Finally, the MSM discovers the potential for electoral fraud

Monday, October 23, 2006 at 04:45 PM

My wife goes apoplectic when the subject of voting integrity comes up.  How in the f'ing world, she wonders loudly, can the Democrats and the media simply continue to ignore such a serious problem with the fundamental activity on which our democracy rests? Well, ABC News finally reports that Electronic voting machines could skew elections.  Better late than never, right?  But, as usual, the report deals only with a piece--though obviously a crucial piece--of the overall problem.

Excerpt from ABC:

Electronic voting machines could skew elections


Oct. 22, 2006 -- Cheryl Kagan, a former Maryland Democratic legislator, was shocked when she opened her mail Wednesday morning.

Inside, she discovered three computer discs. With them was an anonymous letter saying the discs contained the secret source code for vote-counting that could be used to alter the votes cast through Maryland's new electronic voting machines.

"My understanding is that with these disks a malicious person could skew the outcome of an election," Kagan said.

Diebold, the company that makes the voting machines, told ABC News, "These discs do not alter the security of the Diebold touch-screen system in any way," because election workers can set their own passwords.

But ABC News has obtained an independent report commissioned by the state of Maryland and conducted by Science Applications International Corporation revealing that the original Diebold factory passwords are still being used on many voting machines.

The SAIC study also shows myriad other security flaws, including administrative over-ride passwords that cannot be changed by local officials but can be used by hackers or those who have seen the discs.

The report further states that one of the high risks to the system comes if operating code discs are lost, stolen or seen by unauthorized parties -- precisely what seems to have occurred with the discs sent to Kagan, who worries that the incident indicates the secret source code is not that difficult to obtain.

"Certainly, just tweaking a few votes in a couple of states could radically change the outcome of our policies for the coming year," she said.

Yes, hacking and overt manipulation of vote totals is a serious threat to voting integrity.  But it's far from the only threat, and it doesn't even touch on the racial angle of vote manipulation in the 21st century.  Check out this United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) statement on the correlation between racial male-up of a precinct and the percentage of ballots not counted for some reason ("spoilage") in Chapter 8 of Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election


The Governor's Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology stated in its March 2001 report that error--or "spoilage"--rates in Florida's November 2000 election varied widely by type of voting system. The report concluded:

In statewide or national elections, when different kinds of voting systems with different error rates are used, every voter does NOT have the same chance to have his or her vote counted accurately.

The task force continued that "[u]sing different systems with different `spoilage' rates for voters in the same statewide or national elections creates substantial questions about equal protection."

The available statistical evidence indicates that Florida voters in poorer, predominantly people of color communities were more likely to use voting systems with higher spoilage rates--meaning those voters had a lower chance of having their votes counted accurately. For example, Gadsden County, which used an optical central tabulation system, had a spoilage rate of 12.4 percent. Just on the other side of the Ochlockonee River, in Leon County, which used an optical precinct tabulation system, the spoilage rate was only 0.18 percent.

Gadsden County had the highest spoilage rate in the state. In addition to being rural and poor, it is also approximately 63 percent African American--the only county in the state with an African American majority. On November 7, approximately one in eight Gadsden County voters was effectively disenfranchised. Leon County, on the other hand, which is approximately 28 percent African American, had the lowest spoilage rate in the state. It is the home of the prosperous state capital and two state universities. There, fewer than two votes in 1,000 were not counted.

Other studies show a similar relationship between race and discounted votes.

What this leaves out is what Greg Palast reports in Chapter 3 of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: In Leon County, the scanners were set so that mismarked ballots would be rejected by the machine, allowing voters to correct the ballot and get their vote counted; in Gadsden County, the machines were set to simply keep the mismarked ballot and not count it.  As Palast says:

Make one wrong mark on your ballot in Gadsden and your ballot disappears into the machine--it will not be counted.  For example, some voters had checked off and written in the name "Al Gore"--yet their vote did not count for Gore.

The flip or non-flip of a single switch and spoilage rates go up and down.  No indication to voters in Precinct A that their votes are less likely to be counted than those of voters in Precinct B so there's no complaint.  In fact, when the machines are set to keep mismarked ballots but not count them, the voters have absolutely no way of knowing that their ballot is not being counted.

Talk about a complaint-proof system of suppressing the vote!

The simple fact is, the introduction of electronic devices to voting, whether they be touch-screen machines or electronic ballot scanners, has geometrically multiplied the ways in which votes can be stolen, deleted, added, or otherwise manipulated.  The story that Greg Palast relates about his unsuccessful efforts to get the American media interested in the story of the Florida fiasco of 2000 clearly supports my wife's opinion that America and American media just really haven't cared much about these complicated but crucial stories.

The story was published prominently in England, but not here.  Even though the story was published in England, and readily available to anyone who knows how to use the internet, it was ignored in America except for the blogs.  And even after some American blogs picked it up, the story did not become the firestorm produced by such juicier but far less important subjects as, say, Jeff Gannon in the press room.

From allocation of voting machines among a state's precincts, to the phony list of felons prepared by the state of Florida, to setting optical scanners to keep mismarked ballots but not count them, to the possibility that any electronic voting apparatus can be accessed and its vote totals altered without anyone knowing, to subtle games with the rules for provisional ballots, we have got a PROBLEM, and it should scare the hell out of all of us, regardless of political party or political views.

Palast, by the way, has documentary evidence that Florida asked the company that prepared the felon list not to bother crosschecking the names to identify erroneous entries.  And still Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris continued to serve as highly paid "civil servants."  They sure weren't servants of the public and, if you remember how close the Republicans came to overt thuggery in Florida in 2000, they weren't very civil, either.