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Re: Tom DeLay Ambushes Texas -- And America
by Tim Jones
27 October 2003 14:52 UTC
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At 1:37 PM +0100 10/26/03, Thomas Juli wrote:
Some of these Republicans are fanatics who undermine democracy.  Where
should this end?  Who is going to stop them?  There is something growing
bad in the heartland of America which will be becoming a national and
international concern.

Thomas Juli, Ph.D.

To say the least.

Another element in the republican strategy to usurp democracy
in America and establish one party corporate rule is described below.
The republicans under George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and
their neocon / Christian fanatic backers are intent to create a
fascist state - staying in power by fomenting continuing wars
of aggrandizement abroad under the smoke screen of a world
wide war on terror.

This is rather long, but is a good discussion of the dangers of
electronic voting machines with no voter-verifiable audit trail.

Tim Jones



All the President's votes?

by Andrew Gumbel

14 October 2003

Something very odd happened in the mid-term elections in Georgia last
November. On the eve of the vote, opinion polls showed Roy Barnes, the
incumbent Democratic governor, leading by between nine and 11 points. In a
somewhat closer, keenly watched Senate race, polls indicated that Max
Cleland, the popular Democrat up for re-election, was ahead by two to five
points against his Republican challenger, Saxby Chambliss.

Those figures were more or less what political experts would have expected
in state with a long tradition of electing Democrats to statewide office.
But then the results came in, and all of Georgia appeared to have been
turned upside down. Barnes lost the governorship to the Republican, Sonny
Perdue, 46 per cent to 51 per cent, a swing of as much as 16 percentage
points from the last opinion polls. Cleland lost to Chambliss 46 per cent
to 53, a last-minute swing of 9 to 12 points.

Red-faced opinion pollsters suddenly had a lot of explaining to do and
launched internal investigations. Political analysts credited the upset -
part of a pattern of Republican successes around the country - to a huge
campaigning push by President Bush in the final days of the race. They also
said that Roy Barnes had lost because of a surge of "angry white men"
punishing him for eradicating all but a vestige of the old confederate
symbol from the state flag.

But something about these explanations did not make sense, and they have
made even less sense over time. When the Georgia secretary of state's
office published its demographic breakdown of the election earlier this
year, it turned out there was no surge of angry white men; in fact, the
only subgroup showing even a modest increase in turnout was black women.

There were also big, puzzling swings in partisan loyalties in different
parts of the state. In 58 counties, the vote was broadly in line with the
primary election. In 27 counties in Republican-dominated north Georgia,
however, Max Cleland unaccountably scored 14 percentage points higher than
he had in the primaries. And in 74 counties in the Democrat south, Saxby
Chambliss garnered a whopping 22 points more for the Republicans than the
party as a whole had won less than three months earlier.

Now, weird things like this do occasionally occur in elections, and the
figures, on their own, are not proof of anything except statistical
anomalies worthy of further study. But in Georgia there was an extra reason
to be suspicious. Last November, the state became the first in the country
to conduct an election entirely with touchscreen voting machines, after
lavishing $54m (£33m) on a new system that promised to deliver the
securest, most up-to-date, most voter-friendly election in the history of
the republic. The machines, however, turned out to be anything but
reliable. With academic studies showing the Georgia touchscreens to be
poorly programmed, full of security holes and prone to tampering, and with
thousands of similar machines from different companies being introduced at
high speed across the country, computer voting may, in fact, be US
democracy's own 21st-century nightmare.

In many Georgia counties last November, the machines froze up, causing long
delays as technicians tried to reboot them. In heavily Democratic Fulton
County, in downtown Atlanta, 67 memory cards from the voting machines went
missing, delaying certification of the results there for 10 days. In
neighbouring DeKalb County, 10 memory cards were unaccounted for; they were
later recovered from terminals that had supposedly broken down and been
taken out of service.

