26 October 2004
Voting machines in the U.S. proven to have been extremely susceptible to fraud for years
By Daan de Wit
The Dutch in this article has been translated into English by Marienella Meulensteen.
In order to encourage the United States to join the speed of progress, George W. Bush initiated the biggest change in the American voting system since 1965, when non-whites were also allowed to vote: everywhere in the U.S. electronic voting machines are being installed as soon as possible to the tune of almost 4 billion dollars. Five out of six Americans will vote electronically in November. Also in the Netherlands there is enthusiasm for this way of voting. But the American experts warn: with these machines it is easy to defraud and even only a week before the elections things are not working as they should.
"I think the risk [of a stolen election] is extremely high," says Professor of Computer Science David Dill of Stanford University. Avi Rubin, Professor of Computer Science of Johns Hopkins University writes: I [...] believe that the Diebold machines, and ones like them from other vendors, represent a major threat to our democracy. We have put our trust in the outcome of our elections into the hands of a few companies [...]. They are in a position to control the outcomes of our elections, and there's no way anyone can know if they, or someone working for them, did something underhanded'. Investigative journalist Bev Harris on the recent climax in her research, the role of the dubious elections systems of the manufacturer Diebold: 'Part of the program we examined appears to be designed with election tampering in mind'.
'Incorrect software programming has now been identified in over 100 elections, often flipping the race to the wrong candidate, even when the election was not close', so says Harris. Meanwhile in the U.S., tampering has become a hot item in the mainstream media from the New York Times to MSNBC. In the Netherlands it is a non-item, while we also have electronic voting machines here, and are willing to vote over the internet, an idea that was even shot down in America.
Voter puts trust in a small number of manufacturers
Three companies manufacture the voting machines that are used most often in the U.S.: ES&S, Diebold and Sequoia. None of them allow the insides of their machines to be examined. Everything about the systems is confidential and the machines produce no paper trail when one votes. The citizen is supposed to trust them. So the most important democratic process relies on trust in a select small group of manufacturers. Trust that is based on nothing. And worse, mistakes regularly occur during the voting process.
Long lists of mistakes prove: Voting machines are not to be trusted
A number of examples are listed in the book Black Box Voting by investigative journalist Bev Harris. In a review of this book, Vanity Fair writes that Harris' scoops would have provided her with a highly successful career with the Washington Post or The New York Times, had she worked there and not as an independent researcher. Salon writes: 'Some [...] call her [Harris] the Erin Brockovich of elections. [...] Her facts check out'. Some examples: Mistakes as a consequence of machines of the manufacturer ES&S were responsible for the first recount in Hawaii in 1998, and with the problems during the elections in Venezuela two years later ES&S was accused by the President of the oil-rich nation that it was trying to destabilize the electoral process of the country. Again two years later, during the battle between Bush en Gore, it was ES&S that was in charge of the counting of 100 million votes. In 2002, a recount was needed after the elections in Florida, and ES&S paid for it. The fact that there were paper copies of the votes that could be counted was thanks to the election committee of Union County that played it safe. But not only the computers of ES&S make mistakes. Be sure to read the lists (1 2 3 4) with discovered mistakes yourself. Mistakes that in many cases changed the outcome in favor of the other candidate.
Software voting machines can be manipulated from a distance
The lists show that all things that can go wrong during the vote with voting computers, will go wrong. But it can be worse.
For example, what to think of the fact that the machines contain modems that can be controlled from a distance. Someone on the outside, without anyone seeing him, can alter information in the box that contains the most important thing that a democracy has to offer, the votes of the people. Who alters what? You just have to trust that it is not a politically interested hacker, or someone from the voting machines company itself, who changes the votes for one party so that they become votes for the other party. Granted, it is a suspicious thought, but not a crazy one, considering the fact that the president of Diebold -one of the largest manufacturers of voting systems- also is a top fundraiser for W. Bush and stated to do everything possible to ensure that the election results of the State of Ohio would be to the advantage of Bush. The Diebold company itself donated money to the Republicans as well as to the Democrats, though the amount of millions of dollars for the Republicans was 127 times higher than the amount for the Democrats.
