Friday, January 30, 2004
If you are a U.S. Citizen who lives or has an address within the United States, you can use this link to:
  • Register to vote in your State;
  • Report a change of name to your voter registration office;
  • Report a change of address to your voter registration office; or
  • Register with a political party.
You must also have an inkjet or lasar printer and Adobe Acrobat Reader. (You can get Adobe Acrobat Reader here.) This link will provide you with a completed voter registration application for your state, and (optionally) a pre-addressed envelope to your voter registration office. [Note: If zip code selection doesn't work for you, use the state selection option.]

This on-line registration service is provided by the Democratic National Committee, though you need not register as a Democrat to avail yourself of it. I've used it myself (to alter my party affiliation), and it's quite easy.

Bush Spots With Candidates Would Be Called Contributions
Here's a new FEC ruling that's interesting. From 120 days before the election, if Candidate A appears on an ad paid for by Candidate B to endorse Candidate B, that endorsement is considered a financial contribution from B to A ("free" publicity) -- and therefore will require reimbursement tp B from A's campaign to make them legal. (The item in question was Bush's many endorsement appearances in such ads during the 2002 election.)

Now, both parties seem to dislike the ruling, so that probably means it's good for the electorate, but I can't see how it gets implemented. First of all, there is the question of value; would this be a flat amount or is a President worth more than a Senator? Second, wouldn't the value depend on the number of appearances of the ad (and possibly market size and share)? And finally, will these "contributions" apply against campaign contribution limits, and if so, how? Would an existing ad have to be pulled once the "contribution" hit that limit? And how on earth are these various campaigns going to figure all of this out? Even with the best of intentions, this ruling seems to beg for accidental violations.

So keep this ruling in mind if you hear of a rash financing violations in the upcoming elections. They may be real, but they may also be accidental.

Groups Fear Citizens Abroad Will Be Compromised
In a highly unusual pairing, the Republican and Democratic party organizations for citizens living abroad have banded together against the Pentagon's Internet voting program for the presidential election.

Concerns about the security of the online ballots could cast the entire election under a cloud of suspicion, they said in a joint letter urging a halt in the program. The letter released yesterday is being sent to several congressional committees.

"We do not want to undermine confidence in our system of voting by discovering some real or imagined fraud in the November balloting," wrote the leaders of Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad.

And the best part about this? These people wouldn't have had a clue to complain about this without all the work done by the black boxers. And we didn't even much have to tell them this time!
The New York Times reports of a new study handed to Maryland voting officials [25 pages, 167 KB, PDF] regarding Diebold e-voting security. The difference between this and earlier studies is that this is the first study of the Diebold systems under conditions found during an election. Four key findings:
  • There are numerous vulnerabilities through which these systems could be hacked.

  • Some of these can be addressed prior to the March primaries.

  • Some additional vulnerabilities can be address prior to the November general election.

  • Ultimately, Diebold election software has to be rewritten to meet industry security standards.
In his usual statement of denial, Bob Urosevich, president of Diebold Election Systems, said this report and another by the Science Applications International Corporation "confirm the accuracy and security of Maryland's voting procedures and our voting systems as they exist today." This however was hardly the tone expressed by several members of the "red team".

"We were genuinely surprised at the basic level of the exploits" that allowed tampering, said Michael Wertheimer, the Red Team leader and a former security expert for the National Security Agency. Referring to the inconsistent application of security, he added, "It's like washing your face and drying it with a dirty towel."

William A. Arbaugh, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maryland and a member of the Red Team exercise, said, "I can say with confidence that nobody looked at the system with an eye to security who understands security." He added, "It seemed everywhere we scratched, there was something that's pretty troubling."

[Additional coverage from the Washington Post. ~ Permanent link to the NY Times article.]

An election officer assisting voters during the Novenmber Fairfax County (VA) election offer the Washington Post his assessment of the Advanced Voting Solutions e-vote machines used during that election: "not ready for prime time".
Thursday, January 29, 2004
When Bev first came out and started talking about proper auditing, I was a bit confused. Wasn't the point of paper trails to do just that?

Well, Bev has just published a fuller explanation of this, and now it's quite easy to see her point. Yes, the paper trails provide an audit capability, but only for the DRE voting terminals themselves. What Bev is talking about is an audit of the entire voting/vote counting process, and she offers an interesting proposal for developing one.