It is still unclear exactly how results from these missing cards were
tabulated, or if they were counted at all. And we will probably never know,
for a highly disturbing reason. The vote count was not conducted by state
elections officials, but by the private company that sold Georgia the
voting machines in the first place, under a strict trade-secrecy contract
that made it not only difficult but actually illegal - on pain of stiff
criminal penalties - for the state to touch the equipment or examine the
proprietary software to ensure the machines worked properly. There was not
even a paper trail to follow up. The machines were fitted with thermal
printing devices that could theoretically provide a written record of
voters' choices, but these were not activated. Consequently, recounts were
impossible. Had Diebold Inc, the manufacturer, been asked to review the
votes, all it could have done was programme the computers to spit out the
same data as before, flawed or not.

Astonishingly, these are the terms under which America's top three computer
voting machine manufacturers - Diebold, Sequoia and Election Systems and
Software (ES&S) - have sold their products to election officials around the
country. Far from questioning the need for rigid trade secrecy and the
absence of a paper record, secretaries of state and their technical
advisers - anxious to banish memories of the hanging chad fiasco and other
associated disasters in the 2000 presidential recount in Florida - have,
for the most part, welcomed the touchscreen voting machines as a
technological miracle solution.

Georgia was not the only state last November to see big last-minute swings
in voting patterns. There were others in Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois and
New Hampshire - all in races that had been flagged as key partisan
battlegrounds, and all won by the Republican Party. Again, this was widely
attributed to the campaigning efforts of President Bush and the
demoralisation of a Democratic Party too timid to speak out against the
looming war in Iraq.

Strangely, however, the pollsters made no comparable howlers in lower-key
races whose outcome was not seriously contested. Another anomaly, perhaps.
What, then, is one to make of the fact that the owners of the three major
computer voting machines are all prominent Republican Party donors? Or of a
recent political fund-raising letter written to Ohio Republicans by Walden
O'Dell, Diebold's chief executive, in which he said he was "committed to
helping Ohio to deliver its electoral votes to the president next year" -
even as his company was bidding for the contract on the state's new voting

Alarmed and suspicious, a group of Georgia citizens began to look into last
November's election to see whether there was any chance the results might
have been deliberately or accidentally manipulated. Their research proved
unexpectedly, and disturbingly, fruitful.

First, they wanted to know if the software had undergone adequate checking.
Under state and federal law, all voting machinery and component parts must
be certified before use in an election. So an Atlanta graphic designer
called Denis Wright wrote to the secretary of state's office for a copy of
the certification letter. Clifford Tatum, assistant director of legal
affairs for the election division, wrote back: "We have determined that no
records exist in the Secretary of State's office regarding a certification
letter from the lab certifying the version of software used on Election
Day." Mr Tatum said it was possible the relevant documents were with Gary
Powell, an official at the Georgia Technology Authority, so campaigners
wrote to him as well. Mr Powell responded he was "not sure what you mean by
the words 'please provide written certification documents' ".

"If the machines were not certified, then right there the election was
illegal," Mr Wright says. The secretary of state's office has yet to
demonstrate anything to the contrary. The investigating citizens then
considered the nature of the software itself. Shortly after the election, a
Diebold technician called Rob Behler came forward and reported that, when
the machines were about to be shipped to Georgia polling stations in the
summer of 2002, they performed so erratically that their software had to be
amended with a last-minute "patch". Instead of being transmitted via disk -
a potentially time-consuming process, especially since its author was in
Canada, not Georgia - the patch was posted, along with the entire election
software package, on an open-access FTP, or file transfer protocol site, on
the internet.

That, according to computer experts, was a violation of the most basic of
security precautions, opening all sorts of possibilities for the
introduction of rogue or malicious code. At the same time, however, it gave
campaigners a golden opportunity to circumvent Diebold's own secrecy
demands and see exactly how the system worked. Roxanne Jekot, a computer
programmer with 20 years' experience, and an occasional teacher at Lanier
Technical College northeast of Atlanta, did a line-by-line review and found
"enough to stand your hair on end".

"There were security holes all over it," she says, "from the most basic
display of the ballot on the screen all the way through the operating
system." Although the programme was designed to be run on the Windows 2000
NT operating system, which has numerous safeguards to keep out intruders,
Ms Jekot found it worked just fine on the much less secure Windows 98; the
2000 NT security features were, as she put it, "nullified".

