September 20th, 2006

Veto the Voting Machines

As the elections draw near, voters should be made aware of the ongoing controversy regarding the Diebold Election Systems. These computers allow for electronic voting, but have been shown numerous times to be insecure and susceptible to hacking. One such example of hacking the machines to sway the outcome of the votes was presented on Fox News:

Diebold’s official web site states:

Diebold Election Systems provides accurate vote counting, extremely reliable security, and accessibility for voters.

Let’s break that media blurb down to what it really is.

Accurate vote counting

I think the video above pretty much disproves that statement. The wikipedia page provides another interesting morsel of information:

Jeff Dean, Senior Vice-President and Senior Programmer at Global Election Systems (GES), the company purchased by Diebold in 2002 which became Diebold Election Systems, was convicted of 23 counts of felony theft for planting back doors in software he created for ATMs using, according to court documents, a “high degree of sophistication” to evade detection over a period of 2 years. In addition to Dean, GES employed a number of other convicted felons in senior positions, including a fraudulent securities trader and a drug trafficker.

Ah, nice. So the senior developer of these machines, which supposedly are supposed to provide “accurate vote counting” was convicted for writing loopholes and back doors in software? And we’re supposed to believe that he did no such thing in the DES machine code? Right.

Another interesting tidbit: As of February of this year, 80% of voting in the USA is being counted by two companies: Diebold and ES&S. These companies operate with no government oversight. And what’s more, the President of Diebold and the VP of ES&S are brothers. Find out more “fun” facts here.

Extremely reliable security

Ha! Anybody with access to some cheap, common keys can use them to gain access to the innards of the machine. Or, use a screwdriver to open the case and flip a switch that will change the program’s behavior. And not only is the physical machine not secure.. the software isn’t either. Again from wikipedia:

Avi Rubin, Professor of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University and Technical Director of the Information Security Institute has analyzed the source code used in these voting machines and reports “this voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts.” Following the publication of this paper, the State of Maryland hired Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to perform another analysis of the Diebold voting machines. SAIC concluded “[t]he system, as implemented in policy, procedure, and technology, is at high risk of compromise.

Needless to say, I don’t think that anybody can make the argument that these voting machines are tried, tested, and true. And whoever says that deserves a nice kick in the pants. Our vote is our power. It is how we become “we the people”. It is how we dictate how our country will run. These machines take away our power. They turn “we the people” into “they who run the Diebold machines”. As Josef Stalin said, “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.”

Utah isn’t free from this atrocity. Last year, a mock election produced a 10% failure rate in the machines. Bruce Funk, Emery County Clerk, has been under pressure for a long time now because he decided to actually test (from an independent source.. whod’ve thought?) the machines he was sent to use. According to Barbara Bellows, “Lt. Governor Herbert’s Chief of Staff Demma, Utah elections officer Cragun and legal counsel from Utah Attorney General’s office flew into Emery, accompanied by a representative and a tech man from Diebold who threatened the county with punitive actions for testing their equipment.”

Lou Dobbs wrote an article today about this topic, and closed with a great question we should all ponder:

When voters lose confidence in our elected representatives, we can vote the bums out. But what is the recourse if American voters lose confidence in our electoral system?

Come voting time, who knows what I will do? If my vote won’t count the way I intend it to, then why vote at all?

9 Responses to “Veto the Voting Machines”

  1. fontor
    September 22, 2006 at 8:11 am #

    Egad, Connor.

    I’m a liberal vegetarian ex-Mormon atheist. I regard John Birch literature as — what’s the Hebrew word — ritually unclean. I’m sure that an actual conversation would be irritating for both of us.

    So how come I find myself agreeing with you on more than a few political issues? Like we both can’t stand Bush (it seems), and even for the same reasons. Polling machines are to be mistrusted. Could it be that we’re both extremists, since all extremists resemble each other? Or do we both just make sense in accidentally converging ways? I dunno.

    Back on topic. I’d support voting machines if they printed a paper receipt and if the innards could be examined by independent auditors anytime, sort of like they do with Las Vegas slot machines. How say you?

  2. Connor
    September 22, 2006 at 9:50 am #

    A paper trail would be helpful, and probably would do much in the way of preventing tampering and falsification. However, it would be cumbersome, if not impossible, to go around to everybody’s homes and double-check the paper trail to verify if the electronic count is accurate. But I would be in favor of having an open-source model for a voting machine where, as you suggest, independent auditors can examine them at any time.

    The only problem with the open source model is that with the code being open to the public, people can easily access it and attempt to subvert it. That is the benefit of a proprietary system – it’s much harder for would-be hackers to know how to thwart the code.

  3. fontor
    September 22, 2006 at 10:24 am #

    Clarifying: No, not that way — having to go to everyone’s house for a recount would be nuts. You’d get your own receipt, but there’d also be a paper copy kept for the archive.

    Or something like that.

    This graphic on Vegas slot machine verification was interesting.

  4. Dustin Davis
    September 22, 2006 at 10:27 am #

    Good idea fontor. Employ the makers of the slot machines. I think more money is spent securing those machines than anything else. I think they would be the best to hire for such a task.

    Hey maybe they could add a lever to the side. Then when you have no idea who the candidates are for those useless offices in our bloated government, you could let the machine randomly pick one :D

  5. fontor
    September 22, 2006 at 10:35 am #

    I think they tried that in Florida.

    Now look what’s happened.

  6. Connor
    September 30, 2006 at 10:52 am #

    In answer to my own question, “why vote at all?”, I think I found my answer. Joseph Smith said:

    …if we have to throw away our votes, we had better do so upon a worthy, rather than upon an unworthy individual, who might make use of the weapon we put in his hand to destroy us with.

    And in D&C 134:1:

    We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

    So regardless of whether my vote is counted accurately, I will vote.

  7. Connor
    December 30, 2006 at 6:14 pm #

    Looks like the Diebold machines are costing Utah taxpayers a pretty penny… Go figure.

  8. Connor
    January 26, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    In the latest demonstration of what piss poor security surrounds our official voting systems, somebody used an image of the master key from Diebold’s website to successfully create duplicate keys, letting anybody have free access to the machine.

    Absurd.

  9. Connor
    February 14, 2007 at 10:22 am #

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