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December 15, 2007

Election Machine Follies

Let's begin with this caveat: No system for casting and counting votes is fool-proof or fraud-proof. For that reason, I take the comments by Ohio's secretary of state with a grain of salt. That said, she raises an important point.

All five voting systems used in Ohio, a state whose electoral votes narrowly swung two elections toward President Bush, have critical flaws that could undermine the integrity of the 2008 general election, a report commissioned by the state’s top elections official has found.

“It was worse than I anticipated,” the official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said of the report. “I had hoped that perhaps one system would test superior to the others.”

At polling stations, teams working on the study were able to pick locks to access memory cards and use hand-held devices to plug false vote counts into machines. At boards of election, they were able to introduce malignant software into servers.

Ms. Brunner proposed replacing all of the state’s voting machines, including the touch-screen ones used in more than 50 of Ohio’s 88 counties. She wants all counties to use optical scan machines that read and electronically record paper ballots that are filled in manually by voters.

When the eSlate system was adopted here in Harris County, I strongly urged against it. I wanted to see an optical scanner system adopted because of the paper trail it would provide. That said, I figure that if I can trust an ATM with my money, I can also trust a system like the one we have and like those they have in Ohio.

"But," some will object, "doesn't this show that the machines can be tampered with?"

Yeah, it does.

But if the conditions are what I suspect they were, the test itself was essentially meaningless. The testers would have been given unlimited access to and time with the equipment, access to schematics and source code, and would not have faced any of the other security methods imposed by elections officials. These are not conditions that anyone tampering with election results is likely to face.

And let's not forget that there are ways to game an optical scanner system. You can still program the software to miscount votes. You can still add fake voters to the rolls or vote folks who were not at the polls. Ballots can still be tampered with after they are cast. In other words, optical scanners have many of the same flaws as both the paperless systems and the punch card system used in much of the country prior to the 2000 fiasco in Florida. No system is perfect.

Indeed, the only real safeguard of an election is the integrity of those who are involved in the process of running the election, from state officials to county and city elections officials to those of us who actually operate the polling places on Election Day. And so while I explicitly endorse a change to optical scanners, I am under no illusion that erroneous vote counts or outright election fraud can ever be completely eliminated until we can figure out a way to eliminate human fallibility and mankind's sinful nature from the equation.





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Comments on Election Machine Follies

As you point out, "...the only real safeguard of an election is the integrity of those who are involved in the process..."

The sad truth is that America, a nation based on the belief that most citizens are honest, hard working and people of character; that America has lost faith in this process. An intentional attack on the foundations of our nation has been undertaken at every level, to include the voting process.

|| Posted by T F Stern, December 15, 2007 11:55 AM ||

And indeed, the attack was made for partisan political purposes by Al Gore and his acolytes in 2000, and again by rogue Kerry supporters in 2004.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, December 15, 2007 07:36 PM ||

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