02 November 2006

Will someone PLEASE help America vote? (BR)
Beware the Ides of November

"I can do it in 18 seconds," says Watt. "I can train you to do it in 3 minutes. Just push the yellow button, wait 3 seconds and it chimes. Push the yellow button again, wait 3 seconds and it chimes again. Then it's all on the screen prompts. You're asked 'Do you want to enter manual mode?' and you push 'Yes'...And then you're on your way."

HuffPo: Brad Friedman

The man quoted above, Ron Watt, is describing the simple-as-pie method of hacking into an ostensibly secure piece of public-use machinery and manipulating it for selfish gain. Armed with no more information than that one paragraph, I know he is talking about electronic voting machines and not an Automated Teller Machine (ATM).

How, you ask?

Because if there were a way to hack an ATM in three minutes there'd be riots. Complete chaos. Public hangings of bank executives and computer programmers would become routine. And lo, in the very next paragraph, my clairvoyant talent is confirmed:
"You can then vote as many times as you want. You won't ever have to stop until someone physically restrains you from voting," he explained.

We have reason to be suspicious -- but not to believe, mind you, they've covered their trails pretty well -- that the results of the last two general elections were manipulated by the nominal victors. After the 2000 election fiasco, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and, no, the law did not mandate free transport for the elderly or disabled to and from polling places.

What it did, rather, was make available billions of dollars in taxpayer money to be spent by federal and state governments on sleek and shiny new electronic voting machines. The bulk of the business went to Diebold Election Systems, a subsidiary of Green, Ohio-based Diebold. (Aside: Please visit Diebold's homepage and tell me the guy staring at you and lolling his head and smirking isn't among the creepiest things you've ever seen.)

Anyway, these ultramodern updates to the lunky old dinosaur called democracy weren't all gravy, you see. The first wave of Diebold voting machines to be shipped out to the states were touch-screen models, which gave the voter absolutely no printed record of who they actually voted for, rendering a paper audit impossible.

Even this lack of basic functionality could be chalked up to boneheadedness, if not for a series of internal Diebold communications intercepted and leaked by the activist groups Why War? and the Swarthmore Coalition for the Digital Commons in 2003. The substance of the memos reveals the company deliberately instructing its employees to deny any and all problems with the machines, "even when their failings become obvious." And when legislators in Maryland started getting all uppity, demanding new machines that printed receipts, one Diebold official remarked "As a business, I hope we're smart enough to charge them up the wazoo [for this feature]".

And all this is not to mention the hundreds of amateur and professional programmers who have come forward, independently, to demonstrate the ease of tampering with machines from Diebold and Sequoia, instances of voting machines being left overnight in the cars and garages of poll workers in California and Arizona, Floridians already complaining that their early votes this year for Democrats are being counted for Republicans, or Diebold CEO Wally O'Dell's 2003 message to shareholders affirming his commitment to "helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president." Old Wally sure turned out to be a man of his word, too.

This isn't to pick on Diebold (though Jesus Christ is that website fella disturbing) or even the idea of electronic voting in general. If the electronic and computerized implements that we rely on every day -- trains, cars, cellphones, Treos, etc. -- were as insecure and prone to malfunction as these newfangled election devices, we'd be up in arms. We'd throw the non-working crap in the trash and press charges against their manufacturer. Maybe even question our way of life that demands we lean so heavily on technology that is so undependable and subject to tampering.

They obviously can make these things reliable. That they don't, and that people continue to lose confidence in the idea that their votes will be counted, and also that you never read about these machines taking Republican votes and counting them for Democrats, makes it hard to draw any conclusion other than the type that Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt would call "tinfoil hat conspiracy nonsense."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy crap. That sounds like old-fashioned Texas voting habits. You know, even the DEAD cast votes here years ago. Dirty, dirty business.
And you are right. We as a nation WOULD NEVER tolerate that level of non-security with any other device. It is appalling that the most sacred of all, OUR VOTE, is so easily bought and sold.
Real change cannot come soon enough. And if we ever get our beloved country back sane and healthy, we must WORK tirelessly to ensure criminals are never in charge again.

11/02/2006 6:20 PM  
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11/02/2006 7:10 PM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

I expect Blackwell will try to squeeze as many points ot of those good old Diebold machines as he can. He's really got to be discouraged that he's down by about 30% and even Diebold can't produce that kind of a spread without a whole bunch of eyebrows raising...

11/03/2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger NormaC said...

Jolly Roger, I read somewhere (some months back) that many machines are set to show a win for a losing republican by about a 2.1% difference between two candidates--close enough to be a win but not close enough to trigger a recount. So, in Tennessee, for instance, Corker would win with 51.05%, Ford loses at 48.95% (disregarding the Peace candidate's presence). They are also programmed to allow for third party candidates, and to allow for the pugs to actually BE the winner (for those pure Red areas).

My source--I just can't remember now, but I've been following this for more than two years. My favorite book on it is Fooled Again, by Mark Crispin Miller.

It's a waste of breath to lament, "How did we get here?". We know how--we just need to find a way out of this mess.

I never thought I'd get to be sixty and willing to protest (in November!) and march and be civilly disobedient. But I will never accept that we didn't at least own the House!


11/05/2006 12:17 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

One interesting thing that occurs to me:
Corporations function as personal entities. They are afforded certain "rights" that sometimes even go beyond those of an individual or citizen.
People of course have their rights as well. As Brendan mentioned, when a product is terrible, we can not use it, buy from a competitor or in extreme cases of large or unfortunate damage to the consumer, sue the entity responsible.
Here we have a situation with widespread and, considering the obvious capabilities of these companies shown in the provision of other technologies like ATMs, completely inexcusable failure at large cost NOT ONLY to the American government, but to the people that government represents.
What i wonder is why the government is not taking measures to recoup the costs, monetarily and otherwise. If the requirement of satisfactory equipment and the ability to sue for breach of contract at the failure of this delivery was not a part of the contract made by the government (particularly in such a sensitive case as this), then I definilty smell a rat.

11/05/2006 2:55 PM  

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