Rotten Boroughs?
February 4, 2003 5:22 PM   Subscribe

"If you want to win the election," he finally said, "just control the machines." "Nebraska has a just-passed law that prohibits government-employee election workers from looking at the ballots, even in a recount. The only machines permitted to count votes in Nebraska, he said, are those made and programmed by the corporation formerly run by Hagel.... When Bev Harris and The Hill's Alexander Bolton pressed the Chief Counsel and Director of the Senate Ethics Committee, the man responsible for ensuring that FEC disclosures are complete, asking him why he'd not questioned [Nebraska Republican Chuck] Hagel's 1995, 1996, and 2001 failures to disclose the details of his ownership in the company that owned the voting machine company when he ran for the Senate, the Director reportedly met with Hagel's office on Friday, January 25, 2003 and Monday, January 27, 2003. After the second meeting, on the afternoon of January 27th, the Director of the Senate Ethics Committee resigned his job. "
The facts, ma'am. Just the facts.
posted by dash_slot- (23 comments total)
It's a job for some good hacker to hack the hell out of the counting machines so that The Mentor is elected Prez.

No hand recount. Who cares if a Prez is elected two seconds after the ballots are closed or two days.
posted by elpapacito at 5:56 PM on February 4, 2003

I find the headlong rush to all-electronic voting very troublesome. What's wrong with pencil-and-paper ballots counted by humans? It's fast, transparent, and simple.
posted by cbrody at 5:59 PM on February 4, 2003

While I disagree that pencil-and-paper balloting is fast or particularly reliable, I have to admit that the rush towards electronic voting controlled by companies brings out the "black helicopter watcher" in me. At the very least, the voting machines should be open to public inspection in terms of hardware and software.

On the other hand, though I'd really like to think otherwise, I'd say that Hagel's win had more to do with weak Democratic leadership than any corporate conspiracy.
posted by jed at 6:07 PM on February 4, 2003

As long as we're talking conspiracy theories, I thought it was very interesting that VNN had software failures that prevented it from producing any results in this last election. VNN was responsible for conducting the exit polls that have, in the past, accurately reflected district by district vote counts.

They're the ones that called Florida for Gore before it was discovered that all those elderly Jewish ladies had actually voted for Pat Buchanan.

Any software used to count vote should be open source. No two ways about it.
posted by alms at 6:22 PM on February 4, 2003

I think this'd be a textbook case of where open source SHOULD NOT BE APPLIED. Just think of the possibilities - "Oh... If I pull this lever x times and that lever y times there'll be a buffer overflow and my candidate will win" or "If I take this front panel off and mess around inside and change this to that..." Most geeks have such strong political beliefs that they'd probably keep whatever vulnerabilities they discovered to themselves, waltz into the voting booths, "rock the vote" and magically the libertarians win.

What they SHOULD do is create a voting system created from scratch with the voting software encoded into the ROM of the voting machine - nonflash so it cannot be modified, and make it unremovable, and encoded with 128-bit encryption so that its machine language contents are indecipherable except to the voting machine. Slap in some ecc ram - but make it redundant so that the whole machine starts screaming "I've been tampered with, I've been tampered with" should there be more than a bit difference between multiple redundant sticks of RAM. The machines should be designed so that basically, if someone even causually messes with their innards they render themselves completely inoperable.

Except the bastards would probably make them fail on purpose to influence the vote...

Oh, nevermind.
posted by Veritron at 7:07 PM on February 4, 2003

So pen and paper it is then?
posted by Fabulon7 at 7:11 PM on February 4, 2003

It's not like vote rigging is something completely new and unheard of.
Computers just makes it faster and more reliable.
posted by spazzm at 7:19 PM on February 4, 2003

Veritron, flashing stuff into nonremovable ROMs just makes the inevitable errors (including buffer over/under runs) nonremovable too. At least with software (whether open source or not) can be trivially replaced. No sense in invalidating an election and a huge public investment in hardware at the same time.
posted by wobh at 7:58 PM on February 4, 2003

Would it be so hard to get a print out of the vote you cast. When I make a deposit at the ATM the machine records the transaction but it also gives me a receipt. Wouldn't that solve the "hanging chad" problem and unreadable votes that happen with paper and pencil. Then you can get a machine count and an actual count.

My state was completely computerized for the Midterm elections and the winners were completely unpredicted by the polls. Maybe it was the rain or voter apathy but...The first Republican Governor in 130 yrs!!!! That's quite a coincidence.
posted by bas67 at 8:07 PM on February 4, 2003

Open source is considered the only acceptable method for creating secure crypto code. It is observable and verifiable by all parties involved. Vote counting is the same.

