Big Surprise: Voting machines shown vulnerable

A couple of years ago, when Virginia started rolling out electronic voting machines, I began telling all who would listen about the potential problems, and why the machines should be resisted until their source code had been released for full inspection and they had been modified to produce audit trails.

To me, even a surface review of the situation was enough to arouse significant suspicion: The government was pushing as hard as possible to make the switch to the machines, even paying for them for local precincts. And every computer scientist not on the government payroll (or the payroll of the companies producing these systems) was warning everyone as loudly as they could about the problems. To what avail? While the general public has the excuse that the mainstream news media refused to give much publicity to the opposition to the machines, election officials cannot claim that they weren’t told, repeatedly, by people with actual credentials and experience in the appropriate fields.

Election officials did a remarkable imitation of children who, when faced with someone trying to tell them something they don’t wish to hear, cover their ears and begin loudly chanting, “I’m not listening” over and over. I saw it happen all over the country, and I witnessed it firsthand when I too tried to contact and educate my local election officials.

It is with no satisfaction that I once again say “I told you so” in response to the latest reports showing that current voting machines are vulnerable to tampering and fraud.

I’m not arguing against the idea of electronic voting machines. I absolutely love the idea, and do think that we should be moving towards that goal. However, the current method of keeping the source code of the machines secret isn’t the way. Nor is the refusal to provide the machines with any capability of an audit trail.

The source code (the computer program which allows the machines to function) absolutely must be open and available to all to peruse. The public has an absolute right to know precisely how their voting mechanisms work and how the votes are counted. It has been proven time and again that bugs and flaws in computer programs can flourish when few people have access to analyse the source code. Conversely, the more people who examine something, the greater the chances that errors, especially non-obvious ones, will be spotted. Given that this is a known fact, mixed with the critical importance of the sanctity of our voting systems, leads one to actually suspect intentional deception when the relevant corporations refuse to let anyone see their source code.

Those same corporations (Diebold, et. al.) alternatively claim that it is either not necessary to provide audit trails or too difficult. This, my friends, is nothing but bullshit. Anyone with intention to pervert the voting system reacts gleefully to the lack of audit capability, and the local election officials and the general public simply line up to eat at the trough of crap because they don’t know any better and/or don’t care. Not necessary to be able to audit or effectively re-count votes? Too difficult? Please, how many bank ATM machines do you think these same companies would be able to sell if they told bankers that there was no audit trail? Does it appear to any sane individual that the addition of a paper tape printer on an ATM machine is too difficult to accomplish? Do we really think that electoral systems should be held to a less rigorous standard than banking transactions?

Most people I talk to freely admit to the belief that big corporations and our elected officials are capable, if not inclined, to tell us baldfaced lies in order to preserve their self-interest. Whenever we hear of something like that coming to light, we’re not surprised. Yet when a subject such as this comes up, as critically important to the continued success of our form of government, we freely and easily yield our unquestioning trust and faith that they are telling the truth and doing the right thing. Why do we laugh at the idea that someone from the government is “here to help” while simultaneously placing blind, unquestioning faith in them when they say “It’s OK, these machines are cool. And free! Don’t worry your pretty little heads about how exactly they work or that you can’t verify their results….the guys that are selling the machines seem nice enough and they say it’s all good. Did we mention that they’re free? Oh, and we’re going to be requiring you to do this later anyway, so may as well get ‘em while we’re nice enough to pay for them”.

Listen people, our entire notion of government here in the USA is critically based on the sanctity of our election systems. If that ever becomes corrupted, all hope in our nation is lost as we will be unable to correct errors or combat problems with our government peacefully in the manner envisioned by our founding fathers. Once our election systems are perverted and can be manipulated to represent the whims of a few instead of the collective voice of the electorate, the only possible way the citizenry can enforce their will upon their government is via armed revolution. Do we really want that eventuality? Our founding fathers worked really hard to work out a system whereby we the people could set our government back on the right track when it got out of hand…without the need for arms. If the populace of a democratic republic loses their voice at the ballot box, they will be forced to cast their ballots with bullets and blood. Shouldn’t we strive to prevent that, especially given that our founders gave us the tools (purchased with our forefathers’ bullets and blood) whereby we can?

Until electronic voting systems have open source code, available for any citizen to see at their whim, and until those systems produce sufficient audit trails to forensically prove that the tallies are accurate, I say we need to stick with systems which are based on mechanical physics. Hanging chad and procedural arguments aside, tampering with actual paper or mechanical ballots requires breaking fundamental laws of physics. A computer which adds 1+1 can be told to display a result of 3 with ease and requires no violation of physics.

It’s not like anyone’s truly asking to stay with antiquated systems. As I mention above, I too am looking forward to proper electronic voting systems; I simply demand that it’s all above-board prior to being rolled out. The issues and problems that are being brought up are not insurmountable, indeed, many are trivial to fix. The only people who are resistant to opening the code and providing for audits are the very people who stand to substantially gain by not doing so.

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