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 are invoked.
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 PEB.
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 unconstitutional.
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 expertise.
Could it happen outside a lab setting?
"The question comes down to motivation," Sherr said.
An ES&S spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.
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 Republican candidates.
And Taylor County's Democratic Executive Committee chairwoman went to county commissioners after machine problems were reported there.
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 what-ifs."
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."