Patriots for Truth Hypocrisy Digest

Friday, November 05, 2004

It should be illegal for the workings of voting machines to be secret.

I've been saying it for a long time and it should go without saying. The following is the text that accompanies the above picture in my Naked Truths book. (It makes a great gift!)

Warren O'Dell, CEO of Diebold Corporation, claimed he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." This is notable because Diebold is the manufacturer of electronic voting machines slated to replace many punch card systems in the coming years.

Diebold's system does not provide a hard copy of the ballot for the voter to verify the vote was recorded correctly and to create a paper trail in the case of a recount.

What is most frightening is that the workings of Diebold?s voting machines are considered proprietary. That is to say, no one not employed by Diebold is allowed to see the software that makes the machines appear to count votes. Presumably, this is because if someone outside the company saw how the machine worked, they could copy the software and make their own voting machines.

Now let's be clear. These machines record and count votes. The technology for doing that has been around for at least a few thousand years and is well known to the average fifth grader. I can think of no honest reason why the workings of Diebold's machines should not be presented to the public let alone the precincts in which they are employed.
It's interesting because there have been a bevy of people complaining quite loudly about the lack of paper trail on the touch screen systems. To my mind this is the secondary problem to the secrecy inherent in the machines.

Kathy Dopp is doing an interesting investigation of the Florida results. She wanted to see if more votes were recorded for Bush on machines with no paper trails than on their counterparts that involve a hard copy. She assumed that in a fairly run election, she could expect people to vote for their candidate roughly in proportion to the amount of registered voters for that candidate's party. (i.e. if 45% of the voters are registered Republicans and 45% are registered Democrats, then Bush should get 45% of the vote and Kerry should get 45%. Though both candidates would get a boost in a close election like this one from independent and third party voters, so the split would be closer to 50/50.) She gathered all the data from each of the counties in Florida and looked to see if the touchscreen systems showed a greater shift than the other systems in the state (they are all optical scan systems).

What she found was startling. The touch screen systems showed small randomly distributed shifts, but about half of counties using optical scan systems from three different vendors showed huge unexpected shifts towards Bush, a total of around 400,000 votes!

All these systems have paper trails, but those paper trails may never be recounted because the margin of victory was so large. Ironically, the way the system is now, if you're going to cheat, it pays to cheat big. The larger the margin of victory the less likely a recount is.

Open Source Voting Machines

The solution to the problem presented by the proprietary software voting machines is open source voting machines. There are two (that I know of) groups working towards creating open source voting machines in the US, the Open Voting Consortium and the Open Vote Foundation. I don't know if these groups overlap or collaborate or compete, but both are good groups and deserve your support. (Since the election is over, proceeds from the sale of Naked Truths will go to support these two groups, until a better cause comes along.) Also, neither group is well ranked in Google so a Google bomb is in order, if you can spare a line or two in your blog using words and phrases such as open voting, open source voting, voting without corporations, voting machines, fair voting machines, open fair voting machines, open elections, etc.

The notion behind Open Source Voting Machines is that the software is created by a group of people and anyone can read or modify the code. How can that be secure, you may ask. Well, anyone who doubts the validity of the voting machine can always check the code against the established code maintained on the consortia' websites. Linux, the most secure operating system on the planet, is completely open source. Australia has been using open source voting machines for several years with great success. American politicians have an aversion to using foreign voting machines, (despite using several foreign proprietary systems around the country including right here in San Mateo) so the two US consortia are trying to fill the gap.

In addition to using free software, the voting machines will run on very low end PCs, the type you might donate to a school. (In fact, they suggest donating the systems after an election to schools and getting newer ones at the next elections.) They would use touch screens or other data entry devices, and print out ballots on standard laser printers, which will then be read by a scanner attached to a counting computer and a lockbox to hold the ballot.

The machines would be nearly free and would always be up to date. The software would be as secure as the most secure software can be, and programmers will always be trying to break it to make it better.

Most importantly, there would never be a question as to whether Warren O'Dell or his compatriots are making good on their promises.

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