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If “Perception is Reality” what is Diebold Afraid of?
Recently a string of leaked e-mails has come to light that are creating panic amongst the executives of Diebold Election Systems. Diebold is the second largest, and fastest growing electronic voting corporation in the world, and produces touch screen voting stations used in 37 states in the country. Touch screen voting booths will sound familiar to many Californian voters because these were the same machines that were used throughout the state during the Oct. 7th Recall Election.
If “Perception is Reality” what is Diebold Afraid of?Recently a string of leaked e-mails has come to light that are creating panic amongst the executives of Diebold Election Systems. Diebold is the second largest, and fastest growing electronic voting corporation in the world, and produces touch screen voting stations used in 37 states in the country. Touch screen voting booths will sound familiar to many Californian voters because these were the same machines that were used throughout the state during the Oct. 7th Recall Election.
Diebold machines were also used in the Georgia 2002 general elections with disastrous results. Voters were helpless when they tried to pick their choice, but saw only the Republican candidate receiving the vote. There were also numerous problems with machines both missing and not working. Workers were censored from speaking with politicians who might oppose the political orientation of the Diebold management.
After the California recall elections officials worked around the clock trying to sort out problems with malfunctioning machines. There have also been problems with poorly trained employees. The Diebold employee manual specifically states that “you will be considered the paragon of knowledge and authority…even though you may be the least qualified person on site…do not promote your ignorance” It even goes on to tell employees not to “offer damaging opinions of our systems, even when their failings become obvious”.
A total of approximately 15,000 internal e-mails form a Diebold mailing list for technical support has been leaked and hosted on the website Blackboxvoting.org. Only days before the election Diebold lawyers forced the site down claiming that the memos were under their copyright, and that Harris, the owner of the site, was effectively stealing Diebold property. By doing this Diebold has acknowledged the validity of the e-mails. Recently the Bay Area Independent Media Center has also came under attack from Diebold for a post on it’s open publishing newswire. The host for the Bay Area Independent Media Center, Online Policy Group, received a cease and desist letter on October 10th where OPG is given 24 hours to remove the posting and the immediate comments that were added featuring mirror sites to the memos (a mirror web site is a copy of the original site in order for easier, faster and uninhibited access for users of the world wide web)
Comically, the author of the cease and desist letter, Ralph E. Jocke, representing Diebold, also comments on the success of the open publishing system employed by the Indymedia newswire, stating that a third mirror had been added by a user between the time the letter was drafted and the time it was sent to OPG.
Amongst the revelations within these memos is the lack of security against tampering within the program and, in fact, praise for security modifications by election officials in Washington state. The engineer, Clark, in one of his e-mails, addresses security concerns when he says “Jane (I think it was Jane) did some fancy footwork on the .mdb file in Gaston recently. I know our dealers do it. King County is famous for it. That's why we've never put a password on the file before.” After the leak of the memos King County election chief, Dean Logan, vowed to resolve security issues, and in fact limited employee access to voting machines prior to the day of election.
What’s the panic about?
What was revealed independently by both Beverly Harris (author of Black Box Voting, available online in pdf format here) and by the memos is a ridiculously easy way to tamper with the election results. Both sources clearly indicate that the audit reports of the computer that tallies the results from all of the touch screen results can be changed by an off-the-shelf version of Microsoft Access. With this the totals can be changed without a trace due to the easy access of the audit file. In fact, according to Harris a voting activist named Jim March has made a CD to illustrate how easily this is done and to use it as a lobbying device against the present system of electronic voting.
The leaked memos were sent out by an unknown insider to various websites and media organizations including Scoop Media, who hosted the 15,000 pieces of Diebold e-mail before it came underneath pressure from Diebold. Diebold has claimed ownership of the memos and has threatened to sue Scoop and other websites.
After the cease and desist letter sent to the web host of Indymedia, Open Publishing Group, the online free speech advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a press release discounting the validity of the efforts Diebold’s lawyers have been making in order to keep the controversial information secret. According to the EFF the Online Policy Group Executive Director Will Doherty has stated “We defend strongly the free speech right of our client IndyMedia to publish links to Diebold memos relevant to the public debate about electronic voting machine security. Diebold's claim of copyright infringement from linking to information posted elsewhere on the Web is ridiculous, and even more silly is the claim that we as an ISP could be liable for our client's web links.”