Suspicious victories of Senate candidate
Chuck Hagel, another Republican owner of another voting system manufacturer, ES&S from the State of Nebraska, also gave his all, for himself. That is the way it seems in any case, because what the man achieved was unheard of. It had not happened in Nebraska during the last 24 years that a Republican won the elections so overwhelmingly that the Washington Post wrote: "Senate victory against an incumbent Democratic Governor was the major Republican upset in the November election". Hagel had not only won, he also was the victor in all demographic groups, including blacks. ES&S services 85% of all voting machines during the elections. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not; in any case it could not be verified. That is because the voting machines do not leave a paper trail, and in this case it did not help that in the contract with ES&S it was written that no verification of the software was to be done after the fact.
Two weeks after Hagel withdrew as president of AIS, later to become ES&S, he announced that he would be a candidate for office in the Senate. And he won monumentally a year later, but he neglected to mention that the McCarthy Group, in which he had a share of five million dollars, is the parent company of ES&S. The McCarthy Group is the company belonging to Michael McCarthy, the financial man of the campaigns of Hagel. Another big owner of ES&S is the conservative Omaha World Herald Company. Hagel is still a senator because he won again in 2002, this time with 83% of the votes, the largest victory ever in the history of the state of Nebraska.
Another president of another voting systems manufacturer, Sequoia, also made the news. Pasquale "Rocco" Ricci declared in front of a judge to be guilty of bribery in the amount of $10 million. Investigative journalist Daniel Hopsicker explains whose pockets that money disappeared into - those of Jerry Fowler, supervisor of the elections of the State of Louisiana. This all came out in an investigation, initiated by the Republican candidate Woody Jenkins who, in a race for the Senate, lost the election in the last minute because suddenly 100,000 votes for his opponent turned up. On the morning following the elections he discovered to his surprise when he entered one of the suspicious storage rooms for voting machines that all machines had been unsealed and opened.
There was yet another election in Louisiana in 1996, the one for the local municipal council. Susan Bernecker was a candidate, but lost. Bernecker decided to take a look at the electronic voting machines. She brought a video camera along so that we could also see what she saw during her investigation, as can be seen in the video The Big Fix 2000 by Daniel Hopsicker. One out of three times that she typed her own name into the voting machines, the name of her opponent appeared at the bottom of the panel of push buttons on the display. After this recording she feared for her life and quickly called a press conference, so that she was not the only one who knew about this.
Fraudulent history voting machines
Tampering with voting machines has a long history. Already in 1979 a technician of Cincinnati Bell stated that his company had received and installed software from the FBI that made it possible to influence the vote counting system. Other vote counting systems, thoroughly tested during the 80's in the State of Illinois, proved to have a margin of error of twenty percent. To smooth over the mistakes, voting system manufacturer ES&S invented the slogan 'Better elections every day'. A good slogan, but it immediately makes you wonder: and what about 'yesterday'?
The first investigation into tampering with voting machines started in 1970, writes the daughter of James Collier. James Collier is the man who, together with his brother Kenneth, published the book Votescam: The Stealing of America. Kenneth Collier joined the race for governor of the State of Florida, but on the evening of the results there was bad news about the computer that was to count the votes. The computer had broken down, and up until that time one trusted the polls. Collier appeared to be able to count on thirty percent of the votes, but when the votes were finally counted, he had only 15 percent. The brothers Collier discovered that this pattern had repeated itself for decades. When they checked the official voting results themselves, they also discovered that in each of the three-part elections exactly 141,000 votes were cast. For the race for the Senate it was the same thing: in the three election phases, 122,000 votes were cast every time - a statistical impossibility that was repeated again recently. At the elections for the Municipal Council of Comal, Texas in 2002, three Republican candidates received exactly 18,181votes each. 'Look at that. That's weird', said one of the candidates. In Louisiana in 1995, a candidate happened to receive exactly 33%of the votes in each district.
