December 4, 2003
Bev Harris on the Perils to Democracy by Electronic Voting
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
What remains the greatest threat to democracy in the 2004 election?
Some would argue that it may be the ability of the companies who manufacture and maintain electronic voting machines to elect a candidate through reprogrammed software – or maybe a third party who could hack the vote counting software and change the tally.
At first, dismissed as the paranoid delusions of a few diehard researchers, a growing number of states are researching these accusations -- among others -- and discovering that many of the concerns are valid. On December 3, the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" reported that, "Ohio's sweeping review of electronic voting machines turned up so many potential security flaws in the systems that the state's top elections official has called off deploying them in March" [LINK].
When we first interviewed Bev Harris [LINK], a pioneer in exposing the dangerous potential for election manipulation that electronic voting machines pose, she wanted to ensure that BuzzFlash didn't make her into a hero. Harris wrote us a long e-mail detailing many of the people who have tirelessly worked to bring this issue to the point that it is now being seriously addressed. And Harris is right: dozens of patriotic Americans have endured a lot of skepticism and legal threats for working to ensure that elective democracy works.
Nonetheless, Harris, a resident of Washington State, has been the most visible writer and spokesperson on the issue.
BuzzFlash is pleased to return to her for a December 2003 update on the battle over electronic voting.
It might be helpful to readers who are unfamiliar with this issue to re-read our first interview with Harris before starting with this one [LINK].
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BUZZFLASH: Explain the implications of Diebold withdrawing its lawsuit and how this impacts you?
BEV HARRIS: First, the impact of Diebold's abusive use of copyright law did very serious damage to my organization and me. This triggered a shutdown of BlackBoxVoting.org, which lasted 30 days and derailed activism to monitor the California Recall Election, stripping away our activism base as it muted my voice on the issue. It nearly decapitated blackboxvoting.org.
Diebold's withdrawal from the lawsuit was good; now Diebold should consider withdrawing from the elections industry. Even in baseball, you only get three strikes. At what point do we say to this company, "Sorry, I just can't trust you anymore."
Now, as for the impact of their withdrawal from the lawsuit on me and what I will do next, let me explain.
I was sent the Diebold memos by a leaker on September 5, during the middle of the night. On September 6, I delved into them and didn't come up for air until two days later. During that time, I read 7,000 memos and made 300 pages of notes divided into five categories. The impact of Diebold's withdrawal from the lawsuit is that I have arranged to make this body of work public. Until now, aside from placing a copy in the hands of someone who could disseminate the work were I to become unavailable, I have done nothing with them.
If the Diebold FTP files are in some ways similar to the Pentagon Papers, the memos are analogous to the Watergate Tapes. And whether or not issue is "as big as Watergate" -- it is actually more important than Watergate.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think that they feared what would come out in the discovery process would only worsen the credibility of their electronic voting machines?
HARRIS: I think that they feared a congressional investigation. In my opinion, the lawsuit could have gone either way, but what made this unwinnable was Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich placing the memos on his web site and then publicly calling for Diebold to step down on its DMCA claims. There were other pressures from congress that I cannot release the details on. The U.S. Congress will, I believe, have a historic impact on this issue. By the way, if you are an assistant to a congressperson and you are reading this, e-mail me at Bevharriscontact@aol.com. And that includes Republicans.
BUZZFLASH: Remind us what the president of Diebold said about helping Bush to win the next election.
HARRIS: Wally O'Dell, the CEO of Diebold, wrote “I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.’’ This was in a letter to 100 of his wealthy and politically inclined friends, which O'Dell wrote shortly after returning from the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he was meeting with a group of "Pioneers and Rangers" (people who raised $100,000 and $200,000, respectively) to discuss Bush's reelection.
BUZZFLASH: You've offered your book "Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century" free online. Now, it is being published. What will people find in the book?
HARRIS: They will find two things: A real life mystery story of the first class, showing how powerful democracy really is. As we set out to investigate how our voting system really works, regular people joined in from all over, until a battalion of ordinary citizens finally penetrated the smokescreen to prove, once and for all, that we have been using a system that violates the most basic standards for accounting and security, and that the certification and testing system is flawed and broken.
I told the story in the first person because this subject matter is complex and somewhat intimidating. I wanted to bring it home and make it feel comfortable. It is not a story about me, though. As you read through the book, watch the true power of democracy as ordinary people literally become citizen investigators. It is the people themselves who are doing effective, professionally expert, and sometimes quirky things, and it is "We, the People" directly who are taking back our vote from these politically vested corporations.
And second, this book is footnoted and sourced, and contains so much factual information that it can be used to document and prove the problem to congressmen and policymakers -- and it contains persuasive argumentation. Use it for ammunition.
BUZZFLASH: You were one of the key leaders in exposing the dangers of electronic voting. You and other "regular" Americans kept this issue alive, despite legal and personal costs. How do you feel now that the issue has finally emerged in the mainstream media, represented by Paul Krugman's December 2nd column, "Hack the Vote" [LINK]?
HARRIS: I was absolutely thrilled to see Paul Krugman apply his masterful touch to the issue. It has been a long, sometimes scary fight to get this information into the hands of the public, and we aren't done yet. The next target must be TV, which can shift American opinions in 48 hours, and I am working on several angles for that.
We are not close to the finish line; a more apt metaphor is that the starter's gun has finally sounded. We have much work to do.
BUZZFLASH: There is a bill addressing black box voting in Congress (H.R. 2239), sponsored by Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey? What are the key features of the bill and do you support the bill?
