March 10, 2004

Black Box Backlash

This struggle for the soul of America and for the
future of the world is being waged by people from all
walks of life, people like you, me and Bev Harris.
Indeed, this struggle for the soul of American and the
future of the world *is* being waged by you, me and
Bev Harris...Here is some background on her important
work at from the Seattle

George Howland, Jr., Seattle Weekly: Harris' discovery
represented the first opportunity for the wider world
to glimpse the internal workings of the machines that
are playing a key role in our democracy. After a
little soul searching, Harris downloaded the Diebold
software files. It took 44 hours, and they filled
seven CDs. By July 2003, after months of informal
review and discussion among her friends and allies,
Harris decided to allow Scoop, an "unfiltered" news
Web site in New Zealand (, to
make the files available to anyone who wanted them. It
wasn't a decision she made lightly. "I knew I had
something that could provoke a constitutional crisis,"
she says. She hoped that some computer science
professors would take an interest.

Thwart the Theft of a Second Presidential Election,
Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)

March 10 - 16, 2004

Black Box Backlash

Bev Harris of Renton created a firestorm with her
national Internet campaign against electronic voting.
Now she's trying to persuade people in the real world
that their democracy is on the line.

by George Howland Jr. America's leading critic of
electronic voting lives on a cul-de-sac in the
blue-collar suburb of Renton. Bev Harris drives a gray
Dodge Caravan with a bumper sticker that says, "Keep
honking, I'm reloading." Last year, several things
broke in her home— the furnace, a sink, and a
toilet—and she didn't have the money to get them
fixed right away. In fact, the sink and toilet are
still broken.
At 53, Harris worries about being overweight, and she
can't find a hairdresser she's happy with. In recent
years she's made her living as a literary publicist,
hawking such books as Odyssey of the Soul by Hugh
Harmon and Pamela Chilton, which is about channeling
spirits, and Two Codes for Murder, a true-crime story
by Dorothea Fuller Smith. A year and half ago, she
admits, "I thought voting was boring."

Clearly, Harris' feelings about voting have changed a
lot in the past 18 months. Voting has become Harris'
passion and vocation. Voting issues consume her life,
even pushing her to work around the clock at times.

Since September 2002, Harris has battled a U.S.
senator, large corporations, and election officials
across the country in her effort to ensure our votes
are counted fairly and accurately. At first, she
focused on the problems with computer voting. Since
then, the name of her Web site
( and her book devoted to the
subject—Black Box Voting—have become shorthand for
concerns about computers and elections. Moreover, her
astounding discoveries on the subject have resulted in
damning research by distinguished computer-science
professors and numerous articles in major newspapers
across the country. Secretaries of state, including
Republican Sam Reed of Washington and Democrat Kevin
Shelley of California, have responded by proposing key
changes in how we will cast our ballots in the future.

HARRIS HAS BECOME a media darling. A major profile is
due in Vanity Fair, and her cell phone rings
constantly with requests for interviews and
documentation, from TV stations and newspapers around
the country. Democratic presidential candidates John
Edwards, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich all
mentioned concerns about electronic voting during this
year's campaign. Former first lady and current U.S.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep.
Rush Holt, D-N.J., are sponsoring national legislation
responding to the issues raised by Harris and her

Now she has broadened her critique of election
security to include subjects like voting over the
Internet and the integrity of the software that counts
paper ballots across the nation, including those in
King County. More importantly, she wants to focus on
solutions to the problems she has uncovered. To do
that, she and her allies are taking what has largely
been an online movement and bringing it into the real
world. They are doing speaking tours, lobbying for
legis- lative changes, and even running for office.
Will they be as successful in the meat world as they
have been on the Internet? Or will they be like
presidential candidate Howard Dean—an online tiger
and an analog kitten?

Harris' online success has brought increased scrutiny.
Many elections professionals, private and public,
believe her alarm over voting security is unfounded.
Even some of her allies find her rhetoric hard to
take. Harris is unapologetic. She offers a typically
unvarnished opinion on elections officials'
understanding of security: "I've never seen such a
clueless bunch of people." She feels the mainstream
media have begun to back her up. "I've been called
every kind of nutcase there is, and now I've been in
The New York Times three times," she says.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed didn’t think
paper-trail audit capability was necessary—until he
toured the state and talked to concerned voters.
(Evan Parker)


After the election meltdown of 2000, when an
incredibly close race for president shined a very
bright light on the shortcomings of the American
electoral system, Congress took action. It passed the
Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, telling states
to phase out the infamous punch-card ballots, with
their pregnant, hanging, and dimpled chads. HAVA also
required a touch-screen voting machine for every
polling place, mainly so blind voters could cast their
ballots unassisted. As an incentive, Congress included
billions in funding for conversion of local electoral
systems. Faced with the need to upgrade technology and
some federal largesse, some states, like Maryland, and
some counties, like Snohomish here in Washington,
decided to convert completely to touch-screen polling
places. As a result, more than 20 percent of American
voters will use touch-screen machines in this year's
presidential election, according to Election Data
Services, a D.C. consultancy.