Also embedded in the software were the comments of the programmers working
on it. One described what he and his colleagues had just done as "a gross
hack". Elsewhere was the remark: "This doesn't really work." "Not a
confidence builder, would you say?" Ms Jekot says. "They were operating in
panic mode, cobbling together something that would work for the moment,
knowing that at some point they would have to go back to figure out how to
make it work more permanently." She found some of the code downright
suspect - for example, an overtly meaningless instruction to divide the
number of write-in votes by 1. "From a logical standpoint there is
absolutely no reason to do that," she says. "It raises an immediate red

Mostly, though, she was struck by the shoddiness of much of the
programming. "I really expected to have some difficulty reviewing the
source code because it would be at a higher level than I am accustomed to,"
she says. "In fact, a lot of this stuff looked like the homework my
first-year students might have turned in." Diebold had no specific comment
on Ms Jekot's interpretations, offering only a blanket caution about the
complexity of election systems "often not well understood by individuals
with little real-world experience".

But Ms Jekot was not the only one to examine the Diebold software and find
it lacking. In July, a group of researchers from the Information Security
Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore discovered what they
called "stunning flaws". These included putting the password in the source
code, a basic security no-no; manipulating the voter smart-card function so
one person could cast more than one vote; and other loopholes that could
theoretically allow voters' ballot choices to be altered without their
knowledge, either on the spot or by remote access.

Diebold issued a detailed response, saying that the Johns Hopkins report
was riddled with false assumptions, inadequate information and "a multitude
of false conclusions". Substantially similar findings, however, were made
in a follow-up study on behalf of the state of Maryland, in which a group
of computer security experts catalogued 328 software flaws, 26 of them
critical, putting the whole system "at high risk of compromise". "If these
vulnerabilities are exploited, significant impact could occur on the
accuracy, integrity, and availability of election results," their report

Ever since the Johns Hopkins study, Diebold has sought to explain away the
open FTP file as an old, incomplete version of its election package. The
claim cannot be independently verified, because of the trade-secrecy
agreement, and not everyone is buying it. "It is documented throughout the
code who changed what and when. We have the history of this programme from
1996 to 2002," Ms Jekot says. "I have no doubt this is the software used in
the elections." Diebold now says it has upgraded its encryption and
password features - but only on its Maryland machines.

A key security question concerned compatibility with Microsoft Windows, and
Ms Jekot says just three programmers, all of them senior Diebold
executives, were involved in this aspect of the system. One of these,
Diebold's vice-president of research and development, Talbot Iredale, wrote
an e-mail in April 2002 - later obtained by the campaigners - making it
clear that he wanted to shield the operating system from Wylie Labs, an
independent testing agency involved in the early certification process.

The reason that emerges from the e-mail is that he wanted to make the
software compatible with WinCE 3.0, an operating system used for handhelds
and PDAs; in other words, a system that could be manipulated from a remote
location. "We do not want Wyle [sic] reviewing and certifying the operating
systems," the e-mail reads. "Therefore can we keep to a minimum the
references to the WinCE 3.0 operating system."

In an earlier intercepted e-mail, this one from Ken Clark in Diebold's
research and development department, the company explained upfront to
another independent testing lab that the supposedly secure software system
could be accessed without a password, and its contents easily changed using
the Microsoft Access programme. Mr Clark says he had considered putting in
a password requirement to stop dealers and customers doing "stupid things",
but that the easy access had often "got people out of a bind".
Astonishingly, the representative from the independent testing lab did not
see anything wrong with this and granted certification to the part of the
software programme she was inspecting - a pattern of lackadaisical
oversight that was replicated all the way to the top of the political chain
of command in Georgia, and in many other parts of the country.

Diebold has not contested the authenticity of the e-mails, now openly
accessible on the internet. However, Diebold did caution that, as the
e-mails were taken from a Diebold Election systems website in March 2003 by
an illegal hack, the nature of the information stolen could have been
revised or manipulated.

There are two reasons why the United States is rushing to overhaul its
voting systems. The first is the Florida débâcle in the Bush-Gore election;
no state wants to be the centre of that kind of attention again. And the
second is the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), signed by President Bush last
October, which promises an unprecedented $3.9bn (£2.3bn) to the states to
replace their old punchcard-and-lever machines. However, enthusiasm for the
new technology seems to be motivated as much by a bureaucratic love of
spending as by a love of democratic accountability. According to Rebecca
Mercuri, a research fellow at Harvard's John F Kennedy School of Government
and a specialist in voting systems, the shockingly high error rate of
punchcard machines (3-5 per cent in Florida in 2000) has been known to
people in the elections business for years. It was only after it became
public knowledge in the last presidential election that anybody felt moved
to do anything about it.

