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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Not to Belabor the Obvious, But . . . 

From The Nation, the definitive article (to date) on the perils of electronic voting: "How They Could Steal the Election This Time," by Ronnie Dugger (via Zemblan patriots J.M. and J.D.):
About a third of the votes [in the 2004 election], 36 million, will be tabulated completely inside the new paperless, direct-recording-electronic (DRE) voting systems, on which you vote directly on a touch-screen. Unlike receipted transactions at the neighborhood ATM, however, you get no paper record of your vote. Since, as a government expert says, "the ballot is embedded in the voting equipment," there is no voter-marked paper ballot to be counted or recounted. Voting on the DRE, you never know, despite what the touch-screen says, whether the computer is counting your vote as you think you are casting it or, either by error or fraud, it is giving it to another candidate. No one can tell what a computer does inside itself by looking at it; an election official "can't watch the bits inside," says Dr. Peter Neumann, the principal scientist at the Computer Science Laboratory of SRI International and a world authority on computer-based risks.

The four major election corporations count votes with voting-system source codes. These are kept strictly secret by contract with the local jurisdictions and states using the machines. That secrecy makes it next to impossible for a candidate to examine the source code used to tabulate his or her own contest. In computer jargon a "trapdoor" is an opening in the code through which the program can be corrupted. David Stutsman, an Indiana lawyer whose suits in the 1980s exposed a trapdoor that was being used by the nation's largest election company at that time, puts it well: "The secrecy of the ballot has been turned into the secrecy of the vote count."

According to Dr. David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford, all elections conducted on DREs "are open to question." Challenging those who belittle the danger of fraud, Dill says that with trillions of dollars at stake in the battle for control of Congress and the presidency, potential attackers who might seek to fix elections include "hackers, candidates, zealots, foreign governments and criminal organizations," and "local officials can't stop it."

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