7.28.2005

what are they hiding?

From Black Box Voting:
Jim March, a member of the Black Box Voting board of directors, was arrested Tuesday evening for trying to observe the Diebold central tabulator (vote tallying machine) as the votes were being counted in San Diego's mayoral election (July 26).

According to Jim Hamilton, an elections integrity advocate from San Diego, he and March visited the office of the registrar of elections earlier in the day. During this visit, March made two requests, which were refused by Mikel Haas, the San Diego
Registrar of elections.

1) March asked that the central tabulator, the computer that tallies up the votes from all the precincts, be positioned so that citizens could observe it. According to Hamilton, this would have required simply moving a table a few feet.

2) March also asked for a copy of the ".gbf" files -- the vote tally files collected during the course of tabulation – to be provided for examination after the election.

During the tallying of the election, the Diebold computer was positioned too far away for citizens to read the screen. Citizens could not watch error messages, or even perceive significant anomalies or malfunctions.

Unable to see the screen, March went into the office where the tabulator was housed. Two deputies followed him and escorted him out.

According to Hamilton: "He was not belligerent, not at all. After he went inside the tabulator room he came [was escorted] out and he said clearly 'I’m not resisting.' They handcuffed him, took him out of the building. They put him in a squad car.
They’re going to take him to the police station, book him and take him to jail," said Hamilton. "He’s getting charged with a felony, 'interfering with an election official.'"

March's actions are the culmination of two years of increasing frustration with the refusal of election officials to respond to security deficiencies in the voting machines. The software that tallies the votes in San Diego is made by Diebold Election Systems, a company that has already paid the state of California $2.8 million for making false claims, due to a lawsuit filed by March and Black Box Voting founder Bev Harris.

On July 4, a report was released by European computer security expert Harri Hursti, revealing that the Diebold voting system contains profound architectural flaws. "It is open for business," says Hursti, who demonstrated the flaws on Leon County, Florida Diebold machines. He penetrated the voting system in less than five minutes, manipulating vote reports in a way that was undetectable.

Despite the critical security alert issued by Hursti, San Diego County sent 713 voting machines home with poll workers, increasing the risk that the "memory cards" housed in the machines could be hacked, and removing the argument that "inside access" was carefully safeguarded.

The arrest of Jim March underlines a fundamental problem facing Americans today as, increasingly, they lose the ability to monitor, verify, or watch any part of the counting process.

The San Diego registrar of elections knew of the security flaws in the voting system. Diebold has never denied the vulnerability identified in Hursti's report, found at http://www.blackboxvoting.org/BBVreport.pdf.

Despite knowledge of the increased risks, Haas made the decision to create additional vulnerability by sending the machines home with hundreds of poll workers.

While San Diego officials will no doubt point to a small seal on the compartment housing the memory card (the component exploited in Hursti’s study), Black Box Voting has interviewed a former San Diego poll worker, who reported that all that is necessary to dislodge and then reaffix the seal is a small pair of pliers.

IN A NUTSHELL:

- The machines have been demonstrated to be vulnerable to undetected tampering
- The San Diego registrar of voters chose not to take appropriate precautions
- The main tally machine was placed in a location that was impossible for citizens to observe
- Many voting integrity advocates have come to believe that voting machine reform now rivals the urgency of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Jim March acted on those beliefs.
Of course San Diego is a tiny piece of an intricate puzzle. In the newest Harper's, Mark Cripsin Miller writes about the 2004 election: "None Dare Call It Fraud". I haven't read it yet, so more to follow.

15 comments:

James said...

You'll be pleased to know we use a voting system up here that's so much more sophisticated than Diebold's touch-screen system that it can actually guarantee that the votes counted in a recount are identical to the ones counted the first time: pencil and paper. And we get our election results pretty promptly, too.

Why *does* the US insist on using elaborate voting devices?

L-girl said...

Oh yeah, I've been blogging about vote fixing for a long time, so I'm well schooled in the Canadian system.

Why *does* the US insist on using elaborate voting devices?

That's easy: vote fixing.

The companies that make and service the electronic voting equipment contribute heavily to the Republican party. Because of the electoral college system, and because voting regulations are made at the county and state level, you fiddle with a county here and there, you throw off a whole state - fiddle with a few states, you throw the election.

For more info, see Black Box Voting.

L-girl said...

Electronic voting is also a huge boondoggle for Diebold. Even if the vote is fair - big if - it constitutes a giant involuntary gift from the taxpayers to industry, courtesy of industry ties to government.

RobfromAlberta said...