The problem is, computer touchscreen machines and other so-called DRE
(direct recording electronic) systems are significantly less reliable than
punchcards, irrespective of their vulnerability to interference. In a
series of research papers for the Voting Technology Project, a joint
venture of the prestigious Massachussetts and California Institutes of
Technology, DREs were found to be among the worst performing systems. No
method, the MIT/CalTech study conceded, worked more reliably than
hand-counting paper ballots - an option that US electoral officials seem to
consider hopelessly antiquated, or at least impractical in elections
combining multiple local, state and national races for offices from
President down to dogcatcher.

The clear disadvantages and dangers associated with DREs have not deterred
state and county authorities from throwing themselves headlong into
touchscreen technology. More than 40,000 machines made by Diebold alone are
already in use in 37 states, and most are touchscreens. County after county
is poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on computer voting
before next spring's presidential primaries. "They say this is the
direction they have to go in to have fair elections, but the rush to go
towards computerisation is very dubious," Dr Mercuri says. "One has to
wonder why this is going on, because the way it is set up it takes away the
checks and balances we have in a democratic society. That's the whole point
of paper trails and recounts."

Anyone who has struggled with an interactive display in a museum knows how
dodgy touchscreens can be. If they don't freeze, they easily become
misaligned, which means they can record the wrong data. In Dallas, during
early voting before last November's election, people found that no matter
how often they tried to press a Democrat button, the Republican candidate's
name would light up. After a court hearing, Diebold agreed to take down 18
machines with apparent misalignment problems. "And those were the ones
where you could visually spot a problem," Dr Mercuri says. "What about what
you don't see? Just because your vote shows up on the screen for the
Democrats, how do you know it is registering inside the machine for the

Other problems have shown up periodically: machines that register zero
votes, or machines that indicate voters coming to the polling station but
not voting, even when a single race with just two candidates was on the
ballot. Dr Mercuri was part of a lawsuit in Palm Beach County in which she
and other plaintiffs tried to have a suspect Sequoia machine examined, only
to run up against the brick wall of the trade-secret agreement. "It makes
it really hard to show their product has been tampered with," she says, "if
it's a felony to inspect it."

As for the possibilities of foul play, Dr Mercuri says they are virtually
limitless. "There are literally hundreds of ways to do this," she says.
"There are hundreds of ways to embed a rogue series of commands into the
code and nobody would ever know because the nature of programming is so
complex. The numbers would all tally perfectly." Tampering with an election
could be something as simple as a "denial-of-service" attack, in which the
machines simply stop working for an extended period, deterring voters faced
with the prospect of long lines. Or it could be done with invasive computer
codes known in the trade by such nicknames as "Trojan horses" or "Easter
eggs". Detecting one of these, Dr Mercuri says, would be almost impossible
unless the investigator knew in advance it was there and how to trigger it.
Computer researcher Theresa Hommel, who is alarmed by touchscreen systems,
has constructed a simulated voting machine in which the same candidate
always wins, no matter what data you put in. She calls her model the
Fraud-o-matic, and it is available online at www.wheresthepaper.org.

It is not just touchscreens which are at risk from error or malicious
intrusion. Any computer system used to tabulate votes is vulnerable. An
optical scan of ballots in Scurry County, Texas, last November erroneously
declared a landslide victory for the Republican candidate for county
commissioner; a subsequent hand recount showed that the Democrat had in
fact won. In Comal County, Texas, a computerised optical scan found that
three different candidates had won their races with exactly 18,181 votes.
There was no recount or investigation, even though the coincidence, with
those recurring 1s and 8s, looked highly suspicious. In heavily Democrat
Broward County, Florida - which had switched to touchscreens in the wake of
the hanging chad furore - more than 100,000 votes were found to have gone
"missing" on election day. The votes were reinstated, but the glitch was
not adequately explained. One local official blamed it on a "minor software

