Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One Man, One Election 

What ho! There is a standard common-sense rebuttal to most large-scale conspiracy theories, enunciated here by starboard-listing tosspot Christopher Hitchens:
It was often said, in reply to charges of vote tampering, that it would have had to be “a conspiracy so immense” as to involve a dangerously large number of people. Indeed, some Ohio Democrats themselves laughed off some of the charges, saying that they too would have had to have been part of the plan. The stakes here are very high: one defector or turncoat with hard evidence could send the principals to jail forever and permanently discredit the party that had engaged in fraud.
But when he examined the mysterious results, in the Buckeye state, of the 2004 presidential election, even Hitchens (who, as a starboard-listing tosspot, "did not think that John Kerry should have been president of any country at any time") was forced to concede that the standard refutation did not obtain, because its central premise was, quite simply, false:
I had the chance to spend quality time with someone who came to me well recommended, who did not believe that fraud had yet actually been demonstrated, whose background was in the manufacture of the machines, and who wanted to be anonymous. It certainly could be done, she said, and only a very, very few people would have to be “in on it.” This is because of the small number of firms engaged in the manufacturing and the even smaller number of people, subject as they are to the hiring practices of these firms, who understand the technology. “Machines were put in place with no sampling to make sure they were ‘in control’ and no comparison studies,” she explained. “The code of the machines is not public knowledge, and none of these machines has since been impounded.” In these circumstances, she continued, it’s possible to manipulate both the count and the proportions of votes.

In the bad old days of Tammany Hall, she pointed out, you had to break the counter pins on the lever machines, and if there was any vigilance in an investigation, the broken pins would automatically incriminate the machine. With touch-screen technology, the crudeness and predictability of the old ward-heeler racketeers isn’t the question anymore. But had there been a biased “setting” on the new machines it could be uncovered—if a few of them could be impounded. The Ohio courts are currently refusing all motions to put the state’s voting machines, punch-card or touch-screen, in the public domain. It’s not clear to me, or to anyone else, who is tending the machines in the meanwhile.
Mr. Hitchens's expert told him that "very, very few" people would have to be in on the scheme -- but how many, exactly, did she mean? The answer, we now discover, is one:
To determine what it would take to hack a U.S. election, a team of cybersecurity experts turned to a fictional battleground state called Pennasota and a fictional gubernatorial race between Tom Jefferson and Johnny Adams. It's the year 2007, and the state uses electronic voting machines.

Jefferson was forecast to win the race by about 80,000 votes, or 2.3 percent of the vote. Adams's conspirators thought, "How easily can we manipulate the election results?"

The experts thought about all the ways to do it. And they concluded in a report issued yesterday that it would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome.
UPDATE (courtesy of our one-and-onliest colleague Avedon Carol): A useful, link-rich compendium of scary facts about the people who count your votes, compiled by Jeremy Lassen. Print 'n' save!

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