Your Vote: Get A Receipt
by John Greeley
by Paul Krugman
The New York Times, December 2, 2003
Bush supporters to a fund-raiser, the host wrote, "I
am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes
to the president next year." No surprise there. But
Walden O'Dell who says that he wasn't talking about
his business operations happens to be the chief
executive of Diebold Inc., whose touch-screen voting machines
are in increasingly widespread use across the United States.
For example, Georgia where Republicans scored spectacular
upset victories in the 2002 midterm elections relies
exclusively on Diebold machines. To be clear, though there
were many anomalies in that 2002 vote, there is no evidence
that the machines miscounted. But there is also no evidence
that the machines counted correctly. You see, Diebold
machines leave no paper trail.
Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, who has introduced
a bill requiring that digital voting machines leave a
paper trail and that their software be available for public
inspection, is occasionally told that systems lacking
these safeguards haven't caused problems. "How do
you know?" he asks.
What we do know about Diebold does not inspire confidence.
The details are technical, but they add up to a picture
of a company that was, at the very least, extremely sloppy
about security, and may have been trying to cover up product
Early this year Bev Harris, who is writing a book on voting
machines, found Diebold software which the company
refuses to make available for public inspection, on the
grounds that it's proprietary on an unprotected
server, where anyone could download it. (The software
was in a folder titled "rob-Georgia.zip.") The
server was used by employees of Diebold Election Systems
to update software on its machines. This in itself was
an incredible breach of security, offering someone who
wanted to hack into the machines both the information
and the opportunity to do so.
An analysis of Diebold software by researchers at Johns
Hopkins and Rice Universities found it both unreliable
and subject to abuse. A later report commissioned by the
state of Maryland apparently reached similar conclusions.
(It's hard to be sure because the state released only
a heavily redacted version.)
Meanwhile, leaked internal Diebold email suggests that
corporate officials knew their system was flawed, and
circumvented tests that would have revealed these problems.
The company hasn't contested the authenticity of these
documents; instead, it has engaged in legal actions to
prevent their dissemination.
Why isn't this front-page news? In October, a British
newspaper, The Independent, ran a hair-raising investigative
report on U.S. touch-screen voting. But while the mainstream
press has reported the basics, the Diebold affair has
been treated as a technology or business story
not as a potential political scandal.
This diffidence recalls the treatment of other voting
issues, like the Florida "felon purge" that
inappropriately prevented many citizens from voting in
the 2000 presidential election. The attitude seems to
be that questions about the integrity of vote counts are
divisive at best, paranoid at worst. Even reform advocates
like Mr. Holt make a point of dissociating themselves
from "conspiracy theories." Instead, they focus
on legislation to prevent future abuses.
But there's nothing paranoid about suggesting that political
operatives, given the opportunity, might engage in dirty
tricks. Indeed, given the intensity of partisanship these
days, one suspects that small dirty tricks are common.
For example, Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, recently announced that one of his aides had
improperly accessed sensitive Democratic computer files
that were leaked to the press.
This admission contradicting an earlier declaration
by Senator Hatch that his staff had been cleared of culpability
came on the same day that the Senate police announced
that they were hiring a counterespionage expert to investigate
the theft. Republican members of the committee have demanded
that the expert investigate only how those specific documents
were leaked, not whether any other breaches took place.
I wonder why.
The point is that you don't have to believe in a central
conspiracy to worry that partisans will take advantage
of an insecure, unverifiable voting system to manipulate
election results. Why expose them to temptation?
I'll discuss what to do in a future column. But let's
be clear: the credibility of U.S. democracy may be at
Paul Krugman email: email@example.com