Sounds like prime material for your next book, Bev.

[Note: This links only to The actual post is dated Thursday Jan. 29, 2004.]

Palm Beach elections supervisor says:
No paper ballot receipts in 2004
No matter how much U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler stomps and screams about the need for paper election ballot receipts, it’s not going to happen this year, said Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore.

“There’s nothing I can do to put the printers on the machines,” she said. “The state legislature prescribes that procedure.” Wexler, a vocal proponent of paper receipts to ensure vote count accuracy and personal accountability, is suing LePore and Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, accusing them of “failing to ensure that Floridians will have their votes recorded accurately” by not providing receipts.

LePore also said she opposes paper receipts for a variety of reasons, but these seem to be mostly of an operational nature.
CS Monitor gets it wrong:
Cyber-Voting, Version 1.0
A Christian Science Monitor commentary advocates for the Pentagon's Internet voting system, "SERVE," (Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment). All the system needs, so they say, is "some techno-tightening". People are getting used to using the Internet for secure transactions anyways and therefore will welcome the new voting option.

And this is just the problem. Techno-tightening? What the hell is that? Look, you can secure both ends of an Internet transaction fairly well; it's all the rest of it (the network part) that is wide open. Not only is it wide open, but it has to be wide open. That is fundamental to the architecture of the Internet.

And as far as people are getting used to using the Internet for secure transactions, fine, but there is a big difference. People do their banking, and they get a statement. People do their taxes, and they get a refund. People purchase something, and they get a package in the mail. For each and every one of these transactions, there is a proof positive confirmation that is an essential component of the transaction. There is no such proof positive component available in the voting process (not even in paper ballots). It is a fundamentally different type of transaction. And not one that is going to be solved by any techno-tightening that can be applied to the internet.

Monday, January 26, 2004
Clearly the most comprehensive article I've yet encounter on the Pentagon's new Internet voting system, Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or SERVE. Discussed are the highly critical SERVE Security Analysis (below), the Canadian Internet voting experience (hardly flawless), the history of the SERVE project, the implementation strategy, and more.

[Note: Wired News consistently offers perhaps the most thorough news articles relating to e-vote developments. If you use an RSS/XML reader, use this feed to be notified of their latest e-vote stories as they are released.

A one-page site with the Executive Summary (and conclusions) as well as a links to the full report (34 pages, 372 KB PDF), press reports, and e-mail contacts. For those currently involved with DRE (direct recording electronic) voting systems, the first conclusion is most telling:
  • DRE voting systems have been widely criticized elsewhere for various deficiencies and security vulnerabilities: that their software is totally closed and proprietary; that the software undergoes insufficient scrutiny during qualification and certification; that they are especially vulnerable to various forms of insider (programmer) attacks; and that DREs have no voter-verified audit trails (paper or otherwise) that could largely circumvent these problems and improve voter confidence. All of these criticisms, which we endorse, apply directly to SERVE as well.
The remainder of the conclusions pertain to numerous Internet vulnerabilities, which the authors state cannot be overcome given the current architecture of the Internet. The authors recommend an immediate halt to any efforts to implement the system, and recommend against any future efforts to implement Internet-based voting. and the Daily Mojo sum up the current state of voting technology and conclude with a quote from the New York Times:
"Thomas Jefferson advised that "elective government" is "the best permanent corrective of the errors or abuses of those entrusted with power." His faith in democracy was well placed, but for elective government to play this critical role, the elections must be inclusive and fair, and they must use machinery that works."
"A dedicated and experienced hacker could subvert the election rather easily."

But still, no one wants to talk about the military running a vote counting system!

A Defense Department spokesman said the Pentagon was confident the system is secure. "We knew from the start that security would be the utmost concern," he said. "We've had things put in place that counteract the things they talked about."

The four experts [who disagreed] are among 10 the Pentagon asked to study the SERVE system and look for vulnerabilities. The other security experts decided not to issue a report, he said.

Reminds me a lot of Diebold. People just covering their butts, thinking their careers are more important than what they spend them doing.
Don't Count on It. Inclusion's Mostly an Illusion in the Primary System
The selection of each party's presidential candidate isn't now and never has been a matter that involves a majority of each party's members. Even now with a large system of state primaries, a relatively small percentage of voters have all the clout. Rhodes Cook of the Washington Post takes a look at why this happens and explains why the parties should consider changes.

