Flawed Elections: US and Iran
The Right has been bashing President Obama for not calling the Iranian elections a fraud. Perhaps Obama understands that you can’t tell someone to fix a problem you haven’t first fixed in your own house.
American democracy is seriously at risk so long as many of our votes are counted solely by machines.
As electronic voting has moved into the U.S. (and other countries), the notion that a handful of people can swing entire elections is not just a fantasy; it is a definite possibility.
Once you move to all-digital records, you can never know for certain if the ballot you are examining is the one the voter actually cast. (For an excellent demonstration of electronic voting machine vulnerabilities, watch this video from Princeton.)
And the problem isn’t only the voting machines themselves, but the central tabulator, the machine on which the results from the individual machines votes are totaled.
It would be hard to rig hundreds of voting machines. But it would be quite simple to switch out the code on the single machine in the county that totals the votes from all the other machines.
When you cast your vote, how do you know your vote was properly recorded? Properly transmitted to the central tabulator? Properly reported from the central tabulator?
If we are being honest about this, we have to admit there’s no way we can know. We can trust, or not trust. But we can’t know.
Ironically, electronic voting was instituted in the wake of the 2000 presidential election in an effort to fix elections. The spectacle of publicly hand-counting the hanging, pregnant, swinging, and dimpled chad had become an international embarrassment, and Congress wanted to do better. Or so we were told.
Congress passed the “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA). HAVA added a requirement for electronic voting machines under the guise of helping the disabled community vote in privacy. The disabled community, unfamiliar with the numerous vulnerabilities of an all-digital system of voting, readily endorsed HAVA.
Now, some groups are starting to realize that the cure may have been worse than the disease. Because by requiring one voting machine in each voting district to be electronic, HAVA opened the door to Diebold (now Premiere Election Solutions) and other electronic voting vendors to sell large quantities of the machines to the states.
According to the data at VerifiedVoting.org, seven states cast their votes solely in digital form, with no paper record that can be audited or recounted. Several more use DREs that produce a paper ballot, but, as the University of Santa Barbara’s security team demonstrated, the paper printout from a DRE may not necessarily match what the voter intended, even if the voter saw the correct printout before he left the booth.
DREs can be programmed to wait a few seconds, void the ballot the voter had approved, and issue a new ballot with a different vote on it. (See Part 1
and Part 2 of UCSB’s security team’s video demonstrating this and other vote-altering scenarios on a Sequoia voting machine. See Part 2 at 3:15 minutes for this scenario.)
Because most people aren’t programmers, they don’t know what is possible. And because most people are basically decent people, it’s hard for them to imagine, much less believe, that anyone would deliberately try to swing an election in this manner.
But people have tried to steal elections for years. In some cases, they have succeeded.
Look at what happened in Florida in 2000. Had the recount in process continued, and had all the votes been counted, Gore would have won. (See Robert Parry’s articles “Gore’s Victory” and "So Bush Did Steal the White House" for details.)
We know this because we had voter-marked paper ballots that could be examined. Instead, the Supreme Court effectively “stole” the vote out from under us and put in office a man who came in second, according to the votes cast by the American people.
If all we had were an electronic summary of the votes, the only “recount” option would be to simply print out the election results again to see if they matched the original tally of results. And of course, they would match.
How would that have verified the count? It wouldn’t have. But people haven’t really thought this through, and so we’re stuck with digital voting.
And it’s about to get much worse. There’s a lobbying effort underway to promote Internet voting. Just as HAVA was sold as a way to help the disabled, this Trojan horse comes to us in the guise of helping the troops overseas vote.
For the record, it’s possible Internet voting could be made secure and accurate. But just because something is possible doesn’t make it probable.
Why have people stuffed ballot boxes, registered dead people, and tried numerous ways to swing outcomes throughout the history of elections? Because so much power is at stake.
All Internet voting does is make it that much easier for a very small number of people to do what used to require large teams of operatives.
Rep. Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, has been fighting to protect our vote for several sessions of Congress. He’s put forward a bill that requires that all votes be cast on paper using non-tabulating devices (a pen, a mechanical device) and that a relevant portion of the paper ballots be audited afterwards.
The audit is perhaps the most important part of the bill. There’s no point in having paper ballots if no one ever looks at them again.
If no one had checked the paper ballots in the Minnesota Senate race, Norm Coleman would be seated there now. The original tally put Coleman 477 votes ahead of Al Franken.
At the start of the hand recount, that margin dropped to 215. By the end of the hand recount, his lead was down to 192 votes. When challenged ballots were reviewed, Franken ended up in the lead by 251 votes. After additional reviews, Franken’s lead stands at 312.
Imagine how this would have played out if there was nothing to review except an electronic printout of summary vote information. There’s no way we’d have any idea who really won. There’d be nothing to recount.
Holt’s bill is the only bill that provides for a phasing out of all DRE machines, provides that the paper ballot is the legal ballot of record in a dispute, and provides a guaranteed audit on a sliding scale – the smaller the margin of victory, the larger the number of ballots that need to be audited by hand.
Congress has so much on its plate, all of it worthy. But really, is there anything more important in a democracy than first securing our vote?
Let’s not criticize Iran until we first get our own house in order.
Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era.
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