How They Could Steal the Election This Time | The Nation


How They Could Steal the Election This Time

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The integrity of the vote-counting inside DREs depends on audit logs and reports they print out, but as Neumann says, these are "not real audit trails" because they are themselves riggable. The DREs randomly store three to seven complete sets of alleged duplicates of each voter's ballot, and sets of these images can be printed out after the election and manually counted. The companies claim that satisfies the requirement in the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that "a manual audit capacity" must be available. But as informed computer scientists unanimously agree, if the first set of ballot images is corrupted, they all are. I asked Robert Boram, the chief engineer who invented a DRE sold by the RF Shoup voting-systems company, if he could rig his DRE's three sets of ballot images. "Give me a month," he replied.

Click here to help prevent disenfranchisment in this year's election.

Ronnie Dugger wrote the definitive warning essay about the dangers of computerized vote-counting in The New Yorker of November 7, 1988. Research support was provided by The Nation Institute. Dugger wishes to acknowledge the special assistance of Frances Mendenhall, Pokey Anderson, Peter Neumann, Rebecca Mercuri, Roxanne Jekot and David Jefferson, and his debt to hundreds of other reporters whose work cannot be properly credited here.

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Ronnie Dugger
Ronnie Dugger is the author of The Politician, a biography of Lyndon Johnson, and other books and articles, the...

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The United States therefore faces the likelihood that about three out of ten of the votes in the national election this November will be unverifiable, unauditable and unrecountable. The private election companies and local and state election officials, when required to carry out recounts of elections conducted inside the DREs, will order the computers to spit out second printouts of the vote totals and the computers' wholly electronic, fakable "audit trail." The companies and most of the election officials will then tell the voters that the second printouts are "recounts" that prove the vote-counting was "100 percent accurate," even though a second printout is not a recount.

HAVA was supposed to solve election problems revealed in 2000; instead, it has made the situation worse. Under the act the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), appointed by President Bush, is supposed to set standards for the vote-counting process, but four months before the election the new agency had only seven full-time staff members. On June 17 the EAC sent $861 million to twenty-five states, mainly to buy computerized machines for which no new technical standards have been set. Its just-appointed fifteen-member technical standards committee does not include more than one leading critic of computerized vote-counting.

Rather than completely testing the vote-counting codes, there is some secretive testing of systems by three private companies that are chosen by the pro-voting-business National Association of State Election Directors. The companies consult obsolete pro-company and completely voluntary standards promulgated by the Federal Election Commission and get paid by the very companies whose equipment is being tested. The three private companies, speciously called Independent Testing Authorities, together constitute a Potemkin village to falsely assure the states and the voters of the security of the systems. Often their work is misrepresented as "federal testing." The states then test and "certify" the systems, and the local jurisdictions put on dog-and-pony-show "logic and accuracy tests," which are not capable of discovering hidden codes that would change vote totals.

"The system is much more out of control than anyone here may be willing to admit," Dr. Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie-Mellon University and for many years an examiner of voting machines for Texas and Pennsylvania, told a House panel on June 24. "There's virtually no control over how software enters a voting machine." Shamos told another House panel on July 20, "There are no adequate standards for voting machines, nor any effective testing protocols."

Hackable computer codes control vote-counting in all three kinds of computerized systems that will be used again in the 2004 elections: the ballotless DREs, on which some 36 million will vote; optical-scan systems that electronically tally paper ballots marked by the voters, on which 40 million people will vote; and punch-card ballots, also tabulated by computerized card-readers, which gained notoriety in 2000 and are still used by 22 million voters. (Another 16 million still vote on the old lever machines, about a million on hand-counted paper ballots.)

Florida 2000 was universally misunderstood and mischaracterized in the press as a crisis of hanging chads on the punch-card ballots. The serious issue, then as now, was embodied in the explicit though all but unreported position that James Baker, George W. Bush's field commander in Florida, staked out to stop the recounting of votes. The computerized vote-counting systems, Baker declared, are "precision machinery" that both count and recount votes more accurately than people do. Now, with Senator Kerry demanding recountability, an ominously intensifying partisan split has developed in Washington over whether to have a voter-verified paper trail and, when necessary, to conduct recounts with it.

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