January 25, 2004

"The disputed election of 2000 left a lasting scar on the nation's psyche. A recent Zogby poll found that even in red states, which voted for George W. Bush, 32 percent of the public believes that the election was stolen. In blue states, the fraction is 4

Paul Krugman: Questionable programmers aside, even a
cursory look at the behavior of the major voting
machine companies reveals systematic flouting of the
rules intended to ensure voting security. Software was
modified without government oversight; machine
components were replaced without being rechecked. And
here's the crucial point: even if there are strong
reasons to suspect that electronic machines miscounted
votes, nothing can be done about it. There is no paper
trail; there is nothing to recount.

Thwart the Theft of a Second Presidential Election
(the wider Bush's margin of defeat, the harder it will
to reverse), Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat
Bush (again!)


Democracy at Risk
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Friday 23 January 2004

The disputed election of 2000 left a lasting scar on the nation's psyche. A recent Zogby poll found that even in red states, which voted for George W. Bush, 32 percent of the public believes that the election was stolen. In blue states, the fraction is 44 percent.

Now imagine this: in November the candidate
trailing in the polls wins an upset victory but all
of the districts where he does much better than
expected use touch-screen voting machines. Meanwhile,
leaked internal e-mail from the companies that make
these machines suggests widespread error, and possibly
fraud. What would this do to the nation?

Unfortunately, this story is completely
plausible. (In fact, you can tell a similar story
about some of the results in the 2002 midterm
elections, especially in Georgia.) Fortune magazine
rightly declared paperless voting the worst technology
of 2003, but it's not just a bad technology it's a
threat to the republic.

First of all, the technology has simply failed in
several recent elections. In a special election in
Broward County, Fla., 134 voters were disenfranchised
because the electronic voting machines showed no
votes, and there was no way to determine those voters'
intent. (The election was decided by only 12 votes.)
In Fairfax County, Va., electronic machines crashed
repeatedly and balked at registering votes. In the
2002 primary, machines in several Florida districts
reported no votes for governor.

And how many failures weren't caught? Internal
e-mail from Diebold, the most prominent maker of
electronic voting machines (though not those in the
Florida and Virginia debacles), reveals that
programmers were frantic over the system's
unreliability. One reads, "I have been waiting for
someone to give me an explanation as to why Precinct
216 gave Al Gore a minus 16022 when it was uploaded."
Another reads, "For a demonstration I suggest you fake
it."

Computer experts say that software at Diebold and
other manufacturers is full of security flaws, which
would easily allow an insider to rig an election. But
the people at voting machine companies wouldn't do
that, would they? Let's ask Jeffrey Dean, a programmer
who was senior vice president of a voting machine
company, Global Election Systems, before Diebold
acquired it in 2002. Bev Harris, author of "Black Box
Voting" (www.blackboxvoting.com), told The A.P. that
Mr. Dean, before taking that job, spent time in a
Washington correctional facility for stealing money
and tampering with computer files.

Questionable programmers aside, even a cursory
look at the behavior of the major voting machine
companies reveals systematic flouting of the rules
intended to ensure voting security. Software was
modified without government oversight; machine
components were replaced without being rechecked. And
here's the crucial point: even if there are strong
reasons to suspect that electronic machines miscounted
votes, nothing can be done about it. There is no paper
trail; there is nothing to recount.

So what should be done? Representative Rush Holt
has introduced a bill calling for each machine to
produce a paper record that the voter verifies. The
paper record would then be secured for any future
audit. The bill requires that such verified voting be
ready in time for the 2004 election and that
districts that can't meet the deadline use paper
ballots instead. And it also requires surprise audits
in each state.

I can't see any possible objection to this bill.
Ignore the inevitable charges of "conspiracy theory."
(Although some conspiracies are real: as yesterday's
Boston Globe reports, "Republican staff members of the
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated opposition
computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy
memos and periodically passing on copies to the
media.") To support verified voting, you don't
personally have to believe that voting machine
manufacturers have tampered or will tamper with
elections. How can anyone object to measures that will
place the vote above suspicion?

What about the expense? Let's put it this way:
we're spending at least $150 billion to promote
democracy in Iraq. That's about $1,500 for each vote
cast in the 2000 election. How can we balk at spending
a small fraction of that sum to secure the credibility
of democracy at home?

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Posted by richard at January 25, 2004 06:24 PM