Most suspect of all was the governor's race in Alabama, where the incumbent
Democrat, Don Siegelman, was initially declared the winner. Sometime after
midnight, when polling station observers and most staff had gone home, the
probate judge responsible for elections in rural Baldwin County suddenly
"discovered" that Mr Siegelman had been awarded 7,000 votes too many. In a
tight election, the change was enough to hand victory to his Republican
challenger, Bob Riley. County officials talked vaguely of a computer
tabulation error, or a lightning strike messing up the machines, but the
real reason was never ascertained because the state's Republican attorney
general refused to authorise a recount or any independent ballot

According to an analysis by James Gundlach, a sociology professor at Auburn
University in Alabama, the result in Baldwin County was full of wild
deviations from the statistical norms established both by this and
preceding elections. And he adds: "There is simply no way that electronic
vote counting can produce two sets of results without someone using
computer programmes in ways that were not intended. In other words, the
fact that two sets of results were reported is sufficient evidence in and
of itself that the vote tabulation process was compromised." Although talk
of voting fraud quickly subsided, Alabama has now amended its election laws
to make recounts mandatory in close races.

The possibility of flaws in the electoral process is not something that
gets discussed much in the United States. The attitude seems to be: we are
the greatest democracy in the world, so the system must be fair. That has
certainly been the prevailing view in Georgia, where even leading Democrats
- their prestige on the line for introducing touchscreen voting in the
first place - have fought tooth-and-nail to defend the integrity of the
system. In a phone interview, the head of the Georgia Technology Authority
who brought Diebold machines to the state, Larry Singer, blamed the growing
chorus of criticism on "fear of technology", despite the fact that many
prominent critics are themselves computer scientists. He says: "Are these
machines flawless? No. Would you have more confidence if they were
completely flawless? Yes. Is there such a thing as a flawless system? No."
Mr Singer, who left the GTA straight after the election and took a 50 per
cent pay cut to work for Sun Microsystems, insists that voters are more
likely to have their credit card information stolen by a busboy in a
restaurant than to have their vote compromised by touchscreen technology.

Voting machines are sold in the United States in much the same way as other
government contracts: through intensive lobbying, wining and dining. At a
recent national conference of clerks, election officials and treasurers in
Denver, attendees were treated to black-tie dinners and other perks,
including free expensive briefcases stamped with Sequoia's company logo
alongside the association's own symbol. Nobody in power seems to find this
worrying, any more than they worried when Sequoia's southern regional sales
manager, Phil Foster, was indicted in Louisiana a couple of years ago for
"conspiracy to commit money laundering and malfeasance". The charges were
dropped in exchange for his testimony against Louisiana's state
commissioner of elections. Similarly, last year, the Arkansas secretary of
state, Bill McCuen, pleaded guilty to taking bribes and kickbacks involving
a precursor company to ES&S; the voting machine company executive who
testified against him in exchange for immunity is now an ES&S

If much of the worry about vote-tampering is directed at the Republicans,
it is largely because the big three touchscreen companies are all big
Republican donors, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into party
coffers in the past few years. The ownership issue is, of course,
compounded by the lack of transparency. Or, as Dr Mercuri puts it: "If the
machines were independently verifiable, who would give a crap who owns
them?" As it is, fears that US democracy is being hijacked by corporate
interests are being fuelled by links between the big three and broader
business interests, as well as extremist organisations. Two of the early
backers of American Information Systems, a company later merged into ES&S,
are also prominent supporters of the Chalcedon Foundation, an organisation
that espouses theocratic governance according to a literal reading of the
Bible and advocates capital punishment for blasphemy and homosexuality.

The chief executive of American Information Systems in the early Nineties
was Chuck Hagel, who went on to run for elective office and became the
first Republican in 24 years to be elected to the Senate from Nebraska,
cheered on by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper which also happens to be a
big investor in ES&S. In yet another clamorous conflict of interest, 80 per
cent of Mr Hagel's winning votes - both in 1996 and again in 2002 -
were counted, under the usual terms of confidentiality, by his own company.

