December 04, 2003

Bev Harris on the Perils to Democracy by Electronic Voting

A very important interview with Bev Harris,
author of Black Box Voting...

"If the Diebold FTP files are in some ways similar to the Pentagon Papers, the memos are analogous to the Watergate Tapes. And whether or not issue is "as big as Watergate" -- it is actually more important than Watergate."

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December 4, 2003
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Bev Harris on the Perils to Democracy by Electronic Voting


What remains the greatest threat to democracy in the
2004 election?

Some would argue that it may be the ability of the
companies who manufacture and maintain electronic
voting machines to elect a candidate through
reprogrammed software or maybe a third party who
could hack the vote counting software and change the

At first, dismissed as the paranoid delusions of a few
diehard researchers, a growing number of states are
researching these accusations -- among others -- and
discovering that many of the concerns are valid. On
December 3, the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" reported
that, "Ohio's sweeping review of electronic voting
machines turned up so many potential security flaws in
the systems that the state's top elections official
has called off deploying them in March" [LINK].

When we first interviewed Bev Harris [LINK], a pioneer
in exposing the dangerous potential for election
manipulation that electronic voting machines pose, she
wanted to ensure that BuzzFlash didn't make her into a
hero. Harris wrote us a long e-mail detailing many of
the people who have tirelessly worked to bring this
issue to the point that it is now being seriously
addressed. And Harris is right: dozens of patriotic
Americans have endured a lot of skepticism and legal
threats for working to ensure that elective democracy

Nonetheless, Harris, a resident of Washington State,
has been the most visible writer and spokesperson on
the issue.

BuzzFlash is pleased to return to her for a December
2003 update on the battle over electronic voting.

It might be helpful to readers who are unfamiliar with
this issue to re-read our first interview with Harris
before starting with this one [LINK].

You can also visit [LINK] or [LINK] for additional
background information.

* * *

BUZZFLASH: Explain the implications of Diebold
withdrawing its lawsuit and how this impacts you?

BEV HARRIS: First, the impact of Diebold's abusive use
of copyright law did very serious damage to my
organization and me. This triggered a shutdown of, which lasted 30 days and derailed
activism to monitor the California Recall Election,
stripping away our activism base as it muted my voice
on the issue. It nearly decapitated

Diebold's withdrawal from the lawsuit was good; now
Diebold should consider withdrawing from the elections
industry. Even in baseball, you only get three
strikes. At what point do we say to this company,
"Sorry, I just can't trust you anymore."

Now, as for the impact of their withdrawal from the
lawsuit on me and what I will do next, let me explain.

I was sent the Diebold memos by a leaker on September
5, during the middle of the night. On September 6, I
delved into them and didn't come up for air until two
days later. During that time, I read 7,000 memos and
made 300 pages of notes divided into five categories.
The impact of Diebold's withdrawal from the lawsuit is
that I have arranged to make this body of work public.
Until now, aside from placing a copy in the hands of
someone who could disseminate the work were I to
become unavailable, I have done nothing with them.

If the Diebold FTP files are in some ways similar to
the Pentagon Papers, the memos are analogous to the
Watergate Tapes. And whether or not issue is "as big
as Watergate" -- it is actually more important than

BUZZFLASH: Do you think that they feared what would
come out in the discovery process would only worsen
the credibility of their electronic voting machines?

HARRIS: I think that they feared a congressional
investigation. In my opinion, the lawsuit could have
gone either way, but what made this unwinnable was
Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich
placing the memos on his web site and then publicly
calling for Diebold to step down on its DMCA claims.
There were other pressures from congress that I cannot
release the details on. The U.S. Congress will, I
believe, have a historic impact on this issue. By the
way, if you are an assistant to a congressperson and
you are reading this, e-mail me at And that includes

BUZZFLASH: Remind us what the president of Diebold
said about helping Bush to win the next election.

HARRIS: Wally O'Dell, the CEO of Diebold, wrote I am
committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes
to the president next year. This was in a letter to
100 of his wealthy and politically inclined friends,
which O'Dell wrote shortly after returning from the
Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he was meeting
with a group of "Pioneers and Rangers" (people who
raised $100,000 and $200,000, respectively) to discuss
Bush's reelection.

