August 01, 2003

The Theft of Your Vote Is Just a Chip Away

(7/31/03) Two more US GIs died over night in Iraq (for what?)
Meanwhile, Agence France Press (AFP) reports that the
latest Gallop/CNN/USA Today polling indicates that
"less than half of Americans surveyed -- only 47
percent -- would vote for President George W. Bush in
the 2004 election." Of course, you probably do not
find it surprising that SeeNotNews, USA TooLate, etc.
did not lead with this startling drop in the
_resident's alleged popularity. LNS is convinced that
the polls on the _resident have been deceptive from
the beginning and therefore if they are now saying
"less than half" would vote for him in 2004, the
reality is that his base itself -- 32%-35% of the
electorate - is deteriorating...hence the importance
and urgency that must be given to the article below
and similar ones surfacing throughout the
country...Remember, they are going for a triple lock:
lock #1 -- they will outspend the Democrats by
hundreds of millions of dollars (literally), lock #2
-- they will be able to count on the deep fix in the
"US mainstream news media," lock #3 -- they are going
after the voting process itself (i.e. black box
voting, the end of exit polls, etc.) The 2000 election
was stolen and there is good reason to question the
results in Georgia and elsewhere in 2002...Assume the
worst and start organizing now...get out the vote...if
it does not prevent another theft of the election
(which I believe it can and will) it will at least
make it painfully obvious...

The Theft of Your Vote Is Just a Chip Away
By Thom Hartmann

Are computerized voting machines a wide-open back door
to massive voting fraud? The discussion has moved from
the Internet to CNN, to UK newspapers, and the pages
of The New York Times. People are cautiously beginning
to connect the dots, and the picture that seems to be
emerging is troubling.

"A defective computer chip in the county's optical
scanner misread ballots Tuesday night and incorrectly
tallied a landslide victory for Republicans,"
announced the Associated Press in a story on Nov. 7,
just a few days after the 2002 election. The story
added, "Democrats actually won by wide margins."

Republicans would have carried the day had not poll
workers become suspicious when the computerized
vote-reading machines said the Republican candidate
was trouncing his incumbent Democratic opponent in the
race for County Commissioner. The poll workers were
close enough to the electorate – they were part of the
electorate – to know their county overwhelmingly
favored the Democratic incumbent.

A quick hand recount of the optical-scan ballots
showed that the Democrat had indeed won, even though
the computerized ballot-scanning machine kept giving
the race to the Republican. The poll workers brought
the discrepancy to the attention of the County Clerk,
who notified the voting machine company.

"A new computer chip was flown to Snyder [Texas] from
Dallas," County Clerk Lindsey told the Associated
Press. With the new chip installed, the computer then
verified that the Democrat had won the election. In
another Texas anomaly, Republican state Senator Jeff
Wentworth won his race with exactly 18,181 votes,
Republican Carter Casteel won her state House seat
with exactly 18,181 votes, and conservative Judge
Danny Scheel won his seat with exactly 18,181 votes –
all in Comal County. Apparently, however, no poll
workers in Comal County thought to ask for a new chip.

Startling Results

The Texas incidents happened with computerized
machines reading and then tabulating paper or
punch-card ballots. In Georgia and Florida, where
paper had been totally replaced by touch-screen
machines in many to most precincts during 2001 and
2002, the 2002 election produced some of the nation's
most startling results.

USA Today reported on Nov. 3, 2002, "In Georgia, an
Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows Democratic
Sen. Max Cleland with a 49%-to-44% lead over
Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss." Cox News Service,
based in Atlanta, reported just after the election
(Nov. 7) that, "Pollsters may have goofed" because
"Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent
Democratic Sen. Max Cleland by a margin of 53 to 46
percent. The Hotline, a political news service,
recalled a series of polls Wednesday showing that
Chambliss had been ahead in none of them."

Just as amazing was the Georgia governor's race.
"Similarly," the Zogby polling organization reported
on Nov. 7, "no polls predicted the upset victory in
Georgia of Republican Sonny Perdue over incumbent
Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. Perdue won by a margin of
52 to 45 percent. The most recent Mason Dixon Poll had
shown Barnes ahead 48 to 39 percent last month with a
margin of error of plus or minus 4 points."