Commentary: It's been my contention here proviously that parties are (and should be) free to choose whatever method they deem fit to select their candidates, and Cook indeed shows this to be the situation, illusions to the contrary. This "freedom of choice" however is not really "free", as all choices have consequences. As Cook points out here, a consequence of the current choice of systems is depressed voter turnout, a result that both parties then seek to "correct" during the general election campaign, each doing so with mixed results.

As Cook equally points out, the current system of candidate selection is hardly the only one we have ever used, and indeed, earlier systems clearly had better voter turnouts. Neither Cook nor I feel that returning to some earlier system is some panacea for low voter turnout rates, but there is an idea here worth considering: The party that develops the candidate selection system most effective in activating their membership will likely fare far better on election day.

Saturday, January 24, 2004
The US is a patchwork of differing felony disenfranchisement laws. In forty-six states and the District of Columbia, criminal disenfranchisement laws deny the vote to all convicted adults in prison. Thirty-two states also disenfranchise felons on parole; twenty-nine disenfranchise those on probation. And, due to laws that may be unique in the world, in fourteen states even ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences remain barred for life from voting. These disenfranchisements occur regardless of the severity of the felony and regardless of whether or not the felon was actually incarcerated for the felony. Black males are disproportionately impacted by this, with fourteen states disenfranchising them at a rate of ten times or greater the rate of their general populations.

Writing for the Center for American Progress, Eric Alterman and Laleh Ispahani take a look at the arguments of the proponents of this as well as additional roadblocks facing ex-felons wishing to reinstate their voting privileges.

The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement
Laws in the United States
The complete text of the felony disenfranchisement study produced by the combined Human Rights Watch/The Sentencing Project effort. The statistical summaries alone are worth reading. Among many:
  • A total of 3.9 million adults, or 2.0 percent of the eligible voting population, is currently or permanently disenfranchised as a result of a felony conviction. Six states exclude from the vote more than 4 percent of their adult population.
  • Florida and Texas each disenfranchise more than 600,000 people. One-third of all disenfranchised ex-felons (436,900) are in Florida.
  • In Alabama and Florida, 31 percent of all black men are permanently disenfranchised.
  • Eleven states disenfranchise black males at a rate of over 15%, while 9 other states disenfranchise them at a rate between 10% and 15%.
The report also reviews current arguments in favor of felony disenfranchisement, finding them lacking in terms of general legal principles and sentencing guidelines and procedures, and extends these same findings to disinfranchisement during incarceration.

A little lengthy but easier readable, this report is worthwhile reading for any interested in voting rights.

The Chicago Sun-Times pipes in.
But the Pentagon is standing by the system, which could get its first test Feb. 3 in South Carolina. ...

So far, seven states have signed on to the experimental system: Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

Making Votes Count:
The Perils of Online Voting
A New York Times editorial:
Internet voting has been viewed as a possible cure for some of the ills that afflict the mechanics of American democracy. Recently, the technology has seemed to move ahead of any serious consideration of whether it is actually a good idea to allow home computer owners to choose a president in the same way they order bath towels online or send e-mail to their relatives. But now there are grave questions about whether even the technology makes sense.

Four computer scientists brought in by the Pentagon to analyze a plan for Internet voting by the military issued a blistering report this week, concluding that the program should be halted. These four are the only members of a 10-member advisory committee to issue a report on the program. Their findings make it clear that the potential for hackers to steal votes or otherwise subvert elections electronically is too high. Congress should suspend the program.

The intentions behind the Pentagon's plan, the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, are laudable. Military personnel overseas, and other Americans abroad, face obstacles to registering and voting. The new program would ease the way by allowing them to use any computer hooked up to the Internet. This year, it would be limited to voters abroad who are from one of 50 counties in seven states, but it could eventually be used by all of the estimated six million American voters overseas.

But the advantages of the Pentagon's Internet voting system would be far outweighed by the dangers it would pose. The report makes it clear that the possibilities for compromising the secrecy of the ballot, voting multiple times and carrying out vote theft on a large scale would be limited only by the imagination and skill of would-be saboteurs. Viruses could be written that would lodge on voters' computers and change their votes. Internet service providers, or even foreign governments that control network access, could interfere with votes before they reached their destination.