Later, the brothers Collier watched the predictions of the television stations again. It appeared that they were very smart in their divining role. They were very close indeed. The predictions of Channel 4 were almost perfect, Channel 7 did even better and was right on the nose with 96,499 predicted votes. It was later proven that the vote counting computer had not been broken down at all. This was the first irrefutable proof the brothers noted of a long list, which to this day is added to by critical journalists.
Newsweek writes: 'It's no secret that American elections have never been nearly as free and fair as our childhood civics textbooks made them out to be. In 1888, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison both hired "floaters" to vote again and again, and secretly destroyed each other's ballots. Lyndon Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1948 because his supporters stuffed ballot boxes in Alice, Texas. Dead men and rigged voting machines helped John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in 1960. President Dwight D. Eisenhower urged Nixon to demand a recount, but Nixon wouldn't. He worried that a challenge would cause a "constitutional crisis" great enough to "tear the country apart". (Imagine—longing for the decency of Richard Nixon.)'.
Suspicious victories for first President Bush
During the primary in 1988 to become the presidential candidate for the Republican Party, the father of the current President Bush was trailing by eight points behind his opponent Bob Dole in the polls of the crucial State of New Hampshire. Earlier, Bush already had to give up the state of Iowa to Dole. Bush called the Governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu, and surprisingly won the elections with a nine-point victory. What was remarkable was that computer expert Sununu had predicted the nine-point victory exactly. Maybe because of his talent for making predictions, the Bush administration later appointed him to Chief of Staff of the White House.
The state of Iowa was not pro-Bush eight years earlier when he battled Reagan for the candidacy of the Republican Party. The late William Loeb, publisher of The Union Leader wrote: 'The Bush operation in Iowa had all the smell of a CIA covert operation....Strange aspects of the Iowa operation [included] a long, slow count and then the computers broke down at a very convenient point, with Bush having a six per cent bulge over Reagan'.
Involvement in voting process by secret services
The CIA and other secret services seem to be interested in the voting process these days as well. For example VoteHere, a company that wants to provide software for data management to voting system manufacturers (and already has a contract with Sequoia) has Admiral Owens as chairman, a man who was a member of the Defense Policy Board and vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He moved in the highest military circles and was a confidant of Bush and Cheney. One of the chairmen of VoteHere is Robert Gates, formerly the head of the CIA. In the past, also ex-CIA director John Deutch worked for VoteHere, just like Secretary of Defense William Perry. Admiral Owens is also vice-chairman of SAIC, a technological and military company that was to check the software of Diebold (SAIC was ecstatic),a large voting system manufacturer, whose president is a fundraiser for W. Bush. Former CIA director Bobby Inman is now a member of the governing board of SAIC, which recently provided its services to voting system manufacturer Diversified Dynamics, a company owned by arms producer and voting system manufacturer Northrop Grumman.
Suspicious victories in Georgia
A crucial element of elections is the counting of the votes: 'Many of the new election contracts give the responsibility for counting the votes not to election officials but to the companies which built and maintain the machines. In other words, the most sacred and tenuous process in U.S. democracy, counting the votes, has been outsourced', writes [PDF] Journalism Professor Michael I. Niman in The Humanist. How badly this can go wrong is proven by the example of the state elections in Georgia in 2002. Shortly after it was agreed that the company Diebold would provide the voting machines as well as perform the vote count, the Republicans won overwhelmingly. Just like in Nebraska, they beat their seated Democratic opponent against all expectations and polling results. The elections even made the national news because the Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss compared the seated Democrat - veteran Max Cleland, who lost an arm and two legs in Vietnam - with Bin laden and Saddam, while Chambliss had managed to avoid 'Vietnam' in his younger years and now supported the war in Iraq.
During the same elections there also was a vote to choose the new governor. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion, because the seated Democrat Roy Barnes was ahead by 11 points. Nevertheless, the man was beaten by his Republican opponent, with a difference of five points, something that had not happened in 134 years. A recount was not possible because the voting system manufacturer Diebold had the same deal in Georgia as ES&S had in Nebraska.