BUZZFLASH: You've offered your book "Black Box Voting:
Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century" free online.
Now, it is being published. What will people find in
the book?

HARRIS: They will find two things: A real life mystery
story of the first class, showing how powerful
democracy really is. As we set out to investigate how
our voting system really works, regular people joined
in from all over, until a battalion of ordinary
citizens finally penetrated the smokescreen to prove,
once and for all, that we have been using a system
that violates the most basic standards for accounting
and security, and that the certification and testing
system is flawed and broken.

I told the story in the first person because this
subject matter is complex and somewhat intimidating. I
wanted to bring it home and make it feel comfortable.
It is not a story about me, though. As you read
through the book, watch the true power of democracy as
ordinary people literally become citizen
investigators. It is the people themselves who are
doing effective, professionally expert, and sometimes
quirky things, and it is "We, the People" directly who
are taking back our vote from these politically vested

And second, this book is footnoted and sourced, and
contains so much factual information that it can be
used to document and prove the problem to congressmen
and policymakers -- and it contains persuasive
argumentation. Use it for ammunition.

BUZZFLASH: You were one of the key leaders in exposing
the dangers of electronic voting. You and other
"regular" Americans kept this issue alive, despite
legal and personal costs. How do you feel now that the
issue has finally emerged in the mainstream media,
represented by Paul Krugman's December 2nd column,
"Hack the Vote" [LINK]?

HARRIS: I was absolutely thrilled to see Paul Krugman
apply his masterful touch to the issue. It has been a
long, sometimes scary fight to get this information
into the hands of the public, and we aren't done yet.
The next target must be TV, which can shift American
opinions in 48 hours, and I am working on several
angles for that.

We are not close to the finish line; a more apt
metaphor is that the starter's gun has finally
sounded. We have much work to do.

BUZZFLASH: There is a bill addressing black box voting
in Congress (H.R. 2239), sponsored by Congressman Rush
Holt of New Jersey? What are the key features of the
bill and do you support the bill?

HARRIS: I support the bill, with qualifications. It
does two of the three things that are absolutely
necessary, if we are to use voting machines at all. It
requires a voter verified paper ballot -- however, we
must make sure all four of those words are in there.
It must be verified by the VOTER, it must be verified,
not "verifiable"; it must be PAPER not digital; and it
must be called a BALLOT, which has legal standing, not
a "trail" or "receipt."

The bill also removes remote access, though an
unscrupulous vendor can still slip that in unbeknownst
to the buyer.

The problem area, and it is a whopper, is that this
bill doesn't attack the crux of the issue, which is
proper auditing -- and that is something that is
needed for any computerized system, including optical
scan machines. Right now, we pretty much throw the
paper ballot in the toilet. It gets locked in a box
that no one can look at -- and we don't use it, even
when we have it.

And this leads to the heart of the problem itself: Our
voting issue is, at its heart, an auditing problem,
not a computer programming challenge. When we designed
these systems, we neglected to get input from the
accounting industry. We have computer scientists using
statistical models to recommend audit procedures, but
these models -- many of which have already been passed
into legislation at the state level -- would fail if
used to audit financial transactions.

There are three types of activities that fraud-prone
and require auditing designed to deter the fraud:
financial transactions, gambling, and elections. Yet
we have not sought the counsel of the very people who
understand this type of accounting: Accountants,
bookkeepers and auditors! As a result, we have
legislation in many states, and in this case, in HR
2239, that uses an inappropriate and flawed auditing
model which will not work.

The very first thing we need to do is get solid input
from auditors who are experienced in fraud detection.
When it comes to setting up practical, effective
auditing for these systems, bookkeepers from Las Vegas
probably have better expertise than computer
scientists from Princeton.

While we are designing amendments to the bill, we also
must get some people with a solid grasp of history,
because we need a voting system that is in keeping
with the vision of our founding fathers -- and this is
a public policy issue, not a computer issue. The most
important thing that we keep forgetting is that the
founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, felt that it
was critical -- not "important," but CRITICAL to
democracy, to keep the vote directly in the hands of
the people themselves. Any solution which requires us
to trust a handful of experts will, sooner or later,
result in the demise of our democracy.

