Digital democracy


The Election Night fiasco at the Ulster County Board of Elections certainly is food for thought.


When election returns disappear for a half a day into the digital maw of electronic processing, there is a break in the chain of custody that does nothing good for public confidence that the election was on the up and up.


We don't mean to say that the results of this election in Ulster County were ever in danger of evaporating or being either accidentally or maliciously rearranged. After all, at the front end of the election, the ancient and much-maligned lever voting machines presumably had created a verifiable record that could have been reconstituted into new returns at the central office.


But the vagaries of electronic compilation certainly make you think about all of the other things that can go wrong if the reach of digital technology is spread deeper into the electoral process.


Moreover, when only experts can tell you what has happened, a system intended to serve and be transparent to the general public loses that transparency. Indeed, like last Tuesday night's election returns, it simply disappears.


There are a lot of things in modern life that we have to take on faith, such is the complexity of our social organization and our technology.


But democracy shouldn't be one of them.


It's now been seven years since the disastrous 2000 presidential election in Florida forced the nation to take a look at how it casts and counts ballots. In those seven years, this state's elections commissioners have yet to find a way to meet new federal standards for protecting the franchise, while every other state in the union has.


Seven years! You'd think the Empire State was a backwater.


The state that once was a leader in innovation now can't get out of its own way.


That would be unbelievable if we weren't already painfully well-acquainted with the various dysfunctions of New York state government.


So, now, the federal government has taken the state to court, asking a federal judge to force the state to adopt a plan that would put new machines in place by September 2008.


But part of the reason for the delay in certification of newer technologies is the vulnerability of each to malfunction, if not downright tampering.


Over the summer, computer scientists from California universities demonstrated the ability to hack into the electronic voting systems of three of the four largest vendors in the business of developing voting machines. Not only that, but the scientists found way in which vote totals might be altered.




You really don't want a system in which the local Democratic Party chairman throws up his hands and declares, "What the hell am I going to do? I don't know how these things work."


That happened last week in Ulster County.


Actually, you don't want even the average voter to be saying something like that.


The verifiability of voting results should be as certain as an "X" on a piece of paper. From the time a voter steps into the polling place, the trail of that person's vote should be transparently verifiable and secure.


That means a clear chain of custody of every vote cast by every voter. Which means being able to see that it has been secured from the moment it is cast until the moment it is counted - and beyond. Probably meaning an indelible paper trail that average people, with a modestly functioning pair of eyes, can follow.


The whole thing has given us a certain Luddite state of mind about voting reform. Paper ballots, anyone?


©Daily Freeman 2007



Added: Saturday November 17, 2007 at 07:49 AM EST

It's not government by the computer vendors, for the computer vendors, of the computers

Finally people are waking up to, as you aptly describe- digital democracy. Thank you for this piece and your observations. Too few people, particularly in NY where we have not yet been subjected to secret vote counting by defective and corruptible computers, understand and even fewer within the government have a clue. And yet the evidence is all there. Across the country since the Orwellian-Help America Vote Act (HAVA) 48 states have purchased computers (touch-scree DREs and PBOSs) which can't do that which they're intended to do: count votes accurately. They are shoddily made, fail repeatedly, flip votes, add votes not counted, delete votes counted, and as the Secretary of State of California found- are all vulnerable to hacking in less than a minute. These theft-enabling computers stand in the way of the people's right to vote.


And yet like sheep being led to the slaughter those in a position to stop it (the State Board of Elections, our legislators, the Governor's office, the Attorney General) accept with resignation that the vendors have won control over our elections. Except in Ulster County perhaps which is actually taking the lead and waking up before the rest of the state. Hopefully not too late.


It's really quite simple- people need to retain control over the process and counting of their elections or elections are just a sham process of appearing to validate the consent of the governed. Part of the 'right to vote' includes the right to know that your vote was counted. There is no way to know what a computer does with your vote. This is made even worse by the fact that these computers are owned by a private vendor that insists on the right to conceal how the computer is programmed to count the vote. That's secret vote counting in the United States of America and our state legislature laid down for the corporate interest in secrecy over the people's right to know. Not just NY- the entire country, except Oklahoma.


We still have time to raise our voices and resist the privatization and take over of our elections in NY, the last state in the Union to have succumbed. I encourage everyone to write and call and show up. If you email me at I will send you all the links for how to do this.


Last week I appeared at the State Board of Elections' regular meeting to be heard, which is typically not permitted. I was permitted this time, for video


The Department of Justice has recently moved in federal court to say to NY- you know all the computerized voting systems the other states have gotten suckered with? You know the ones that have repeatedly been shown to break down, mistabulate and otherwise steal your vote. The ones that an 8th grader can hack. The ones that were decertified in California. The ones that cannot possibly securely produce an accurate tally and instead will be sure to disenfranchise you. Go buy them for the 2008 election. What do you expect? The feds need to gain control over NY what with the Clinton Guiliani monster looming. This is what I said on the video if you don't want to watch but would rather read:


On behalf of the people, who you're supposed to represent:


We don't want the SBOE caving into the DOJ pressure and authorizing the purchase of these theft-enabling, failed machines which the DOJ's memo of law says are good enough for them and for HAVA-compliance.


We want our votes counted- not stolen.


The machines the DOJ is telling you to purchase have already been found by the SOS of California and many other independent investigations (cites to the studies contained in the hand out attached here) to be capable of being hacked in less than a minute. These machines count our votes using secret software so the people can never know whether their votes were counted as cast. Secret Vote Counting by the corporations or the Government *: doesn't get anymore un-American than that!


You canít certify machines in time for 2008 because there are no machines on the market that arenít capable of being rigged without detection. And there are no machines that donít count our votes in secret. And if you do nothing, the DOJ has threatened to impose its will on our state sovereignty.


But there is one way we can get the DOJ off our backs. We can have HAVA-compliant elections for 2008 and not get stuck with these failed voting systems that should have been recalled for their utter failure to provide a means to conduct honest elections: You can start now instituting chain of custody polling place protocol for citizens to cast their votes on paper by their own hand, and count them, with their own eyes. Citizens who need assistance may use ballot markers to create paper ballots to be manually counted with the rest of the ballots. MANUALLY COUNTED PAPER BALLOTS IS THE ONLY SOLUTION THAT COMPLIES WITH HAVA, CAN BE DONE IN TIME FOR 2008 AND TRULY PROTECTS THE INTERGRITY OF OUR ELECTIONS.


* Across the country private voting vendors assert proprietary rights to conceal the means by which they program and count the votes on their computers (otherwise known as corporations counting our votes in secret) which most states submissively accept. New York requires that the proprietary source coding be placed in escrow so that a few members of the government be permitted to inspect it. Those who look on behalf of the government do so pursuant to non-disclosure rules that prohibit any member of the public from ever knowing how the votes are counted-- or not counted (otherwise known as corporations with government counting our votes in secret).


It's time for the people to be heard.




Andrea Novick, Esq.

Rhinebeck, NY

Coordinator Election Defense Alliance,

Co-Founder Northeast Citizens for Responsible Media

Andi Novick, Rhinebeck, NY


Added: Tuesday November 13, 2007 at 07:22 PM EST

Get a new chairman! Or Two! Or ALL! Are you kidding?

Paul Pond, Mt. Marion, NY