The Big Rig: This Election was Worse than 2000
-- by Willam Rivers Pitt
remembers Florida's 2000 election debacle, and all of the new terms
it introduced to our political lexicon: Hanging chads, dimpled chads,
pregnant chads, overvotes, undervotes, Sore Losermans, Jews for Buchanan
and so forth. It took several weeks, battalions of lawyers and a questionable
decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to show the nation and the world
how messy democracy can be. By any standard, what happened in Florida
during the 2000 Presidential election was a disaster.
happened during the Presidential election of 2004, in Florida, in Ohio,
and in a number of other states as well, was worse.
of the problems with this past Tuesday's election will sound all too
familiar. Despite having four years to look into and deal with the problems
that cropped up in Florida in 2000, the 'spoiled vote' chad issue reared
its ugly head again. Investigative journalist Greg Palast, the man almost
singularly responsible for exposing the more egregious examples of illegitimate
deletions of voters from the rolls, described the continued problems
in an article
published just before the election, and again in an
article published just after the election.
years later, and none of the Florida problems were fixed. In fact, by
all appearances, they spread from Florida to Ohio, New Mexico, Michigan
and elsewhere. Worse, these problems only scratch the surface of what
appears to have happened in Tuesday's election. The fix that was put
in place to solve these problems - the Help America Vote Act passed
in 2002 after the Florida debacle - appears to have gone a long way
towards making things worse by orders of magnitude, for it was the Help
America Vote Act which introduced paperless electronic touch-screen
voting machines to millions of voters across the country.
first blush, it seems like a good idea. Forget the chads, the punch
cards, the archaic booths like pianos standing on end with the handles
and the curtains. This is the 21st century, so let's do it with computers.
A simple screen presents straightforward choices, and you touch the
spot on the screen to vote for your candidate. Your vote is recorded
by the machine, and then sent via modem to a central computer which
tallies the votes. Simple, right?
there any evidence that these machines went haywire on Tuesday? Nationally,
were more than 1,100 reports of electronic voting machine malfunctions.
A few examples:
- In Broward
County, Florida, election workers were shocked to discover that
their shiny new machines were counting backwards. "Tallies should
go up as more votes are counted," according to this report. "That's
simple math. But in some races, the numbers had gone down. Officials
found the software used in Broward can handle only 32,000 votes
per precinct. After that, the system starts counting backward."
County, Ohio, electronic voting machines gave Bush 3,893 extra
votes in one precinct alone. "Franklin County's unofficial results
gave Bush 4,258 votes to Democratic challenger John Kerry's 260
votes in Precinct 1B," according to this report. "Records show only
638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Matthew Damschroder, director
of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said Bush received 365
votes there. The other 13 voters who cast ballots either voted for
other candidates or did not vote for president."
County, North Carolina, a software error on the electronic voting
machines awarded Bush 11,283 extra votes. "The Elections Systems
and Software equipment," according to this report, "had downloaded
voting information from nine of the county's 26 precincts and as
the absentee ballots were added, the precinct totals were added
a second time. An override, like those occurring when one attempts
to save a computer file that already exists, is supposed to prevent
double counting, but did not function correctly."
County, North Carolina, "More than 4,500 votes may be lost in
one North Carolina county because officials believed a computer
that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it
did. Local officials said UniLect Corp., the maker of the county's
electronic voting system, told them that each storage unit could
handle 10,500 votes, but the limit was actually 3,005 votes. Officials
said 3,005 early votes were stored, but 4,530 were lost."
County, Indiana, a Democratic stronghold, the electronic voting
machines decided that each precinct only had 300 voters. "At about
7 p.m. Tuesday," according to this report, "it was noticed that
the first two or three printouts from individual precinct reports
all listed an identical number of voters. Each precinct was listed
as having 300 registered voters. That means the total number of
voters for the county would be 22,200, although there are actually
more than 79,000 registered voters."
County, Nebraska, the electronic touch screen machines got generous.
"As many as 10,000 extra votes," according to this report, "have
been tallied and candidates are still waiting for corrected totals.
Johnny Boykin lost his bid to be on the Papillion City Council.
The difference between victory and defeat in the race was 127 votes.
