It is historical fact that election fraud has existed since the inception of our country, and those motivated by malice and greed can be expected to continue their attempts to rig elections into the foreseeable future. The basic techniques are outlined in the Chicago Rules Of Election Fraud. Or see a demonstration of how a computer can control an election at WheresThePaper. In the test election there you get honest results but Mary Smith always wins in the "real" election no matter how many votes you give John Doe. Could Hillary be next?
Today the major threat to the integrity of elections is the use of computers in voting. Since November of 2001 I have served on an IEEE standards committee attempting to set forth the basic, minimum requirements for voting equipment and associated computers.1 While normally IEEE standards committees are obscure, volunteer efforts, as we've come close to producing the final standards national scandals have arisen about security in voting systems, particularly with direct recording electronic (DRE) voting equipment. In late July a computer security group at Johns Hopkins University released a report that was harshly critical of the Diebold Accu-Vote TS DRE system. That gained national attention after a New York Times article was published and other authors took a bite of Ohio-based Diebold, whose CEO responded in August with a letter promising to deliver the electoral votes for Ohio to Bush in 2004.
You may recall that the EJF objective is to fix the problem, not the blame. Diebold took the opposite approach with a blizzard of self-serving press releases denying any problems existed and an ad hominem attack on one of the report's authors who had ties to another voting equipment company. But, to the best of my knowledge, they haven't fixed the problems.
Shortly thereafter on July 28-29, 2003, Prof. David Dill of Stanford University chaired a conference on DRE voting systems in Denver further questioning the integrity of DRE voting systems in conjunction with the annual IACREOT convention where computer vendors peddle their current Game Boy voting equipment. Dill's conference was followed immediately by a meeting of the IEEE Voting Equipment Standards (P1583) committee I serve on. Boring, you might think? Hardly!
IACREOT gave noted computer voting expert, Dr. Rebecca Mercuri, the heave ho, and wouldn't even let her into their conference though she had paid the registration fee (taxpayers usually pay these fees for the county clerks and election officials who attend but Mercuri paid it out of her pocket).
Following the July 29-30 meeting the IEEE P1583 committee put the draft voting equipment standards out for a vote by the committee members.
No big deal you might think, IEEE has something like 1,300 of these standards. But you'd be wrong. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, passed in response to the fiasco of the 2000 presidential election, provides $3.9 billion dollars to upgrade voting equipment in the US. And election officials are under pressure to get their voting equipment updated in time for the 2004 presidential election, which means they have to order it now. The current California recall election is but one example. Of course, voting equipment manufacturers are salivating at the thought of all those federal dollars flowing into their pockets for the toys they currently offer under the guise of "voting systems."
Naturally, if standards for the voting systems are in the works, the manufactures would like to see if they can meet them rather than get blind sided later. And the major voting system companies are well represented on the IEEE P1583 committee, e.g., Bill Welsh, the [now former] chairman of ES&S is vice chair.
Not so quick, critics screamed. There was no provision for verified voting for the DRE systems in the present draft and it was quite up in the air as to who would be allowed to vote on the standards. So on September 16, 2003, a conference call was held in which it was necessary, after lengthy debates, to determine if the draft standards would go out for balloting and whether certain members (read troublemakers) of the committee, including such nefarious characters as Prof. David Dill of Stanford University, Prof. Ted Selker of MIT, and yours truly, should be retained or admitted to active voting membership. The committee voted, after two hours of debate, to put the draft standard out to ballot though the balloting deadline was extended, and to keep and retain the troublemakers (read those of us who don't always agree with the manufacturers).
That was followed by a news release on September 19, 2003, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation calling for:
"...concerned parties to write letters to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), requesting an electronic voting machine standard that requires secure, voter-verifiable election equipment and technologies that support open democratic principles of governance.
'The IEEE voting equipment standard could impact dramatically the future of democratic systems in the U.S. and around the world,' said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. 'We urge the IEEE to take the measures necessary to rework the standard currently under consideration so that it includes benchmarks for secure voter-verifiable election equipment and addresses additional criticisms from the security community.'"
In another vein, as a research scientist I look for converging lines of evidence to substantiate any observation or hypothesis that might result from those observations. I've accumulated reports of numerous election problems at Vote Fraud and Election Issues from a variety of authors and sources. Those observations are summarized in a September 19, 2003, article by Chris Floyd in The Moscow Times excoriating voting in America. In Global Eye Vanishing Act Floyd begins:
"It's a shell game, with money, companies and corporate brands switching in a blur of buyouts and bogus fronts. It's a sinkhole, where mobbed-up operators, paid-off public servants, crazed Christian fascists, CIA shadow-jobbers, war-pimping arms dealers and presidential family members lie down together in the slime. It's a hacker's dream, with pork-funded, half-finished, secretly programmed computer systems installed without basic security standards by politically partisan private firms, and protected by law from public scrutiny. It's how the United States, the 'world's greatest democracy,' casts its votes. And it's why George W. Bush will almost certainly be the next president of the United States no matter what the people of the United States might want."
And it shouldn't be a surprise that the problems with American voting are seen more clearly in Russia than here. Though I certainly don't advocate we adopt their system of government, the observations and claims in Floyd's article are consistent with the other observations and reports I've seen on voting systems in the United States. And the links at the end of Floyd's article well document his sources and statements.
Then a week ago our county clerk sent me a copy of a flyer (Carey-SERVE.pdf) he'd received from the National Defense Committee touting Internet voting being funded by the Department of Defense as the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE). The initial SERVE experiment in Internet voting cost taxpayers a trifling $72,000 per ballot. There are the usual promises and hyperbole about what a great thing Internet voting is and how it will allow "troops well forward of our lines...troops in the jungle..." to vote that are somehow prevented from voting with an absentee ballot at present.
As I think Internet voting is an extremely dangerous venture I have responded to Adm. Carey with a letter (Carey-response_9-22-03.pdf), together with one I wrote to Colorado Senator Alice Nichols two years ago about Internet voting (Nichol letter HB 01-1135.pdf) that helped kill Internet voting in Colorado for the present. SERVE thus strikes me as yet another failure-prone DoD program that won't live up to its promises and may endanger the integrity of all American elections.2
It seems clear that the integrity of American elections are now at risk as never before. And the widespread use of computers in elections without adequate safeguards or standards is an open invitation to disaster. Voting by computers is based on the premise that the average county clerk can maintain a computer system and network that is more secure and error-free than anything the United States Department of Defense, the FBI, or the CIA has been able to establish. And those who know the least about computers appear to be most in favor of their use in elections, i.e., if you don't know a bit from a byte or a gate from a flip-flop then the government will give you billions to buy voting computers.
For the first time the potential for statewide, and even national election fraud has been introduced. Before computers the simple logistics of an election limited the scope of any possible fraud. But, for example, it is not technically difficult to rig every voting system from a given manufacturer to jigger a presidential race. And history shows us that if something is possible that is desired by a motivated group it is virtually certain to at least be attempted.