 26, 2006


dhartung: Well, a large part of this is the way in which governments are structured in the U.S.. Most people have:
3-4 levels of government
2-3 branches of government at each level

And Americans elect Sheriffs at the county level, but rarely police chiefs, who are generally subject to city officials.

The reason for this is that there is often not an executive officer at the county level parallel to the municipal mayor or state govenor.

Another big factor is that statutory controls on the civil service systems have only been around for about 80 years. Before then, political appointments were much more blatantly exploited avenues for political corruption, cronyism and graft.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:09 PM on October 26, 2006


Black Box Voting
Lots of information on the "voting fraud/ ballot tampering" cause/effect... Warning- Possible Cynthia McKinney sighting (don't let it throw you or I'll hit you)
posted by priested at 4:22 PM on October 26, 2006


UGH! www.blackboxvoting.org
Please forgive me-
posted by priested at 4:22 PM on October 26, 2006


It's too late to do anything about the elections in a couple weeks, but perhaps steps can be taken to fix things before 2008

And people have been saying that before every single election since 2000.

There's honestly no reason we need electronic voting. Other countries have longer ballots and hand counting and get results the next day.

browse: The trouble with vote-by-mail is it enables the other common form of election tampering, which is vote buying and vote coërcion. If you can demonstrate to someone how you voted (say, by showing them your ballot) they can threaten you, your job, etc., if you vote the way they don't want you to. Historically this has been a big problem.
posted by hattifattener at 6:33 PM on October 26, 2006


Hopefully, the November vote won't end in rioting and bloodshed.

Indeed, the rioting and bloodshed will be just the beginning.
posted by oncogenesis at 11:43 PM on October 26, 2006


I've often wondered what's up with the Blackboxvoting.org vs Blackboxvoting.com thing? Is there something crooked going on here? Any way to sniff out who runs the .com?
posted by Orb2069 at 12:20 PM on October 28, 2006


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