Government Suddenly Concerned About Voting Machines

And why? Because one of the companies that makes them has been bought by a company with ties to Hugo Chavez:

The federal government is investigating the takeover last year of a leading American manufacturer of electronic voting systems by a small software company that has been linked to the leftist Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez.

Now I agree with them, there should be no foreign ownership at all of a company that provides voting machines, particularly ones with any ties to a nut like Chavez. But isn't it ridiculous that this gets the attention of the Federal government when 3 years worth of reports of problems with these machines wasn't enough to wake anyone up? Absurd.

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I don't know, Ed. Maybe having some machines' manufacturers linked to a foreign entity is a GOOD thing! For a change, the government is the one worried about election fraud ;)

Was the government also concerned about another voting machine manufacturer that, based on equally solid evidence, had ties to the Republican party and suggested the company could help Republicans win the count?
Any credible suggestion that the vote tallying process might be compromised ought to be investigated.

I don't know, I have more faith in Hugo Chavez than I do in Diebold or Walden O'Dell.

I have one of the best election officials in the country and I'm very happy with his diligence - He's vocal and transparent in his actions. He has tested all sorts of electronic machines and has invited hackers to break them (they did, he got in trouble, he blew Diebold's threats off).

He has stated that our county will stay on OCR because 1) it works well if not better than the alternatives and 2) provides a real, auditable paper trail.

What we need is to convince others to uniformly go to OCR but with all the money and easy manipulations in the new machines that's doubtful.

I will vote, but I think it's just a personal exercise -- it will have little national bearing because of all the irregularities elsewhere, however in my county it will authorize local initiatives at least.

You can be sure that the DoJ people fanning out across the country this week will be leading the FOX News stories next week.

By double-soup tuesday (not verified) on 01 Nov 2006 #permalink

My opinion on electronic voting is that everything technical, both hardware and software, should be opensource.
Allowing people to inspect the code and check the hardware schematics could be a good way to prevent manomission.
More than that, peolple should be allowed to inspect the hardware of the machine and download the software at any moment.
This should let activists to go in a voting place and, showing a previously acquired pemit, require the check of both hardware and software of one, some or all machines.
If any manomission is found, the machine's producer should be put on trail for traison.

Why do I think a company with ties to, oh say, the Saudi Royal family would not have warranted the same amount of concern from the Bush administration?

America will never have country-wide uniform voting machines with OCR or verifiable paper trails. People will see it as the Feds taking too much power. Maybe they're right, but this patchwork hodgepodge of levers, punch cards, and hacked diebold chicanery is just too much to bear.

The biggest problem is not the voting machines, it's the partisan control of the state and federal elections. While the roles played by two prominent Republican partisans in the last two Presidential elections spring to mind (Katherine Harris and Kenneth Blackwell) it's not just a problem with Republicans.

How ridiculous is it that Blackwell is in charge of the elections process in Ohio when he is running for governor himself? There was an eligibility complaint made against his Democratic opponent that, if it had been upheld would have led to Blackwell (or, at least his office) ruling that his opponent (who is comfortably ahead in the polls) was disbarred from running against him?

Other countries, like the UK, have removed the elections process (from boundary changes through manning the polling stations) from party control. Would it solve all the problems? No, but it would be a step towards helping Americans regain some long lost trust in the electoral system.

diego,

My opinion on electronic voting is that everything technical, both hardware and software, should be opensource.

That's true -- but assumes that electronic voting has merit in the first place. Why even go there? It buys you nothing important and creates all kinds of trouble. Paper and felt pens work well with scanners and form an inexpensive system that requires little training and maintenance. That's all we need.

I say this as someone who works in opensource and secure computing projects (meaning some would think I should support evoting). The fundamental rule of engineering, however, is don't make things more complicated than necessary. This is a case of a low-tech system being much harder to subvert than a hi-tech one -- and it is easier and cheaper to install, set up, and maintain than electronic voting systems.

AndyS has got it right. If the system if made more complicated than necessary, it's extraordinarily vulnerable to abuse or failure. And it will be abused. The temptation to the dishonest will be too great.

Tallies embedded electronically in memory cards will always be vulnerable, even if there is a paper trail. Hard copy ballots, whether punch card, marked cards for OCRs, or just plain manual ballots are all superior. The only real risk of failure lies in the ballots being destroyed and that leaves a trail of evidence. When machines lie, there is no evidence. The Diebolds of the world are dinosaurs and should be allowed to become extinct. My wife and I are requesting paper ballots on Tuesday. So should everyone else.

There's a way out of this and it's not totally electronic. The City of Toronto uses optical card readers. The voter marks a card, the attendant feeds it into the machine. If a card can't be read, the machine spits it out and the voter is given another card to mark. When the machine can read the card, the vote is tallied and the card is kept in a box. When the poll closes, the results are transmitted to a central location and are immediately part of a total. If there's any doubt or need for a recount, the cards are there to be inspected or re-scanned. The results are in and accurate as soon as the polling stations close.

Another point that hardly ever gets mentioned: These machines surely log the order in which votes are cast. If election officials note the order in which people appear at the booth, and run a simple cross-check, it's bye-bye to secret voting.

- JS

Double soup tuesday- do you have a link to anything about your election official and his opinion about voting? It sounds like it would be nice to know who he is, and where you are talking about.

Ed and all: There have already been reports -- in states that have early voting -- of many examples of vote 'flipping' of people voting for one candidate and other showing up on summary sheets or on lit panels. (Somehow, almost every case has been of people trying to vote Democratic and the machine showing they had voted Republican.)

I have several suggestions -- fortunatrely as a Brooklynite, they are unnecessary because we use the clunky old mechanical systems which are so much better:

First, if you can, demand a paper ballot. Most states are required to give you one.

Second, take, if possible a video camera or cell phone camera with you to record any problems you run into.

Third, CHECK any summary sheet, any record the machine shows you.

Fourth, if someone is taking an 'exit poll' take the time to answer his questions.

and hope that if things are too blatant, THIS time the Supreme Court throws out the results and declares a new election.

Definitely watch the HBO documentary, and call your local paper and insist they keep an eye on the situation, and if you have to vote two or three times before the vote is shown properly, call them again and tell them.

Franklin said "A republic, if you can keep it." This election might answer if we can.

Double soup tuesday- do you have a link to anything about your election official and his opinion about voting? It sounds like it would be nice to know who he is, and where you are talking about.

I'd rather not say, but I think if you watch the HBO special mentioned above, you'd probably see some representative types.

By double-soup tuesday (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

JS,

These machines surely log the order in which votes are cast.

No, they do not. When you cast a vote the machine writes your choice to a random free position on the memory card and doesn't store at what time a position was filled.
At least that's the way it is supposed to work, but the point is that you can't check anything, if it flips votes from the "wrong" to the "right" candidate or if it spies on the voters.