This reminds of an episode that happened last fall... If it wasn't so late I would dig up the links, but it was around election time. A programmer and two of his friends got busted for rigging bets at a race track. There's probably a MeFi link about it. Their problem was that they made too much money and didn't cover their tracks well enough. I remember thinking at the time "if they can do it for horse races, why not for elections."

Sigh, I really hope this all comes to light.
posted by alms at 8:09 PM on February 4, 2003

" I called John Zogby of the highly respected Zogby International. I asked him if over the years he had noticed increased variation between pre-election predictions and election results.  Zogby said that he didn't notice any big problems until this year. Things were very different this time. 

"I blew Illinois. I blew Colorado (and Georgia). And never in my life did I get New Hampshire wrong...but I blew that too."..... 

......"Over the last 100 years Americans have slowly but surely surrendered our public voting process to private corporations and their voting machines... in violation of our constitutional right to fair, open, and observable elections. The price paid has been the legitimacy of our democracy.

Voting machines can be easily rigged and impossible to monitor. They are sold and serviced by a handful of private companies dominated by active and wealthy members of the Republican Party. The use of voting machines should be unconstitutional, but Congress has failed to act. It appears that this fundamental issue has not been litigated in federal court."......

"Mission Impossible - Federal Observers & Voting Machines

by Lynn Landes 11/26/02

Just when you thought you couldn't get any more cynical. Guess which state did not have Federal Observers assigned to it by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for the 2002 mid-term election? 

If you guessed Florida, congratulations, you're living in the real world... depressing, but real.

No state could match the staggering number of Voting Rights complaints due to voting machines and other shenanigans as Florida did in the 2000 presidential election. Yet the Bush Administration's DOJ, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, did not see fit to send Federal Observers to Florida to monitor the voting process in 2002, although Observers were sent to several other states. This is surprising news to many people and organizations who were told by DOJ officials that "Justice" would be down there in force. "........

........"I want to know why VNS sent surveys to counties asking them for information about the kinds of voting machines the counties used? Why should VNS care? What do voting machines have to do with exit poll projections? The voting machine industry is completely dominated by Republicans. Many people believe that the major news networks are also dominated by Republican ownership. Is there a connection between VNS closing its doors, the increased use of computerized voting machines, and the growing disparity between pre-election polling predictions and election results - a disparity that appears to heavily favor Republican candidates? Are we witnessing election fraud on a massive scale and is VNS involved? "
posted by troutfishing at 8:36 PM on February 4, 2003

I dunno, trout. Conspiracies are like plutonium. The more massive they are, the more likely they'll accidentally hit critical mass. I doubt a voting machine fraud could be pulled off in today's America without someone blowing the whistle on the whole operation and selling their story to 60 Minutes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:51 PM on February 4, 2003

The whole open-source question is irrelevant. The process just needs an audit trail, and it's easy to do. After voting, the machine prints a filled-in ballot. The voter checks it for accuracy and deposits it in the ballot box like normal. The votes are tallied instantly, but, if need be, we can go back and hand-count ballots.
posted by electro at 10:25 PM on February 4, 2003

I doubt a voting machine fraud could be pulled off in today's America without someone blowing the whistle on the whole operation and selling their story to 60 Minutes.

posted by homunculus at 11:34 PM on February 4, 2003

What electro said. There must be an audit trail. And no private companies to count votes, that is the domain of the public. Great point homunculus! Election fraud has happened, twice, in the same state, in consecutive elections, using many concurrent methods.
posted by nofundy at 5:09 AM on February 5, 2003

Here's a recommendation from voting technology expert Dr. Rebecca Mercuri. This will allow for electronic vote captures, while still providing the auditable paper trail required by the Help America Vote Act (PDF link). For those who don't want to slog through the entire piece of legislation, the relevant area is Section 301.

Just in case some sort of disclosure is required, I'm part of the Miami-Dade (Florida) Election Reform Coalition, a non-partisan citizens' group. I've spent the last few weeks researching voting technology issues, to help us lobby the county and state government for change. Obviously, this thread is of particular interest to me. (And yes, a lot of folks are hearing black helicopters in Florida these days.)
posted by mkhall at 5:33 AM on February 5, 2003

While I disagree that pencil-and-paper balloting is fast or particularly reliable...

Wait, how is pen and paper voting not fast or reliable? Its been pretty much the standard for hundreds of years....
posted by bshort at 6:16 AM on February 5, 2003

mkhall - You have my deep respect for your efforts: on cursory assesment, your group's project sounds good. But I'd say the State of Florida has admitted to hearing - or, should I say "operating"? - some "Black Helicopters" (see below) and I'd say that about 91,000 Florida voters illegally purged from Florida state voting rolls heard them loud and clear. Call them the "Black Helicopters of massive 2000 and 2002 election fraud".

