The Florida election debacle apprised Americans
of hanging chads, butterfly ballots, and ChoicePoint, the private firm
that stacked the voter deck in the most crucial swing state of the race. As the 2004 presidential election nears, DRE’s,
C++, and DieBold, the private firm contracted to supply touch screen polling nationwide, have garnered considerable
scrutiny from academics, intellectuals, and professionals in the field, a full year before the slightest hint of a scandal.
Is such paranoia warranted? After all, Diebold Elections Systems has publicly refuted all challenges to its purportedly
infallible machine, alternately insisting that exposed weaknesses of the system either don’t exist or have been resolved.
Certainly there is a conflict of interest between Diebold executive’s honest opinions about their product’s security and
the company’s 1.94 billion in revenue (2002), so a closer examination of the respective arguments is imperative.
Discussions over the potential manipulation of
the electoral process may begin to sound like an overactive imagination
without a proper understanding of how private sector involvement played such a pivotal role in the Florida shenanigans.
While it cannot be reduced to a mere sound bite, the short form of the story is as follows.
DBT ChoicePoint, contracted by and acting on orders
from the State of Florida, namely Katherine Harris, Clayton Roberts,
and Jeb Bush, systematically disenfranchised tens of thousands of eligible voters, the majority of whom, were conspicuously
black in a state where only 14% of the citizens are African-Americans. While this dilution of democracy would be atrocious
under any circumstances, it takes on newfound importance in light of George W. Bush’s installation as President resulting
from the Supreme Court’s partisan recount stoppage(which was subsequently condemned by Alan Dershowitz, and nearly
every scholar of law) that put Bush 537 votes ahead. Remember this is the short form of the history lesson; length constraints
do not permit me to explain the numerous other irregularities of the election that are the end result of democracy having an
affair with the private sector.
many Jews could vote for Buchanan(A thoroughly documented Anti-Semite).
ChoicePoint’s employment termination in Pennsylvania for selling public data.
The pathetic 10% accuracy rate the list scrubbing achieved in Leon County alone.
The numerous prominent citizens including elections officials, clergymen, and even a local judge, all who were
incorrectly purged from voting registries.
1998, the year before ChoicePoint got the contract with Florida, Professional Services Inc received $5,700 for their work.
The following year, the state took ChoicePoint, the highest bid, and gave them a contract worth $2,317,800, over ten times the industry rate.
Again, this is but a sample of the election
irregularities that occurred in Florida alone in election 2000, after they
the trend and became the first state to directly contract out duties to ensure voting registries’ integrity.
ChoicePoint, which has a Republican majority board,
does not shoulder the majority of the blame for nor do I mean to
suggest direct conspiratorial behavior on their part, as they were simply eager to please after being given such a lucrative
contract. All orders came down from the office of then Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, who continually loosened
the scrub criteria to the point of certain unreliability, often to protests from ChoicePoint staff who foresaw the inevitable
results of such manipulation.
The culmination of the Florida recount and utter
embarrassment caused by the delayed Supreme Court ruling brought
sweeping changes to the electoral process to prevent a re-occurrence. The Help Americans Vote Act, HAVA, which
aside from sounding terribly condescending, mandates a specific timeline by which states must update old voting equipment.
Updating old equipment on state and federal contracts is every corporation’s wet dream. Enter Diebold.
Diebold is a self-described, “Global leader in
providing self-service delivery systems and services,” according to their
which is gobbledygook for integrated technology services; ATM’s, Campus charge cards, and, touch screen voting machines.
Headquartered in North Canton, Ohio, Diebold has financially supported Republicans in their state to the tune of nearly
$200,000 in the past 3 years, the only donations they have made. Diebold broke new ground in 2002, entering the electronic
voting market by acquiring General Elections Systems. While they are not the only voting appliance provider, they are the
industry leader, and have received the majority of the media’s attention, making an analysis feasible.
The mainstream press ignored the howls of legions
of computer scientists over the last two years until the past two weeks
when an analysis co-authored by John Hopkins and Rice academics was widely published. Using a part of the source code
that was inadvertently on a Diebold FTP, the team demonstrates the many ways that direct recording electronic (DRE) voting
devices could potentially be manipulated. To summarize their report:
no computer is flawless, there are always exploitable weaknesses, and such
claims are merely invitations
for hackers, a virtual challenge.
C++, which is used extensively, has well-known weaknesses.
Smart cards, which serve as the voter cards and identify the voter, have low-security safeguards.
Just ask anyone who has a hacked satellite card. The particular Diebold cards use low-grade security,
even for a smart card, rendering them as effective as magnetic strip cards.
The machines leave no voter verifiable audit trail, an all-important paper trail that could be used if a conflict arises.
The open access and realistic weaknesses spawn a host of scenarios
1. The engineering of a “homebrew” smart card could enable administrative access to anyone.
A single person could cast multiple votes.
2. With administrative access, one could flip-flop the election results without a high risk of detection.
3 The inevitable transfers of election results, routine servicing, and administrative duties offer a host of individuals
enough access for manipulation.
Diebold has countered all this negative press
with several news releases, including a line-by-line rebuttal of the Hopkins/Rice
The most relevant point raised is that the source code used in the analysis was not the latest version, and many security flaws have
been corrected. They also point out that the network used to transmit results is private, not public, so access is limited to a handful of individuals.
In all fairness to Diebold, they are correct
to a point in insisting that the analysis is invalid because the source
code examined was
not the actual code currently in use(Though it was used in the 2002 election in several states). But they are missing the point entirely.
I don’t care of the Hopkins analysis was of an electronic typewriter, the underlying message remains the same: There is no such thing
as a totally secure computer or network. Not yet anyway, and that’s why you simply must include a paper trail for the individual voter.
aside, even if there was zero tampering involved, if an absurd, implausible
result came up, say Al Sharpton
getting 90% of the vote, we’d have little means of tracking down the problem before it was too late(and even then we’d have
considerable difficulties nabbing the culprit). Suspicious activity has already marred one election, as Senator Chuck Hagel
auspiciously failed to disclose ownership in the company that counted the ballots in his own election. Lawsuits, petitions,
and press coverage are finally rousing national attention to a complex and supremely important issue, but the clock is ticking
ever closer to Election Day. By then, like Florida, it will simply be too late.
I be interested to know how Diebold thinks they can keep there technology and software secure when government WebPages
can’t avoid defacing and Hughes Satellite can’t stop their customers from re-writing their smart cards. Simply put, it’s not that
I think the government could do a better job than a corporation like Diebold, it’s that there is little or no oversight when we
privatize state functions, and the dangers become all too clear. Rigging a paper ballot without anyone noticing is near impossible;
Republicans were simply red-faced after Florida, but cyberspace offers new angles on ballot stuffing. There is no harm in using
technology to streamline the voting process, the potential for damage exists when we rely solely on such technology, and are
left without a contingency plan.
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