Last week, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology recommended to those drafting the 2007 Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines (also at NIST) that voting systems be required to be "software independent". Officially, that's a system such that "a previously undetected change or error in its software [assuming it has such] cannot cause an undetectable change or error in an election outcome". Unofficially, that's a system with a voter-verified paper trail.
The take-home line from the report, concerning software-dependent Direct Record Electronic systems:
Potentially, a single programmer could “rig” a major election.
The problem is not just that DRE systems are presently insecure, but that there is no feasible way of making them secure:
[V]oting systems in general are not developed according to rigorous models of secure code development nor tested with the rigor of other security-critical applications. Experts reject that even these measures would be sufficient for reliably detecting all errors or malicious code hidden in a voting systems.
Hence the need for a software-independent audit trail. Of claims that software independence isn't necessary since "there is no evidence of intentionally-introduced malicious code or fraud in voting systems" and "election procedures are effective at keeping voting systems free of intentionally introduced fraud", the writers note
[These claims] do not hold up against the enormous evidence of computer fraud that has occurred in other areas of IT and that has or is likely to occur in voting systems, given the billions spent on elections as well as the rich history of electoral fraud.
Moreover, claims that everything is A-OK are suspect, given that there isn't any way, independent of the system being tested, to check the results. As Barbara Samorajczyk put it,
after conceding a House of Delegates seat to her marginally-ahead
opponent, "there wasn't any meaningful way to do a recount [...] we
cannot recount the machine". (Exit polls can do some work here, of course, but their results are approximate and subject to manipulation.)
The committee in charge of drafting the VVSG 2007 guidelines rejected a proposal adopting the recommendation that all systems be required to be software independent; however, they later unanimously accepted a revised proposal which required that future systems be so. Existing systems are to be "grandfathered in"; one hopes this doesn't mean Jenna for Prez.
Overall this strikes me as very good news, even though VVSG 2007 is still at the draft stage, and even though these guidelines (hence "requirements") are voluntary. When word gets out about the need for software independence those forced to vote on DRE machines will rightfully raise hell with their state election officials and representatives, and U.S.ers will slowly but surely free themselves from this new form of tyranny.
As per this WaPo article, more than 80 percent of voters will use
electronic voting machines in the Nov 7 election, with a third of all precincts using the technology for the first time. The massive switch to e-voting machines was initiated by the Help America Vote Act, supposedly in order to prevent the sort of problems plaguing the 2000 Florida recount debacle, involving hanging chads and the like. But such systems are prone to new and horrible technical difficulties, of the sort characterizing last week's "debacle" in Maryland (see here for details).
TJ became convinced that it was all right to upload the memory card,
which he did. And there, on the central tabulator screen, appeared the
altered results: Seven "Yes" votes and one "No" vote, with absolutely
no evidence that anything had been altered. It was a powerful moment
and, I will admit, it had the unexpected result for me personally of
causing me to break down and cry. Why did I cry? It was the last
thing I thought I would do, but it happened for so many reasons. I
cried because it was so clear that Diebold had been lying. I cried
because there was proof, before my very eyes, that these machines were
every bit as bad as we all had feared. I cried because we have been so
unjustly attacked as "conspiracy theorists" and "technophobes" when
Diebold knew full well that its voting system could alter election
results. More than that, that Diebold planned to have a voting system that could alter results. And I cried because
it suddenly hit me, like a Mack truck, that this was proof positive that our democracy is and has been,
as we have all feared, truly at the mercy of unscrupulous vendors who
are producing electronic voting machines that can change election
results without detection.
By now the explanation for the Gallup poll's massive pro-Bush slant is clear -- they overpoll republicans. Why? The Gallup boss is a big GOP donor.
Harmless, you say? -- Maybe not, if Dems get discouraged and don't vote. Jess suggests a more sinister purpose: camouflaging the e-theft of the election. Managing public opinion as to the legitimacy of the winner was big in 2000 -- remember the Thanksgiving stuffing, the late overseas ballots Lieberman allowed to be counted which put Bush ahead of Gore and so created a fact-basis for that annoying Sore Loserman bumpersticker. So what happens if this time Kerry is known to be ahead 5 points nationally, but -- mirabile dictu -- Bush pulls off a big one (due to Diebold & ESS, natch)? Well, who knows. Certainly it will be a lot easier to get away with it if a Bush "victory" already seemed inevitable.
Even worse, it puts big pressure on Kerry to win nationwide by a big margin. If the election is close, pro-Kerry, no doubt the rethugs will challenge all the way down. Watch out for a "dems stealing the election" trope under these circumstances -- made much stickier if antecedent nationwide polls show a Bush "victory" to be inevitable. -- Benj
Nevada, another state that will make near-universal use of touch-screen voting in November, purchased machines manufactured by Sequoia that produce a paper record - a move that received high marks earlier this month from the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative group in Washington. "Without an actual paper ballot, we are then left with only the computer's word for the election results," the group said in a news release accompanying its informal "Election Preparedness Scorecard" three weeks ago.