Keep in mind, when Canadians go to the polls, we only vote for one candidate, be it our provincial MLA or our federal MP. If we had to vote for everything from president to dogcatcher with a couple propositions thrown in for good measure, we would probably have a few voting irregularities of our own.

James said...

"That's easy: vote fixing."

But I don't mean just this latest round of Diebold stuff. There are also the punch-card ballots, the lever-machines, etc, etc -- and some of those have been around for decades.

"Keep in mind, when Canadians go to the polls, we only vote for one candidate, be it our provincial MLA or our federal MP."

Last time I voted municipally, I had a number of positions I had to vote for: MPP, school board, Catholic school board (optional), etc. Still no problems.

RobfromAlberta said...

Municipal elections are different. Very few people bother to vote (15 to 25% is typical in Canada) and those that do are usually better informed because they are motivated.

L-girl said...

But I don't mean just this latest round of Diebold stuff. There are also the punch-card ballots, the lever-machines, etc, etc -- and some of those have been around for decades.

Oh, I see what you mean. I've always voted with lever machines, so I never thought of them as elaborate or difficult. I've never had a problem voting, never waited on line an excessive amount of time, etc. The machines are old, but the mechanics are simple, and they work.

I don't know why levers and punch cards are preferred to marking a piece of paper with an X. In areas with large populations, it probably started out as an improvement - a time-saver, and removing the human error factor in counting - and then mushroomed out of control.

Lone Primate said...

Municipal elections are different. Very few people bother to vote (15 to 25% is typical in Canada) and those that do are usually better informed because they are motivated.

That doesn't seem germane to the point you were making, which seemed to me to be that more elective positions equates to more electoral fraud. I don't think that follows, and I believe that was what James was pointing out. Your reply doesn't address that. What does a smaller, better-informed turn-out have to do with fudging election results?

James said...

"I don't know why levers and punch cards are preferred to marking a piece of paper with an X. In areas with large populations, it probably started out as an improvement - a time-saver, and removing the human error factor in counting - and then mushroomed out of control."

The population size doesn't actually matter much: if you have 10x the population, you also have 10x the number of polling stations and 10x the number of counters going over the ballots.

In 2001, MIT did a study that showed that hand-counting was the most accurate of the five systems used in the previous four Presidential elections. ATM-style voting machines, such as Diebold's, were the least accurate.

RobfromAlberta said...

What does a smaller, better-informed turn-out have to do with fudging election results?

I wasn't actually talking about voting fraud, the term I used was voting irregularities, in other words, mistakes. When your vote counters only have one X to look for, chances are they'll get it right. But, if there are 20 different things being voted on and a hundred candidates on the ballot, the likelihood of an error increases dramatically.

Now, in a municipal election, there are proportionally fewer ballots to count because proportionally fewer people vote. The vote counters can take more time to count the ballots and accuracy improves.

Wrye said...

Well, i like our system, and having worked as a poll clerk a couple of times, there's nothing as exhilarating as watching the votes get counted.

I sympathize with the histtorical traditions, but it makes little sense to me to have local, state and federal elections simultaneously. And--am I wrong here? Are US elections not overseen by an independent government body? I seem to get the impression that the system is riddled with partisan employees rather than civil servants. How on earth can that be healthy?

L-girl said...

In 2001, MIT did a study that showed that hand-counting was the most accurate of the five systems used in the previous four Presidential elections. ATM-style voting machines, such as Diebold's, were the least accurate.

*sigh*

How about ATMs where you don't even get a receipt? Who would use such a system? And then they cry bloody murder when people demand something as basic as a paper trail.

Are US elections not overseen by an independent government body?

Nothing like Elections Canada (am I getting that name right?).

I seem to get the impression that the system is riddled with partisan employees rather than civil servants. How on earth can that be healthy?

Your impression is correct. And it can't be.

The election officials are supposed to be impartial, but they are political appointees who often owe their jobs to patronage.

Madness!

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James said...

"Now, in a municipal election, there are proportionally fewer ballots to count because proportionally fewer people vote. The vote counters can take more time to count the ballots and accuracy improves."

But that's easy to fix: in elections with larger turnouts, use more vote counters.

James said...

"How about ATMs where you don't even get a receipt? Who would use such a system? And then they cry bloody murder when people demand something as basic as a paper trail."

What was really funny about this was that Diebold insisted that adding a paper receipt system wouldn't be cost-effective.

This excuse doesn't hold up when you realize that just about *every other thing* Diebold makes comes with a paper receipt system: ATMs, cash registers, desktop calculators, etc.