Voting on a touch screen is like using a bank's
automatic teller machine. There is one vital
difference, however: The voting machine does not give
you a paper receipt. The absence of a paper trail has
alarmed a variety of people, including some of the
nation's most renowned computer scientists. Their
bottom line? These machines could be hacked. The
solution? An auditable, voter-verified paper trail.


For Harris, this all started with a search of the
Internet during her lunch hour. She was cruising, a left-wing Web site, when she
noticed an article by Lynn Landes. Since she was still
sore about the Florida machinations of the 2000
presidential race, the article's scathing critique of
computer voting piqued Harris' interest.

She decided to do some research. She learned that Sen.
Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., had an ownership share in
Election Systems & Software (ES&S), whose Web site
brags that its equipment counted 56 percent of the
nation's votes in each of the past four presidential
elections. Moreover, ES&S voting machines count all
the votes in Hagel's home state of Nebraska, except in
those counties that tally ballots by hand. While there
is nothing illegal about the senator's stake in the
company, it didn't seem right to Harris. When she
posted the information about the situation on her Web
site, she promptly received a cease-and-desist order
from ES&S lawyers. She e-mailed the cease-and-desist
order to 3,000 of her media contacts. Then she thought
she'd better tell her husband, Sonny Dudley, who is
African American. She says he framed the issue in
terms of civil rights. "'My people died for the right
to vote,' he boomed. 'I will vote for who I want and
no one's gonna stop me,'" she recalls in her book.

The issue doesn't seem so dramatic to LouAnn Linehan,
Sen. Hagel's chief of staff. She says Hagel has never
tried to hide his ties to ES&S and that Harris' claims
about the senator run from "inaccurate" to
"outrageous." Says ES&S spokesperson Megan McCormick:
"Misinformation and inaccuracies were posted on Bev
Harris' Web site. Because of the extent of the
misinformation, ES&S expressed through an outside
attorney its concern and requested correction."

While untangling the specifics of this debate would
take an entire article, there's no doubt that jousting
with ES&S and Hagel got Harris hooked on the topic.
Although she couldn't interest mainstream publishers
in the subject, David Allen, a former systems engineer
turned comic-book publisher, became intrigued with her
research. Soon, Harris had a contract with Allen's
Plan Nine Publishing for the company's first non-comic

Publisher Allen's technical expertise proved to be
vitally important. He urged Harris to get a copy of a
technical manual for an electronic voting machine.
Harris started surfing the Web. On Jan. 23, 2003, she
hit the mother lode. On an unprotected Web site, she
found 40,000 files of Diebold Election Systems' source
code—the guts of software to run touch-screen voting
machines. At first, Harris wasn't sure what all the
weird files were, so she called Allen and directed him
to the site. What are we looking at? she asked.
"Incredible stupidity," he replied.


Diebold is an Ohio-based company with more than $2
billion in annual revenue that was founded in 1859 and
makes ATMs and security systems, among other things.
In 2002, Diebold got into the election business when
it bought Global Election Systems. Diebold is a
relatively small player in the industry, with only
33,000 of its voting stations in use across the
country, but it is coming on strong. In 2002, Diebold
landed a $54 million contract from Georgia that
included 19,000 new voting machines. The following
year, Maryland signed a $55.6 million contract for
11,000 new machines.

Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia are the big three companies
making electronic voting machines. All of them refuse
to let outside observers examine their software,
citing proprietary and security concerns.

Harris' discovery represented the first opportunity
for the wider world to glimpse the internal workings
of the machines that are playing a key role in our
democracy. After a little soul searching, Harris
downloaded the Diebold software files. It took 44
hours, and they filled seven CDs. By July 2003, after
months of informal review and discussion among her
friends and allies, Harris decided to allow Scoop, an
"unfiltered" news Web site in New Zealand
(, to make the files available
to anyone who wanted them. It wasn't a decision she
made lightly. "I knew I had something that could
provoke a constitutional crisis," she says. She hoped
that some computer science professors would take an

COMPUTER SCIENTISTS were already hotly debating the
issue. Stanford University's David Dill became
interested in computer voting when the state of
Georgia had technical problems with its new voting
machines in 2002. When Dill discovered his own county,
Santa Clara in California, was about to start using
electronic voting machines without paper output, he
swung into action. Dill started an online petition
calling for a paper trail that attracted some of the
nation's premier computer scientists. He put up a Web
site that eventually became and
began speaking out about the issue around the country.

