computerized voting machines a wide-open back
door to massive voting fraud? The discussion has
moved from the
Internet to CNN, to
UK newspapers, and the pages of The
New York Times. People are cautiously beginning
to connect the dots, and the picture that seems
to be emerging is troubling.
defective computer chip in the county's optical
scanner misread ballots Tuesday night and incorrectly
tallied a landslide victory for Republicans,"
announced the Associated
Press in a story on Nov. 7, just a few days
after the 2002 election. The story added, "Democrats
actually won by wide margins."
would have carried the day had not poll workers
become suspicious when the computerized vote-reading
machines said the Republican candidate was trouncing
his incumbent Democratic opponent in the race
for County Commissioner. The poll workers were
close enough to the electorate - they were
part of the electorate - to know their county
overwhelmingly favored the Democratic incumbent.
quick hand recount of the optical-scan ballots
showed that the Democrat had indeed won, even
though the computerized ballot-scanning machine
kept giving the race to the Republican. The poll
workers brought the discrepancy to the attention
of the County Clerk, who notified the voting machine
new computer chip was flown to Snyder [Texas]
from Dallas," County Clerk Lindsey told the Associated
Press. With the new chip installed, the computer
then verified that the Democrat had won the election.
In another Texas
anomaly, Republican state Senator Jeff Wentworth
won his race with exactly 18,181 votes, Republican
Carter Casteel won her state House seat with exactly
18,181 votes, and conservative Judge Danny Scheel
won his seat with exactly 18,181 votes -
all in Comal County. Apparently, however, no poll
workers in Comal County thought to ask for a new
Texas incidents happened with computerized machines
reading and then tabulating paper or punch-card
ballots. In Georgia and Florida, where paper had
been totally replaced by touch-screen machines
in many to most precincts during 2001 and 2002,
the 2002 election produced some of the nation's
most startling results.
Today reported on Nov. 3, 2002, "In Georgia,
an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows Democratic
Sen. Max Cleland with a 49%-to-44% lead over Republican
Rep. Saxby Chambliss." Cox News Service, based
in Atlanta, reported just after the election (Nov.
7) that, "Pollsters may have goofed" because "Republican
Rep. Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Democratic
Sen. Max Cleland by a margin of 53 to 46 percent.
The Hotline, a political news service, recalled
a series of polls Wednesday showing that Chambliss
had been ahead in none of them."
as amazing was the Georgia governor's race. "Similarly,"
polling organization reported on Nov. 7, "no
polls predicted the upset victory in Georgia of
Republican Sonny Perdue over incumbent Democratic
Gov. Roy Barnes. Perdue won by a margin of 52
to 45 percent. The most recent Mason Dixon Poll
had shown Barnes ahead 48 to 39 percent last month
with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points."
all of the votes in Georgia were recorded on the
new touchscreen computerized voting machines,
which produced no paper trail whatsoever. And
nobody thought to ask for a new chip, although
it was noted on Nov. 8 by the Atlanta
Constitution-Journal that in downtown Atlanta's
predominantly Democratic Fulton County "election
officials said Thursday that memory cards from
67 electronic voting machines had been misplaced,
so ballots cast on those machines were left out
of previously announced vote totals." Officials
added that all but 11 of the memory cards were
subsequently found and recorded.
as the San Jose Mercury News reported in a Jan.
23, 2003 editorial titled "Gee
Whiz, Voter Fraud?" "In one Florida precinct
last November, votes that were intended for the
Democratic candidate for governor ended up for
Gov. Jeb Bush, because of a misaligned touchscreen.
How many votes were miscast before the mistake
was found will never be known, because there was
no paper audit." ("Misaligned" touchscreens also
caused 18 known machines in Dallas to register
Republican votes when Democratic screen-buttons
were pushed: it's unknown how many others weren't
nobody thought to ask for new chips in Florida,
Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported just a few
days before the election (Oct. 30, 2002) that,
"Dramatic political developments since Sen. Paul
Wellstone's death Friday have had little effect
on voters' leanings in the U.S. Senate race, according
to a Star
Tribune Minnesota Poll taken Monday night.
Wellstone's likely replacement on the ballot,
former Vice President Walter Mondale, leads Republican
Norm Coleman by 47 to 39 percent - close
to where the race stood two weeks ago when Wellstone
led Coleman 47 to 41 percent."
the computerized machines were done counting the
vote a few days later, however, Coleman had beat
Mondale by 50 to 47 percent. If Mondale had asked
for new chips, would it have made a difference?