This week's report — which was written by respected scientists, including Aviel Rubin, an associate professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University — is not the first to call Internet voting into question. A March 2001 study conducted by the Internet Policy Institute and financed by the National Science Foundation found that Internet systems like the Pentagon's "pose significant risk to the integrity of the voting process."

There is every reason to believe that if federal elections can be tampered with, they will be, particularly when a single hacker, working alone, might be able to use an online voting system to steal a presidential election. The authors of this week's report concede that there is no way of knowing how likely it is that the Pentagon's voting system would be compromised. What is clear, however, is that until the vulnerabilities they identified are eliminated, the risks are too great.

But they're still missing the point: Keep the military out of the voting business.
Paul Krugman:
Democracy at risk
Now imagine this: in November the candidate trailing in the polls wins an upset victory — but all of the districts where he does much better than expected use touch-screen voting machines. Meanwhile, leaked internal e-mail from the companies that make these machines suggests widespread error, and possibly fraud. What would this do to the nation?

Unfortunately, this story is completely plausible.

Krugman also gives Bev a nod.
Friday, January 23, 2004
A  Yellow  Times  editorial:
The truth is that even if a moderately liberal person were elected President, he or she would face exactly what the Clintons faced for eight years, a hideous and relentless assault with opportunity for few meaningful accomplishments. The American Congress is so conservative, and has demonstrated itself so lacking in courage or imagination or largeness of view, that only the most modest changes can be expected under any president.
Election Strategies:
Voting Rites
Black Activists Look to New Strategies, Allies to Flex Ballot Power
A review of the Unity '04 conference recently held at the National Press Club in D.C. Black voters came out in record numbers in Election 2000, and are frustrated by the feeling that that their voice was not heard. Unity '04 wants to insure that this frustration does not turn into voter appathy. Their solution? Bring even more blacks out to the polls this year.
A Denver Post editorial addressing the Colorado redistricting case currently before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. While the editorial doesn't really take a position on the case's disposition, it does make it clear that gerrymandering is becoming a moajor factor in determining the outcome of elections.

I know that we are all hot on e-vote issues, and indeed, it is critical to correctly count the vote. But a proper vote count is not enough if the voters' intent is removed via gerrymandering.

Add Paper Trail of Votes to Electronic Voting Process
A Miami Herald editorial advocating a requirement for paper trails on e-voting systems. The editorial references a recent election held in a South Florida voting district in which 134 of votes cast via e-vote machines registered no vote. This was particularly odd because there was only one race on that ballot and was particularly troublesome because the winning candidate won by only 12 votes.

[Note: All candidates were Republicans. The candidate that had been endorsed by the local party however came in second.]

Well, of course they would. What is disappointing to me on this is that the critcisms being levyed against this system are solely related to the technical and operational aspects. The far more important aspect is whether we even want the military being involved in our elections, and this is simply not being addressed.

Obviously, I think that this is an absolutely terrible idea. As small a step as this particular system might be, it is a step nonetheless towards a military dictatorship. For any who might doubt this, I would invite you to point to a single military dictatorship where the head of the military did not have control over the counting of votes.

A report released Thursday [PDF] found that — despite promised reforms — only a few states made comprehensive changes to voting machines and registration in the last three years. The Washington-based Election Reform Information Project reported that money problems and concerns about the reliability of new, touchscreen voting systems delayed action.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
A new $22 million system to allow soldiers and other Americans overseas to vote via the Internet is inherently insecure and should be abandoned, according to members of a panel of computer security experts asked by the government to review the program.
And you thought Diebold was a problem? This system is nonsense ten times over.

Let's look at some potential and actual problems:

  • Technical:
    • Viruses can easily corrupt voting computers and servers, possibly rendering them inoperable. If this were not detected and corrected in advance, voters may be denied the opportunity to vote. Even if these could be detected in advance, there is no guarantee that skilled personnel will be available to correct the problem.
    • Viruses can easily corrupt the voting computers and servers in a manner that misrecords or deliberately alters the votes cast. These viruses can also be programmed to delete themselves once voting was completed.
    • Even viruses that do not attack the voting computers and servers themselves can cause the communications lines that carry their messages to become overloaded, thereby denying voters the opportunity to vote.
    • Soldiers stationed in areas subject to power failures could be denied the opportunity to vote by such a failure.
    • Systems such as Carnivour could easily intercept and even change internet votes

  • Practical:
    • It is the responsibility of each voting supervisor to verify the eligibility of every person casting a vote to actually be eligible to cast a vote in their district. Military write-in voting offers at least a cursory opportunity for the voting supervisor to just that. The system being implemented by the military will simply forward vote totals to the various districts. Voting supervisors will thus be placed in the position of accepting a mere vote count without any possibility of verifying that individuals are eligible.
    • Voting supervisors will be unable to inspect the voting computers being used to insure that they meet local standards.
    • Paper trails and systems audits will be impossible for voting supervisors.