HARRIS: I support the bill, with qualifications. It does two of the three things that are absolutely necessary, if we are to use voting machines at all. It requires a voter verified paper ballot -- however, we must make sure all four of those words are in there. It must be verified by the VOTER, it must be verified, not "verifiable"; it must be PAPER not digital; and it must be called a BALLOT, which has legal standing, not a "trail" or "receipt."
The bill also removes remote access, though an unscrupulous vendor can still slip that in unbeknownst to the buyer.
The problem area, and it is a whopper, is that this bill doesn't attack the crux of the issue, which is proper auditing -- and that is something that is needed for any computerized system, including optical scan machines. Right now, we pretty much throw the paper ballot in the toilet. It gets locked in a box that no one can look at -- and we don't use it, even when we have it.
And this leads to the heart of the problem itself: Our voting issue is, at its heart, an auditing problem, not a computer programming challenge. When we designed these systems, we neglected to get input from the accounting industry. We have computer scientists using statistical models to recommend audit procedures, but these models -- many of which have already been passed into legislation at the state level -- would fail if used to audit financial transactions.
There are three types of activities that fraud-prone and require auditing designed to deter the fraud: financial transactions, gambling, and elections. Yet we have not sought the counsel of the very people who understand this type of accounting: Accountants, bookkeepers and auditors! As a result, we have legislation in many states, and in this case, in HR 2239, that uses an inappropriate and flawed auditing model which will not work.
The very first thing we need to do is get solid input from auditors who are experienced in fraud detection. When it comes to setting up practical, effective auditing for these systems, bookkeepers from Las Vegas probably have better expertise than computer scientists from Princeton.
While we are designing amendments to the bill, we also must get some people with a solid grasp of history, because we need a voting system that is in keeping with the vision of our founding fathers -- and this is a public policy issue, not a computer issue. The most important thing that we keep forgetting is that the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, felt that it was critical -- not "important," but CRITICAL to democracy, to keep the vote directly in the hands of the people themselves. Any solution which requires us to trust a handful of experts will, sooner or later, result in the demise of our democracy.
That means we need to retain (and enforce) policies to tally the votes at the polls, in front of observers. In some countries, they let as many regular citizens as can fit in the room in to watch the physical counting.
It is this neighborhood tallying, and the open and public nature of it, that is the embodiment of democracy. We've been taking that away, and yet we wonder why people say "it doesn't matter if I vote." Here's a concept: Let's actually SEE our own vote (the real vote, not a video screen representation); let's count our votes before they leave our neighborhood; and let's invite everyone to watch the counting. Let's not remove the people from "we, the people."
To the extent that computers are used as part of this process -- and they should never be all of it -- the embodiment of democracy in computer programming is to take the system "open source." This is the equivalent of developing the program in the town square with everyone watching. We can do it. Australia did.
HR 2239 uses an inappropriate auditing mechanism, and I'd rather see it require open source, but it does give us a voter verified paper ballot and mostly gets rid of remote access.
BUZZFLASH: We are less than a month away from 2004. On a practical level, is there still time to ensure that the next election is an honest one as far as recording votes?
HARRIS: Yes. On a practical level, for the primaries, we need an emergency interim measure, and I'm sorry to say it, but this may mean that in Iowa and in the states conducting elections in February, we need to vote (temporarily at least) on paper ballots, hand counted. This is because we have discovered information on all of the major vendors, and on the certification system itself, that proves the system is not reliable. Unfortunately, the problems are not solvable by doing a software patch or adding new levels of supervision. We've got fundamental problems that require more than six weeks to solve. Until we've got a system in which we can have confidence, we must demand one that does.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think that the Democratic Party Leadership has yet realized the extreme danger in proceeding with a national election where many voters will cast their ballots on electronic voting machines made by companies owned by Republicans?
HARRIS: Some have. Dennis Kucinich certainly has. The other presidential candidates need to get on board, not by making statements, but by taking effective action. I encourage their campaign staff to contact me; I can help provide some private resources for effective action.
The problems we are seeing with computerized voting, though, are not limited to a particular party. Many of the lawsuits filed by candidates last month were by Republicans. Of the big four companies, three are heavily vested in the Republican Party (ES&S, Hart Intercivic and Diebold) but the fourth, Sequoia, has some heavy-hitting investors who are political activists and very heavy backers of the Democratic Party.
As far as partisanship goes, I equate the temptations with insecure machines to the temptations with campaign finance -- if we don't solve the problem, it will absolutely taint both parties, but the Republicans will be tainted more.
BUZZFLASH: In his column, Paul Krugman mentioned a "rob-Georgia.zip." file among the Diebold Internet posted memos. What is the significance of this file and the questions it might raise about the Georgia senatorial election in 2000?
HARRIS: This set of voting machine replacement files were used in the Georgia 2002 general election. It is a set of compiled files for three components of the Georgia voting system. Unlike the source code studied by the Hopkins/Rice scientists, these files are "compiled," and will require reverse engineering. I would like to see this done as soon as possible, and have an idea how this can be done expeditiously. I do invite citizens from Georgia who are involved with their local political parties to contact me; though it can be done outside of Georgia. Don't you think having the solution come out of Georgia has a certain poetry to it?
Yes, we have much to do. Diebold is only a small piece of the puzzle, and I would like to take this opportunity, if I may, to put out a formal call for more citizens to become involved. Here is what you do: Go to http://www.blackboxvoting.org and click "Activism Forum." Register and sign in for your state and in the "Talent Pool." Over the next three weeks you can directly participate in many effective activities designed to take back our vote, not in 2006, or 2004, but RIGHT NOW and focusing on the primaries.
If you are an aide for a congressperson or a candidate, contact me directly through my e-mail on the Web site.
We will win this issue.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original