|19 Feb 2004 @ 08:01, by Gili Chupak|
I received this email and thanks to vaxen's comment on my previous article I was inspired to post this...
First of all, please forgive me for taking up space in your inbox when I
don't know you. Don't worry: I will never contact you again unless you
choose to reply to my message. I hate spam as much as you do, and I
would never do this if something very important wasn't at stake. My name is Anna--yes, an actual human being is sending this, not a machine--and I've put hours of work into creating and manually sending out this letter
because there's something I believe you and all Americans have a right
Our right to fair elections is in danger.
Right now, in over half of all US states, elections are run by private
corporations which control the electronic voting machines that have
replaced physical paper ballots. These corporations have little or no
accountability—election officials aren't even allowed to examine the
machines in depth or check the source codes of the programs which count
our votes! As more than one expert has pointed out, slot machines are
Needless to say, the possibility of accident or fraud is enormous. If
we don't act soon, the presidential election next year may make the one in
2000 look like a walk in the park.
Please read the article below for more information, then see the end of
this email for instructions on how to take action.
The following article, slightly condensed, originally appeared in the
Hightower Lowdown, a publication put out by Texas Congressman Jim
Hightower. Please note that while you may or may not agree with Mr.
Hightower's politics, his facts have been independently verified.
WHO'S COUNTING OUR VOTES? By Jim Hightower
Welcome to WallyWorld. In the futuristic Land of Wally, elections take
place in cyberspace, and the voting process has been privatized. Indeed,
voting machines themselves are owned and tightly controlled by a small
group of for-profit corporations. These corporate machines "count" the
votes and issue a cyber-tally to declare the winner. The inner workings
of the machinery are a corporate secret—public election officials are
barred from examining the computer code to see if any flaws (or fraud) have been programmed into the system. Even in cases where recounts are ordered, only the corporate owners get to peek inside the computers' innards.
In other words, in this magical land, the keys to the kingdom have been
turned over to private electioneering firms. Mere voters are simply
expected to "trust" the system... and to moo contentedly as they move
through the corporate polling booths.
But WallyWorld is no fable. It's all too real, and the place where it's
happening is right here in the U.S. of A., where 30 states have already
turned over the people's balloting to a handful of these proprietary,
profit-seeking interests that reek with conflicts of interest.
Meet Wally O'Dell. He is CEO of Diebold, Inc., an ATM-maker that has
moved aggressively into what is now known as the electronic-voting industry. Diebold has rapidly become the second-largest purveyor of "touch-screen" voting machines. Already, over 33,000 of Wally's computers have been installed in polling places across the country. This is interesting for two big reasons: 1) Diebold keeps having "incidents" with its machinery,
leading to a growing concern that the company is losing, or even stealing, large numbers of our votes; and 2) Wally himself, a Republican, is rabidly partisan.
How partisan is O'Dell? In August, he was a guest at George W.'s
ranchette down in Crawford, Texas, where he and several other of Bush's fund-raising "Rangers" had a private tête-à-tête with the prez to discuss how each of them would raise $200,000 or more to keep him in the White House.
So excited was Wally to be part of Bush's team that he went home to Ohio
and promptly sent out letters to his wealthy associates declaring that
he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the
president next year." He then invited them to attend a $10,000-a-plate Bush fundraiser at Cotswold Manor, his mansion in Columbus.
One day after this solicitation hit the mail, Ohio's Republican
Secretary of State moved to qualify Wally's Diebold to sell its electronic-voting machines to the state's county officials.
You don't need Karl Malden's nose to smell this stinker. What we have
here is a politically biased corporation raising big bucks for the guy whose
votes the corporation will be counting. As Mark Twain said, "The
difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable."
Unbelievably, the fact is that our country is rushing pell-mell to the
corporatization of our most basic democratic exercise: voting.
What wrong turn did our leaders take from America's straight and true
path of democracy to lead us into this fine fix? Initially, it looked like a
sensible idea. After the hanging-chad debacle of the 2000 presidential
election in Florida, spooked national, state, and local officials were
scrambling for a way to reform the voting system.
Out of the darkness stepped the most unlikely of caped crusaders:
corporations. Whispering the magic word "computers," corporate lobbyists
swarmed Capitol Hill with promises that high-tech was the path to true
reform, since electronic voting has no chads to hang and, in fact, no
paper of any kind to "clog" the machinery of democracy. Thus was born
HAVA--the Help America Vote Act. It requires states to replace
mechanical voting machines with touch-screen systems.
Besides Wally, here are some of the big players who are cashing in on
this government-fed boondoggle:
Election Systems and Software: The largest seller of computerized voting
systems in the country, ES&S counts Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel (R) as
its former top exec. ES&S is a subsidiary of the McCarthy Group Inc., a
merchant-banking company based in Omaha. It's headed by Michael McCarthy, who (coincidentally) serves as Hagel's campaign treasurer. The senator continues to hold some $5 million worth of stock in the McCarthy
Group—yes, the company that counts Hagel's votes in each of his
Science Applications International Corporation: A major Pentagon
contractor, SAIC is now drawing big bucks as a technology consultant to
the corporations and governments behind the electronic-voting gold rush.
