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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Then, of course, there's still THIS problem
Posted by Jill | 6:12 AM
So now we have our nominee, and Hillary Clinton is going to "suspend" her campaign this weekend after one last victory rally on Saturday. But any Democrat that thinks all we have to worry about now is John McCain is a fool.

Brad Friedman has been all over the completely FUBAR voting system in this country for the last four years now. If you're not reading Bradblog every day, you should be. Because when you go to vote in November, you have no idea what's going on inside that box.

I ran for county Democratic Committee this year after being recruited by a group of renegade Democrats in an attempt to topple the organization's pay-to-play, crony-driven, self-enriching Chairman. I didn't figure on winning, but it was a toe-dip into the political waters, because the town iin which I live is not only controlled entirely by Republicans, but no one from either party ever runs against the existing machine. I kid you not. We have elections every few years, but the only names on the ballot are the current mayor and council. Our mayor was busted in DWI charges last year with a cocktail waitress in the car, and his house is on the market. So who knows if he's even still planning to live in town? This year the council has allocated $1 million in a town of just over 9000 people to install artificial turf on the sports fields. The budget is determined behind closed doors, it's already been approved, and while you can go to the next open council meeting (there's only one a month) and voice your opinion (which I plan to do), it's already a done deal. This is part of the reason why voter turnout in at least my own voting district in Tuesday's primary was eight percent. Not eighty. Eight.

No, I didn't win, but I did get ten votes out of 37 votes cast, which I think is quite impressive considering I was up against a machine hack and my "campaign" consisted of a letter dropped off at around 20 houses. Imagine if I'd done a real mailing with follow-up. Of course, since the others running on my line got their asses profoundly kicked, I would have ended up on committee with a bunch of pay-to-play thugs, so it's actually a blessing that I didn't win.

But since I spent the last half-hour the polls were open as a "challenger", and stayed to get the numbers, I got to talk to the poll workers about what they do, and about the machines, and got a pretty good sense that these poll workers have absolute trust in the voting machines and absolutely no sense that these machines could be tampered with. Their "check" of discrepancies is to count the number of stubs from the tickets for each party they hand to voters against the machine's vote totals. Of course after I got through with them they had more of an idea of just how the software could be changed to produce a predetermined result, but my guess is they will continue to trust the voting machines, because what choice do they have?

In my county, we use the Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machine. The brochure for the machine (scroll down to the last page) states:

The AVC Advantage requires no specialist knowledge to operate
or maintain. It performs a self-diagnosis at every power-up, and
its error messages display in plain, easy-to-understand language
for quick and simple trouble-shooting. Plus its modular-component
design allows easy in-field part replacement or system upgrade.

This machine allows "no access to the embedded programming", but what happens if the firmware goes on the fritz? Are the guts of the machine yet another "modular component"?

As Ellen Thiesen of Voters Unite wrote at Bradblog earlier this year, 60 of these machines showed vote discrepancies in New Jersey's February presidential primary. More on this here.

Given the close attention that Brad Friedman pays to the nuts and bolts of voting, you'd think that whoever's tampering with these machines would make damn sure that he votes on one that works the way it's supposed to. But you'd be wrong:

As a fairly well-known Election Integrity journalist who has personally covered, for years, the myriad election woes of thousands (if not millions) of voters around the country who have tried to bring seemingly endless stories of votes flipped on e-voting systems to the attention of officials, these stories always continue to be remarkable to me, even if not to many others in the rest of the mainstream media.

It's even more troubling when one realizes that so little ever seems to be done in light of so many of these horror stories, as those very same failed systems are still deployed across the nation, with little or no modification to correct the mountains of documented problems even now, as we head towards an election likely to be of historic proportions this November.

What follows is yet another one of those stories, where a voter had vote selections flipped by the electronic voting system, such that candidates were chosen other than the ones intended to be selected by the voter, though no fault of his own.

But this time, the voter is me.

Though I've covered so many of these stories, it was nonetheless remarkable to see it happen before ones very eyes, as occurred yesterday when I voted here in Los Angeles during our very low turnout California state Primary election.

The ES&S electronic voting system that I used to try to vote on yesterday, ended up flipping a total of 4 out of the 12 contests and initiatives for which I had attempted to vote.

Right before my very eyes, the computer-printed ballot produced by the voting system I was using, incorrectly filled in bubbles for four of the races I was voting in. Had I not been incredibly careful, after the ballot was printed out, to painstakingly compare what was printed to what I actually voted for, I'd have never known my votes were being given to candidates I did not vote for.

Had I been a blind voter --- as the system I was using is largely intended for use by the disabled --- I would have cast my ballot without having a clue that a full 40% of the votes I'd tried to cast for various California Superior Court judges were flipped to other candidates...

After speaking late last night about the problem to Dean Logan, the current acting Registrar-Recorder for Los Angeles County (the country's largest voting jurisdiction) and officials from the CA Sec. of State's office, I can report the failed e-voting machine in question is now being quarantined for testing to try and determine what happened in this, just the latest in a mounting string of failures by voting systems made by ES&S, the country's largest supplier of voting equipment.

The elderly poll workers at the 1950's-vintage public school where I vote are lovely people. Most of them have lived in the town for decades, raising their children there and trying valiantly to stay in their homes despite property taxes that see hundreds of dollars of increases every year because of their unaccountable local government. One of the poll workers told me of growing up in northern Ireland where only property owners had the right to vote. These are not technologically-literate people. MAYBE a few of them know their way around the internet enough to get to the Flickr albums of photos of their grandchildren. For all that they've been closing these machines for a decade, watching them close the vote at the end of the day was sort of like watching myself try to connect the DVR box, the DVD player, and the VCR to the television set in the basement family room. How do you explain to these people how you can write a dozen lines of code that would take every nth vote for Candidate A and change it to a vote for Candidate B?

Perhaps we can all take a day or so and pat ourselves on the back about the vision of our party. But we can't take any more than that. Because not only are we up against yet another complete wackjob running on the Republican side, we are also up against a voting system that is at best unreliable, and at worst designed to be rigged to produce a predetermined result.


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Blogger Bob said...
The elderly man who sets up the machine where I vote always says "Have a blessed Evening" as I leave. But without the reassuring "ka thunk" of pulling the level & knowing something mechanical registered my vote. I feel I'm assuming an awful lot about the process.

Blogger Melina said...
we now have paper ballots that you fill out bubbles on and then feed it into a big machine. It spits out a receipt and keeps the paper inside...But I still miss the big ker-plunk sound, even though the huge folding paper, falling all over as the old folks tried to manage the unweildy load, gave me pause...and my Mom's experiences recently with some alternative paper ballots being kept in ripped boxes under the desk and splaying out across the floor...man...
racecourse conditions are crappy...

Blogger John Washburn said...
You have no idea how whacked out this system of voting machines is.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
The "Dean Logan" noted in this article is one and the same who departed Seattle after four re-counts and continuing boxes of ballots arriving late to the office for the governors race in 2004. This is the same race where the military ballots were excluded. Neither he nor his henchmen have any credibility with me.