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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Random vulnerabilities - or deliberate vote fraud?

Vote fraud is nothing new. More likely than not, as soon as there was the first show of hands, someone got an idea of fixing the results in the way that they saw advantageous.

Of course, all societies that run elections have some safeguards to prevent candidates from winning fraudulently. Like any other safeguards, they are not bullet-proof.

The following is an excerpt from a June 26 USA Today report on a recent analysis of the vote counting equipment in the US:
Most of the electronic voting machines widely adopted since the disputed 2000 presidential election "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections," a report out Tuesday concludes.

There are more than 120 security threats to the three most commonly purchased electronic voting systems, the study by the Brennan Center for Justice says. For what it calls the most comprehensive review of its kind, the New York City-based non-partisan think tank convened a task force of election officials, computer scientists and security experts to study e-voting vulnerabilities.

The study, which took more than a year to complete, examined optical scanners and touch-screen machines with and without paper trails. Together, the three systems account for 80% of the voting machines that will be used in this November's election.

While there have been no documented cases of these voting machines being hacked, Lawrence Norden, who chaired the task force and heads the Brennan Center's voting-technology assessment project, says there have been similar software attacks on computerized gambling slot machines.

"It is unrealistic to think this isn't something to worry about" in terms of future elections, he says.

The report comes during primary season amid growing concerns about potential errors and tampering. Lawsuits have been filed in at least six states to block the purchase or use of computerized machines.

Election officials in California and Pennsylvania recently issued urgent warnings to local polling supervisors about potential software problems in touch-screen voting machines after a test in Utah uncovered vulnerabilities in machines made by Diebold Election Systems.

North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold did not return calls for comment. The company, a major manufacturer of e-voting machines, said earlier this month that security flaws cited in its machines were theoretical and would be addressed this year.

Analysis finds e-voting machines vulnerable
Andrea Stone, USA TODAY, June 26, 2006

There is one detail here that Diebold is understandably in no rush to discuss: the fact that a vulnerability has been exploited may be hard to detect, and in some cases unknowable. The same goes for the data set that could be illegally modified - thus, in this case, changing the tally of the votes cast on a particular machine or group of machines. The only way to guard against that - short of eradicating all chances that the data would be corrupted, whether intentionally or otherwise -is establishing a log, on paper, electronic or both that would keep track of what votes the voters have cast.

Immediately after the election of 2004 I had a feeling it may have been fraudulent, even so much so as to give the man who lost it another four years in the White House. A much more indepth article by Robert F. Kennedy (Was the 2004 Election Stolen?,, June 1, 2006) suggests as much providing a multitude of data to support that conclusion.

It is certainly true that any individual aspect of how the election is setup - administratively, technically, legally - can be explained away as some sort of inaptitude or inefficiency. However, to my taste there is a method to this madness and there is a pattern to this incompetence. These failures are too systematic to my taste, and too well tuned to achieving predetermined results regardless of how the populace chooses to vote.

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