SAIC has had numerous legal problems with its performance on various
government jobs, including being charged with fabricating tests, civil
fraud, and making false claims—not exactly the reputation you'd want for
an entity with a big hand America's election process.
Speaking of Pentagon contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman are also in the game and have lobbied forcefully for HAVA, as did computer giant EDS and offshore financial schemer Accenture (the spawn of disgraced accounting giant Arthur Andersen, of Enron infamy.)
Accenture, which boasts that it is not a U.S. firm but a world
corporation headquartered in Bermuda, is one of two foreign outfits that have already gained a piece of America's electronic-voting pie. The other is Sequoia, owned by England's DeLaRue corporation and now the third-largest provider of computerized voting systems in the U.S.
These new election barons proclaim that computer technology is secure,
accurate, and certified by the authorities, so don't go worrying your
little heads about stuff that's none of your business anyway. We're
Do we look like we just fell off a turnip truck? First, computers
inevitably and routinely are filled with programming errors and flaws;
they seem to crash about as often as they run smoothly; and they are
frequently attacked by hackers, viruses, worms, and other malevolent
To quote Verifiedvoting.org, an organization of concerned computer
engineers and programmers: "With these paperless machines, there is
nothing that can stop a determined group from achieving large-scale
election theft. We see no reason why major problems will not occur,
including obviously messed-up elections [and] election of incorrect
Second, it is simply a lie that the corporate systems are subject to
rigorous oversight by state or county election officials. Authorities
are not allowed to look at the secret source code, much less examine it line
by line to find little glitches and switches that could upend a vote. A
number of credible technology labs have quit certifying voting machines
because outfits like Diebold and ES&S would not let them make a detailed
examination of the code.
BEV STARTS TO DIG
Bev Harris of Renton, WA, a former investigative reporter, got
interested in the issue when she read an article that questioned the corporate ownership of these voting machines. In January, she stumbled onto a mother lode of information—an open Diebold website that contained 40,000 files of source code and user manuals for its machines.
A Diebold vice president later said that posting this sensitive
information on a publicly accessible site was "a huge mistake." Yes, it
was, for Bev's discovery led to an expert analysis by four computer
scientists at Rice and Johns Hopkins Universities. Their study revealed
stunning flaws in the company's system:
**An individual with a minimum of computer knowledge could gain access
to a machine on election day, see the ongoing tally, and terminate further
voting on that machine.
**With a homemade smart card, one could cast multiple votes.
**With a regular phone line, one could tap into the machine and view the
The academic researchers are not alone in their criticism. In a separate
study, SAIC, the industry's own top consulting firm, found 328 different
security weaknesses—26 of them critical—In Diebold machines being sold
to the state of Maryland. SAIC reported that the system was "at high risk
of compromise" due to software flaws, leaving the voting system open to
hackers and fraud.
Flaws and fraud are not merely theoretical concerns. Though it has
received precious little mass-media coverage, these machines have
already been producing all sorts of "incidents," including these:
In 2002, the Peach State had six big upsets of Democrats by Republicans,
including in the U.S. Senate race, where incumbent Max Cleland had a big
lead in the polls but surprisingly was upended by the GOP's Saxby
The statewide vote was cast on 22,000 Diebold machines. Just before the
election, Diebold reportedly applied software "patches" to all of these
machines, purportedly to fix a problem with the computers crashing. The
patches were said to have been "certified" by election officials by
phone—with no actual examination of what the patches did.
Diebold honchos later said that they had investigated themselves
and—surprise!—found they had done nothing to mess with the system.
Bev, however, later discovered that Diebold had disposed of all of the
memory cards from these touch-screen machines. "You keep paper ballots
for 22 months," she notes, "and they're an awful lot bulkier than those
credit-card-size memory cards, but for some reason they felt compelled
to get rid of them all."
Running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last year, Reno
noted some unusual outcomes on election day. In South Florida precincts, where she was strong, the ES&S voting machines were inexplicably recording no votes in the governor's race. In some polling places where there were over 1,000 votes cast in other races, there were no votes for governor.
ES&S later sent "data extraction technicians," who "found" some votes.
Was this the actual count? Officials don't know; it was ES&S that
certified the count. Reno lost by less than 5,000 votes out of 1.3
**The San Luis Obispo "Oops"
It is illegal for anyone to count, or even see, vote totals before the
polls close. But on March 5th last year, at 3:31 p.m. on election day in
this California city, Diebold's machines in 57 precincts simultaneously
"called home" to corporate headquarters and reported the mid-afternoon
tally, which then went up on a Diebold website—in plenty of time for
interested partisans to mobilize their voters.