Civil_Disobediant - Your comment forced me to revisit the ugliness of the 2000 election controversy. Evidence of massive fraud has firmed up quite nicely ("Conspiracies are like plutonium. The more massive they are, the more likely they'll accidentally hit critical mass. I doubt a voting machine fraud could be pulled off in today's America without someone blowing the whistle") but "Sixty Minutes" isn't buying THIS story. You'll have to turn to "alternative" and non-US media sources to read about this whole sordid affair, but: Florida's pre 2000 election illegal purge of 91,000 voters from it's voter rolls has been widely acknowledged, even by the State of Florida and by the firm which Florida contracted to generate the voter purge list (see below, Palast quote)

The Journalist Greg Palast has covered the whole sad story of the 2000 election - and the now admitted to (by the State of Florida) illegal purging of over 94,000 voters, mostly black and hispanic - and predominantly democrats, from the Florida voter rolls. This purge remained in force through the 2002 election. Florida has agreed to correct the list in 2003.

(Palast) "I thought it was 57,000 voters, but the company that did it for them, called ChoicePoint, now says it was 94,000 voters. ChoicePoint was sued by the NAACP and now has turned over more information. So 94,000 people were knocked off the rolls, beginning before Harris got in -- another Republican, her predecessor, began this purge.
That's legal if these people were guilty of crimes. It turns out that, at minimum, 97 percent of the people on the list are innocent. Overwhelmingly the list is Democratic. About half the list are African American and other minorities. And there's no guessing, because on the Florida ballots voter race is listed. What I was able to uncover was that the state did this illegal purge that unquestionably determined the White House, and will probably determine the governor's race."

Furthermore, this voter purge list was allowed to remain in place in the 2002 election!:

(Palast) "...Originally we thought it was 57,000 people that were purged. Now I got the info from DBT that there were 94,000 people in this list. 91,000 were innocent. If those people have voted, Al Gore would most likely have received the 537 votes that he needed to win. What makes the story so sad and rotten is that the Secretary of State of Florida, Katherine Harris, has agreed that innocent people were removed, but they dragged their feet and have used this same list in this election.
According to the settlement from the NAACP lawsuit, the State has to revise the list and return the voting rights to the innocent ones. But they are going to wait until after the elections to do so.
Jeb Bush arranged to steal the election in 2000 for his brother, and is keeping it stolen for his own re-election. Election 2000 is not old news; it’s what happening on Tuesday. On top of that, computerized voting - it’s a real nightmare. Machines continue to fail in black districts in Florida. It happened in September and we will see it on Tuesday. All the problems of 2000, but it’s going to be worse. -What is surprising is that the main media channels are not talking about this.
News organizations are fearful about getting info out on a president during war time."

There were also widespread accounts of "irregularities" - voters being turned away from the polls (and intimidated from voting), of voting stating being shut down, of voting stations running out of ballots: these "irregularities" tended to occur disproportionately in heavily Democratic districts.

BUT...this story is not merely one of Republican election fraud - sometimes it also about racism:

As Palast remarked, in an interview with Buzzflash:

"There was one bright light. In my book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," I reported that one in eight votes in Gadsden, Florida's "Blackest" county, were "spoiled" and never counted. The optical readers knocked out every paper ballot with a stray mark. Over 2000 ballots voided .... zero doubt that Gadsden alone accounted for Gore’s loss.
Here's the ugly part. In next-door "white" Tallahassee, the same ballots and same counting machines returned "spoiled" ballots to voters so they could vote again. Almost no white votes were lost.
Now the good part. A black woman defeated the white incumbent elections supervisor in Gadsden. She changed the machines ... and total spoiled votes went from over 2,000 to just 16 in the entire county!
She beat a Democrat. So you see, the issue is not Democrats versus Republicans, it is white officials suppressing the Black vote -- a bi-partisan effort. Jim Crow is alive and jumping in America once again -- but now taking on a sneaky form ... through manipulation of voting machines. The New Knight Riders don't have sheets, they have laptops and Harvard law degrees." (Palast)

A bit more, from a Buzzflash reader, on the 2000 election:

