Sunday, July 31, 2005

Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Elections, & Why They Will Steal the Next One Too

Mark Crispin Miller has a new book out. Mark is a great writer and in this new book he lays out an over powering case. The title says it all:

Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Elections, & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too

Book Description:

For Republicans, the 2004 presidential election was little short of miraculous: Behind in the Electoral College tally in the days leading up to the election, behind even on the very afternoon of the vote, the Bush ticket staged a stunning comeback. The exit polls, usually so reliable, turned out to be wrong by an unprecedented 5 percent in the swing states. Conservatives argued-and the media agreed-that "moral values" had made the difference.

In his new book renowned critic and political commentator Mark Crispin Miller argues that it wasn't moral values that swung the election-it was theft. While the greatest body of evidence comes from the key state of Ohio-where the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee found an extraordinary onslaught of Republican-engineered vote suppression, election-day irregularities, old-fashioned intimidation tactics, and illegal counting procedures-similar practices (and occasionally worse ones) were applied in Florida, Oregon, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and even New York. A huge array of anomalies, improper practices, and blatant violations of the law all, by a truly remarkable coincidence, happened to swing in the Bush ticket's favor.

This pattern-not one overwhelming fraud but thousands of little ones-is, in Miller's view, the new Republican electoral strategy. This incendiary new book presents massive documentation that the election was stolen and describes the mind-set, among both the major parties and the media, that could permit it to happen again.

About the Author
Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media studies at New York University and a well-known public intellectual. His writings on film, television, propaganda, advertising, and the culture industries have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers, including The Nation and the New York Times. He is the author of The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder (2001) and Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order (2004). A frequent commentator on TV, radio, and the Internet, Miller has appeared on "Frontline," "The PBS Newshour," "The O'Reilly Factor," "Washington Journal," and Bill Moyers's "The Public Mind," as well as many other television shows, and has been a guest on countless radio programs. He is a regular commentator on Air America, appearing often on "Morning Sedition" and "The Al Franken Show." He lives in New York City.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

An Introduction to E-Voting -

An Introduction to E-Voting
By Kim Zetter

02:00 AM Jul. 07, 2005 PT

In municipalities across the country, election officials are employing computerized voting machines in lieu of paper ballots.

Fans of electronic ballots say the technology produces faster and more accurate results than other types of voting equipment. Critics say the machines are not sufficiently secure and can appear to work correctly but record votes inaccurately. Following are some key facts and issues pertaining to e-voting technology.

What is e-voting?

E-voting, or electronic voting, refers to computerized voting machines that use electronic ballots rather than paper ones. They're also known as direct-recording electronic machines, or DREs. E-voting machines consist of three types: touch-screen machines that let voters cast votes by touching an electronic ballot on an LCD screen, punch-key machines that use a keypad for making selections on an electronic ballot, and wheel machines that require voters to rotate a wheel and press a button.

Aren't optical-scan machines also electronic machines?

Optical-scan machines use an electronic reader to record the vote, but not to cast it. The machines require voters to mark their choices on a paper ballot, which is then scanned into an electronic reader to record the vote. Since voters are not directly recording their vote into the computer, the machine is not a DRE. This doesn't mean that optical-scan machines are free of the glitches and programming errors that can plague e-voting machines. The paper ballots, however, give officials the ability to catch problems if they examine the ballots through a hand count and compare them against the digital votes.

Are computerized voting machines new?

Sort of. Computers have played a role in elections since the 1960s, when they were used to tabulate votes marked on paper punch cards. Optical-scan and punch-key machines were also introduced in the '60s and '70s. Touch-screen machines appeared in the '90s but weren't widely used until after the 2000 presidential election debacle. Problems during that election were attributed to punch-card voting machines. So, in 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which, among other things, designated about $4 billion to states to improve election procedures and replace punch-card machines with new e-voting or optical-scan machines.

How many voters cast their ballots on e-voting machines?

The numbers are shifting as counties continue to upgrade, but the latest statistics from Election Data Services, a political consulting firm, estimate that 29 percent of registered voters live in districts that currently use e-voting machines. By comparison, about 39 percent of voters use optical-scan machines, 10 percent still use punch-card machines and about 13 percent use lever machines.

How do e-voting machines work?

E-voting machines contain a memory chip and a removable memory card. When voters cast their ballot, votes are recorded to the chip and the removable memory card. At the end of an election, poll workers remove the memory card and take it to a tabulation center, where the cards are loaded onto a computer and the votes are tabulated to produce unofficial election results. Over the next couple of days when official tallies are made, election officials compare votes stored on the memory chip with those tabulated from the memory cards to ensure that no one changed votes on the cards after they were removed from the machines.

Some e-voting machines have modems that allow poll workers to send unofficial results through a phone line to the tabulation center. Critics say this method is insecure, however, since it could allow intruders to access machines through the line and alter votes or the machine's software.

What's good about e-voting?

Election officials say the machines save printing costs (to produce paper ballots), make it simpler to produce ballots in multiple languages, and let them make last-minute ballot changes easily. The machines also allow most disabled voters to cast ballots without assistance (the machines have an adapter that turns ballot text into speech for visually impaired voters and allows movement-impaired voters to cast ballots with a mouth pointer). Election officials also say the machines produce faster and more accurate results than other types of voting machines.

So what's the problem?