PROBLEMS ARE ROUNTINE
**In a Washington, Florida city runoff election, the winner beat his
opponent by only four votes, but 78 electronic ballots were blank.
Election officials refused to blame the machines, asserting that these
78 voters apparently came to the polls and then chose not to vote.
**In Middlesex County, New Jersey, a Sequoia machine was taken out of
service after 65 votes had been cast without registering a choice for
either of the candidates. Yet Sequoia blamed the voters, again
maintaining that people were coming to the polls and not voting.
**In Canal County, Texas, three Republican candidates experienced an
astonishing coincidence when the electronic voting machines declared
them victors in their respective races by the exact same margin of 18,181
**Then there's our friend Chuck Hagel, who first won a U.S. Senate Seat
in 1996 in a big upset, including his winning in majority black precincts
that had never voted Republican—all recorded on machines owned by ES&S, the company he headed before running for the Senate.
ATTACK THE MESSENGER
Ticked off that Bev had published their internal memos on the Internet,
[Diebold] had their lawyers send a cease-and-desist letter—which,
ironically, authenticated the memos and laid corporate claim to them,
asserting that they were copyrighted documents.
[Bev] recently revealed a most interesting secret meeting of a panicked
electronic-voting industry. It was an insider teleconference that Bev's
colleague, David Allen, learned about and boldly dialed into without
being questioned. The invitees included Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia, and other
Ironically, the meeting was led by Doug Lewis, head of the Election
Center. The Election Center is a private firm that also doubles as the
quasi-regulator of the industry, supposedly overseeing the integrity of
the machines while also coordinating affairs between the vendors and
state election officials, which makes Lewis the perfect embodiment of "voluntary regulation."
The purpose of the meeting was to create a PR front to counter the
rising public outcry against voting privatization. Allen reports that Lewis
asked the members to cough up $200,000 to fund a PR and congressional-lobbying campaign to refute any and all who question electronic voting. Allen's notes (see www.blackboxvoting.org) include Lewis saying, "Of course, we'll have to put some distance between the Election Center and this lobbying once it gets going."
WHAT TO DO?
Amazingly, there's a simple solution to all this: Require a
voter-verifiable paper trail of every vote in every election.
This is hardly techno-wizardry. Just as your ATM prints out a receipt of
your withdrawal, so can voting machines give us an auditable paper trail
of our votes.
Here are the steps: You vote on a touch-screen system; the machine
prints a paper ballot of how you voted; you verify on the touch screen that theballot is correct; you then turn in your print-out to election officials;
they put it directly in a lock-box, which they must hold for at least a
year. Thus the actual votes are there so the election can be physically
reconstituted in case there is a recount or charges of fraud.
One more thing: The computer code cannot be held as a corporate secret.
This is not the code for some video game, for heaven's sake, but for our
country's democratic electoral process! A copy of the code used for each
machine in each election must be given to public election officials for
their independent analysis before, during, and after every election.
The good news is that there is a bill that embodies all of the above: H.R.
2239, the Voter Confidence Act, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt and some 40
other members of Congress. (Since this article was published, an
identical companion bill, S. 1980, has been introduced in the Senate, and the number of co-sponsors has risen to 102.) Also, the technology already exists to provide voter-verifiable audit trails, so there's no reason this can't
be done quickly.
Martin Luther King III and author Greg Palast have launched an online
petition drive to deluge Congress with demands that voting machines
leave a paper trail, as provided in Holt's bill. Sign up and zap it to
others—and let's yank our public elections out of the clutches of
So there you have it. The aforementioned petition is here:
However, while signing it is certainly helpful, it isn't enough. Your
members of Congress need to hear from you directly. To get their names
and contact information, just go to www.congress.org and enter your zip code.
Please call, write, or email your Senators and Representative as soon as
possible. You can send a pre-written generic letter here
([link]), but if you
write your own it will have much more impact. You don't have to be
dazzlingly eloquent—just express your concern and ask them to co-sponsor the Voter Confidence Act. It will take only a few minutes and be well worth the effort.
NOTE: When you do this, make sure to specify that the problems must be
fixed BEFORE THIS YEAR'S ELECTION. Amazingly, some lawmakers say we
should indeed make sure votes are counted properly—but not until 2006!
And remember, even if the faulty machines are still in place this
November, you DON'T have to trust them with your vote—just send in an
Please pass this on to as many people as possible—conservative, liberal,
Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, independent, or whatever. Even
in these politically polarized times, the right to fair elections should
be something We The People can all agree on.
For more information, visit www.blackboxvoting.org,
or read "Broken Machine Politics" by Paul O'Donnell in the January 2004
issue of Wired magazine.
P.S. In case you were wondering, I am a concerned citizen from rural
North Carolina, and am not affiliated with any organization.