The waste of $4 billion dollars by the U.S. federal government is hardly noteworthy today. Probably that much was wasted within a month after Hurricane Katrina last year, or on Halliburton in Iraq. But it is virtually certain that the $4+ billion federal and state governments have spent under the Help America Vote (for Bush) Act mandating electronic voting and statewide voter registration databases is among the most damaging waste our government has ever financed. A small fraction of the problems generated by electronic voting and statewide voter registration databases is documented on the Equal Justice Foundation (EJF) site Vote Fraud and Election Issues.
Elections have always been gamed and rigged, of which the Chicago Rules of Election Fraud are but one example. However, the forced introduction of electronic voting machines and statewide voter registration databases has made that possible on a scale and with ease previously unimaginable.
For those unfamiliar with elections, Prof. Doug Jones Brief Illustrated History of Voting might serve as a starting point. For more details on Stealing Elections there is John Fund's book. If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty of election fraud and stealing elections then Bev Harris' Black Box Voting is probably your first choice, though the EJF tabulates many other web sites of interest.
Since its inception the EJF and I, as an individual, and working with other groups have been attempting to insure fair and honest elections utilizing a secret ballot with one, and only one vote for each eligible citizen that is openly and accurately counted.
Electronic voting was introduced with few meaningful standards and virtually no safeguards. Toward correcting that in June 2001 the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) formed a working group dedicated to developing rigid standards for electronic precinct voting. Remarkably, standards for central tabulators, voter registration databases, and other election problems were not considered. I joined that committee in November 2001 and worked on it until it was dissolved in January 2006 because the broad range of experts on the committee could not agree on workable standards for such basic issues as security, among other problems. In fact, I was one of only 6 out of 31 experts to vote to try and continue trying to develop workable standards. Keep in mind that IEEE sets most standards for electrical, electronic, and computer equipment, about 1,300 of them. So today there are only voluntary standards for voting equipment that virtually all experts on the subject have grave concerns about and, in practice, are proving dysfunctional.
I still hear from the uninformed that if ATMs work so reliably, what is the problem with electronic voting. David Jefferson outlines why that idea is a non-starter.
Probably the leading expert on computer voting is Prof. Doug Jones with the University of Iowa. If you are not familiar with his work then Thoughts On Computers In Voting should be required reading. He puts forth this frightening, and all too probable scenario:
"If I wanted to fix an election, not this year, but four years from now, what I might do is quit my job at the University of Iowa and go to work for Microsoft, seeking to insinuate myself into the group that maintains the central elements of the window manager. It sounds like it might be fun, even if the job I'd need would largely involve maintenance of code that's been stable for years.
My goal: I want to modify the code that instantiates a "radio button widget" in a window on the screen. The specific function I want to add is: If the date is the first Tuesday after the first monday in a year divisible by 4, and if the window contains text containing the string "straight party," and if the radio buttons contain, at least, the strings "democrat" and "republican," one time in ten, at random, switch the button label containing the substring "democrat" with any of the other labels, at random.
Of course, I would make every effort to obfuscate my code. Obfuscated coding is a highly developed art! Having done so, what I'd have accomplished is a version of windows that would swing 10 percent of the straight party votes from the Democratic party to the other parties, selected at random. This would be very hard to detect in the election results, it would be unlikely to be detected during testing, and yet, it could swing many elections!"
Nothing has eroded voter confidence more than touchscreen DRE voting machines. Companies such as Diebold have been caught in Bald Face Lies About Black Box Voting Machines. Most essays about computer voting problems involve Diebold (our index currently list 74) . But Diebold is hardly the only one and humorist Dave Barry has satirized problems with ES&S iVotronic machines, for which one suggested use is making artificial reefs (we currently index 29 problem areas).
Many Americans may support the artificial reef idea and we present many articles on why they should. For example, the New York Times compared the security of electronic voting machines to gambling in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, gambling comes out a long way ahead.
Another method of proposed electronic voting was via the Internet. In 2001 I played a major role (PDF) in stopping passage of a bill to allow Internet voting in Colorado. However, Internet voting is a hydra-headed monster and by 2003 the Department of Defense (DoD) had created the SERVE program ostensibly to make it easier for servicemen and women to vote. Of course, to do this they contracted with an offshore company, Accenture, about which there is more later. Probably to their own surprise, a committee of experts managed to kill this ill-conceived boondoggle. Undeterred by reality, the DoD and several states then began an even more insecure program of voting by electronic mail (email). Despite citizen and expert testimony, in 2006 Colorado passed legislation to allow email voting. And the day after the state election director, Billy Compton, Esq., pushed the legislation through the Colorado House he resigned to head up the state Democratic political committee, leaving the implementation of his folly to others. Launched September 1, 2006, the Federal Voting Alternative Program (FVAP) site now shows you how to hack the vote for any state from anywhere.
