Around the States
Not surprisingly, the starkest resistance to the voter-verified paper trail comes from Florida, where more than half the citizens will have to vote on touch-screen systems in November. The President’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush, and Jeb’s Secretary of State, Glenda Hood, express unqualified confidence in the trustworthiness of the DRE systems and militantly oppose providing a paper-ballot trail for them. Hood has denied that the electronic voting machines can be tampered with in the software, saying: “The touch-screen machines are not computers. You’d have to go machine by machine, all over the state.” A spokeswoman for her says flatly that “a manual recount is unnecessary.”
This past spring a powerful state senator proposed to make it illegal to recount votes in the DRE systems, but she backed down when called on it by activists. Then Ed Kast, director of Hood’s division of elections, who has since resigned, sought to achieve the same purpose by diktat, issuing a formal ruling that, despite the extant state law requiring recounts under certain circumstances, supervisors of elections do not need to recount DRE ballots. The ACLU and other groups have sued to invalidate that ruling; a spokesperson for the state Republican Party excoriates the suit as a left-wingers’ “ploy to undermine voters’ confidence.”
Representative Robert Wexler, a Democrat from the southern tier of the three big counties on the Atlantic, which for election scandals is to Florida what Cook County is to Illinois, sued state and county election officials in state and federal court to require the VVPAT on DREs. He argues that allowing some voters to have manual recounts but not others violates the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore compelling equal treatment of voters (although the majority specified it was only for that election). To date his suits, opposed at every step by the Bush Administration in Tallahassee, have gotten nowhere. If he loses, half the voters in Florida, those voting on DREs, will be denied the manual recounts that the other half can have.
“What are we going to do if there’s a close race?” Wexler asked in the Orlando Sentinel. “The voting records of these machines will have disappeared in cyberspace.” He told me angrily: “Apparently their motives are to suppress the vote in Florida in a number of different ways. They are refusing a paper trail on a computerized voting machine. They are again preparing on the felons–they’ve got a new and improved process. I don’t trust 'em to do the right thing.” This summer, Representative Alcee Hastings, whose district includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, exclaimed, “Any way we cut it, these people are going to try to steal this election.”
The Miami-Dade Reform Coalition asked Jeb Bush to audit the touch-screen machines this summer. Bush’s spokesperson rebuffed that as “an accusation du jour.” Undeterred, Democratic US Senator Bill Nelson of Florida demanded, “Why not do an audit when so much is at stake?.. The national election for President could ride on the results coming out of Florida.” Senator Nelson even sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking that the federal government audit the machines.
A paper trail will not assure that elections won’t be stolen in the DREs. “The only thing the VVPAT will do is give us the ability to prove that it happened,” says Roxanne Jekot of Cumming, Georgia, a self-taught computer specialist who has become one of the most effective activists against paperless computerized voting. “There is nothing to deter that single outsourced information-technology worker [from manipulating the machine]. Nobody can prove that he did it.”
Many states require recounts if an outcome in a computer-counted race is within a margin of less than 1 percent or a half or quarter percent, but that invites crooked programmers, if any such be at work, to jimmy their rigged outcomes to fall outside the recount-triggering spreads.
Furthermore, a paper trail isn’t an audit unless the ballots are recounted. Even before the advent of touch-screen systems, obtaining actual recounts of elections was becoming more difficult. Election officials, election companies and state laws have often combined to block recounts or discourage narrowly losing candidates from getting them. Incredibly, in 2002 the legislature in Nebraska, the home state of Election Systems & Software, outlawed recounts of the paper ballots in the ES&S optical-scan computerized ballot-counting systems that tally 85 percent or so of the votes in that state. Colorado requires that for elections conducted on DRE machines, recounts must be conducted on the very same machines.
In Alabama two years ago, during a controversy over an election for governor conducted mostly on op-scan machines, Attorney General Bill Pryor, backing up the sheriff in one questioned county, ruled officially that under state law anyone recounting the ballots would be subject to arrest. This year President Bush, circumventing Senate hearings, elevated Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a recess appointment.
Voting Machines Stolen in Georgia
In 2000 five out of six Georgians cast a paper ballot that could be recounted on ES&S systems. In January 2001, in a speech to the Democratic-controlled legislature, Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat who is expected to run for governor in 2006, declared that considering all the recent problems down in Florida, Georgia should adopt one “uniform electronic voting system by November 2004.” Upon Cox’s fervent recommendation of the just-born Diebold Election Systems, in May 2002 Georgia agreed to pay Diebold $54 million for 19,000 DRE voting systems. The counties and cities of Georgia had chosen their own voting machines for the last time, and, less obviously, Georgians had lost their ability to recount their votes in contested elections.
At once Diebold set to manufacturing 282 of its AccuVote TS voting systems a day. Some of the earliest ones arriving in Georgia, sent out for use in the training of election workers, were left in a hotel conference room overnight, stolen and never recovered. Late that June the secret vote-counting codes inside nine to fourteen more of the Diebold machines were stolen. Diebold made an uncounted number of apparently illegal changes in the election-conducting code between June and November. The memory cards on which the votes on each of the computers were recorded on election day all over Georgia had no encryption. According to Rob Behler, who served as Diebold’s production deployment manager in Georgia during the first half of that summer, those cards could be used to change the results manually, precinct by precinct.
Incumbent US Senator Max Cleland and incumbent Governor Roy Barnes, both Democrats, were odds-on favorites to win re-election. A week before the voting an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed Cleland ahead by five points, 49-44, but on election day he lost to his Republican opponent, Saxby Chambliss, by seven points, 53-46, a twelve-point swing. The loss of Governor Barnes to Sonny Perdue was even more remarkable: a one-week switch of fourteen percentage points. These were suspicious anomalies, and subsequently in a Peach State Poll one in eight Georgia voters were “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that the DREs had produced accurate results; another 32 percent were only “somewhat confident.”
In his front parlor at home in Georgia, Rob Behler told me that just before or just as he took over the Atlanta warehouse for Diebold, some of the voting machines had been sent out to “do demos,” and in one southern county “somebody broke in and stole…[nine or] fourteen of the machines and, I think, one of the servers.” He says the vote-counting programs in the stolen computers could have been completely reconstructed by reverse engineering and employed to jimmy the election.
“Quality-checking” the AccuVote machines as they arrived from Diebold at a warehouse in Atlanta, Behler and his crew found problems, he says, with “every single one” of them and about a fifth of them were shoved aside as unusable. When Diebold’s programmers wanted “patches,” that is, changes, inserted into the voting-system software, Behler says, they sent them to him via the company’s open, insecure File Transfer Protocol (FTP) site in cyberspace. On his own unsecured laptop (resting on his desk as he spoke), Behler made twenty-two or twenty-three of the cards that were used to change the programs in the machines.
The night of the November 2002 election, sixty-seven of the memory cards used in Fulton County (Atlanta) disappeared. Running his laptop with a dual battery, Behler says, in six or seven hours he could have changed the totals on those sixty-seven cards. “There’s no technical problem. There was absolutely zero protection on the card itself. You throw the card in, you just drill down into its files.”