black-box voting vs closed minds

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing has an eye-opening post about a source-code leak at Sequoia, a company that makes electronic vote-rigging voting machines used in the US. His information comes from the Election Defense Alliance, whose goal is to "review and improve voting system technology and operations". They've set up a Wiki for easier examination: Sequoia Study.

Apparently the code doesn't show a definitive smoking gun, but it might point to areas of questions and concerns. Isn't that what we could expect? In any complex and controversial investigation, evidence is generally found in bits and pieces which, taken together, present a picture from which logical inferences are drawn. If people are waiting for a signed confession - "I, Dick Cheney, planned, authorized and paid for the results of the 2004 election" - then they'll never be satisfied. Which may be their intention.

What I found most interesting at the BoingBoing post were the comments. I'm amazed that intelligent people are still writing off US election fraud with that convenient, catch-all slur: conspiracy theory. As if conspiracies don't exist. As if we shouldn't concern ourselves with trivialities like fair elections. As if asking why private, for-profit companies should own proprietary code that counts votes with no independent oversight is to be a paranoid Luddite living in a Montana cabin or an internet geek living in mommy's basement. Or, as one commenter suggests, is it that a Democrat in the White House makes it all okay?

A huge percentage of the comments take Doctorow to task for what they see as a sensational headline, not borne out by the story. Perhaps that's a fair criticism and the headline is an unnecessary bit of sensationalism. Or perhaps readers should understand that headlines are eye-catching devices, and articles say what they say. Or perhaps people shouldn't obsess on a headline, especially in light of Doctorow's impressive body of work, but it's easier to take pot-shots at a headline than to think about rigged US elections. Or the headline was convenient for diversionary tactics, and if the headline wasn't there, diversion-trolls would find something else to pick on.

But commenters dismissing the possibility of US election fraud! That I find simply mind-boggling. They must realize that Doctorow, and indeed the EDA, is not implying that this one scrap of information is definitive evidence. Is it wilful ignorance? Knee-jerk denial? Simple disagree-with-everything trolling?

These sample comments don't reflect the general tone of the comments on this piece; it was much more negative. I just found these interesting.
Anonymous | October 21, 2009 1:45 AM

Please tell me somebody's going to get the death penalty over this.

pelrun | October 21, 2009 1:49 AM

Careful about jumping to conclusions here - "influence the logical flow of the election" just means there appears to be code for the election machine in the SQL statements (against federal laws prohibiting interpreted code). As yet there isn't any evidence of vote rigging.

Anonymous | October 21, 2009 2:22 AM


I'm sorry, but what. the. fuck.

Every minutae of the process should be wide open to public scrutiny. It should be put into law that any machine that is directly used to determine our president should not have an ounce of closed source code in it.

yish | October 21, 2009 2:28 AM

Are you listening, Karzai? We told you you should go for mechanised voting. but no, you wanted hand counting. now look where that got you!

siliconsunset | October 21, 2009 6:58 AM

Story about Yahoo! hiring strippers... 58 posts.

Story about the machines that effect the leaders of our government... 5 posts.

And we wonder why these things are allowed to happen? No one really seems to care!

Anonymous | October 21, 2009 7:50 AM

"The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything." -Joseph Stalin

Chrs | October 21, 2009 7:52 AM

Looking forward to actual analysis of this code. I appreciate the heads up that it's out there.

TheNewModern | October 21, 2009 8:10 AM

Please remember Occam's Razor. "Election-rigging" is a far cry from the evidence here or elsewhere.

Personally, with the birthers, truthers, and anti-vaxxers, I've grown extremely weary of conspiracy thinking. I don't want to see more of it at this wonderful website.

Anonymous | October 21, 2009 12:35 PM

If you look at the way elections are done, the voting machine's don't get the say, the electoral college does. For the conspiracy theorists out there, isn't that conspiracy enough, and for the sheep. Gov't's have been rigging elections since it became profitable, like when taxes were invented (you know way before everything else, and if you read douglas adams i believe they've been around since before the dawn of man ;) lol). [There's much more, but I won't subject you to it. I had trouble getting past "machine's".]

Thebes | October 21, 2009 3:42 PM

Love all the vote-theft apologists... Yes, go back to sleep, its all a "conspiracy theory" and at least "our man" in in the Whitehouse now so its cool.

AirPillo | October 21, 2009 5:19 PM

Please don't be so sensationalist and conclusive with headlines.

News is a living, breathing thing. I can think of several times lately where further evidence in the case you are mentioning with a very bold headline has surfaced and made that headline factually false.

I know you're too busy a person to carefully redact and edit every post that infers things that turn out to be wrong... so perhaps just be more careful with hyperbole?

Genuinely outraging news is easy to water down when it comes from a source who has a problem with attaching emphatics and outrage and hyperbole to things which turn out to be quite benign. That's the sort of road that leads to tabloid-style writing.

Anonymous | October 21, 2009 5:58 PM

I would think the question mark in the headline would be enough for people to conclude that maybe Cory was not stating a fact, but I guess that's too subtle for all the budding journalists here. Cut him some slack or go away.

A sensationalist headline with a question mark! Horrors! This can't possibly be true! After all, machines don't fix elections, people do.

Thanks to James for the heads-up on the post.


freezemarked said...

I've been pretty amazed by this phenomenon, myself. The most common response I've gotten when I've blogged about voting machines -- and issues like poor districts being given too few voting stations and rich districts too many, causing situations where people were waiting all day to vote -- is "Oh, there are problems like this every time there's an election." As if that statement -- true or not -- makes everything okay. It's like saying, "Oh, all of our other elections were rigged, it's no big deal." "Oh, black people don't usually get equal chances to vote anyway, it's nothing new." Well, I'm sure that's true, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be working to change it.

And good lord, the electoral college. Nobody understands it. I kind of wish it hadn't even come up with that Bush v Gore election because now people use it to excuse all sorts of voting evils. Like it doesn't matter how anybody votes or whether there's election fraud because "the electoral college casts the real votes anyway." ARGH!

BTW, I found this blog because I love Canada, want to move to Canada, and am finally working on making that happen. I have no idea how I'd ever get $10,000 together, but once I'm across the border it'll make a nice down payment on a property! :D

M@ said...

Some conspiracy theories are very difficult to are pretty easy to ignore, like the faked moon landings one. There's mountains of evidence that it happened -- people saw the Apollo rocket take off, thousands of people worked on the massive ten-year program to do it, it wasn't a one-off thing, the space program is still staggering on. The evidence for conspiracy is spotty, circumstantial, second-hand, and often transparently wrong.

Whereas with the 2004 vote fraud, there are numerous kinds of evidence that the fraud happened. People who put the unauthorized code "fixes" in place have come forward. There were many, many anomalies with the voting patterns, found in many, many independent studies. There was plenty of opportunity for the fraud to happen because the code for counting the votes is not public domain. Evidence points towards, not away from, vote fixing.

But considering evidence is such hard work! Better to just ignore it. What's on TV?

L-girl said...

Freezemarked, thanks for your excellent comment! I hope this blog is helpful to you in your efforts to get to Canada. Good luck!!

M@, good point. The problem is this big bag labeled "conspiracy theory," into which we can throw anything we don't want to think about, or is not in our interests, and in the process smear the messenger.

I hate the faked moon landing piece just for that reason - although I know if it wasn't that, it would be something else.

impudent strumpet said...

The Onion on the moon landing.

The Onion on voting machines.

L-girl said...

The Onion never lies! (Thanks Imp Strump)

redsock said...

Nation's Morons March On Washington State
October 21, 2009

With random cries of "Enough is enough," "Do something now," and "Huh?" thousands of the nation's biggest morons descended on Washington State this week, some 3,000 miles from their intended destination of the nation's capital. ...

While authorities maintained that the gathering was largely peaceful and most of the fires were set purely by accident, demonstrators appeared visibly angry about a range of topics, including war, peace, food, music, money, baseball, cars, the people following them around as if this were some kind of rally, siblings, animals, plants, colors, and movies. ...

Throughout the day, the number of protesters grew to include not just morons, but more than 6,000 nimrods, 3,500 dunderheads, and approximately 12,000 of the biggest fucking dipshits known to man. ...

"Anyway, stop the war! No more hate! Swine flu! Iran! Pharmaceutical companies! Illegal immigrants! Never again!"


deang said...

I'm amazed that intelligent people are still writing off US election fraud with that convenient, catch-all slur: conspiracy theory.

I question their intelligence if they're more concerned with rocking the boat than with finding out the truth about things. I've seen people initially interested in this issue turn against it once they learned that their peers considered it an off-limits topic akin to belief in Bigfoot. These are the same sort of people who still believe that Nader caused Bush to win the 2000 election, even though all evidence says otherwise.

L-girl said...

Closing line of that Onion story:

Clearly moved by the marchers' plight, both houses of the United States Congress announced Wednesday they had begun work on a $3 trillion piece of legislation that would completely overhaul the nation's education system.

L-girl said...

I've seen people initially interested in this issue turn against it once they learned that their peers considered it an off-limits topic akin to belief in Bigfoot.

That's a sad commentary.

* * * *

I'm on a tangent roll today. One of my favourite episodes of Futurama is a hunt for Bigfoot, who Fry fervently believes in. The crew ventures into "Duraflame National Forest" - the sign written in the familiar National Parks/Forest typeface. I just love that.

John F said...

I'm a computer technician, and I'm very, very glad that Canada does not use voting machines! I feel much safer knowing that a box of boring old paper ballots are being counted by my neighbours.