Critics of e-voting, among them many respected computer security experts, say the machines are badly programmed and prone to hacking. The voting software is proprietary, so no one really knows what's inside the machines except the voting-machine makers, who have fought in court to prevent anyone from examining their software. E-voting machines sometimes fail to boot up, fail to record votes or even record them for the wrong candidates -- that is, in cases when someone notices a problem. A machine can appear to perform properly from the outside, but record votes inaccurately. Without a paper backup trail or some other means to verify votes, there is no meaningful way to determine the integrity of the machines or an election.

Aren't the machines tested and certified?

Labs examine and test the systems according to standards developed in 1990 and rewritten in 2002. But the standards, which are currently being rewritten again, have been problematic, since they demand little in the way of security and contain loopholes that allow parts of voting systems to slip past certifiers without being tested. The labs generally test the machines for functionality but don't thoroughly examine them for rogue software that could alter votes.

Once machines are tested, voting vendors constantly update the software. Until now, procedures for tracking and securing certified software have been extremely poor, so no one could ensure that the software tested was the same, unaltered, software used in elections. California encountered this problem when officials discovered that Diebold Election Systems installed uncertified software on its machines in 17 of the state's counties.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently installed a new voting software library to address this problem, but it's unclear whether it will work in practice. The library will store checksums, which are measures used to protect the integrity of data, for certified software. Election officials can then compare their software against stored versions to ensure that it wasn't altered. But election officials plan to use the library only when an election dispute arises, not as a matter of course before elections.

The "independent testing labs," or ITAs, that test voting systems are not completely independent of the companies that make voting equipment. The ITAs are private, for-profit labs that receive money from voting vendors to test their systems, giving the vendors control over such parts of the testing process as who gets to view the test results. This lack of transparency means that state officials who buy voting machines seldom know about problems that occurred with machines during testing. Until now there has been no oversight of the testing labs and no clearinghouse for tracking problems with voting systems.

Is it true what some election officials say, that e-voting machines are faster and more accurate?

The speed depends on whom you ask. In 2003 in Fairfax County, Virginia, problems with e-voting systems prevented officials from releasing results until 21 hours after the polls closed. Similarly, San Bernardino County, California, wasn't able to report results during last year's primary until the next morning.

As for accuracy, during the Fairfax election, voters reported that when they touched the screen to choose a candidate, the machine marked an "X" next to a different candidate. Voters in Florida last November reported the same problem. There's no way to know if machines caused the same problem for other voters who failed to notice.

There's currently no way to determine if an e-voting machine recorded votes exactly as cast. Some studies have attempted to measure the reliability of voting systems by counting residual votes, also called over votes and under votes. Over votes occur when a ballot has more than the allowed number of votes in a race -- for example, a ballot has votes marked for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for president -- thus canceling the vote. Under votes occur when there is no discernible vote in a race -- either the voter marked the ballot in such a way that it can't be read, forgot to mark the race or deliberately left the race blank.

Residual votes can help determine if one type of voting system is better at helping voters cast their ballot correctly, but they can't determine if a machine recorded votes accurately or if a voter intended to leave a race blank.

Touch-screen voting machines, for example, are supposed to be programmed to prevent voters from choosing more candidates than allowed in a race and to ask voters to be sure they intend to leave a race blank before casting their ballot. But this works only if they're programmed correctly.

Last year, during Florida's primary, machines made by Election Systems and Software recorded that 134 voters cast blank ballots. Some officials speculated that Democratic voters cast blank ballots once they realized there were only Republican candidates on the ballot. But in a North Carolina county in 2002 that used the same voting system, officials discovered that touch-screen machines failed to record 436 ballots. The machines didn't just fail to record votes; they failed to record the ballots as being cast. The issue in that case turned out to be a programming problem. Officials were able to determine the problem only because voters filled out paper ballots before casting touch-screen ballots, a procedure sometimes used for early voting. This provided a paper trail indicating the voters' intent.

Are there any solutions to problems with e-voting?

Voting activists want the federal government to mandate that all e-voting machines have a voter-verified paper audit trail -- a paper printout that would allow voters to check their vote on the paper before it drops into a secure box. The paper trail works, however, only if states are required to manually recount a certain percentage of the paper votes to compare them against the digital votes and check for anomalies. California, one of the first states to require e-voting machines to provide a paper trail, requires counties to perform a 1 percent mandatory manual recount of all elections. For paper-trail legislation to be effective, it should also designate the voter-verified paper trail as the final word in cases where it differs from the digital vote, since it would be easy for someone to program the machines to print out one vote but record a different one digitally.

Opponents of the paper-trail solution say it would slow the voting process, since voters would have to take time to review their vote. Some election officials complain that the printers would jam or run out of paper, causing problems for election workers. They also complain that it would cost them more money to secure and store the paper after an election until it can be destroyed.

Still others say the paper trail won't work because voters won't bother to look at them and can't be relied on to read them accurately. A limited study (.pdf) conducted by an MIT graduate student recently found that few of 36 test voters were able to detect errors in the paper trail they viewed, and they were more likely to notice when a vote wasn't recorded at all than when a vote was recorded improperly.

Alternative, technological solutions to a paper trail have been proposed, but they have not caught on with voting activists because they're complicated mathematical solutions, and the proponents have had a difficult time winning over election officials and voting activists.