Boykin says, 'When I went in to work the next day and saw that 3,342
people had shown up to vote in our ward, I thought something's not
right.' He's right. There are not even 3,000 people registered to
vote in his ward. For some reason, some votes were counted twice."
like this have been popping up in many of the states that put these
touch-screen voting machines to use. Beyond these reports are the folks
who attempted to vote for one candidate and saw
the machine give their vote to the other candidate. Sometimes, the
flawed machines were taken off-line, and sometimes they were not. As
for the reports above, the mistakes described were caught and corrected.
How many mistakes made by these machines were not caught, were not corrected,
and have now become part of the record?
flaws within these machines are well documented. Professors and researchers
from Johns Hopkins performed a detailed analysis of these electronic
voting machines in May of 2004. In their
results, the Johns Hopkins researchers stated, "This voting system
is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in
other contexts. We identify several problems including unauthorized
privilege escalation, incorrect use of cryptography, vulnerabilities
to network threats, and poor software development processes. We show
that voters, without any insider privileges, can cast unlimited votes
without being detected by any mechanisms within the voting terminal
they continued, "we show that even the most serious of our outsider
attacks could have been discovered and executed without access to the
source code. In the face of such attacks, the usual worries about insider
threats are not the only concerns; outsiders can do the damage. That
said, we demonstrate that the insider threat is also quite considerable,
showing that not only can an insider, such as a poll worker, modify
the votes, but that insiders can also violate voter privacy and match
votes with the voters who cast them. We conclude that this voting system
is unsuitable for use in a general election."
of these machines do not provide the voter with a paper ballot that
verifies their vote. So if an error - or purposefully inserted malicious
code - in the untested machine causes their vote to go for the other
guy, they have no way to verify that it happened. The lack of a paper
ballot also means the end of recounts as we have known them; now, on
these new machines, a recount amounts to pushing a button on the machine
and getting a number in return, but without those paper ballots to do
a comparison, there is no way to verify the validity of that count.
of all is the fact that all the votes collected by these machines are
sent via modem to a central tabulating computer which counts the votes
on Windows software. This means, essentially, that any gomer with access
to the central tabulation machine who knows how to work an Excel spreadsheet
can go into this central computer and make wholesale changes to election
totals without anyone being the wiser.
Harris, who has been working
tirelessly since the passage of the Help America Vote Act to inform
people of the dangers present in this new process, got a chance to demonstrate
how easy it is to steal an election on that central tabulation computer
while a guest on the CNBC program 'Topic A With Tina Brown.' Ms. Brown
was off that night, and the guest host was none other than Governor
Howard Dean. Thanks to Governor Dean and Ms. Harris, anyone watching
CNBC that night got to see just how easy it is to steal an election
because of these new machines and the flawed processes they use.
a voting system," Harris said on the show, "you have all the different
voting machines at all the different polling places, sometimes, as in
a county like mine, there's a thousand polling places in a single county.
All those machines feed into the one machine so it can add up all the
votes. So, of course, if you were going to do something you shouldn't
to a voting machine, would it be more convenient to do it to each of
the 4000 machines, or just come in here and deal with all of them at
once? What surprises people is that the central tabulator is just a
PC, like what you and I use. It's just a regular computer."
then proceeded to open a laptop computer that had on it the software
used to tabulate the votes by one of the aforementioned central processors.
Journalist Thom Hartman describes
what happened next: "So Harris had Dean close the Diebold GEMS tabulation
software, go back to the normal Windows PC desktop, click on the 'My
Computer' icon, choose 'Local Disk C:,' open the folder titled GEMS,
and open the sub-folder 'LocalDB' which, Harris noted, 'stands for local
database, that's where they keep the votes.' Harris then had Dean double-click
on a file in that folder titled Central Tabulator Votes,' which caused
the PC to open the vote count in a database program like Excel. 'Let's
just flip those,' Harris said, as Dean cut and pasted the numbers from
one cell into the other. Harris sat up a bit straighter, smiled, and
said, 'We just edited an election, and it took us 90 seconds.'"
system that makes it this easy to steal or corrupt an election has no
business being anywhere near the voters on election day.
counter-argument to this states that people with nefarious intent, people
with a partisan stake in the outcome of an election, would have to have
access to the central tabulation computers in order to do harm to the
process. Keep the partisans away from the process, and everything will
work out fine. Surely no partisan political types were near these machines
on Tuesday night when the votes were counted, right?
