Post Number: 10729
Posted on Sunday, August 23, 2009
By now, almost all voting machine makes and models have been
demonstrably compromised, but election officials continue to defend them, news
reporters continue to ask the wrong questions, and even public interest groups
seem unable to grasp the real reason they get run 'round the hampster wheel
every time they present evidence.
The article below, and another one I posted in the New
Jersey forum today, provide examples of poor argumentation -- pro and con --
regarding hackable machines. I have provided commentary for you with this blog
item to show you how to use the core argument of PROCESS CONCEALMENT to
neutralize most arguments put forth by vendors and election officials, and I'll
show you how to debunk other defenses as well.
Let's start with a particularly weak argument for the
machines: "...But many county clerks say the state's strict election laws
mean they can trust the technology"
First, the laws don't do a darn thing to protect against
concealment of key activities through inside access by government officials.
Second, the laws aren't consistently followed. And third, when election laws
aren't followed there is no real remedy available to the public. And fourth,
even when someone decides to actually try to deal with election laws and
procedures that aren't followed, as a general rule no meaningful consequences
And furthermore: Public elections aren't public when the
processes are concealed from the public. None of the defensive arguments for
use of these systems address that, the most crucial issue of all.
The election officials put forward especially meaningless
arguments, like this: "Many clerks like the machines." Many election
officials like vote-by-mail, which removes nearly ALL controls from the public
and hands them over to insiders. Many dictators like not even having elections.
Many lawyers might like having trials without the bother of public juries.
What's easy and what insiders like is not the point.
Then we see the complete lie trotted out again, that it
would take a huge conspiracy from the manufacturer all the way down to the poll
workers. Election officials know that is not true, and any election official
who makes that claim in this day and age should be scrutinized especially
closely because elections office insiders have the greatest access of all to
manipulate the outcome.
Another official says it comes down to voter confidence. No,
"confidence" is something "con men" try to achieve. Our
system of government is based upon public controls, not public
"confidence" regarding what government insiders do in concealment.
The arguments about security seals fall apart when you
realize that insiders have access to the machines before the seals are applied,
and also that many elections offices have been documented handling seals
improperly and even ordering multiple seals with the same seal number. The
issue of voters not handling the PEBs is a red herring, since it's not the
voter that is the problem, it's the insider, who definitely does handle the
One official says he's not going to ditch the machines based
on a bunch of what-ifs. Well here's something that is not a what-if: The
machines conceal the counting of the vote from the public. And here's something
else that is not a what-if: The nation of Germany banned e-voting systems this
year because they conceal the vote counting from the public, with Germany's
equivalent of our Supreme Court deciding that use of such machines is
We need to get citizens groups and reporters here in the US
understanding and articulating the real issues, because articles like this
diverge into a bunch of distraction arguments that fall apart instantly when
you frame the issue as one of public controls and concealment of key election
processes from the public.
Gazette-Mail - Aug. 22, 2009, by Alison Knezevich
Electronic voting machines easily hacked, researchers say
Could a hacker with enough motivation sabotage an election?
Researchers say it's possible with electronic voting machines. Nearly a decade
after the Mountain State got its first touch-screen voting machines, some West
Virginians are still trying to phase them out.
Thirty-five counties now use touch-screen voting.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Could a hacker with enough motivation
sabotage an election?
Researchers say it's possible with electronic voting
machines. Nearly a decade after the Mountain State got its first touch-screen
voting machines, some West Virginians are still trying to phase them out.
But many county clerks say the state's strict election laws
mean they can trust the technology, which 35 West Virginia counties use.
Earlier this month during interim legislative meetings,
state lawmakers heard from a University of Pennsylvania researcher who believes
the machines can be easily hacked. They also heard from a representative of
Omaha-based ES&S, the maker of all 5,000 machines in West Virginia.
The researcher, Micah Sherr, says the ES&S machines West
Virginia uses -- called iVotronic -- have "serious security
vulnerabilities" that could let poll workers or other election officials
take control of the equipment.
Sherr was part of a team that reviewed ES&S machines in
separate studies in California and Ohio. Researchers carried out attacks that
let them change votes, disable machines and spread viruses from one piece of
equipment to others.
Many of the tactics focus on manipulating a cartridge called
a Personal Electronic Ballot that is inserted into the voting machine. Some
strategies also use magnets and PDAs to tamper with equipment.
It takes a lot of computer know-how to devise an attack,
Sherr said. Someone with an undergraduate degree could figure out how to
disable one machine. To throw off an election, a hacker would need more
Could it happen outside a lab setting?
"The question comes down to motivation," Sherr
An ES&S spokeswoman did not return a request for
Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen
Action Group, called the research alarming. His group wants to phase out
electronic voting machines.
"Our main concern with this type of equipment is the
security issue," he said.
He also pointed to computer glitches.
"When [people] turn up to vote, they should be able to
vote," he said. "And they shouldn't be turned away because a computer
screen is down."
In this year's legislative session, House Finance Chairman
Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, introduced a measure to prohibit the machines, but
the proposal didn't get anywhere.
West Virginia got national attention last fall when some
voters said the machines were flipping their votes from Democratic to
And Taylor County's Democratic Executive Committee
chairwoman went to county commissioners after machine problems were reported
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper has been
critical of the technology. The county uses the optical scan system, where
voters mark paper ballots that are then read by a machine.
But many county clerks like the iVotronic system, said Patti
Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties.
"Even those that were skeptical were pleased"
after trying it, she said.
Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole, whose county in 2000 was the
first to use touch-screen voting, said she couldn't imagine the researchers'
scenarios happening in West Virginia.
"You would have to have a conspiracy from the
manufacturer down to every poll worker in a precinct," she said.
"West Virginia has probably the strictest election laws in the country,
and that is a huge factor in whether these machines can be manipulated."
For instance, all equipment must be protected with security
seals, which poll workers must verify weren't broken before Election Day setup
starts. Voters never handle the PEBs, and poll workers can't touch them until
Election Day. Machines undergo rigorous testing.
Cole likes the machines because there's no chance for
"over-voting" -- when someone votes twice in a race or marks outside
the lines on a paper ballot.
Monongalia County Clerk Carye Blaney had similar thoughts.
"I have confidence in the machines that West Virginia
uses, in conjunction with the laws," she said.
Both clerks say they've gotten some complaints about
machines where the computer thinks the voter touched a screen area they didn't.
That's a problem with calibration, which they say can be fixed.
West Virginia requires all electronic voting machines to leave
a paper trail. The machines print a receipt-like sheet after a voter casts a
ballot. That paper is the official ballot used in canvassing.
A few years ago, Delegate Mike Caputo co-sponsored
legislation to require the paper trail. He used to be skeptical of the
machines, but the requirement satisfied him.
He's not convinced someone in a real-world setting could
pull off the computer attacks Sherr described.
"My county spent well over a million dollars to
purchase these machines," the Marion County Democrat said. "And I'm
not ready to go tell them to throw them in the Dumpster on a bunch of
Counties have invested $15 million in the machines, Hamilton
said. Some are still paying off their loans.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said she isn't keen on
getting rid of the machines. She had questioned them and met with researchers
and ES&S officials in March.
The issue comes down to voter confidence, she said. Instead
of banning the machines, she would rather beef up training for poll workers.
She'd also like the font on the screens to be bigger.
All systems can be manipulated in theory, but West
Virginia's stringent laws make that hard, Tennant said.
"No system is foolproof," she said. "We should keep questioning all of our systems."