Recount prohibited under penalty of arrest
'Over 3000 county Election boards and 49 Secretaries of State had made it effectively illegal for citizens in 49 states, [except for New Hampshire], to check or double check their ballots on election day, ready to go so far as to use police power to prevent the citizens from getting to their ballots for the purpose of counting them on election day' writes Jim Condit Jr. of Citizens for a Fair Vote Count (with the website VoteFraud). The Nation writes: 'In Alabama two years ago, during a controversy over an election for governor conducted mostly on op-scan machines, Attorney General Bill Pryor, backing up the sheriff in one questioned county, ruled officially that under state law anyone recounting the ballots would be subject to arrest'. To their disappointment, the voters voting for Mayor Emil Danciu of Boca Raton (Florida) had to accept the fact that a recount was impossible, even though the mayor was ahead by 17 points in the polls, and it was proven that with the use of the touch screen, the vote for Danciu went to his opponent. Danciu did not agree with this and went to Court, but the judge passed judgment against him, pointing out the right of the voting machine manufacturer to keep the source code confidential.
Vote-tabulating computers also extremely susceptible to fraud
In Georgia in 2002, votes were cast with computers by Diebold, but also the vote count was done with Diebold equipment. In 29 other states these same vote counting computers are used - equipment that counts millions of votes. The central software on the vote counting machines was named GEMS, which stands for Global Election Management Software. Diebold writes: 'GEMS is a state of the art election management software package that runs on Microsoft's Windows operating system.' Investigative journalist Bev Harris says that it is susceptible to fraud on a large scale and in the easiest way. It is so easy that she made the news with a short film [MOV] on which one can see a chimpanzee tampering with the vote counting machine. Harris writes: 'Election results can be changed in a matter of seconds. Part of the program we examined appears to be designed with election tampering in mind'. On her website she explains that the voting information is not - which would make sense - just noted in one place, but that in the computer another two copies are made that can be altered quickly and easily, without leaving a trace. Without the computer having to be connected to the internet, it is possible to alter the information from a distance. Just before the elections in Georgia that is what actually happened: with one push of the button, Diebold 'patched' 22,000 machines, an electronic band-aid on a wound in the software (in this case just before the elections and not certified, and thus illegal). Harris has proven explicitly that from a distance it is easy to make a loser into a winner and that the new winner, also after a paper recount, will stay a winner. The system has been in use for more than three years.
Chaos for manufacturers, loss of votes for candidates
VoteHere advertizes itself as the 'secure Internet voting company'. That this claim lies closer to publicity than to the truth was proven when the company had to admit to be the victim of a computer hacker. Diebold also had leaks, but in a different way. An employee of Diebold gave a stack of internal memos to research journalist Bev Harris: 'These memos show a pattern of allegedly breaking the law, starting with using uncertified software; Diebold insiders allegedly admit to doing “end runs” around the voting system, and in one of the most shocking sets of memos, they allegedly admit that a “replacement” set of vote totals was uploaded in Volusia County, Florida which took 16,022 votes away from Al Gore in Nov. 2000'. And in Brevard County, Gore lost 4000 votes because of a technical mistake. He got the votes back after the loss was discovered by chance, but nobody knows if there have been more cases like that one. The fact remains that the machines of Diebold have a built-in function to create 'minus votes', thus revealed Diebold spokesman David Bear to Vanity Fair.
William Rouverol, the inventor of the voting machine, said in 2000 at the age of 82 to the Associated Press that he thought the Republicans were correct to be worried about a manual recount; according to him the problem did not lie in the paper ballots but in an error in the programming of the associated computers. Rouverol: ' Whether it's purposeful or accidental, I'm not prepared to say'.
Research proves danger voting machines
Voting machine manufacturer Diebold originally was a safe manufacturer; in one of their safes lie for example the most important original documents of the U.S.: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, they also apply their safe mentality to their voting machines. Unfortunately, because there is obviously something fishy about their machines, while they contain information (votes) that are possibly even more important than what is stored in their safes. Johns Hopkins University and Rice University conducted research together last year that proved that the software of the systems they examined allowed tampering 'on an enormous scale'. Manufacturer Diebold reacted by stating that their products are continually updated so that they meet the standards, but the researchers say that the software should be completely rewritten. And then you think: this cannot work out right. And what happens, at the most recent important election in the U.S. (the total recall by Schwarzenegger) it was a mess, computer magazine Wired discovered. They have the results of a training session with the electronic voting machines by Diebold: 'Voting machine experts say the lapses could allow a poll worker or an outsider to change votes in machines without being detected. And because other problems inherent in the software won’t be fixed before the recall, experts say sophisticated intruders can intercept and change vote tallies as officials transmit them electronically'. 'David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University and critic of electronic voting machines that don't provide a verifiable paper trail, calls the information about the county's security "jaw-dropping".Nevertheless, the machines were used after all during the elections, which of course were won by the Republican Schwarzenegger.
Dutch voter must also put complete trust in voting machine manufacturer
Ir. Peter Knoppers of Delft University says in a telephone call with DaanSpeak: 'There are no possibilities of control; you just have to trust that the software contains no errors. You need to have blind trust and that is unacceptable. If it ever becomes clear that the machines were tampered with, it will cause mayhem. It will have consequences for everybody who has been elected now'. On his website, Knoppers publicizes an article with the clear title: 'Voting machines? Don't do it!'. The Dutch cryptographer Niels Ferguson thinks that the voting computers damage the heart of the democracy, because the specifications of the software are not made public. The latter does not only apply to the American voting machine manufacturers, but also the ones from The Netherlands. The software of voting machine manufacturer Nedap is also confidential: 'Knoppers: 'Nedap manufactures the hardware as well as the software. Why would you keep the software confidential if you manufacture the hardware too? Afraid that someone copies your software? What is the use without the hardware?' That Nedap should be worried about the hardware was proven by an investigation into the voting machines by Nedap that were used in the elections in Ireland. It proved that with the number of the key in the voting machines, a copy could be made, which allowed the machine to be switched on and cast votes. The researchers also found it worrisome that the back-up information remained in the voting machine afterwards. And 'according to the authors of the report, it is [...] not difficult to introduce an altered slate into the machines. Because of this, voters 'could vote for the wrong candidate', writes WebWereld.
Professor of Computer Security Bart Jacobs says: 'The mechanisms used in the voting computers are not public knowledge. A bit more technical, the source code of the used software is not public knowledge. We as citizens have the right to attend to and check the counting of the votes cast with pencil and paper, but we have no right to view the functioning of these voting computers'.
Paper trail at elections is solution
Professor of Computer Science David Dill of Stanford University wants everyone to vote, but insists at the same time that a paper trail will remain. On his website VerifiedVoting.org he has drawn up a resolution to that effect, that was very soon signed en masse by all kinds of scientists, technologists, lawyers and organizations.
Whenever possible, he will be present with his organization during the testing of the machines, and he says to be sure to scrutinize situations when machines break down, or when results are extremely close. He will also follow the polls carefully and see whether there are no differences with the real results that are too conspicuous. But he realizes very well that he cannot do much in cases when things go wrong. The machines stay closed for curious people and all results are final. Dill says in a telephone conversation with DaanSpeak: 'The voter must be able to check the results. As long as that is possible, it is not a disaster that it is a fact that this technology cannot ever be made free of errors'. That check can take place when there is a paper trail and if the sampling is done well. He keeps encouraging everyone to vote because 'there is no reason to suspect criminal intent'.
LA Weekly asked the famous criticaster Gore Vidal in November of last year if Bush was going to win the elections. Vidal: 'No, at least not if it is an honest election, an election that is not electronic'. It is a pity that Jimmy Carter does not have the time to check the elections in November in his own country. In his Guardian article with the header 'Florida will not play fair' he does call for extreme caution.
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