"Florida's secretary of state is Bush's campaign manager, and its governor is his brother.
* The secretary of state hires a company to eliminate all "felons" from the voter rolls. The company hired to do the job recommends cross-checking the names to insure accuracy, but the secretary refuses.
* More than 50,000 [sic: NOW admitted to be about 94,000: only about 3,000 (admitted as) people who actually should be on the list] people are removed from the rolls. The vast majority of those removals are improper. The vast majority of those removed are black and Democratic.
* The poor black and Democratic areas of Florida have older, less reliable voting machines. And there are over 11,000 complaints of people being turned away and not allowed to vote.
* Republican operatives in several counties illegally "correct" hundreds of Republican requests for absentee ballots.
* The secretary/campaign manager announces that Bush "wins" Florida by 500 votes.
* The Civil Rights Commission finds evidence of significant rights violations.
* EVERY full recount of all legal votes in Florida finds that Gore was, in fact, the winner -- without even getting to the issues of butterfly ballots, scrubbed voter rolls, late absentee votes, etc.
* The Bush DOJ announces lawsuits against three Florida counties to "correct" problems so they won't happen again. There is no mention of the "scrubbed" voter rolls.
* One of the officials in the Civil Rights division of the DOJ is one of the people responsible for the "scrubbing" of the Florida voter rolls.
* A week later, the same DOJ official who trumpeted the lawsuits quietly announces that there weren't any problems after all and that Bush was the rightful winner.
* The secretary of state is running for a seat in a closely divided Congress. The (putative) president's brother faces a tough reelection contest. A voting scandal involving that brother and secretary of state would presumably hurt their election chances."

Don't even get me started on the 2000 election Supreme Court Decision, with it's ludicrous conflict of interest questions - Supreme Court justice family ties to Bush election campaign - I have to go to work.....
posted by troutfishing at 7:39 AM on February 5, 2003

Oh yeah........I almost forgot to post this little jewel of an extended quote, from a vitriolic and partisan but highly intelligent piece on the 2000 election called "Coup 2K": note: numbers are footnotes from original text

It was the Republicans who first bandied the term "coup d'etat" to describe the 2000 presidential election. Jack Kemp, Dole's running-mate in 1996, flat-out called Florida Supreme Court rulings that ordered the votes should be counted a "judicial coup d'etat." The theme was soon echoed in a chorus that included Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and other right-wing propagandists.

Since then, observers ranging from Studs Terkel 1  to the London Observer 2  have turned the tables and labeled the Bush victory a coup. But how much of this is merely rhetoric?

During the election crisis, the absence of "tanks in the streets" was often cited as a sign that however wacky things were, democracy was still intact. And indeed, the popular conception of a "coup d'etat" is of a violent uprising, usually by the military, with shooting in the streets, mass arrests, secret executions and torture. Sometimes even the presidential residence is blown to smithereens.

In reality, this perception of coups is somewhat mistaken. Strictly speaking, that sort of military overthrow is more characteristic of a "putsch." Coups are often a different breed of covert action altogether, and often much quieter.

In fact, much of what we just witnessed not only matches historical examples from the CIA's past history of election rigging and outright overthrows, but can be found in a respected coup "manual" authored by a one-time advisor to President Reagan. While a detailed analysis of the election along these lines would easily fill an entire book, here are some key points for consideration.

What is a Coup d'Etat?

One of the landmark studies of the mechanics of coups d'etat was first published in 1968 by Harvard University. Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook was written by Edward Luttwak, a conservative scholar with a long career in the national security system. During the Reagan-era, he served as a "consultant" to the National Security Council and the State Dept. Currently, Luttwak is senior fellow of "Preventive Diplomacy" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank with close ties to US intelligence. He is also a member of the National Security Study Group of the Dept. of Defense. 3 

In his study, Luttwak writes that while a coup may have characteristics of other, more violent forms of extra-legal seizure of power, "the coup is not necessarily assisted by either the intervention of the masses, or, to any significant degree, by military-type force." 4 

But if a coup does not use warfare or a mass uprising to seize control, then where does it get the power to do so? "The short answer," Luttwak says, "is that the power will come from the state itself... A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder." 5 

Normally, a coup does not seek to destroy the basic structure of the existing government, which is more typical of a revolution or a war for liberation. Instead, Luttwak explains, those undertaking a true coup d'etat "want to seize power within the present system, and [they] shall only stay in power if [they] embody some new status quo supported by those very forces which a revolution may seek to destroy." 6  (Emphasis in original.)"
posted by troutfishing at 7:53 AM on February 5, 2003

I grew up in Chicago, and I was raised to vote early and vote often.
posted by SpecialK at 8:53 AM on February 5, 2003

troutfishing: Thanks for the kind words, as well as the additional material. The Coalition is working on more than technology, though: one of our main upcoming efforts is to get the disenfranchised voters you mention returned to the rolls before the 2004 election cycle. It's an uphill battle, even with the quasi-admissions of the state.
posted by mkhall at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2003

troutfishing: Thanks for the links. That's some sobering stuff there.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:44 PM on February 5, 2003

SpecialK - That's the spirit! did i say that?

Mkhall - that's an evil quandary there - strategy vs. tactics...your call.

Civil_Disobediant, Dash_Slot - my thanks to let's be loud about this...
posted by troutfishing at 9:16 PM on February 5, 2003

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