by Teresa Hommel, Nov. 16, 2007
Election Fraud in America:
Don’t worry about Paper Ballots--
The Problem is Secret Procedures and Lack of Observers!
Every pollsite should have paper
ballots, continuous cameras focused on the ballot box,
and citizen observers.
As a citizen activist against electronic voting machines (“DREs”) and an advocate of voter-marked paper ballots and precinct-based optical scanners, the most common argument I hear against paper ballots is that “they have always been subject to fraud.”
To find out more, I read Deliver the Vote by Tracy Campbell, a history of American election fraud from 1742 to 2004, and the 68-page chapter on fraud in Election Administration in the United States, which details some cases that took place in the 1920s. Here’s what I learned.
Regardless of the technology used for voting, three characteristics of fraud have always been the same:
1. Fraud occurs when election procedures are conducted in secret. Secrecy has been supported by law makers, law enforcement, and the courts. People in positions of power have stayed in power by controlling the conduct of elections, and keeping what they do secret.
2. When fraud occurs, citizens are treated as outsiders to the election process, and are prevented, by the use of law or violence, from participating in or observing election procedures, and from investigating irregularities.
3. In order to control the real votes that are cast, certain would-be voters have been discouraged from voting by the use of law and violence.
It’s a sorry history--observers kidnapped or beaten up, and courts refusing to open the ballot boxes to find out whether what’s inside has any relationship to precinct tally sheets.
DREs, electronic voting machines, continue this tradition of fraud. Just when surveillance and security technology could open our poll sites to continuous observation and prevent the hanky-panky, DREs establish a new barrier to citizen oversight. Citizens are shut out. We can’t understand the procedures. We can’t observe in a meaningful way sufficient to attest that procedures and counting were proper and honest. Voters can’t even observe their own votes.
Just like the ballot boxes of old, DREs cannot be opened—their insides are concealed by trade secret and intellectual property claims of vendors, which have been consistently upheld by election administrators and courts. Courts today are playing the same role with DREs that courts of yesterday played with wooden ballot boxes. Our courts are protecting the secret software and any other secrets that might be inside, such as log files showing communications intrusions, alterations of tally files, and other evidence of fraud. This is the reason we sometimes hear “there’s no evidence that DREs have ever been subject to fraud.”
Despite talk about outside hackers, insider control of election outcomes has never been easier--just point and click, and after changing the tallies, remember to “save” before you “exit”.
It is ironic that by allowing our votes to be concealed inside computers—and thereby facilitating fraud—we may actually prevent some of the violence historically associated with elections. Obviously, with computers handling the votes, with errors and fraud being invisible and undetectable, it doesn’t matter who votes or who observes in the poll site. We no longer need violence to suppress the vote or scare off observers.
After reading these works on election fraud, I read two election reform bills in Congress: H.R. 811 and S. 1487. They do not prohibit secrecy related to computerized voting systems. Instead they give vendors' trade secret claims priority over citizens' right to know how elections are conducted. Although limited disclosure is mandated, both bills put unfair burdens on citizens to request disclosure of software, appeal denials of disclosure, seek undefined remedies for denied or delayed disclosure by undefined procedures, and bear the risk of lawsuits if vendors assert improper use of disclosed information. Meanwhile, elections are about votes – not computers. Neither bill requires meaningful observation of vote handling by ordinary non-technical citizens so that we can exercise oversight of our elections
Technology can be useful in elections in the form of tactile, mechanical, robotic, or computerized devices to assist voters with disabilities, non-English languages, or illiteracy who want to make their voting selections without requiring another person to know for whom they are voting.
Technology can also help to secure our ballot boxes: surveillance cameras, heat and motion sensors for storage areas, and the many technologies used in warehouses to protect and keep track of inventory.
There are many ways that twenty-first century technology can be useful in elections, but computers should not be used to record, cast, store, handle, and count the votes because this prevents the citizen participation and observation that can keep these procedures honest.
People argue over whether computers are secure. “Yes they are!” “No they aren’t!” The arguments are not very meaningful, because here’s the fact--no large computer system is secure, and no computer system is secure from people who work with it.
Is paper secure? Can it be? Banks, warehouses, and other businesses protect paper with minimum difficulty by the use of careful procedures, competent management, and surveillance and security technology. But it needs to be said that nationwide, our election administration has an aggressive “can’t do” attitude: “we can’t protect paper,” “we can’t get people to volunteer to help with elections,” “we can’t audit computers to show that they are working properly because audits are too burdensome, time-consuming, and expensive, and also they are unnecessary because we trust the computers.”
America is at a crossroads. If we are to continue to be a democracy, we need to get rid of DREs now and use observers and surveillance and security technology to secure our ballot boxes for paper ballots.
But it takes more than good voting technology to make a democracy.
We citizens need to inform ourselves about our government via the alternative news media. Just on the subject of elections, most people know about the lost 18,000 votes in the Christine Jennings race in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. But our major media has not covered the thousands of other documented failures of computerized voting machines, and the voters who were disenfranchised as a result. We can learn much from various web sites: www.VotersUnite.org , www.WheresThePaper.org, etc.
We citizens also need to remember what democracy means—government of the people. We need to show up as poll workers and observers. “Get out the vote” efforts may have a negative effect in the long run, because we citizens need to participate in more ways than just voting. Minimizing the responsibilities of citizenship to the mere act of voting trivializes both citizenship and voting, and may contribute to the attitude that voting doesn’t count.
Citizens need to raise our voices and confront the ignorance and corruption that has resulted in the use DREs in our elections. It’s time for all our public servants to know why DREs are wrong, with or without a paper trail, and to take a public position against continued use of DREs.
It’s time for everyone to know about the history of election fraud in our country. It’s not the paper ballots we have to worry about—it’s secret procedures and lack of observers. It’s time to tell our U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators that the election reform bills in Congress are an outrage, and should be revised immediately.
Everyone concerned about our elections needs to stay informed by subscribing to the Daily Voting News from VotersUnite.org. This includes activists concerned with other issues and all our public servants.
What to do? Know the issue, and raise our voices until we are heard!
# # #
Deliver the Vote, 2005, by Tracy Campbell, Carroll and Graf
Election Administration in the
United States, 1934, by Joseph P. Harris, Ph.D., available at
2005 FBI Computer Crime Survey: http://houston.fbi.gov/pressrel/2006/ho011906.htm
See for example, Testimony of Doug Lewis of The Election Center, March 20, 2007