In theory, the federal government should be monitoring the transition to
computer technology and rooting out abuses. Under the Help America Vote
Act, the Bush administration is supposed to establish a sizeable oversight
committee, headed by two Democrats and two Republicans, as well as a
technical panel to determine standards for new voting machinery. The four
commission heads were supposed to have been in place by last February, but
so far just one has been appointed. The technical panel also remains
unconstituted, even though the new machines it is supposed to vet are
already being sold in large quantities - a state of affairs Dr Mercuri
denounces as "an abomination".

One of the conditions states have to fulfil to receive federal funding for
the new voting machines, meanwhile, is a consolidation of voter rolls at
state rather than county level. This provision sends a chill down the spine
of anyone who has studied how Florida consolidated its own voter rolls just
before the 2000 election, purging the names of tens of thousands of
eligible voters, most of them African Americans and most of them Democrats,
through misuse of an erroneous list of convicted felons commissioned by
Katherine Harris, the secretary of state doubling as George Bush's Florida
campaign manager. Despite a volley of lawsuits, the incorrect list was
still in operation in last November's mid-terms, raising all sorts of
questions about what other states might now do with their own voter rolls.
It is not that the Act's consolidation provision is in itself evidence of a
conspiracy to throw elections, but it does leave open that possibility.

Meanwhile, the administration has been pushing new voting technology of its
own to help overseas citizens and military personnel, both natural
Republican Party constituencies, to vote more easily over the internet.
Internet voting is notoriously insecure and open to abuse by just about
anyone with rudimentary hacking skills; just last January, an experiment in
internet voting in Toronto was scuppered by a Slammer worm attack.
Undeterred, the administration has gone ahead with its so-called SERVE
project for overseas voting, via a private consortium made up of major
defence contractors and a Saudi investment group. The contract for
overseeing internet voting in the 2004 presidential election was recently
awarded to Accenture, formerly part of the Arthur Andersen group (whose
accountancy branch, a major campaign contributor to President Bush,
imploded as a result of the Enron bankruptcy scandal).

Not everyone in the United States has fallen under the spell of the big
computer voting companies, and there are signs of growing wariness. Oregon
decided even before HAVA to conduct all its voting by mail. Wisconsin has
decided it wants nothing to do with touchscreen machines without a
verifiable paper trail, and New York is considering a similar injunction,
at least for its state assembly races. In California, a Stanford computer
science professor called David Dill is screaming from the rooftops on the
need for a paper trail in his state, so far without result. And a New
Jersey Congressman called Rush Holt has introduced a bill in the House of
Representatives, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act,
asking for much the same thing. Not everyone is heeding the warnings,
though. In Ohio, publication of the letter from Diebold's chief executive
promising to deliver the state to President Bush in 2004 has not deterred
the secretary of state - a Republican - from putting Diebold on a list of
preferred voting-machine vendors. Similarly, in Maryland, officials have
not taken the recent state-sponsored study identifying hundreds of flaws in
the Diebold software as any reason to change their plans to use Diebold
machines in March's presidential primary.

The question is whether the country will come to its senses before
elections start getting distorted or tampered with on such a scale that the
system becomes unmanageable. The sheer volume of money offered under HAVA
is unlikely to be forthcoming again in a hurry, so if things aren't done
right now it is doubtful the system can be fixed again for a long time.
"This is frightening, really frightening," says Dr Mercuri, and a growing
number of reasonable people are starting to agree with her. One such is
John Zogby, arguably the most reliable pollster in the United States, who
has freely admitted he "blew" last November's elections and does not
exclude the possibility that foul play was one of the factors knocking his
calculations off course. "We're ploughing into a brave new world here," he
says, "where there are so many variables aside from out-and-out corruption
that can change elections, especially in situations where the races are
close. We have machines that break down, or are tampered with, or are
simply misunderstood. It's a cause for great concern."

Roxanne Jekot, who has put much of her professional and personal life on
hold to work on the issue full time, puts it even more strongly. "Corporate
America is very close to running this country. The only thing that is
stopping them from taking total control are the pesky voters. That's why
there's such a drive to control the vote. What we're seeing is the
corporatisation of the last shred of democracy.

"I feel that unless we stop it here and stop it now," she says, "my kids
won't grow up to have a right to vote at all."

Bill Meacham - bmeacham@compuserve.com

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