We'll never know.
state where Republicans did ask for a new chip
was Alabama. Fox
News reported on Nov. 8, 2002 that initial
returns from across the state showed that Democratic
incumbent Gov. Don Siegelman had won the governor's
race. But, overnight, "Baldwin County took center
stage when election officials released results
Tuesday night showing Siegelman with 19,070 votes
- enough for a narrow victory statewide. Later,
they recounted and reduced Siegelman's tally to
12,736 votes - enough to give Riley the victory."
produced the sudden loss of about 6,000 votes?
According to the Fox report: "Probate Judge Adrian
Johns, a member of the county canvassing board,
blamed the initial, higher number on 'a programming
glitch in the software' that tallies the votes."
All parties were not satisfied with that explanation,
however. Fox added: "The governor claimed results
were changed after poll watchers left."
turns out the "glitch in the software" in Alabama
was discovered by the Republican National Committee's
regional director Kelley McCullough, who, according
to a story in the conservative Daily Standard,
"logged onto the county's municipal website and
confirmed that [incumbent Democratic Governor]
Siegelman had actually only received 12,736 votes
- not the 19,070 the Associated Press projected
for him. A computer glitch had caused the error.
The erroneous tally would have put Siegelman on
top by 3,582 votes, but the corrected one gave
Riley a 2,752-vote edge."
the Murdoch-owned Daily
Standard noted, "If it hadn't been for one
woman, the Republican National Committee's regional
director Kelley McCullough, things might have
gone terribly wrong for [Republican Gubernatorial
in Davison County, South Dakota, the Democratic
election auditor noticed the machines double counting
votes (it's not noted for which side) and had
a "new chip" brought in.
is just the tip of the iceberg of '00 and '02
election irregularities, as reported by www.votewatch.us.
Either the system by which democracy exists broke
that November evening, or was hacked, or American
voters became suddenly more fickle than at any
time since Truman beat Dewey.
it's true that the citizens of Georgia simply
decided that incumbent Democratic Senator Max
Cleland, a wildly popular war veteran, was, as
Republican TV ads suggested, too unpatriotic to
remain in the Senate, even though his Republican
challenger, Saxby Chambliss, had sat out the Vietnam
war with a medical deferment.
in the final two days of the race, those voters
who'd pledged themselves to Georgia's popular
incumbent Governor Roy Barnes suddenly and inexplicably
decided to switch to Republican challenger Sonny
George W. and Jeb Bush, Alabama's new Republican
governor Bob Riley, and a small but congressionally
decisive handful of other long-shot Republican
candidates around the country really did win those
states where conventional wisdom and straw polls
showed them losing in the last few election cycles,
but computer controlled voting or ballot-reading
machines showed them winning.
after a half-century of fine-tuning exit polling
to such a science that it's now used to verify
if elections are clean in Third World countries,
it really did suddenly become inaccurate in the
United States in the past few years and just won't
work here anymore. Perhaps it's just a coincidence
that the sudden rise of inaccurate exit polls
happened around the same time corporate-programmed,
computer-controlled, modem-capable voting machines
began recording and tabulating ballots.
if any of this is true, there's not much of a
paper trail from the voters' hand to prove it.
think in an open democracy that the government
- answerable to all its citizens rather than a
handful of corporate officers and stockholders
- would program, repair and control the voting
machines. You'd think the computers that handle
our cherished ballots would be open and their
software and programming available for public
scrutiny. You'd think there would be a paper trail
of the actual hand-cast vote, which could be followed
and audited if there was evidence of voting fraud
or if exit polls disagreed with computerized vote
entirely possible that Nebraska Republican Chuck
Hagel - who left his job as head of an
electronic voting machine company to run as a
long-shot candidate for the U.S. Senate - honestly
won all of his elections.
when Hagel first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1996,
his own company's computer-controlled voting machines
showed he'd won stunning and unexpected victories
in both the primaries and the general election.
The Washington Post (1/13/1997) said Hagel's "Senate
victory against an incumbent Democratic governor
was the major Republican upset in the November
election." According to Bev Harris, author of
Box Voting," Hagel won virtually every demographic
group, including many largely black communities
that had never before voted Republican. Hagel
was the first Republican in 24 years to win a
Senate seat in Nebraska.
years later Hagel ran again, this time against
Democrat Charlie Matulka in 2002, and won in a
landslide. As his Website says, Hagel "was re-elected
to his second term in the United States Senate
on November 5, 2002 with 83% of the vote. That
represents the biggest political victory in the
history of Nebraska." What the site fails to disclose
is that about 80 percent of those votes were counted
by computer-controlled voting machines put in
place by the company affiliated with Hagel: built
by that company; programmed by that company; chips
supplied by that company.
is a big story, bigger than Watergate ever was,"
said Hagel's Democratic opponent in the 2002 Senate
race, Charlie Matulka (www.lancastercountydemocrats.org/matulka.htm).
