December 02, 2003

Hack the Vote

Krugman, as the LNS has often remarked, is of course
the Voice of Greater Greenspania and the Moral
Conscience of the NYTwits. On the NYTwits' op-ed
pages, he has been a one-man bulwark against the
madness...The hate mail and the death threats he
receives are evidence of his insightfulness, his
integrity and his power to influence...Krugman has now
taken up an issue that the LNS and many of the
Information Rebellion sites (especially, have kept alive...So,
billionaire George Soros has declared the defeat of
the _resident the "focus" of his "life," Walter
Cronkite and Bill Moyers are speaking out on the
capitulation of the US news media, the Dixie Chicks
and many in the US military and inteligence
communities are in open defiance of the _resident's
foolish military adventure in Iraq, and now Paul
Krugman has made the Diebolic "black box voting"
scandal a subject of national debate...You are not
alone...Meanwhile, another two US GIs have died in
Iraq. For what? Stand up for Democracy in November
2004: Defeat Bush (again)!

December 2, 2003
Hack the Vote

nviting Bush supporters to a fund-raiser, the host
wrote, "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its
electoral votes to the president next year." No
surprise there. But Walden O'Dell who says that he
wasn't talking about his business operations happens
to be the chief executive of Diebold Inc., whose
touch-screen voting machines are in increasingly
widespread use across the United States.

For example, Georgia where Republicans scored
spectacular upset victories in the 2002 midterm
elections relies exclusively on Diebold machines. To
be clear, though there were many anomalies in that
2002 vote, there is no evidence that the machines
miscounted. But there is also no evidence that the
machines counted correctly. You see, Diebold machines
leave no paper trail.

Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, who has
introduced a bill requiring that digital voting
machines leave a paper trail and that their software
be available for public inspection, is occasionally
told that systems lacking these safeguards haven't
caused problems. "How do you know?" he asks.

What we do know about Diebold does not inspire
confidence. The details are technical, but they add up
to a picture of a company that was, at the very least,
extremely sloppy about security, and may have been
trying to cover up product defects.

Early this year Bev Harris, who is writing a book on
voting machines, found Diebold software which the
company refuses to make available for public
inspection, on the grounds that it's proprietary on
an unprotected server, where anyone could download it.
(The software was in a folder titled
"") The server was used by employees
of Diebold Election Systems to update software on its
machines. This in itself was an incredible breach of
security, offering someone who wanted to hack into the
machines both the information and the opportunity to
do so.

An analysis of Diebold software by researchers at
Johns Hopkins and Rice Universities found it both
unreliable and subject to abuse. A later report
commissioned by the state of Maryland apparently
reached similar conclusions. (It's hard to be sure
because the state released only a heavily redacted

Meanwhile, leaked internal Diebold e-mail suggests
that corporate officials knew their system was flawed,
and circumvented tests that would have revealed these
problems. The company hasn't contested the
authenticity of these documents; instead, it has
engaged in legal actions to prevent their

Why isn't this front-page news? In October, a British
newspaper, The Independent, ran a hair-raising
investigative report on U.S. touch-screen voting. But
while the mainstream press has reported the basics,
the Diebold affair has been treated as a technology or
business story not as a potential political scandal.

This diffidence recalls the treatment of other voting
issues, like the Florida "felon purge" that
inappropriately prevented many citizens from voting in
the 2000 presidential election. The attitude seems to
be that questions about the integrity of vote counts
are divisive at best, paranoid at worst. Even reform
advocates like Mr. Holt make a point of dissociating
themselves from "conspiracy theories." Instead, they
focus on legislation to prevent future abuses.

But there's nothing paranoid about suggesting that
political operatives, given the opportunity, might
engage in dirty tricks. Indeed, given the intensity of
partisanship these days, one suspects that small dirty
tricks are common. For example, Orrin Hatch, the
chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently
announced that one of his aides had improperly
accessed sensitive Democratic computer files that were
leaked to the press.

This admission contradicting an earlier declaration
by Senator Hatch that his staff had been cleared of
culpability came on the same day that the Senate
police announced that they were hiring a
counterespionage expert to investigate the theft.
Republican members of the committee have demanded that
the expert investigate only how those specific
documents were leaked, not whether any other breaches
took place. I wonder why.

The point is that you don't have to believe in a
central conspiracy to worry that partisans will take
advantage of an insecure, unverifiable voting system
to manipulate election results. Why expose them to

I'll discuss what to do in a future column. But let's
be clear: the credibility of U.S. democracy may be at

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Posted by richard at December 2, 2003 08:44 AM