Almost all of the votes in Georgia were recorded on
the new touchscreen computerized voting machines,
which produced no paper trail whatsoever. And nobody
thought to ask for a new chip, although it was noted
on Nov. 8 by the Atlanta Constitution-Journal that in
downtown Atlanta's predominantly Democratic Fulton
County "election officials said Thursday that memory
cards from 67 electronic voting machines had been
misplaced, so ballots cast on those machines were left
out of previously announced vote totals." Officials
added that all but 11 of the memory cards were
subsequently found and recorded.

Similarly, as the San Jose Mercury News reported in a
Jan. 23, 2003 editorial titled "Gee Whiz, Voter
Fraud?" "In one Florida precinct last November, votes
that were intended for the Democratic candidate for
governor ended up for Gov. Jeb Bush, because of a
misaligned touchscreen. How many votes were miscast
before the mistake was found will never be known,
because there was no paper audit." ("Misaligned"
touchscreens also caused 18 known machines in Dallas
to register Republican votes when Democratic
screen-buttons were pushed: it's unknown how many
others weren't noticed.)

Apparently, nobody thought to ask for new chips in
Florida, either.

In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported just a few
days before the election (Oct. 30, 2002) that,
"Dramatic political developments since Sen. Paul
Wellstone's death Friday have had little effect on
voters' leanings in the U.S. Senate race, according to
a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll taken Monday night.
Wellstone's likely replacement on the ballot, former
Vice President Walter Mondale, leads Republican Norm
Coleman by 47 to 39 percent – close to where the race
stood two weeks ago when Wellstone led Coleman 47 to
41 percent."

When the computerized machines were done counting the
vote a few days later, however, Coleman had beat
Mondale by 50 to 47 percent. If Mondale had asked for
new chips, would it have made a difference? We'll
never know.

One state where Republicans did ask for a new chip was
Alabama. Fox News reported on Nov. 8, 2002 that
initial returns from across the state showed that
Democratic incumbent Gov. Don Siegelman had won the
governor's race. But, overnight, "Baldwin County took
center stage when election officials released results
Tuesday night showing Siegelman with 19,070 votes –
enough for a narrow victory statewide. Later, they
recounted and reduced Siegelman's tally to 12,736
votes – enough to give Riley the victory."

What produced the sudden loss of about 6,000 votes?
According to the Fox report: "Probate Judge Adrian
Johns, a member of the county canvassing board, blamed
the initial, higher number on 'a programming glitch in
the software' that tallies the votes." All parties
were not satisfied with that explanation, however. Fox
added: "The governor claimed results were changed
after poll watchers left."

It turns out the "glitch in the software" in Alabama
was discovered by the Republican National Committee's
regional director Kelley McCullough, who, according to
a story in the conservative Daily Standard, "logged
onto the county's municipal website and confirmed that
[incumbent Democratic Governor] Siegelman had actually
only received 12,736 votes – not the 19,070 the
Associated Press projected for him. A computer glitch
had caused the error. The erroneous tally would have
put Siegelman on top by 3,582 votes, but the corrected
one gave Riley a 2,752-vote edge."

As the Murdoch-owned Daily Standard noted, "If it
hadn't been for one woman, the Republican National
Committee's regional director Kelley McCullough,
things might have gone terribly wrong for [Republican
Gubernatorial candidate] Riley."

Similarly, in Davison County, South Dakota, the
Democratic election auditor noticed the machines
double counting votes (it's not noted for which side)
and had a "new chip" brought in.

Hacking Democracy?

This is just the tip of the iceberg of '00 and '02
election irregularities, as reported by Either the system by which democracy
exists broke that November evening, or was hacked, or
American voters became suddenly more fickle than at
any time since Truman beat Dewey.

Maybe it's true that the citizens of Georgia simply
decided that incumbent Democratic Senator Max Cleland,
a wildly popular war veteran, was, as Republican TV
ads suggested, too unpatriotic to remain in the
Senate, even though his Republican challenger, Saxby
Chambliss, had sat out the Vietnam war with a medical

Maybe, in the final two days of the race, those voters
who'd pledged themselves to Georgia's popular
incumbent Governor Roy Barnes suddenly and
inexplicably decided to switch to Republican
challenger Sonny Perdue.