of the main manufacturers of these electronic touch-screen voting machines
is Diebold, Inc. More than 35 counties in Ohio alone used the Diebold
machines on Tuesday, and millions of voters across the country did the
same. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Diebold gave
$100,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2000, along with additional
contributions between 2001 and 2002 which totaled $95,000. Of the four
companies competing for the contracts to manufacture these voting machines,
only Diebold contributed large sums to any political party. The CEO
of Diebold is a man named Walden O'Dell. O'Dell was very much on board
with the Bush campaign, having said publicly in 2003 that he is "committed
to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
much for keeping the partisans at arm's length.
there any evidence that vote totals were deliberately tampered with
by people who had a stake in the outcome? Nothing specific has been
documented to date. Jeff Fisher, the Democratic candidate for the U.S.
House of Representatives from Florida's 16th District, claims to have
evidence that the Florida election was hacked, and says further that
he knows who hacked it and how it was done. Such evidence is not yet
are, however, some disturbing and compelling trends that indicate things
are not as they should be. This
chart displays a breakdown of counties in Florida. It lists the
voters in each county by party affiliation, and compares expected vote
totals to the reported results. It also separates the results into two
sections, one for 'touch-screen' counties and the other for optical
and over in these counties, the results, based upon party registration,
did not come close to matching expectations. It can be argued, and has
been argued, that such results indicate nothing more or less than a
President getting cross-over voters, as well as late-breaking undecided
voters, to come over to his side. These are Southern Democrats, and
the numbers from previous elections show that many have often voted
Republican. Yet the news wires have been inundated for well over a year
with stories about how stridently united Democratic voters were behind
the idea of removing Bush from office. It is worth wondering why that
unity did not permeate these Democratic voting districts. If that unity
was there, it is worth asking why the election results in these counties
do not reflect this.
disturbing of all is the reality that these questionable Diebold voting
machines are not isolated to Florida. This
list documents, as of March 2003, all of the counties in all of
the 37 states where Diebold machines were used to count votes. The document
is 28 pages long. That is a lot of counties, and a lot of votes, left
in the hands of machines that have a questionable track record, that
send their vote totals to central computers which make it far too easy
to change election results, that were manufactured by a company with
a personal, financial, and publicly stated stake in George W. Bush holding
on to the White House.
poster named 'TruthIsAll' on the DemocraticUnderground.com forums laid
out the questionable results of Tuesday's election in succinct fashion:
"To believe that Bush won the election, you must also believe: That
the exit polls were wrong; that Zogby's 5pm election day calls for Kerry
winning Ohio and Florida were wrong (he was exactly right in his 2000
final poll); that Harris' last-minute polling for Kerry was wrong (he
was exactly right in his 2000 final poll); that incumbent rule #1 -
undecideds break for the challenger - was wrong; That the 50% rule -
an incumbent doesn't do better than his final polling - was wrong; That
the approval rating rule - an incumbent with less than 50% approval
will most likely lose the election - was wrong; that it was just a coincidence
that the exit polls were correct where there was a paper trail and incorrect
(+5% for Bush) where there was no paper trail; that the surge in new
young voters had no positive effect for Kerry; that Kerry did worse
than Gore against an opponent who lost the support of scores of Republican
newspapers who were for Bush in 2000; that voting machines made by Republicans
with no paper trail and with no software publication, which have been
proven by thousands of computer scientists to be vulnerable in scores
of ways, were not tampered with in this election."
short, we have old-style vote spoilage in minority communities. We have
electronic voting machines losing votes and adding votes all across
the country. We have electronic voting machines whose efficiency and
safety have not been tested. We have electronic voting machines that
offer no paper trail to ensure a fair outcome. We have central tabulators
for these machines running on Windows software, compiling results that
can be demonstrably tampered with. We have the makers of these machines
publicly professing their preference for George W. Bush. We have voter
trends that stray from the expected results. We have these machines
counting millions of votes all across the country.
this can all be dismissed. Perhaps rants like the one posted by 'TruthIsAll'
are nothing more than sour grapes from the side that lost. Perhaps all
of the glitches, wrecked votes, unprecedented voting trends and partisan
voting-machine connections can be explained away. If so, this reporter
would very much like to see those explanations. At a bare minimum, the
fact that these questions exist at all represents a grievous undermining
of the basic confidence in the process required to make this democracy
work. Democracy should not ever require leaps of faith, and we have
put the fate of our nation into the hands of machines that require such
a leap. It is unacceptable across the board, and calls into serious
question not only the election we just had, but any future election
involving these machines.