The group gave grades of F to several states - including Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Tennessee - based on their degree of reliance on paperless electronic voting. Florida, whose results will almost certainly receive intense scrutiny, received an F-plus, while Georgia was given an F-minus. New Mexico, a swing state that will rely heavily on touch-screen voting on Nov. 2, received a D-minus.
As for security concerns, Mr. Miller said that vendors submit their source code - the underlying instructions for the machines' software - for independent inspection, to uncover any hidden programming and to ensure that the machines calculate properly.
Critics, however, point out that the labs inspecting the software are typically paid by the vendors themselves, and that they somehow failed to uncover the flaws discovered by Mr. Wertheimer, Professor Rubin, and election officials in Ohio, Maryland and elsewhere.
While it is too late in the game to make it possible to produce a paper record for each vote on every machine already deployed, Mr. Miller said that vendors would be willing to include that feature in the future if the market demanded it. Most of the major vendors have models that can supply a printed record, but in most cases, Mr. Miller said, election officials have not required it.
I think [Bush has] probably by now read the memorandum of 25 January 2002 that Alberto Gonzalez, his chief White House counsel wrote to him. This is the one that says, well you know, Geneva Conventions, that’s kind of a nettle here. We have US law actually, dated 1996 which makes it a crime punishable by death to rescind from or to ignore or to exempt people from the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war. But Ashcroft says it’s okay as far as the Al Qaeda people are concerned, and I think it’s probably okay to exempt the Taliban as well. And the only downside is that exempting people is a slippery slope and people might come up with some ambiguity with respect to which prisoners qualify for such protection and which do not.
And so he finished up by saying, there’s a reasonable basis in law Mr. President, that you will not be prosecuted for war crimes under the US code, War Crimes Act of 1996. Now if I’m President Bush and I finally read that thing because Newsweek has it printed, and I say, my goodness, there’s a reasonable basis in law that I won’t be prosecuted? I’m going to have a couple of really second thoughts here. One is that next time I’m in a situation like this I’m certainly going to seek independent counsel. But another is, my God, four more years becomes even more important to me and to Ashcroft and to Rumsfeld. Gonzalez specifically warns that who knows, some future administration or some future group might sue you for violating the Geneva Conventions. And not only the Geneva Conventions but to the degree that they are embedded in this US law of 1996, and so you’re really, we have a strong basis in law but we can’t exclude the possibility. So four more years? Why do I say all this? I say all this because I am more frightened now than at any time over the last three and a half years, that this administration will resort to extra-legal methods to do something to ensure that there are four more years for George Bush.
This is no joke, guys. As I've been saying, the two main e-voting companies---Diebold and ESS---are incestuously connected (Bob Urosevich, head of the election division at Diebold, is the brother of Todd Urosevich, a top executive at ESS), and both companies (which figure in 80% of e-votes) were funded by Howard Ahmanson, a conservative right-wing Christian.
From the BBC's Greg Palast, who has done a great deal to bring the 2000 Florida voter purge scandal to light---not that the mainstream media has paid any attention to this trampling of U.S. democracy---comes the unbelievable news that (as per usual with this administration, the Orwellian named) HAVA (Help America Vote Act), requires that states computerize voter lists, with all fifty secretaries of state having the right to "purge" lists of suspect (read: African American) voters:
In the months leading up to the November 2000 presidential election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in coordination with Governor Jeb Bush, ordered local election supervisors to purge 57,700 voters from the registries, supposedly ex-cons not allowed to vote in Florida. At least 90.2 percent of those on this "scrub" list, targeted to lose their civil rights, are innocent. Notably, more than half--about 54 percent--are black or Hispanic. You can argue all night about the number ultimately purged, but there's no argument that this electoral racial pogrom ordered by Jeb Bush's operatives gave the White House to his older brother. HAVA not only blesses such purges, it requires all fifty states to implement a similar search-and-destroy mission against vulnerable voters. Specifically, every state must, by the 2004 election, imitate Florida's system of computerizing voter files. The law then empowers fifty secretaries of state--fifty Katherine Harrises--to purge these lists of "suspect" voters.
What to do, what to do. First, write or call your secretary of state, let them know that you know about Harris's disenfranchisement (lay some stats on them), and prompt them to do the right thing (not that Repubs will likely listen... after all, the only way they can win is by deceit and theft). Second, make it a priority in your life to go to a swing state and register some voters---underrepresented minorities, if at all possible. Your efforts may crucially serve to cancel out the disenfranchised persons.
This Saturday is the kickoff for the Democratic Party's Voter Registration Drive. ACT (America Coming Together) has info about swing state registration events. Benj and I are going to Wilkes-Barre, PA with a local group (the Finger Lakes Election Committee; unfortunately, they don't seem to have a web site. But interested Ithacans: meet at the DMV at 8am). MoveOn also has a gig going on Saturday: phone banking parties -- contacting potential voters, one cell phone call at a time.