"They say Hagel shocked the world, but he didn't
Matulka the sore loser the Hagel campaign paints
him as, or is he democracy's proverbial canary
in the mineshaft? Between them, Hagel and Chambliss'
victories sealed Republican control of the Senate.
Odds are both won fair and square, the American
way, using huge piles of corporate money to carpet-bomb
voters with television advertising. But either
the appearance or the possibility of impropriety
in an election casts a shadow over American democracy.
right of voting for representatives is the primary
right by which all other rights are protected,"
wrote Thomas Paine over 200 years ago. "To take
away this right is to reduce a man to slavery.."
slavery, according to Hagel's last opponent Charlie
Matulka, is at our doorstep. "They can take over
our country without firing a shot," Matulka said,
"just by taking over our election systems."
by control of computer chips? Is that really possible
in the USA?
Counting the Votes?
it's Election Day 2004," says U.S. Congressman
Rush Holt, also a scientist with a Ph.D. in physics
who knows more than a little bit about both politics
and computers. "You enter your local polling place
and go to cast your vote on a brand-new touchscreen
voting machine. The screen says your vote has
been counted. As you exit the voting booth, however,
you begin to wonder. How do I know if the machine
actually recorded my vote?"
a question that probably hasn't occurred to many
Americans, even those who used the touchscreen
machines particularly notable in states where
there were "upsets" and "glitches" in the 2002
election. But it occurred to Congressman Holt,
and after looking at the law, the voting machines
and the companies that produce them, he concluded
that, "The fact is, you don't [know if the machine
actually recorded your vote]."
Harris has studied the situation in depth and
thinks both Congressman Holt and candidate Matulka
may be on to something. The company with ties
to Hagel even threatened her with legal action
when she went public about the company having
built the machines that counted Hagel's landslide
the meantime, exit-polling organizations have
quietly gone out of business, and the news arms
of the huge multinational corporations that own
our networks are suggesting the days of exit polls
are over. Virtually none were reported in 2002,
creating an odd and unsettling silence that caused
unease for the many voters who had come to view
exit polls as proof of the integrity of their
all this comes to light, many citizens and even
a few politicians are wondering if it's a good
idea for corporations to be so involved in the
guts of our voting systems. The whole idea of
a democratic republic was to create a common institution
(the government itself) owned by its citizens,
answerable to its citizens and authorized to exist
and continue existing solely "by the consent of
the recent political trend has moved us in the
opposite direction, with governments turning administration
of our commons over to corporations answerable
only to profits. The result is the enrichment
of corporations and the appearance that democracy
in America has started to resemble its parody
in banana republics.
frustrating those concerned with the sanctity
of our vote, the corporations selling and licensing
voting machines and voting software often claim
Fourth Amendment rights of privacy and the right
to hide their "trade secrets" how their voting
software works and what controls are built into
it from both the public and the government itself.
you want to make Coca-Cola and have trade secrets,
that's fine," says Harvard's Rebecca Mercuri,
Ph.D., one of the nation's leading
experts on voting machines. "But don't try
to claim trade secrets when you're handling our
window into who owns whom among the various companies
- most of which are not publicly traded -
is equally opaque. One voting machine company
was partially funded at startup by wealthy Republican
philanthropists who belong to an organization
that believes the Bible instead of the Constitution
should govern America. Another is partly owned
by a defense contractor. Even the reincarnation
of a company that helped Enron cook their books
has gotten into the act.
are several issues here," says reporter Lynn Landis,
who has written
extensively about voting machines. "First,
there's the issue that the Voting Rights Act requires
that poll watchers be able to observe the vote.
But with computerized voting machines, your vote
vanishes into a computer and can't be observed."
solve this, many are calling for a return to paper
ballots that are hand-counted. It may be slower,
but temp-help precinct workers may even cost less
than electronic voting machines (which are a multi-billion-dollar
boon for corporate suppliers), and will ensure
that real humans are tabulating the vote.
says Landis, "there's the issue of who controls
the information. Of all the functions of government
that should not be privatized, handling our votes
is at the top of the list. This is the core of
democracy, and must be open, transparent, and
available to both the public and our politicians
of all parties for full and open inspection."
Rush Holt is suggesting there be stringent standards,
he hasn't gone so far as to say corporations shouldn't
process our votes. But why not? Most government
functions - from our courts to our fire departments
- run fairly smoothly, despite carping from the
extreme right wing. Increasingly, people across
America are demanding that - like in other democracies
around the world - our system of voting should
be publicly owned.
point Dr. Rebecca Mercuri raises is that the Help
America Vote Act (HAVA) - passed after
the 2000 election - calls for the President to
appoint, as the Act states, "with the advice of
the Senate," members to "an independent entity,
the Election Assistance Commission." The commission
is then to create "the Election Assistance Commission
Standards Board, the Election Assistance Commission
Board of Advisors ... and the Technical Guidelines
Development Committee" to establish standards
and oversee compliance of the law by voting machine
the commission has not yet been established,"
says Mercuri, even though billions in federal
dollars have been distributed under HAVA for states
to buy electronic voting machines and license
their software from private corporations. "As
a result," Mercuri says, "there are currently
no meaningful federal standards for voting machines.