John Conyers, Jerrold Nadler and Robert Wexler, all members of the House
Judiciary Committee, posted a letter on November 5th to David Walker,
Comptroller General of the United States. In the letter, they asked
for an investigation into the efficacy of these electronic voting machines.
The letter reads as follows:
Honorable David M. Walker
Comptroller General of the United States
U.S. General Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20548
write with an urgent request that the Government Accountability Office
immediately undertake an investigation of the efficacy of voting machines
and new technologies used in the 2004 election, how election officials
responded to difficulties they encountered and what we can do in the
future to improve our election systems and administration.
particular, we are extremely troubled by the following reports, which
we would also request that you review and evaluate for us:
Columbus, Ohio, an electronic voting system gave President Bush nearly
4,000 extra votes. ("Machine Error Gives Bush Extra Ohio Votes," Associated
Press, November 5)
electronic tally of a South Florida gambling ballot initiative failed
to record thousands of votes. "South Florida OKs Slot Machines Proposal,"
one North Carolina county, more than 4,500 votes were lost because
officials mistakenly believed a computer that stored ballots could
hold more data that it did. "Machine Error Gives Bush Extra Ohio Votes,"
San Francisco, a glitch occurred with voting machines software that
resulted in some votes being left uncounted. (Id.)
Florida, there was a substantial drop off in Democratic votes in proportion
to voter registration in counties utilizing optical scan machines
that was apparently not present in counties using other mechanisms.
House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff has received numerous reports
from Youngstown, Ohio that voters who attempted to cast a vote for
John Kerry on electronic voting machines saw that their votes were
instead recorded as votes for George W. Bush. In South Florida, Congressman
Wexler's staff received numerous reports from voters in Palm Beach,
Broward and Dade Counties that they attempted to select John Kerry
but George Bush appeared on the screen. CNN has reported that a dozen
voters in six states, particularly Democrats in Florida, reported
similar problems. This was among over one thousand such problems reported.
("Touchscreen Voting Problems Reported," Associated Press, November
long lines were a frequent problem throughout the nation in Democratic
precincts, particularly in Florida and Ohio. In one Ohio voting precinct
serving students from Kenyon College, some voters were required to
wait more than eight hours to vote. ("All Eyes on Ohio," Dan Lothian,
CNN, November 3)
are literally receiving additional reports every minute and will transmit
additional information as it comes available. The essence of democracy
is the confidence of the electorate in the accuracy of voting methods
and the fairness of voting procedures. In 2000, that confidence suffered
terribly, and we fear that such a blow to our democracy may have occurred
you for your prompt attention to this inquiry.
Conyers, Jr., Jerrold Nadler, Robert Wexler
Member, Ranking Member, Member of Congress
House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution
Hon. F. James Sensenbrenner, Chairman
essence of democracy," wrote the Congressmen, "is the confidence of
the electorate in the accuracy of voting methods and the fairness of
voting procedures. In 2000, that confidence suffered terribly, and we
fear that such a blow to our democracy may have occurred in 2004." Those
fears appear to be valid.
Kerry and John Edwards promised on Tuesday night that every vote would
count, and that every vote would be counted. By Wednesday morning, Kerry
had conceded the race to Bush, eliciting outraged howls from activists
who were watching the reports of voting irregularities come piling in.
Kerry had said that 10,000 lawyers were ready to fight any wrongdoing
in this election. One hopes that he still has those lawyers on retainer.
to black-letter election law, Bush does not officially get a second
term until the electors from the Electoral College go to Washington
D.C on December 12th. Perhaps Kerry's 10,000 lawyers, along with a real
investigation per the request of Conyers, Nadler and Wexler, could give
those electors something to think about in the interim.
the meantime, soon-to-be-unemployed DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe sent
out an email on Saturday night titled 'Help determine the Democratic
Party's next steps.' In the email, McAuliffe states, "If you were involved
in these grassroots activities, we want to hear from you about your
experience. What did you do? Did you feel the action you took was effective?
Was it a good experience for you? How would you make it better? Tell
us your thoughts." He provided a
feedback form where such thoughts can be sent.
the form. Give Terry your thoughts on the matter. Ask him if those 10,000
lawyers are still available. It seems the validity of Tuesday's election
remains a wide-open question.