  • Political:
    • Most troublesome is the fact that this system essentially militarizes a portion of our voting system, bring it under direct control of the military. Inspection by elected officials and/or their appointees will be impossible. The military simply should not be a part of our voting process beyond their current role of providing all soldiers the opportunity to vote.
    • This system is being suggested as a "pilot test" of a future national voting system. This would have the potential of bringing the majority of our voting system under military control. Since the military is effectively under the control of the Executive, the Executive could literally order the military to tamper with the vote.
Of course, this is simply what I've thought up in an hour, and I'm sure that there are more reasons that to reject internet (and especially military control of) voting. It is simply a bad idea. Just because a technological solution can be found for something is not a justification for the implementation of that solution.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Faced with the possibility of another close election, U.S. political campaigns and advocacy groups are drawing up detailed profiles of the voters who will determine their success at the polls next fall.

Political groups are finding out what kind of car their prospective supporters drive, how much they earn, what sort of neighborhood they live in and what magazines they read.

They may not know how individuals voted in the last election, but they do know who showed up at the polls and whether they are registered with a particular party -- strong indicators of how they are likely to vote in the November election, experts say.

This is not exactly comforting. Certainly, this information can be used in a most benevolent manner, but melding data bases in together in creative ways offers significant possibilies for abuse, especially for those seeking ways to disenfranchise targeted groups of voters.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
WASHINGTON - A House committee recommended legislation Wednesday that would provide for fast special elections if a terrorist attack killed or incapacitated many House members.

The measure would require expedited elections under "extraordinary circumstances" when the speaker of the House announces that vacancies in the 435-member chamber exceed 100.

The bill stipulates that parties choose candidates within 10 days of that announcement and that state elections be held within 45 days.

The legislation has also been approved by the House Administration Committee and now goes to the full House for consideration.

Pardon me, but can someone tell me why this is necessary? If more than 100 members of the House are suddenly dead, why in hell do we need a full House in 45 days to do anything? Like we are going to be worried about proportional representation a month and a half after a terrorit attack that kills over 100 representatives? Just pass the war resolution, and leave the rest of anything off the table until we all get our heads back on. Whatever else needs to be done can be fully handled through the martial law that would most certainly be declared.
A California college student is planning to develop a new electronic voting system based on open-source software created in Australia.

Scott Ritchie, a 19-year-old political science and math student at the University of California at Davis, is launching the nonprofit Open Vote Foundation, which plans to modify the Australian code to meet California election standards and offer it free to any voting vendors that want to implement it in their systems. Rithie is also planning to modify the software to accomodate California's new paper trail requirement.

The Australian system, called Electronic Voting and Counting System, or eVACS, was used in an election in the Australian Capital Territory in 2001. It will be used there again this year.

The Austrailia system uses the Linex operating system, also open source software.

What is "open source"?

If we are going to have e-voting machines at our polls, open source is clearly the superior alternative.

Open source is, as the name implies, computer ("source") code that is fully open for inspection. It is provided under what is called a general public license (GPL), which allows anyone to view, use, modify, and even redistribute the modified software. The only restriction with GPL is that, even if modified, the source code must remain both open and free. In other words, it can never be copyrighted, and thus it can never be hidden. So why would anyone write open source code if there were no means to profit from it?

A lot of open source software is collaboratively developed by programming affricionados simply looking for better programs. (Check out SourceForge, a collaberative development platform for a lot of great open source programs.) But "for profit" developers can also benefit from it. Hardware developers can offer their products at a far lesser cost by using open source, and software developers can write supporting programs to the open source software and make there money there. Futhermore, if anyone finds a way to improve an open source product already being used, all users of that code can simply download the new version at no additional cost. