Friday, October 27, 2006

Take my vote, please...

A couple of days ago there was an excellent article on Ars Technica entitled How to steal an election by hacking the vote. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in having reliable vote transparency and accountability. You don't have to be particularly technical to understand it, though it doesn't hurt.

The article focuses mainly on the Diebold Accuvote TS machine (in large part because the source code for this machine has been leaked), but applies to greater or lesser degrees to any voting machine that lacks a paper trail.

It's truly scary stuff, the importance of which can perhaps best be summed up by the author's final paragraph:
My own personal fear is that, by the time a whistleblower comes forth with an indisputable smoking gun—hard evidence that a large election has been stolen electronically—we will have lost control of our electoral process to the point where we will be powerless to enact meaningful change. The clock is ticking on this issue, because a party that can use these techniques to gain control of the government can also use them to maintain control in perpetuity.

My thoughts exactly...

Pretty much everyone who pays attention at this point knows that Diebold is hardly a company we want to hand over control of our votes to. It's been well-publicized how easy they are to hack, as well-illustrated by this Princeton video. For that matter, you can just do a search on "Diebold" at youtube and get 92 results.

So everyone knows that voting machines, and Diebold in particular, are bad for democracy, right? Not exactly. Secretary of State William Galvin seems clueless as usual. Primary opponent John Bonifaz warned of this awhile back, and I've just found this article which states:
The touch-screen machines produced by Diebold Election Systems will be used in select cities and towns on Nov. 7 as part of a plan to put in place more user-friendly technology for disabled voters, said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Galvin.

While it's shameful we haven't fully implemented HAVA yet, does anyone really believe that this is the way to do it? I don't know what towns are going to be subject to this indignity, nor do I know the exact machine that will be used (though I've seen suggestions it will be the Accuvote-TSX), but this is no good.

In the past, Fitchburg has used optical scan ballots. These have problems as well (as mentioned in the Ars Technica article), but at least leave a paper trail. Hopefully we'll still have these this year, but there's a chance (though small) that we're one of those communities blighted with the Diebold machines.

The question is, what to do about it? Well, electing Bonifaz might have helped, but that ship has sailed. Knowing your rights is an important element, and you can find the Massachusetts Voters' Bill of Rights here (pdf). If your rights are in any way violated, you should contact the Elections Division at 1-800-462-VOTE. If you're forced to use a Diebold machine, I'd suggest complaining at this number as well, though it's not technically a violation of your rights as laid out in the document. You can also contact the Secretary of State at 1-800-392-6090 or email Generally speaking, a phone call is better than an email, and a letter is better than a phone call (address here).

Whatever the case, whether it be electronic voting machines, concerns about the optical scan machines, or some other sort of disenfranchisement, keep an eye open on election day and don't hesitate to raise any issues you may encounter.

1 comment:

1970s Abraham Lincoln said...

Video the Vote is an interesting project designed to record (and prevent) voter disenfranchisement. Worth a look, although I'm somewhat concerned that eager videographers taping outside polling places may actually discourage some voters.