Outsourcing Democracy with the Electronic Vote

Peel away the technological fluff and exposed underneath is a viper’s nest of inaccuracy, malfeasance and bungled public policy. In a foot race to be compliant with HAVA, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that requires voters with disabilities be given a way to cast ballots privately and independently; state governments fell victim to vendors of compromised electronic election equipment.

Election fraud and miscounts have transpired over the years, but the occurrence of this spectacle has diminished by increasing the bipartisan transparency of the election process. Removing control of storing and tallying the votes from ‘we the people’ and transferring this vitally important process over to virus susceptible electronic equipment has completely decimated all traces of transparency.

Facts can tend to be inopportune, but the fact of the matter is that there is no mandate in this legislation requiring computerized voting systems without exception. In other words, there exists no directive to abandon the paper ballot system for example and record and tally the votes solely by electronic means.

The source code that instructs the electronic equipment was created by unaccountable software engineers and has been ruled ‘secret’ by the courts. This ruling gives the advantage to electronic equipment vendors and the disadvantage falls in our court. It cannot be emphasized enough, that source code for electronic voting equipment must be made ‘open’ due to the fact that it is crucial to the integrity of the election process.

Consider this little gem of potential technological tampering in which a memory card, (a.k.a. an electronic ballot box) was taken from a piece of Diebold equipment in Collin County, Texas and sent to Canada for data retrieval because it could not be read by local officials. This act was in direct violation of a legally mandated chain-of-custody procedure and strongly supports the case for ‘open’ source code.

The software of these systems is vulnerable to outside influence and this vulnerability can facilitate the act of altering electronic records stored in the memory card, with alarming ease. Studies have shown that undetected alterations to data can be made by passing a magnet over the memory card or by sending a command either by cell phone or via electrical lines.

Many of the machines can be easily accessed and tampered with as evidenced in a study conducted at Princeton where a lock was picked and a memory card was exchanged with a fraudulent one rather quickly. Or in the case of the Sequoia line of computerized voting machines, the manual voting mode was readily available as it lacked a three-cent locking mechanism. The opportunity for fraud is without limitation.

The incidence of human error or data mishandling by vendor appointed technicians only increase the potential for fraud and error. These technicians are not election officials. The work performed servicing the machines and handling election results, is done with limited oversight by actual officials. The opportunity for data tampering is rampant as reported by Tom Courbat of ‘Save-R-Vote’ when he raised the question of serious security problems in wake of an incident on February 4, 2008 when a voting machine sat unprotected on a counter in a polling place the night before an election.

A quick review of the facts informs us that the integrity of election results is at risk due to a lack of security, ‘closed’ source code, tamper-vulnerable machines, unaccountable software engineers and vendor appointed technicians that operate outside of bipartisan transparency. Unfortunately, there’s more to pile on to this convoluted controversy and this next problem is the direct result of glitches in source code.

In recent elections, e-vote machines have failed at accurately counting and tallying the votes. In addition, the electronic voting option has assigned votes to the wrong candidate and the machines have repeatedly broken down in midst of the election process. Many of the systems currently in use have obsolete software and some, as in the case of California, had software that was installed by the vendor without receipt of certification by the state.

As a result, there is a tidal wave of lawsuits filed against electronic voting equipment vendors and millions and millions of wasted tax payer dollars. Let’s not forget the ever-increasing cost of storing and servicing all of these machines. Is there a better way? Yes, and it’s best to keep in mind that there is no ‘easy’ button fix to this problem. A little old-fashioned hand counting of the ballots in a streamlined, modern approach by well-trained bipartisan American citizens just may be the answer.

The ‘I Count’ project denounces computerized vote counting because it is done in secret and denies citizens the right to observe the count and confirm its accuracy. This group promotes hand counting paper ballots by skilled bipartisan teams in the case of federal elections. They claim that this is of paramount importance because electronic machines don’t actually perform a recount; instead, the identical, possibly compromised data is simply re-printed.

Another approach is the Universal Ballot Sampling (UBS) method. Essentially, it requires that an audit be performed, by hand counting 10% of the paper ballot records and that this audit be conducted on election night in 100% of the precincts involving federal and statewide races by a bipartisan panel of trained citizens. The Election Defense Alliance group supports the UBS method because it places responsibility for election result integrity with the American people where it belongs.

The bottom line here is that without question it is our responsibility to ensure that election results are not outsourced to compromised, unreliable electronic methods. Information on how you can get involved is just a mouse click away. Let your elected officials know that integrity and accuracy in the election process must be protected for future generations of our American Democracy.

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