Critical storm grows over voting machines

Concerns over electronic touch-screen voting machines are growing across the country. California halted certification of voting machine software when officials learned the voting machine company installed unauthorized software and did not tell election officials. That was the recall vote that put Arnold Schwarzenegger in office.

In Ohio, a comprehensive examination of Diebold voting machines revealed 57 security flaws in the software. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell ordered the machine vendors to fix the problems.

“In order to maintain strong public confidence in our elections systems, voters must be assured that the security risks uncovered in our reviews have been addressed and resolved,” Blackwell said. He also said he would ask for an extension of federally mandated Help America Vote Act deadlines to give machine makers more time to fix the problems.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported: “Ohio’s sweeping review of electronic voting machines turned up so many potential security flaws in the systems that the state’s top elections official has called off deploying them in March.”

One of the most prolific and visible writers on this subject is Bev Harris, author of Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century. Harris spent more than a year investigating electronic voting. She had lots of help.

“As we set out to investigate how our voting system really works, regular people joined in from all over, until a battalion of ordinary citizens finally penetrated the smokescreen to prove, once and for all, that we have been using a system that violates the most basic standards for accounting and security, and that the certification and testing system is flawed and broken,” Harris said. (

While this topic has broken into print to a degree and has been discussed on radio shows (NPR), on the whole, the national television networks have yet to even acknowledge there is a problem. Harris said she is working on changing that.

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., is trying to rectify some of these shortcomings by modifying the administration’s Help America Vote Act. House Bill 2239 was referred to the House Committee on Administration last May. It is still there.

Harris said she supports the bill because it requires a voter-verified paper ballot and bars remote access to the voting machines.

She says, however, that the measure is lacking in a critical area. “The problem area, and it is a whopper, is that this bill doesn’t attack the crux of the issue, which is proper auditing,” Harris said. “Right now, we pretty much throw the paper ballot in the toilet. It gets locked in a box that no one can look at–and we don’t use it, even when we have it.”

Harris said three kinds of activities require auditing procedures designed to deter fraud. They are: financial transactions, gambling and elections.

“Yet, we have not sought the counsel of the very people who understand this type of accounting: accountants, bookkeepers and auditors! As a result, we have legislation in many states, and in this case, in HR2239, that uses an inappropriate and flawed auditing model which will not work,” Harris said. (Blackbox

More than one year ago, The Rock River Times wrote about the problems with these machines and attempted to watch the vote count in Winnebago County. The situation we encountered was deftly summed up by Victoria Collier, daughter and niece of the authors of Votescam, The Stealing of America, the original expose of the election “industry.”

“These machines are not just unverifiable, they are secretly programmed (their software is not open to scrutiny by election officials or computer experts), equipped with modems, accessible by computer, telephone and satellite. They are the final product of decades of work by the election rigging industry. When they are installed in every precinct in America, our elections will finally become completely meaningless, nothing more than charades, behind which criminal thugs will wield the power of this nation,” she wrote.

We proposed back then the use of paper ballots to create a voter-verified audit file. Bev Harris was the first to suggest this approach. She said: “We need to retain (and enforce) policies to tally the votes at the polls, in front of observers. In some countries they let as many regular citizens as can fit in the room to watch the physical counting.”

In America, we turn the responsibility over to a private company, accountable to no one, where the tallying is carried out by a company agent in secret; no one can see what goes on, not even election officials and certainly not the public.

Perhaps we should take a good look at what the Australians did with E-voting. They put us to shame.

Two years ago, they designed and put in place a system that makes the voting software completely open to public scrutiny.

While a private Australian company designed the system, it was built on specifications set by election officials and posted on the Internet for everyone to examine, and it was fully complete in six months. No proprietary information, no stacked court rulings, no mumbo-jumbo, just open, honest vote-counting, period!

The Australian system runs on Linux, an open-source operating system accessible on the Internet.

Electoral Commissioner Phil Green commented: “We’d been watching what had happened in America (in 2000), and we were wary of using proprietary software that no one was allowed to see. We were very keen for the whole process to be transparent so that everyone–particularly the political parties and the candidates, but also the world at large–could be satisfied that the software was actually doing what it was meant to be doing.” Imagine that!

Matt Quinn, lead engineer on the project, said public reaction was positive. “The fact that the source code had been published really deflected criticism,” he said.

So, given what has been presented here, can Americans have any hope of a regime change next time out? That question was put to the editor of a respected political magazine. His answer: he didn’t know, but he has a reporter trying to find out.

There will be more on this topic in a subsequent article. It seems from this vantage point that the guy who said this got it right; he said: politicians and diapers should be changed regularly, and for the same reason.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!