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Friday, August 27, 2004

diebold admits their machines go unpatched

during the proceedings of the voting machine lawsuit in maryland, i have reliable sources indicating that diebold has admitted that their machines go without security patches from microsoft, because installing the patches makes the machines crash.

so the option for my “flawless” electronic voting machines is a) crashing or b) unpatched? yeah, i’m confident that my vote counts.

i’ll probably have more on this once the trial is wrapped up, but i wanted to mention it before i forgot.

posted by roj at 11:12 am  

Sunday, August 22, 2004

voting machine case to be heard in md

Linda Schade et. al. vs. Linda Lamone et al. will be heard in anne arundel circuit court starting on august 25, 2004.

truevotemd is asking people to attend the trial. say hi if you see me there.

posted by roj at 4:29 am  

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

florida votes lost

just in time to foster confidence in the system, cnn is reporting….

The crashes occurred in May and November of 2003, erasing information from the September 2002 gubernatorial primaries and other elections, elections officials said Tuesday.

The malfunction was made public after the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, a citizen’s group, requested all data from the 2002 gubernatorial primary between Democratic candidates Janet Reno and Bill McBride.

that’s one way to prevent unauthorized recounts

nobody that’s tried to work with a computer is surprised. on the other hand, like most technology, the electronic voting machines only lose ballots when you try to use the machines.

posted by roj at 4:27 pm  

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

it is impossible to question voter intent with touchscreen ballots

once upon a time, there was a state in america that had trouble counting its votes. that state was florida. since then, florida has spent millions on new equpiment, public education, media and spin to convince the residents of florida that their toubles with counting votes are over.

the problem, of course, is that in the elections since then, there’s still trouble – enogh trouble that on the order of 1 in 100 votes “were not recorded.”

unfortunately, we’re going to have to deal with the word “intent” a lot to discuss this issue.

in february, the florida department of state, division of elections issued this [pdf] formal opinion in response to questions about providing a manual recount of ballots. you can spend some time reading the opinion yourself, but i’ll quote the first page for people who are in a hurry:

Because it is impossible for a voter to overvote or make stray marks on an electronic ballot, the manual recount provisions of section 102.166, Florida Statutes, do not apply and therefore, counties utilizing touchscreen voting systems are not required or authorized to print or review the electronic ballot images of undervotes occurring in a recounted race.

this opinion is redered on the basis that the idea of a recount is to see if there is “clear intent” on the part of the voter that might be unreadable by the machines. it also goes into great detail about the intent of the legislature regarding procedures and timeframes and other such election processes.

importantly, the opinion goes as far as to say that election officials “have no authority” to manually recount votes cast on touchscreen machines.

but why would i bring up an obscure document from a little office in the department of state of florida now? well, partially because i can, and blogs are timeless. there is another reason, of course, and that is that the ap ran a story today, with this statement….

Groups Challenge Florida Ban on Recounts [ap via abc news, july 27, 2004]

The Division of Elections then ruled that state law only requires a recount to determine voters’ intent, and that it is impossible to question voter intent with touchscreen ballots.

and that was a very troubling statement to me.

what’s missing, as far as i can tell, is any statement that the “intent” of an election is to count the legitimate ballots of legitimate voters accurately. in other words, i think we’re missing the big picture here.

i could be wrong, of course, elections are terribly inconvenient, inefficient and bothersome events, so there’s a lot to be said for skipping them entirely, or maybe just postponing them until they are more convenient.

posted by roj at 1:04 am  

Thursday, July 8, 2004

washington (state) gets a paper trail

State says e-voting machines must leave paper trail by 2006 [seattle post intelligencer, july 8, 2004]

Secretary of State Sam Reed announced a series of safeguards to bolster public trust in electronic voting machines yesterday, including a requirement that by 2006, each device produce a paper trail allowing voters to verify their ballots.

at least someone’s paying attention. i did my part to promote elections after then 2000 disaster, but i still think 2004 is going to be the scariest election year ever.

posted by roj at 9:48 am  

Thursday, July 1, 2004

american coin vs diebold

back in december, i left myself a note to do some homework and make this comparison… with the election now just five months away, i guess it’s time to get this on the record. this won’t be as fully-developed as i might’ve hoped, but that’s what comments and links are about. the comparison between slot machines and voting machines has been made before, but i wanted to tie the two companies together in a sort of risk-assesment way.

in 1990, larry volk was killed shortly before he was to give testimony on how he programmed video gaming (as in gambling) machines for american coin – programmed them to cheat. nearly a decade later, the story got hot again with the confession of his killer. the story is great stuff for crime drama and mafia stories, and that’s been covered well already, but that’s not what interests me.

the issue for me is that even with the intense scrutiny of the gaming commission and state gaming control board – through a formal and documented procedure for review and approval of gambling machines – even with all those measures in place, bad code managed to get into the machines, get into the field and rip off players.