Harris' instincts about posting the source code proved
to be dead-on. Four computer scientists from
Maryland's prestigious Johns Hopkins University
examined the code and released a scathing review of
it. "Our analysis shows that this voting system is far
below even the most minimal security standards
applicable in other contexts," their report stated.

While the Hopkins review did not cause political
pandemonium, it did validate Harris' gut feelings
about electronic voting—our votes were not secure
because the software recording them was vulnerable to
hacking. The report also attracted major media
attention across the country.

Diebold spokesperson David Bear says, "Electronic
voting is safe, secure, and accurate." Bear says the
code that Harris found on the Internet was partial and
outdated. In addition, Bear points out, the software
is not used in a vacuum. Election officials use a
variety of checks and balances with any system that
they employ to ensure its security.

After the Hopkins report, the state of Maryland had a
couple of consultants review the touch-screen machines
and the way they will be deployed in elections. The
consultants made some recommendations to increase
security, but Maryland is proceeding with the
elections using the Diebold equipment.

Touch-screen voting in the Washington, D.C.,
presidential primary in January: like an automated
teller machine—but without the printed receipt.
(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)


Harris, however, was not done with Diebold. Last Sept.
5, someone leaked 15,000 internal Diebold memos to
Harris. She says she published 24 of them on her own
PR Web site and was promptly hit with a
cease-and-desist letter from Diebold. Soon, all 15,000
of the memos were circulating on the Internet.
Independent media sites around the world and students
at more than 30 universities posted them. Diebold
tried to stop the postings by claiming copyright on
the memos and found itself entangled in a free-speech
battle. Eventually, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio,
posted them on his congressional Web site. Diebold
recognized that Kucinich held a trump card and
withdrew its objections to the postings.

Sadly, the memos themselves have not been the subject
of any thorough analysis. They are mostly e-mails from
Diebold employees and are full of phrases that sound
bad but are hard to understand without technical
expertise and context.

Diebold's Bear says, "Those were internal discussions
between individuals, not the sentiments of the

HARRIS THINKS the memos contain important revelations.
Perhaps the most important, she argues, is that there
is widespread use of uncertified software for voting
machines of all kinds. Whether we vote on the new
touch-screen system or the optical-scan paper ballots
in use in King County and elsewhere, computer software
counts our ballots. Harris believes a strict
certification process where federal and state
officials carefully test the election software is
central to voting security. Without proper
certification, she worries that improper code that
would allow for the manipulation of election results
might be introduced into the system.

By last Nov. 21, Kevin Shelley, California's secretary
of state, had heard enough. He issued an order that
all touch- screen voting machines include "an
accessible voter verified paper audit trail."
(Washington's Reed and Nevada's secretary of state,
Dean Heller, came out in favor of audit trails in
December.) The next month, Shelley commissioned an
audit into whether uncertified Diebold software was
being used in California's elections. Of the 17
California counties that used Diebold election
machines in the last election, Shelley's auditors
found, none was using software that had been properly
certified by the state. Diebold insists that the
changes made to the software are cosmetic. Shelley
says the company might lose the right to sell its
touch-screen machines in California.

All in all, 2003 was quite a year for Bev Harris. But
she insists she is just getting started.


In 2004, Harris and her allies have been working on
four new fronts: lobbying, public speaking,
litigation, and seeking public office.

At the start of this year's Washington Legislature,
there were two bills about issues related to
electronic voting. Harris and her ally, Linda Franz,
another voting activist, introduced one with the help
of legislators in both the House and the Senate. It
died a relatively quick death, however.

The other bill, introduced by Secretary of State Reed,
represented a big change in his position. Up until
December, Reed and his office had strongly resisted
any effort to require touch-screen voting machines to
have a voter-verified audit trail. Reed says that as
he toured the state talking with ordinary voters, he
realized there was a lot of anxiety about the new
electronic voting. He has seen this phenomenon before,
he says, when other new voting technology—like the
optical scan paper ballot—was introduced. "It was
one thing to hear from a few people on the Internet,"
he says, "but we found ordinary citizens didn't trust
these machines."