The basic reason given for the necessity of DREs was that they would provide unassisted access for handicapped voters. However, when blind voters tried them in an election the machines didn't work any better for them than for the rest of the population despite a $1 million payoff by Diebold to the Federation for the Blind. And the only handicap most current DREs accommodate is vision impairment so major, and costly upgrades will be required in the future again, and again, and again, and again, ad infinitum, at taxpayer expense.
If you still think DRE voting is a good idea may I suggest you dig deeper into this chapter . And these are just a few of the known problems.
Trust in our election officials has also been deeply eroded in conjunction with electronic voting. For the most part these individuals lack any technical education or training whatsoever and are now tasked to run sophisticated computer systems about which they have no knowledge and only the most rudimentary training. When the inevitable problems arise they then have little recourse but to fall back on what their vendors tell them. Election officials have also proven singularly resistant to listening to citizens and experts, e.g., Dr. Rebecca Mercuri, and it is extremely difficult, and often impossible, to distinguish between official incompetence and fraud.
Also, in many cases election officials are violating state and federal laws, with kickbacks from vendors, bribery, theft, etc., not uncommon. These crimes have involved at least one Secretary of State, bribery and kickbacks to at least two state election directors, charges of theft, forgery, and embezzlement against an IT technician of the Denver Election Commission, misconduct ranging from sexual harassment by the female UN Elections Chief to the Arapahoe County, Colorado, clerk.
And when citizen activists have attempted to ensure honest elections in the face of gross incompetence, if not actual malfeasance in office, they have been threatened with arrest.
To reassure the public that all is well and they can sleep soundly, election officials constantly claim that electronic voting machines are rigorously tested by Independent Testing Authorities (ITAs). Unfortunately, that is simply one more prevarication as discussed by Dr. Avi Rubin in The Dirty Little Secrets of Voting System Testing Labs.
If you still have unbounded faith in election officials you may want to look at some of the other articles in this chapter. Most election officials are honest, hardworking, and doing the best they can with the time and money they have. But very few have the technical staff, funding, and ability to properly manage, test, and operate electronic voting machines in a secure and reliable manner.
For election fraud it is unquestionable that "no excuse" absentee ballots and mail in elections, combined with mail in voter registration, is the method of choice at present for election fraud. I've outlined Why Mail Ballots Are A Bad Idea but under the guise of "increasing voter turnout," election officials and others keep pushing this practice. Since only active voters are sent ballots in mail in elections I've often wondered how disenfranchising roughly one third of the registered voters could possibly increase "voter turnout"?
In 2002, working in concert with Citizens for Accurate Mail Ballot Election Results (CAMBER), the Equal Justice Foundation played a significant role in defeating Amendment 28 that would have required all elections in Colorado to be by mail only. And that success was achieved in the face of $1.3 million dollar funding by the Bighorn Center attempting to pass the amendment.
Oregon has used mail in elections since 2000 and their experience is often cited by election officials in favor of such elections. Prof. Melody Rose and Thomas Hargrove give us a more independent view that isn't so rosy (bad puns included).
There are also the usual problems with election officials and fraud as absentee ballots are collected and counted by back-room politicians as described in Absentee Voting Practices Result In Felony Charges Against Orlando, Florida Mayor, Judge, Campaign Manager, And Others.
There are grave questions of national security involved in allowing foreign companies and individuals to program and control American elections. Diebold's programmers are based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and undoubtedly employ a variety of Indian and Chinese workers. Sequoia is owned by a Venezuelan company. But the biggest known problems have arisen with states contracting to develop statewide voter registration databases with Bermuda-based, son of Arthur Anderson of Enron infamy, Accenture, who have proven themselves to be the epitome of incompetence. National security questions are completely ignored, however.
In many locations death has proven little impediment to dedicated voters and Colorado is no exception.
Then there is the "urge to purge" so popular with various secretaries of state. Greg Palast examines problems in Florida but the problems are spreading and mandated by the HAVA requirement that all states develop and maintain a central voter registration database. However, the development and maintenance of a relational database requires a high order of intelligence regarding spatial relationships, something sadly lacking in virtually all election officials. And, as noted above, election officials have proven extremely resistant to accepting outside review or suggestions.
In fact, in Colorado the Secretary of State has adopted the tactic of appointing committees of the unqualified and naming them Blue Ribbon Commissions to review subjects they know little or nothing about. Then the commission only hears input from vendors. These are often the same vendors noted elsewhere who have been giving kickbacks and bribes, or who have distinguished themselves by their incompetence.
With identity theft one of the fastest growing crimes in America, election officials have basically ignored the risks inherent in voter registration databases either for election fraud or identity theft. Nor has any concern for citizen privacy been addressed. Thus, the loss this year of 150,000 voter records in Denver, Colorado, was not a surprise or, apparently, of major concern.
Jeff Jacoby provides a summary of these problems in How To Steal An Election wherein he notes that he was able to register his wife's cat as a voter in Cook County, Illinois, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and then request absentee ballots from all three venues. He still has the ballots.
To lead off this chapter I've outlined Bad Ideas For Voting that Just Keep Coming. Of course electronic voting leads the list but those of you who think optical scanners are superior to DREs should probably think again (the index lists 25 problem areas). Voting centers also prove to be a bad idea, with problems ranging from parking to the requirement for electronic poll books that demand even more trust in computers. Some have even gone so far as to suggest we do away with secret ballots. In any case this section probably gores many election official's favorite oxes, as intended.
One of America's leading experts on electronic voting, Dr. Rebecca Mercuri, reviews whether electronic voting is A Better Ballot Box? I suggest you draw your own conclusions but at present I don't think she is much more optimistic about electronic voting, as presently implemented, than I am.
A series of evolving chapters document a few of the election problems by year for 2002 , 2003 , 2004, 2005, and 2006. These chapters are far from complete and probably never will be. However, I simply had to stop adding problems so I could get the site updated and indexed.
Various articles discuss problems with exit polling, optical scanners, undervotes particularly with DREs and straight-party tickets, crooked election officials, how voters are disenfranchised, how ballots often have to be hand counted after voting machines and election officials screw up (why not hand count them in the first place and save time and expense?), how vote counts don't add up (Diebold again and a pretty face seems to be an advantage for being appointed Secretary of State or an election director), voting centers, stealth elections, and so on, ad nauseam.
The last chapter lists the web sites of election activists and experts, a tabulation which has expanded enormously since I first started working on election problems six years ago. Then there is a list of most of the governmental bodies and associations related to elections, many of whom are working diligently to cover up the problems of electronic voting. There is also a rogues gallery listing voting equipment manufacturers with some links to more prominent reports and investigations included. It is probably worth noting that Diebold voting machines have flunked every security test ever undertaken. It is extremely unlikely that any of the other manufacturer's machines would fare any better.
The last section in this chapter lists Electronic Voting Equipment Problems By State And County for 38 states at present. I again emphasize that this is a partial list and I simply had to cut off additions at some point in order to get the site updated. At the end of this section I've provided a summary of various problems I see over and over again. The summary is broken into sections covering general and problems with the central tabulator, DRE or touchscreen voting machines, and optical scanners.
All in all electronic voting systems don't exhibit the reliability and trustworthiness of a Game Boy toy. Yet we have been forced to put our most fundamental freedom in the hands of a few opportunistic vendors with no meaningful standards for security, accuracy, reliability, or usability.
There are many areas where the use of computers seems both logical and necessary in elections. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) play a fundamental role today in defining election districts, designing and printing ballots is done much easier with a computer, tabulating and analyzing election results, and even relational databases for voter registration are all valid applications, even if misused and not understood by election officials charged with developing and maintaining them.
However, it has become clear that no combination of current technology and procedures can reliably and securely be used to count ballots either in a polling place, for early voting, or absentee/mail in ballots. The gold standard for counting ballots remains a hand count of hand-marked paper ballots. Machines are currently available to help handicapped voters mark and verify paper ballots and those machines are infinitely preferable to DREs in terms of trust, accuracy, cost, and reliability.
This isn't simply my opinion. Either every major newspaper and magazine, columnist, author, and expert who have examined electronic voting in detail are wrong, or our election officials and voting machine manufacturers have perpetrated an incredible fraud upon our most cherished and basic right to a democratically-elected government.