Viewpoint: Voting machines drawing more criticism

Part two

“It is by their votes the people exercise their soverignty.” —Thomas Jefferson

“Imagine it’s Election Day 2004. You enter your local polling place and go to cast your vote on a brand-new “touch screen” voting machine. The screen says your vote has been counted. As you exit the voting booth, however, you begin to wonder, ‘How do I know the machine actually recorded my vote?’ The fact is, you don’t.”

The speaker was Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and he was commenting on problems with electronic voting machines, also known as Direct Recording Electronic or DRE machines.

Holt was among a number of Americans alarmed by a sizeable number of voting irregularities in the 2000 election where some of these machines were used. Everyone knows of the glaring problems in Florida.

Holt is very concerned about the soundness and security of our electoral process. “We cannot afford, nor can we permit another major assault on the integrity of the American electoral process,” he said. “Voting should not be an act of blind faith. It should be an act of record.”

Yet there is no assurance that an electronic election can be trusted. Election officials are not permitted to observe vote tabulation, nor can they inspect the software used to perform that function. We have turned the entire operation over to private companies who say “trust us.” We are forced to accept their total count, and they answer no questions.

Can we trust them? Internal memos from employees of Diebold Corp., makers of the voting machines used in Florida in the 2000 election, were leaked to the media.

In January 2001, during one of the interminable recounts, a Diebold employee asked her boss for help. “I need some answers,” she said. “Our department is being audited by the county (Volusia County). I have been waiting for someone to give me an explanation as to why Precinct 216 gave Al Gore a minus 16,022 when it was uploaded. Will someone please explain this so that I have the information to give the auditor instead of standing here ‘looking dumb’?

It was first thought the mistabulation was due to a faulty memory card; then it was found there was a second card loaded; then that neither card was flawed.

Before it was all over, it was found that errors of several thousand votes in Volusia and Brevard counties had occurred on Diebold equipment.

Writer Bev Harris, author of Black Box Voting-Vote Tampering in the 21st Century, asked: “How plausible is it that an error such as this—of such magnitude, with no apparent physical explanation, and in one of the few counties still receiving incoming results that late in the night—was really the simple result of a ‘faulty memory card’?

Since then, Harris and other investigators have learned that the vote tallying program used by Diebold is easily hackable by either outsiders or insiders.

The question of whether these voting machines are a gaping door to massive voting fraud has been an Internet discussion topic as well as turning up on CNN, The New York Times and in British newspapers. People are beginning to be concerned.

In November 2002, a few days after the election, the Associated Press announced: “A defective computer chip in the [Volusia] county’s optical scanner misread ballots Tuesday night and incorrectly tallied a landslide victory for Republicans. Democrats actually won by wide margins.”

Republicans would have won all the way had not the poll workers become suspicious. They knew their county was overwhelmingly Democratic.

Georgia used all touch-screen machines. In the governor’s race, Republican Sonny Perdue upset incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat. He won by a substantial margin even though polls had shown Barnes ahead by 48 to 39 percent just before the vote.

The voting machines used left no voter-verifiable paper trail, and no one thought to ask for a new computer chip. Election officials in Fulton County, which is mostly Democratic, said memory cards from 67 machines had been misplaced, so those ballots were not counted.

There were numerous other examples of possible vote fraud in the elections of 2000 and 2002.

Remember Voter News Service and its exit polls? Such polls are routinely used in Third World countries to verify that elections are honest, but in the U.S. they suddenly became suspect and finally were dropped.

Maybe it’s just coincidence that the rise of inaccurate exit polls occurred about the time corporate-programmed, computer-controlled, modem-capable voting machines started recording and counting ballots. The lack of such polls also removed any benchmark by which machine totals could be measured.

Thom Hartmann, writing for, commented: “You’d think in an open democracy that the government—answerable to all its citizens rather than a handful of corporate officers and stockholders—would program, repair and control the voting machines. You’d think the computers that handle our cherished ballots would be open and their software and programming available for public scrutiny.

“You’d think there would be a paper trail of the actual hand-cast vote, which could be followed and audited if there was evidence of voting fraud or if exit polls disagreed with computerized vote counts. You’d be wrong.”

David Dill, a professor of computer science, founded a group called Verified He stated: “Unfortunately, election technology has not advanced to the point where it can provide us with electronic systems that are reliable enough to trust with our democracy.”

Dill said many election officials are unaware of the risks involved in using these machines.

Dr. Rebecca Mercuri, a leading expert on electronic voting technology, warns that these machines should not be used until there is a voter-verifiable ballot built into them.

Rep. Holt has a bill in the House aimed at rectifying some of these problems, and a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate. So far, the House bill is languishing in committee.

The administration’s Help America Vote Act (HAVA) appears to be a sham, since none of the enabling aspects of the legislation have yet been put in place.

Investigative reporter Lynn Landes observed: “…it does not matter if private corporations or government officials control voting machines, or if the software is open source, or if the machine produces a paper trail. The effect is the same…to deny voters the right to mark and cast their own ballots and to watch those ballots be counted at their local precinct. Voting machines introduce concealment to a process that must be transparent.” Right on!

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