Many of the machines used in 2002 were built to
industry guidelines that many question and were
established in 1990."
those standards are problematic. In the course
of researching "Black Box Voting," Harris did
a Google search on one of the voting machine companies,
Diebold Election Systems, and found it maintained
an open FTP site on the internet apparently through
the 2002 election. In it, she located computer
code used to tabulate elections and, apparently,
actual vote count files that could be downloaded
or even replaced by any visiting hacker.
website for the New Zealand news publication The
Scoop has published Diebold's files on the
Internet, producing lively discussions among computer
enthusiasts and scientists who have apparently
(and perhaps unlawfully) cracked the company's
Scoop also performed a statistical analysis comparing
American polls and computer-controlled voting
machine results. In many states there were no
variations. In a few, however, they found that
"the Republican Party experienced a pronounced
last minute swing in its favour of between 4 and
16 points. Remarkably this last minute swing appears
to have been concentrated in its effects in critical
Senate races (Georgia and Minnesota) where [the
Republican Party] secured its complete control
corporate bungles or the potential for outright
vote fraud are a concern of many opposed to electronic
voting machines, another issue of concern is the
concentration of voter rolls in the hands of partisan
politicians instead of civil servants.
most states, local precincts or counties maintain
their own voter rolls. Florida, however, had gone
to the trouble before the 2000 election to consolidate
all its voter rolls at the state level, and put
them into the custody and control of the state's
elected Secretary of State, Katherine Harris,
who was also the chairman of the Florida campaign
to elect George W. Bush.
described in disturbing detail in the documentary
and in Greg Palast's book "The Best Democracy
Money Can Buy," Harris spent millions to hire
a Texas company to clean up the Florida list by
purging it of all convicted felons - using
a list of felons who lived in the State of Texas.
of the legacies of slavery is that a large number
of African Americans share the same or similar
names, and sure enough, when the Texas felon list
was compared with the Florida voter list over
94,000 matches or near-matches were found. Those
registered Florida voters - about half
of them African Americans (who generally vote
Democratic) - with names identical or even similar
to Texas felons were deleted from the Florida
voter rolls, and turned away from the polls when
they tried to vote in 2000 and in 2002.
under HAVA, states across the nation are consolidating
their voter lists and handing them over to Harris's
various peers to be cleaned and maintained.
concern is Internet voting, since it's impossible
to ensure its accuracy. Imagine if all the time
a voting machine was being used, it also had its
back door open and an unlimited number of technicians
and hackers could manipulate its innards before,
during and after the vote.
suggest this is one of the reasons it's dangerous
that so many electronic voting machines today
are connected to company-access modems, but it's
an even stronger argument against the very core
of democracy - the vote - being handled
out in the public of cyberspace.
the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to have
a private corporation conduct Internet voting
for overseas GIs in 2004, and many fear it'll
be used as a beta test for more widespread Internet
voting across the nation. While many Americans
think the ability to vote from home or office
over the computer would be wonderfully convenient,
the results could be disastrous: even the CIA
hasn't been able to prevent hackers from penetrating
parts of its computer systems attached to the
most levels, privatization is only a "small sin"
against democracy. Turning a nation's or community's
water, septic, roadway, prisons, airwaves or health
care commons over to private corporations has
so far demonstrably degraded the quality of life
for average citizens and enriched a few of the
most powerful campaign contributors, but it hasn't
been the end of democracy.
citizens believe, however, that turning the programming
and maintenance of voting over to corporations
that can share their profits openly with politicians
(or, like Hagel, become the politicians), puts
democracy itself at peril.
growing number of Americans are saying our votes
are too sacred to reside only on "chips," and
that it's critical that we kick corporations out
of the commons of our voting, and that we make
sure we have a human-verifiable vote paper trail
that goes all the way back to the original hand
of the original voter.
there are chips involved in the voting process,
these democracy advocates say, government civil
service employees who are subject to adversarial
oversight by both parties must program them in
an open-source fashion, and in a way that produces
a voter-verified paper trail.
less, and our democracy may vanish as quickly
as a network of modem-connected election-counting
computers can reboot.
Hartmann is a nationally syndicated daily
talk show host and the author of "Unequal Protection"
and "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," among
other books. This article is copyright by Thom
Hartmann, but permission is granted for reprint
in print, email, blog or web media so long as
this credit is attached and the title remains
July 29, 2003