i’m not terribly concerned about ripping off gamblers, at least not personally. part of me wants to put some distance in this, and say that rigged gambling machines is, to some extent, part of the gamble. i guess the problem with that attitude is that it ignores the assurances that a gaming control board is supposed to provide. slot machines aren’t supposed to be part of the whole wild west “you takes your chances” mentality anymore. you’re supposed to know the gamble you’re taking, and i can appreciate that. but, the stakes are personal, and when we’re talking about gambling machines, the bets generally aren’t too huge, so the failure modes in this environment don’t get me too uncomfortable. ok, so you lost a dollar. ok, so you lost ten dollars. might be a big deal to you, but i’m sure i’ve been scammed out of ten dollars many times without even playing the machines.

the precise nature of the hack that is at the core of the larry volk/american coin story isn’t really important. what’s important is that there is a layer of protection between the player and the manufacturer, and that layer of protection is elaborate, well-funded, staffed by professionals, and does full reviews of both the hardware and software both before and after machines are approved for use in nevada. despite all that, about 1000 american coin machines were approved and in use for some time before being siezed by the gaming control board in july 1989.

of course, for-profit gaming is a bit different than civic-duty elections, and there are practical concerns – inspection and monitoring of slot machines in nevada has to be cost-effective, and there are tradeoffs made under that burden. machines are spot-checked (as opposed to individually checked) and they are only checked every couple years or so.

i’ve been on the diebold case for some time (watch your touchscreen, diebold compromises everything and takes cowards down with them, the flipside of diebold at swarthmore, diebold on election day, some diebold news, election day trouble, diebold woes in california). the latest that i mentioned was about a revised ethics policy at diebold, which they, presumably, instated to address some concerns of the lowly voters and their advocates. this isn’t just about diebold, of course, but diebold is here on the blog with a developed history.

if nevada can miss a few guys within a company chipping machines, what chance do our elections have with underskilled legislators and intermittantly-constituted election review boards have? are we supposed to rely on an ethics policy?

for elections, the stakes are a lot higher. vote on paper. be counted. be recountable.

update (2004.12.02): this post recently made an appearance over at democratic underground, but with a truncated [bad] link. i’ve fixed that on my end, but it would be better for them to fix it on their end. and if anyone is interested in working on democracy and technology, i’ve got a little project cooking in the background here, so get in touch.

posted by roj at 10:33 am  

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

league of women voters on electronic voting machines

a few days ago (june 11), the new york times and cnn (and many others, of course) ran a story from the associated press under the headline “League of Women Voters Is Split on Paperless Computer Voting Systems.” that story included the quote:

The group has “no reason to believe” computer terminals would “steal your vote,” the league said officially.

Ms. Maxwell said that the league could reverse its stance, but that it was unlikely, particularly before November.

“We’ll continue to look at this issue and others and take our stances based on where we think the facts lead us, not being concerned about anything else except being as honest as we can be,” Maxwell said.

today, the league of women voters apprently reversed their stance:

The League of Women Voters rescinded its support of paperless voting machines on Monday after hundreds of angry members voiced concern that paper ballots were the only way to safeguard elections from fraud, hackers or computer malfunctions.

i guess it doesn’t take too long to make a convincing argument on this subject.

posted by roj at 1:48 am  

Monday, June 7, 2004

revised ethics policy at diebold

ap reports [via the guardian] that the diebold board of directors has amended their ethics policy so that top diebold officials “may not make contributions to, directly or indirectly, any political candidate, party, election issue or cause, or participate in any political activities, except for voting”

it’s not clear if providing “badly designed” voting machines and compromising the integrity of elections in the united states is a “political activity” or just “business.”

posted by roj at 8:14 am  

Friday, April 23, 2004

diebold woes in california

diebold has been a fixture around here since the dawn of the meta-roj blog, so i was quite anxious about the big news coming from california this week. unfortunately, i’ve been a bit busy and i haven’t had time to really dive in too deep, so i can’t provide some brilliant insightful commentary of my own (or even really borrow someone else’s!), so what i’ll do is share these tidbits and point you in some directions to follow on your own, should the issue move you….

there are two laws introducedin california to ban electronic voting. the relevant amendment seems to be attached to sb 530 and sb 1723.

sb 530 and sb 1723

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a city or
county may not use any form of direct recording electronic device as
part of its voting system for the November 2, 2004, general election.

the effect of this language would seem to preclude use of the diebold equipment in the california general election unless some really substantial changes are made to the equipment. these amendments are offered in response to the conclusions of the voter systems panel convened to study the problem.

problem? what problem? 573 of 1,038 polling places in san diego county failed to open on time because of diebold computer malfunctions. and that’s just the beginning. i guess your vote doesn’t count if the machine isn’t working while you’re at the polls.

the california secretary of state has a page providing the source materials and reports on the march 2, 2004 elections and the performance of the voting machines. lots and lots of reading material here.

Diebold President Robert J. Urosevich

We’re not idiots, though we may act from time to time as not the smartest

posted by roj at 4:00 am  

Thursday, April 22, 2004

continuity in representation act

passing 306-97, h.r. 2844, the continuity in representation act cleared the house.

this law requires special elections within 45 days if more than 100 of 425 representatives are killed.

no word on diebold‘s plans to wipe out 100 or more representatives to pump up business, but expect a press release any day now…

posted by roj at 11:45 pm  
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