November 30, 2005
-- by Dave Johnson
Suppose you could get every bug out of every program that runs every company's electronic voting machines. Suppose you can make sure that there is no way a technician has installed new chips the day before the election. Suppose you can absolutely guarantee that no hacker can get into the system. Suppose you can show me every line of the code from the machine AND prove to me that is the same code that is in every machine on election day. Suppose you find a way to assure me that every official, employee, etc. that comes into contact with any machine is not corrupt. Suppose that the disk drive and memory in the machine could be manufactured in a way that it never, ever dropped a bit. Suppose there were a way to safely transmit the results from every machine to the county's vote tabulator without possibility of error or compromise. And the suppose you can guarantee all of the SAME conditions for the country's vote tabulator machines.
When all of that is done there is still a problem. You still can not prove that the voting machine correctly recorded the way I voted. You can not prove this because there is no method for proving it -- no way to double check.
I'm supposed to touch a screen and then just trust that the machine correctly records my vote. Right.
Suppose that every computer expert in the world decided that the machines were beyond any possibility whatsoever of being tampered with. (Set aside for a minute that it is the computer experts - the people who understand computers - who are sounding the warnings about the possibility of fraud from these machines.) And suppose that every politician, every authority figure, every credible organization declared that these machines are beyond question. Suppose that even every "fringe conspiracy nut" in the world issued forth with assurances that the machines accurately recorded votes.
There is still a problem. You still can not prove that the voting machine correctly recorded the way I voted. You can not prove this because there is no method for proving it. There is no way to double-check.
There is no way to prove that the votes were accurately recorded. Even if you ask every single person how they voted and compare that to the results, there is no way to prove they told you the truth.
So if even one person accused that the election was fraudulent, there would be no way to prove that it was not. And that necessarily brings into question the legitimacy of the election - at least for that one person.
Now, suppose that after the voter touches the screen and finishes voting the voting machine prints a paper ballot. The voter takes that paper ballot out of the voting booth, inspects it, decides that the ballot shows the same votes as the voter intended it to show and drops it into a ballot box. This changes everything. It no longer matters if a technician changed the chips in the machine the day before the election, or a hacker altered the software, or the source code was compromised, or a politician or employee was corrupted. It no longer matters if the information from the machine is correctly transmitted or the county tabulator functions correctly. It no longer matters because there is a way to double-check the results and prove to everyone that the election returns are accurate.
It is so simple. Why is it so difficult make this the standard in a country that is supposed to be the beacon of democracy and legitimacy?
But it's more than just that. Why would anyone think to make a machine that didn't provide a way to prove that the results are accurate in the first place? Why would a voting machine company think that there would be an election official anywhere who would not laugh them out of their office if they tried to sell such a machine? And why would a voting machine company actively resist the additional revenue they would receive from selling the printers?
And, finally, why would one political party's leadership actively resist efforts to provide voting machines that can be trusted?
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Thank you for this article. You make it clear why electronic voting is not trustworthy, why we need paper, and why we need audits. States have not yet defined what a truly robust audit is. Most of the codes were written for paper ballots, and are not consistent with the possibility that wholesale vote tampering is possible using electronic systems. And, election codes do not provide recourse for the voter whose right has been violated, only those candidates who choose to challenge the results. These two problems must be addressed.
I would add, sadly, that the partisan nature of this issue is NOT confined to one party: both the states of OH and NM have blocked investigations of their voting practices. It's the dirty secret. But, let's give credit where credit is due: the Greens started it, and it is the Democratic Party members and leaders who have been more active in exposing the problems, changing the laws, and who have moved to make this issue one of national importance. The media gets an F.
Posted by: clilienstein at December 1, 2005 9:11 AM
OK. I'll take that challenge. Take a look at my DailyKos diary on this subject. This lays out a computerized voting technology that would be a) cost affordable, and (most importantly) b) transparent. In that vote fraud by any party is detectable by another party.
Posted by: Brian Hurt at December 5, 2005 8:10 PM
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