Harris and her allies, however, are furious opponents
of Reed's bill. They say it leaves the door open for
insecure Internet voting, takes too long to require a
paper trail with touch-screen voting machines, and has
an insufficient audit requirement and a host of other
ills. "You have a secretary of state that crafts
legislation that sounds good but doesn't deliver,"
says Franz.

Bev Harris’ right-hand man, Democrat Andy
Stephenson, is running for secretary of state,
challenging incumbent Republican Sam Reed with fiery
(Karen Steichen)

REED IS RELUCTANT to engage in a debate with Harris
and her allies. He says he hasn't seen their bill and
downplays the differences between himself and them. He
offers only the mildest criticism and says on the
whole their activism has been helpful. He does object
to the way they have verbally roughed up elections
officials like Snohomish County Auditor Bob
Terwilliger. "Bob has been on radio shows with Bev
Harris. I fortunately haven't had that experience," he
says, laughing.

As of Tuesday, March 9, the fate of Reed's legislation
was still up in the air.

Longtime voting-rights activist Janet Anderson
questions the wisdom of head-on, fierce opposition to
Reed and his bill by Harris and her allies. "The
secretary of state changed his position 180 degrees.
Instead of being supportive, they are making it clear
they don't trust him."

In fact, Harris' right-hand man is running against
Reed. Andy Stephenson met Harris through Democratic
Underground, a left-wing Web site
(, and they immediately
became close cohorts. Stephenson, 42, looks like a
shorter, stockier version of talk-show host Conan
O'Brien, and until recently he owned the Subway shop
on 15th Avenue on Seattle's Capitol Hill. As a former
telephone salesperson, he has skills that Harris
lacks: He's great on the phone or talking one-on-one
with people.

Stephenson is running a fiery campaign against Reed.
"The secretary of state is accountable to no one," he
charges. His campaign for elected office suffers from
a flaw common among impassioned rookies, however: He
believes his issue will be enough against seasoned
politicians like Reed and Democratic Party favorite
state Rep. Laura Ruderman, D-Kirkland, who have name
identification with voters and will raise much more
money and receive much more institutional support than
Stephenson will.

HARRIS HASN'T endorsed Stephenson because she doesn't
endorse candidates. But it's clear Harris likes him
and his tactics, which include filing a lawsuit
against Reed for allowing the use of uncertified
software in King County. The secretary of state's
office denies the charge. Meanwhile, Harris is a
plaintiff in a California lawsuit that seeks to end
use of Diebold equipment in that state. She and
Stephenson promise more lawsuits in other states,
including Washington.

The partisan, rancorous nature of Stephenson's
campaign concerns veteran activist Anderson. "I don't
like it when people start speaking in partisan terms,
because we all want honest, safe, secure elections. To
turn it into partisan name-calling turns off half the

At a recent forum, Stephenson, who is charming tête-
-tête, looked extremely uncomfortable while making an
awkward stump speech. As if to emphasize the protest
nature of his candidacy, he endorsed dark-horse
presidential candidate Kucinich.


Harris, on the other hand, is a marvelous speaker. As
a PR professional, she knows how to present her
material in a personable, funny way. She hopes to use
public speaking tours as another weapon in her arsenal
and took her act on the road to California this month.

The tone of Harris' rhetoric disturbs Anderson. "Bev
Harris is a little more conspiracy-oriented than I
tend to be. I don't believe this is a huge Republican
plot to steal elections," she says. "Maybe the whole
matter would have been taken more seriously earlier
had not the highly partisan charges been made so

That kind of criticism angers Harris. But there's no
doubt some of her claims have lacked substantiation.
Near the end of Black Box Voting, she writes: "There
are some who are using election-manipulation
techniques to transfer a block of power to their
friends. This is a business plan, a form of organized
crime. . . . " Yet Harris rejects any claim she is a
conspiracy theorist. "I understand the needs of the
press in terms of documentation and not overstating
your case," she says, and she has worked to scale back
the hype in her writing.

Yet at a recent forum at the University of Washington,
the more outrageous Harris' rhetoric got, the more the
audience loved it. One key to Harris' success has been
her in-your-face style. That characteristic, which
brought early success, might not resonate with
everyone. She isn't confident of victory in any case.
"Actually, it is going to be a long shot that we will
win this battle on voting machines," Harris says. "We
have proven our case, but they are still just
barreling ahead."



Copyright 1997-2004, Seattle Weekly and Village
Voice Media. All rights reserved.

Posted by richard at March 10, 2004 10:37 AM