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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not Worried Enough Yet?

posted by on September 16 at 12:43 PM

How about a nice dose of vote hacking paranoia?

Researchers at UCSB have demonstrated how ridiculously easy it is to compromise voting machines from Sequoia Voting Systems, which are currently used in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Boring yet terrifying video, in two parts:

Sequoia recently intimidated New Jersey into not giving one of their machines to respected Princeton researcher Ed Felten for testing. They naturally claim intellectual property rights and all kinds of other horseshit in their quest to destroy the foundation of our government, which is itself, of course, also entirely complicit in this mess.

For a bit of contrast, here’s a page from Australia’s Capital Territory Election Commision’s site, which gives complete public access to their open-source voting software.

In one sentence, they explain why they’re smart and we’re dumb:

The software for the electronic voting and counting system was built using Linux open source software, which was chosen specifically for this electoral system to ensure that election software is open and transparent and could be made available to scrutineers, candidates and other participants in the electoral process.

I’m don’t think there’s a pill strong enough to make me feel better about this one.

RSS icon Comments


The very name of the "Help America Vote Act" should've been a huge red flag.

Posted by flamingbanjo | September 16, 2008 12:46 PM

Perhaps America doesn't have to feel too guilty for Bush being "elected" twice after all. But we should feel guilty about not doing more to impeach.

Black Box Voting has been documenting the long history of vote fraud from companies like Diebold and Sequoia.

If the those who count the votes can't be trusted, your votes won't matter.

Posted by skeptic | September 16, 2008 12:58 PM
Posted by mnm | September 16, 2008 1:11 PM

It blows my mind that there is not more public outrage over the blatant unreliability of closed-source electronic voting. Can't we get the government to create a non-partisan chartered company to design, build and sell open voting systems? It's not like there's no money in it. This is a market that *should* be totally off-limits to for-profit exploitation.

If this technology was properly design to be secure, flexible, and redundant then we could finally push past the two party hegemony and start using an instant runoff system where everyone would get the kind of representation they wanted, if not their first choice then at least their second, third or forth.

We make such a big stink about how similar the members of each party are, yet in reality there are pro-choice republicans just as there are pro-war democrats. Dividing everyone into one of two camps only serves to drive us apart and increase our disdain for government, since nobody is ever totally happy with their party.

Posted by Super Jesse | September 16, 2008 1:11 PM

@2 Bush was never elected President. Republican election fraud, especially in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, made it possible for his owners to place him in the office. Yes, the vote was still too close -- as it may be again this year -- thanks to the sucess of almost thirty years of the Republican plan to dumb down Americans. Even then, Bush still didn't win either time.

As proven in 2006, the only way to overcome Republican election fraud is to have unusually high voter turnout. Until we eliminate the electronic voting machines, simply refuse to use them. Use any other voting means available to you, such as absentee voting. But never vote on an electronic machine, ever.

Posted by whatevernevermind | September 16, 2008 1:12 PM

Those who count the votes cannot be trusted.

Now what do we do?

Posted by TacomaRoma | September 16, 2008 1:21 PM

As much as I am against Diebold/Sequoia and all other non-transparent voting systems, Bev Harris and Black Box Voting is about as reliable and trustworthy as the 9/11 conspiracy folks. There are plenty of valid issues with these voting systems that there isn't any reason to go all conspiracy-theory on them like BBV does, and all they do in the end is discredit people asking valid questions about Diebold/Sequoia and cohorts.

Posted by meh | September 16, 2008 1:24 PM

If the IRS will accept my filing via the internet, I don't see any valid reason we can't be voting online by 2012. Electronic voting machines are less secure than my PayPal account.

Posted by Dougsf | September 16, 2008 1:27 PM

Meh, could you give some specific examples of what bothers you about the efforts of Bev Harris and election watchdog group Black Box Voting? I know it's easier to engage in name-calling, but it doesn't really further the discussion.

By the way, the crimes of 9/11 were almost certainly the result of a conspiracy. The main point of contention is who conspired to commit the crimes, especially now that the chair and vice-chair of the 9/11 Commission have reported that they were misled and that their report was flawed and incomplete. Why do people put so much trust in the Bush administration? If Edward Murrow were investigating Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts today, people like "Meh" would likely be calling him a conspiracy theorist and telling us all to move along.

Posted by Phil M | September 16, 2008 1:48 PM

Estonia manages to vote online. Granted, all of Estonia has a smaller population than the greater Seattle area, but still.

Posted by Abby | September 16, 2008 1:51 PM

Could someone explain to me why this favors one candidate over another?

They can both cheat. To assume your candidate wouldn't cheat is naive.

Posted by GK | September 16, 2008 2:31 PM

@11: A couple reasons. One, if somebody is stealing elections, it stands to reason that it's the candidate who won who is the culprit. If you're trying to figure out who ate the baby, look for the fat snake.

