Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Live Free or Diebold 

As you have surely read elsewhere, the state of California recently hired a team of hackers from the University of California to test the security of the various electronic systems most Californians use to vote, and the hackers, to no one's surprise, hacked those motherfuckers six ways from Sunday. (Chief hacker Matt Bishop, from UC-Davis, talks to NPR here.) As a result, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen moved swiftly to decertify e-voting machines from four different companies:
Voting machines from Diebold and Sequoia were decertified, then given conditional re-certification for limited use. Secretary of State Debra Bowen's ruling allows only one machine from each company per polling place, and the companies' products will be required to comply with increased security and post-election auditing procedures for recertification.

The state also decertified voting machines from Hart InterCivic. That company, too, received conditional recertification, but the state will not limit the number of Hart machines at polling places.

Because the company did not meet a deadline for submitting information, the state also withdrew approval for voting systems from Elections Systems and Software.

The decision means that most voters in California will have to rely on paper ballots in the state’s Feb. 5 presidential primaries, likely leading to long lines and delays in e-results, California election officials said.
So, to recap: electronic voting machines are demonstrably susceptible to fraud, and, in the case of disputed results, offer no prospect of a recount. If election fraud does occur, there is no way to detect it. The very act of voting thus devolves into a ludicrous charade. On the other hand -- as certain "election officials" are now taking pains to point out -- paper ballots, though far more likely to produce accurate, verifiable results, have a few drawbacks of their own. Such as . . . well . . . such as 1) longer voting lines (because scrawling a wee black mark with a pencil takes infinitely longer than poking a virtual button on a touchscreen), and 2) long, drawn-out tallies of individual ballots that could, theoretically, delay election results by several hours. Why, early-to-bed types might not find out who'd won at the polls until their morning paper arrived! -- and, as we all know, "if people don't see results, they start going 'something's wrong.'" That wisdom comes to us courtesy of Contra Costa County registrar Steve Weir, who eloquently argues that blissful ignorance is the key to voter contentment:
Weir said Bowen's actions -- along with an unusual audit in which she dispatched several computer experts to try to hack into the machines, which they did -- had undermined public confidence in the security of the new electronic machines.
Mr. Weir, a connoisseur of the bleeding obvious, has perhaps also noticed that the mountains of scientific research linking cigarettes to lung cancer have had the unfortunate effect of undermining public confidence in the health benefits of cigarettes. You know how it is: if people cough their lungs up and die, they start going "something's wrong."

Other paper-ballot detractors are even more ingenious in their defense of e-voting. L.A. County registrar Conny MacCormack, to name but one, is outraged by Ms. Bowen's order that "all votes made on computer touch-screen systems [must] be hand-counted after the election to ensure accuracy":
McCormack said Bowen's order requires the county's vendors to pay the costs of that recount, which she estimated at $400,000 per election.

"I think we have to see what the vendors are going to say about that," McCormack said. "The vendors aren't going to make much money in Los Angeles County if they have to pay $400,000 for the recount."
At last! -- an honest public servant, who is willing to state her true priorities bluntly and openly, with no regard for the whims and fancies of the unwashed masses. Who speaks for the poor, beleaguered vendors??

We hate to sound overconfident, but for the first time we are allowing ourselves to believe that the menace of electronic voting may yet be permanently thwarted -- in California, at least. Which means. of course, that Republicans, whose policies remain unpopular with the majority of voters, will have to find new ways of gaming elections.

This looks promising.

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