That means we need to retain (and enforce) policies to
tally the votes at the polls, in front of observers.
In some countries, they let as many regular citizens
as can fit in the room in to watch the physical

It is this neighborhood tallying, and the open and
public nature of it, that is the embodiment of
democracy. We've been taking that away, and yet we
wonder why people say "it doesn't matter if I vote."
Here's a concept: Let's actually SEE our own vote (the
real vote, not a video screen representation); let's
count our votes before they leave our neighborhood;
and let's invite everyone to watch the counting. Let's
not remove people "we" from "we, the people"

To the extent that computers are used as part of this
process -- and they should never be all of it -- the
embodiment of democracy in computer programming is to
take the system "open source." This is the equivalent
of developing the program in the town square with
everyone watching. We can do it. Australia did.

HR 2239 uses an inappropriate auditing mechanism, and
I'd rather see it require open source, but it does
give us a voter verified paper ballot and mostly gets
rid of remote access.

BUZZFLASH: We are less than a month away from 2004. On
a practical level, is there still time to ensure that
the next election is an honest one as far as recording

HARRIS: Yes. On a practical level, for the primaries,
we need an emergency interim measure, and I'm sorry to
say it, but this may mean that in Iowa and in the
states conducting elections in February, we need to
vote (temporarily at least) on paper ballots, hand
counted. This is because we have discovered
information on all of the major vendors, and on the
certification system itself, that proves the system is
not reliable. Unfortunately, the problems are not
solvable by doing a software patch or adding new
levels of supervision. We've got fundamental problems
that require more than six weeks to solve. Until we've
got a system in which we can have confidence, we must
demand one that does.

BUZZFLASH: Do you think that the Democratic Party
Leadership has yet realized the extreme danger in
proceeding with a national election where many voters
will cast their ballots on electronic voting machines
made by companies owned by Republicans?

HARRIS: Some have. Dennis Kucinich certainly has. The
other presidential candidates need to get on board,
not by making statements, but by taking effective
action. I encourage their campaign staff to contact
me; I can help provide some private resources for
effective action.

The problems we are seeing with computerized voting,
though, are not limited to a particular party. Many of
the lawsuits filed by candidates last month were by
Republicans. Of the big four companies, three are
heavily vested in the Republican Party (ES&S, Hart
Intercivic and Diebold) but the fourth, Sequoia, has
some heavy-hitting investors who are political
activists and very heavy backers of the Democratic

As far as partisanship goes, I equate the temptations
with insecure machines to the temptations with
campaign finance -- if we don't solve the problem, it
will absolutely taint both parties, but the
Republicans will be tainted more.

BUZZFLASH: In his column, Paul Krugman mentioned a
"" file among the Diebold Internet
posted memos. What is the significance of this file
and the questions it might raise about the Georgia
senatorial election in 2000?

HARRIS: This set of voting machine replacement files
were used in the Georgia 2002 general election. It is
a set of compiled files for three components of the
Georgia voting system. Unlike the source code studied
by the Hopkins/Rice scientists, these files are
"compiled," and will require reverse engineering. I
would like to see this done as soon as possible, and
have an idea how this can be done expeditiously. I do
invite citizens from Georgia who are involved with
their local political parties to contact me; though it
can be done outside of Georgia. Don't you think having
the solution come out of Georgia has a certain poetry
to it?

Yes, we have much to do. Diebold is only a small piece
of the puzzle, and I would like to take this
opportunity, if I may, to put out a formal call for
more citizens to become involved. Here is what you do:
Go to and click
"Activism Forum." Register and sign in for your state
and in the "Talent Pool." Over the next three weeks
you can directly participate in many effective
activities designed to take back our vote, not in
2006, or 2004, but RIGHT NOW and focusing on the

If you are an aide for a congressperson or a
candidate, contact me directly through my e-mail on
the Web site.

We will win this issue.


Posted by richard at December 4, 2003 09:21 AM