One obvious clue that tampering may have occurred is when exit polls don't match the posted result by, oh, say approximately the margin of victory, as in Ohio in the 2004 Presidential race. Exit polls are one of the methods UN observers use to validate the voting process in places where they are called in to observe elections (the U.S. notably dis-invited U.N. election observers for the 2004 election.)

The Republican party has numerous ties to both of these companies. The switchover to these machines happened at the urging and under the supervision of the Bush administration. In just about every way it resembles the Bush habit of creating captive regulatory agencies with direct ties to the industries they are purported to be regulating, but in this case the regulatory push behind the ironically-named Help America Vote Act all but created the electronic voting machine industry. The conflict of interest present when a company owes its existence and continued profits to the very government officials its machines are electing to office is a pretty obvious one.

Theoretically, you may be right: These flaws could be exploited by anyone. However, the more important question is whether those flaws are mere unintentional bugs or if there was some other reason for leaving wide-open back doors on voting systems.

Lastly, beyond the "black box" in the voting booths, remember that votes are tabulated by computers at the next level up as well. Even the votes cast on paper ballots. The only advantage of paper ballots is if there needs to be a recount. Which may explain why the Supreme Court stopped a Florida recount in 2000.

Posted by flamingbanjo | September 16, 2008 3:05 PM

Oh my god, the Stranger mentioned this subject on Slog, after years of silence on the issue, and continued support of Sam Reed.

Yes, Meh, Bev Harris has her issues. But that does not mean they aren't doing important work. Their NH chain of custody movie being the most recent work.

And, also, Meh, I don't think Blackbox is the only group out there working on this issue. Why attack them here?

Open source, precinct level hand counted or hand audited paper ballots. That's what will eventually fix this problem. Regardless of people's desire to attack the messenger.

Posted by Entropy | September 16, 2008 3:14 PM

#13, haven't you seen Election? people can rig a paper ballot election as easy (or easier) than a computer-based election. i think internet voting is the way to go. we just need to make sure universal public internet access is available at voting locations. make the software is open source and there's some kind of unique voter id# so that votes are still secret but also verifiable (to make sure your vote for X is counted).

seems doable and not that expensive.

Posted by jrrrl | September 16, 2008 4:19 PM

Friends don't let friends vote on paperless electronic machines. Are groups suing already, or do we need to put something together?

Posted by Greg | September 16, 2008 4:27 PM

Yes, Jrrl, paper ballots can be rigged. That's why they need to be cast and counted at the precinct level. Or maybe you missed that part?

This issue was solved over 100 years ago. But since then we have centralized the vote counting, moving the count from the precinct to central count. Then we privatized the vote counting machines, and now with Vote-By Mail they aim to totally eliminate the precinct level count.

I can try to count you the wrong change, but if you are watching in person, with the money still on the table, it makes it much harder to deceive you about whether or not I gave you the correct change. That's why hand counted or audited elections need to take place at the precinct, in front of everyone who wants to watch.

They use to make the ballot boxes outta glass even to make it even harder.

But with folks like Jrrl, the Internet is apparently the way to go.... Though no computer scientist that is working on the voting issue that I have read (and I've been working on this issue for 5+ years now) agrees with this idea.

The Internet is not a secure medium, and is not suitable for voting, unless you are simply voting for American Idol.

Posted by Entropy | September 16, 2008 4:42 PM

Hi Greg,

Yes paperless electronic voting systems are bad. And there have been lawsuits. In Washington, Paul Lehto sued in Snohomish... I don't recall the exact outcome. But in essence it is only part of the problem.

Optical Scan machines using privatized software and collecting and counting the votes centrally, outside of public scrutiny, and now through the USPS... this system has ever problem and more that the paperless systems have.

The nice thing about Opt Scans, however, is that they do have a paper ballot. But until we take back that paper ballot, and the people start participating in the precinct sytem again, volunteering to work the polls, and count the vote.... all these lawsuits are failed from the outset.

What we need is to revitalize and renew our understanding of how the Precinct system works, how it effeciently can hand count paper ballots.... And how it is the only truly Democratic system by which to vote that has been used so far. In that Democracy is the participation of voters in the system, and it is the ownership of that system that is in question.

For example:

Precinct Hand Counted Paper Ballots = Voter owned, counted and controlled elections.

Centrally Counted Optical Scan Paper Ballot System = County Controlled and Owned Vote Counting

Touchscreen = Corporate Owned and Controlled

Posted by Entropy | September 16, 2008 5:10 PM

Voter fraud has been with us likely for as long as voting has existed. Democrats elected Kennedy over Nixon (great choices, huh?) using it in Illinois and continue to do so nationwide. So, now you say Republicans have joined-in? I have a proposal: ELIMINATE VOTING. ELIMINATE ELECTIONS. Make public office MANDATORY PUBLIC SERVICE chosen along the lines of juries. Would this be any worse than what we have now? Built-in TERM limits. NO campaign donations. NO voter fraud. Would there be misuse and abuse??? Hint: HUMANS are involved.

Posted by Paul | September 17, 2008 10:27 AM

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