Maybe George W. and Jeb Bush, Alabama's new Republican
governor Bob Riley, and a small but congressionally
decisive handful of other long-shot Republican
candidates around the country really did win those
states where conventional wisdom and straw polls
showed them losing in the last few election cycles,
but computer controlled voting or ballot-reading
machines showed them winning.

Perhaps, after a half-century of fine-tuning exit
polling to such a science that it's now used to verify
if elections are clean in Third World countries, it
really did suddenly become inaccurate in the United
States in the past few years and just won't work here
anymore. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the
sudden rise of inaccurate exit polls happened around
the same time corporate-programmed,
computer-controlled, modem-capable voting machines
began recording and tabulating ballots.

But if any of this is true, there's not much of a
paper trail from the voters' hand to prove it.

You'd think in an open democracy that the government –
answerable to all its citizens rather than a handful
of corporate officers and stockholders – would
program, repair and control the voting machines. You'd
think the computers that handle our cherished ballots
would be open and their software and programming
available for public scrutiny. You'd think there would
be a paper trail of the actual hand-cast vote, which
could be followed and audited if there was evidence of
voting fraud or if exit polls disagreed with
computerized vote counts.

You'd be wrong.

Upsets In Nebraska

It's entirely possible that Nebraska Republican Chuck
Hagel – who left his job as head of an electronic
voting machine company to run as a long-shot candidate
for the U.S. Senate – honestly won all of his

Back when Hagel first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1996,
his own company's computer-controlled voting machines
showed he'd won stunning and unexpected victories in
both the primaries and the general election. The
Washington Post (1/13/1997) said Hagel's "Senate
victory against an incumbent Democratic governor was
the major Republican upset in the November election."
According to Bev Harris, author of "Black Box Voting,"
Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including
many largely black communities that had never before
voted Republican. Hagel was the first Republican in 24
years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska.

Six years later Hagel ran again, this time against
Democrat Charlie Matulka in 2002, and won in a
landslide. As his Website says, Hagel "was re-elected
to his second term in the United States Senate on
November 5, 2002 with 83% of the vote. That represents
the biggest political victory in the history of
Nebraska." What the site fails to disclose is that
about 80 percent of those votes were counted by
computer-controlled voting machines put in place by
the company affiliated with Hagel: built by that
company; programmed by that company; chips supplied by
that company.

"This is a big story, bigger than Watergate ever was,"
said Hagel's Democratic opponent in the 2002 Senate
race, Charlie Matulka
( "They
say Hagel shocked the world, but he didn't shock me."

Is Matulka the sore loser the Hagel campaign paints
him as, or is he democracy's proverbial canary in the
mineshaft? Between them, Hagel and Chambliss'
victories sealed Republican control of the Senate.
Odds are both won fair and square, the American way,
using huge piles of corporate money to carpet-bomb
voters with television advertising. But either the
appearance or the possibility of impropriety in an
election casts a shadow over American democracy.

"The right of voting for representatives is the
primary right by which all other rights are
protected," wrote Thomas Paine over 200 years ago. "To
take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery.."

That slavery, according to Hagel's last opponent
Charlie Matulka, is at our doorstep. "They can take
over our country without firing a shot," Matulka said,
"just by taking over our election systems."

Revolution by control of computer chips? Is that
really possible in the USA?

Who's Counting the Votes?

"Imagine it's Election Day 2004," says U.S.
Congressman Rush Holt, also a scientist with a Ph.D.
in physics who knows more than a little bit about both
politics and computers. "You enter your local polling
place and go to cast your vote on a brand-new
touchscreen voting machine. The screen says your vote
has been counted. As you exit the voting booth,
however, you begin to wonder. How do I know if the
machine actually recorded my vote?"

It's a question that probably hasn't occurred to many
Americans, even those who used the touchscreen
machines particularly notable in states where there
were "upsets" and "glitches" in the 2002 election. But
it occurred to Congressman Holt, and after looking at
the law, the voting machines and the companies that
produce them, he concluded that, "The fact is, you
don't [know if the machine actually recorded your

Bev Harris has studied the situation in depth and
thinks both Congressman Holt and candidate Matulka may
be on to something. The company with ties to Hagel
even threatened her with legal action when she went
public about the company having built the machines
that counted Hagel's landslide votes.

In the meantime, exit-polling organizations have
quietly gone out of business, and the news arms of the
huge multinational corporations that own our networks
are suggesting the days of exit polls are over.
Virtually none were reported in 2002, creating an odd
and unsettling silence that caused unease for the many
voters who had come to view exit polls as proof of the
integrity of their election systems.

As all this comes to light, many citizens and even a
few politicians are wondering if it's a good idea for
corporations to be so involved in the guts of our
voting systems. The whole idea of a democratic
republic was to create a common institution (the
government itself) owned by its citizens, answerable
to its citizens and authorized to exist and continue
existing solely "by the consent of the governed."

However, the recent political trend has moved us in
the opposite direction, with governments turning
administration of our commons over to corporations
answerable only to profits. The result is the
enrichment of corporations and the appearance that
democracy in America has started to resemble its
parody in banana republics.

Further frustrating those concerned with the sanctity
of our vote, the corporations selling and licensing
voting machines and voting software often claim Fourth
Amendment rights of privacy and the right to hide
their "trade secrets" – how their voting software
works and what controls are built into it – from both
the public and the government itself.

Secret Software

"If you want to make Coca-Cola and have trade secrets,
that's fine," says Harvard's Rebecca Mercuri, Ph.D.,
one of the nation's leading experts on voting
machines. "But don't try to claim trade secrets when
you're handling our votes."

The window into who owns whom among the various
companies – most of which are not publicly traded – is
equally opaque. One voting machine company was
partially funded at startup by wealthy Republican
philanthropists who belong to an organization that
believes the Bible instead of the Constitution should
govern America. Another is partly owned by a defense
contractor. Even the reincarnation of a company that
helped Enron cook their books has gotten into the act.

"There are several issues here," says reporter Lynn
Landis, who has written extensively about voting
machines. "First, there's the issue that the Voting
Rights Act requires that poll watchers be able to
observe the vote. But with computerized voting
machines, your vote vanishes into a computer and can't
be observed."

To solve this, many are calling for a return to paper
ballots that are hand-counted. It may be slower, but
temp-help precinct workers may even cost less than
electronic voting machines (which are a
multi-billion-dollar boon for corporate suppliers),
and will ensure that real humans are tabulating the

"Second," says Landis, "there's the issue of who
controls the information. Of all the functions of
government that should not be privatized, handling our
votes is at the top of the list. This is the core of
democracy, and must be open, transparent, and
available to both the public and our politicians of
all parties for full and open inspection."

Although Rush Holt is suggesting there be stringent
standards, he hasn't gone so far as to say
corporations shouldn't process our votes. But why not?
Most government functions – from our courts to our
fire departments – run fairly smoothly, despite
carping from the extreme right wing. Increasingly,
people across America are demanding that – like in
other democracies around the world – our system of
voting should be publicly owned.

Another point Dr. Rebecca Mercuri raises is that the
Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – passed after the 2000
election – calls for the President to appoint, as the
Act states, "with the advice of the Senate," members
to "an independent entity, the Election Assistance
Commission." The commission is then to create "the
Election Assistance Commission Standards Board, the
Election Assistance Commission Board of Advisors ...
and the Technical Guidelines Development Committee" to
establish standards and oversee compliance of the law
by voting machine companies.

"But the commission has not yet been established,"
says Mercuri, even though billions in federal dollars
have been distributed under HAVA for states to buy
electronic voting machines and license their software
from private corporations. "As a result," Mercuri
says, "there are currently no meaningful federal
standards for voting machines. Many of the machines
used in 2002 were built to industry guidelines that
many question and were established in 1990."

And those standards are problematic. In the course of
researching "Black Box Voting," Harris did a Google
search on one of the voting machine companies, Diebold
Election Systems, and found it maintained an open FTP
site on the internet apparently through the 2002
election. In it, she located computer code used to
tabulate elections and, apparently, actual vote count
files that could be downloaded or even replaced by any
visiting hacker.

A website for the New Zealand news publication The
Scoop has published Diebold's files on the Internet,
producing lively discussions among computer
enthusiasts and scientists who have apparently (and
perhaps unlawfully) cracked the company's various

The Scoop also performed a statistical analysis
comparing American polls and computer-controlled
voting machine results. In many states there were no
variations. In a few, however, they found that "the
Republican Party experienced a pronounced last minute
swing in its favour of between 4 and 16 points.
Remarkably this last minute swing appears to have been
concentrated in its effects in critical Senate races
(Georgia and Minnesota) where [the Republican Party]
secured its complete control of Congress."

Purging Voter Rolls

While corporate bungles or the potential for outright
vote fraud are a concern of many opposed to electronic
voting machines, another issue of concern is the
concentration of voter rolls in the hands of partisan
politicians instead of civil servants.

In most states, local precincts or counties maintain
their own voter rolls. Florida, however, had gone to
the trouble before the 2000 election to consolidate
all its voter rolls at the state level, and put them
into the custody and control of the state's elected
Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, who was also the
chairman of the Florida campaign to elect George W.

As described in disturbing detail in the documentary
"Unprecedented" and in Greg Palast's book "The Best
Democracy Money Can Buy," Harris spent millions to
hire a Texas company to clean up the Florida list by
purging it of all convicted felons – using a list of
felons who lived in the State of Texas.

One of the legacies of slavery is that a large number
of African Americans share the same or similar names,
and sure enough, when the Texas felon list was
compared with the Florida voter list over 94,000
matches or near-matches were found. Those registered
Florida voters – about half of them African Americans
(who generally vote Democratic) – with names identical
or even similar to Texas felons were deleted from the
Florida voter rolls, and turned away from the polls
when they tried to vote in 2000 and in 2002.

Now, under HAVA, states across the nation are
consolidating their voter lists and handing them over
to Harris's various peers to be cleaned and

Another concern is Internet voting, since it's
impossible to ensure its accuracy. Imagine if all the
time a voting machine was being used, it also had its
back door open and an unlimited number of technicians
and hackers could manipulate its innards before,
during and after the vote.

Activists suggest this is one of the reasons it's
dangerous that so many electronic voting machines
today are connected to company-access modems, but it's
an even stronger argument against the very core of
democracy – the vote – being handled out in the public
of cyberspace.

Nonetheless, the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans
to have a private corporation conduct Internet voting
for overseas GIs in 2004, and many fear it'll be used
as a beta test for more widespread Internet voting
across the nation. While many Americans think the
ability to vote from home or office over the computer
would be wonderfully convenient, the results could be
disastrous: even the CIA hasn't been able to prevent
hackers from penetrating parts of its computer systems
attached to the Internet.

Votes Are Sacred

On most levels, privatization is only a "small sin"
against democracy. Turning a nation's or community's
water, septic, roadway, prisons, airwaves or health
care commons over to private corporations has so far
demonstrably degraded the quality of life for average
citizens and enriched a few of the most powerful
campaign contributors, but it hasn't been the end of

Many citizens believe, however, that turning the
programming and maintenance of voting over to
corporations that can share their profits openly with
politicians (or, like Hagel, become the politicians),
puts democracy itself at peril.

A growing number of Americans are saying our votes are
too sacred to reside only on "chips," and that it's
critical that we kick corporations out of the commons
of our voting, and that we make sure we have a
human-verifiable vote paper trail that goes all the
way back to the original hand of the original voter.

If there are chips involved in the voting process,
these democracy advocates say, government civil
service employees who are subject to adversarial
oversight by both parties must program them in an
open-source fashion, and in a way that produces a
voter-verified paper trail.

Anything less, and our democracy may vanish as quickly
as a network of modem-connected election-counting
computers can reboot.

Thom Hartmann is a nationally syndicated daily talk
show host and the author of "Unequal Protection" and
"The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," among other
books. This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but
permission is granted for reprint in print, email,
blog or web media so long as this credit is attached
and the title remains the same.
originally published in AlterNet

Posted by richard at August 1, 2003 06:30 PM