No Paper Trail
Another of the major complaints by electronic voting experts and computer scientists is the lack of auditing, or proof, that is done. To put it simply, there is no proof that the voter’s actual choice is registered. There can be no recount, and no proof of voting. According to a lengthy interview conducted by William Rivers Pitt with Rebecca Mercuri, Barbara Simons, and David Dill, all noted computer scientists, the system can be significantly improved by simply printing a paper ballot after each vote is cast and that the voter can verify and drop into a ballot box. These paper ballots can enable a successful recount. Currently this is not possible because any bugs in the original programming will influence the electronic source of the recount as well. According to Rebecca Mercuri, when the proposal of printing a ballot receipt at the end of each vote was brought to Diebold they replied that it would be too expensive to install printers in their machines. Later it became obvious that the machines come installed with printers as it is but they are only used at the start and end of the election day. The almost rhetorical question remains; why do the e-voting companies not improve their voting process significantly with the technology that is already there?
The issue of the secrecy of the source code used by Diebold and other e-voting corporations is another problem. These issues would have never surfaced unless the source code of Diebold programming had not been uncovered by computer science graduate students in Johns Hopkins and others in CalTech. The lack of transparency offered by Diebold in voting systems does not seem to apply to their own source codes and to more than a quarter million of Texas voters’ private information, including social security numbers and party affiliation, that were available for download from their web site.
From Public Elections to Corporate Elections
Electronic Voting Systems have a long, and problematic history . Chapter 2 in Beverly Harris’s book, Black Box Voting, details the many miscounts that have occurred since the advent of electronic voting. There are three major players in this game of voter manipulation: ES&S (the largest), Diebold, and Sequoia. In Texas in 1996 800 votes were recorded, although only 500 people voted. In the 1998 general election in Dallas, over 41,000 votes were not counted. ES&S took responsibility for that little mishap. In the same year in Pima County, AZ no votes were recorded in 24 precincts, although the voter record showed that thousands had voted. Also in that year, in the school bond election for Orange County, CA there was a 100% error when the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers were switched by an unknown programmer. In 2000 a test machine in Iowa was fed 300 votes, but reported four million. On November 5, 2002 in Broward County, FL 103,222 votes were left out of the final tally. Recently in King County, WA the polls in one precinct were tallied hours before the polls closed.
Californian voters are skeptical of the heavy involvement between Diebold and the electoral apparatus. Diebold’s CEO is Wally O’Dell, a member of “Rangers” and “Pioneers”, the elite group of Bush supporters who commit to raising funds for W. O’Dell recently spent time with Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch, and then sponsored a $600,000 fundraiser for Dick Cheney. He also came away from the vacation “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year”.
Electronic voting booths are supposed to be run through multiple tests, which Diebold claims to have completed. Their “independent” observer, however, was Scientific Application International Corporation. SAIC is one of the major players in the corporate game of rebuilding Iraq. It is one of the top ten companies to receive defense contracts. It regularly works with Vinnell Corporation, one of the leaders in training foreign militaries. It is almost entirely made up of retired military and intelligence personnel, including Dr. Steven Hatfill, a former germ warfare scientist. It’s director is retired General Wayne Downing, of the U.S. Army, who also served on the board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq with Bechtel director George Shultz. He was also a lobbyist for the U.S. backed Iraqi National Congress. For more info click here.
Events such as the electoral drama in Florida in the 2000 presidential race have influenced the general disillusionment regarding the indirect democracy afforded by voting. The two party system that requires one to be wealthy in order to have a say in policies (that affect billions of people around the world) is still regarded as democracy by many citizens of the US. Will this misperception continue when the outcome of an election is decided pre-emptively, with no façade of choice? “Of course everyone knows perception is reality” begins an e-mail from Diebold chief engineer Ken Clark. If this is the case, and Diebold is creating the perception of an elected candidate, what does it have to fear from its leaked memos? The issue for Diebold is that their façade is crumbling, and perception is ever more becoming a matter of reality. It is now up to those voters who feel disenfranchised from the electoral process to demand that their voices are heard: Will the U.S. hold up this farce of a democracy in the face of such blatant disregard for the people?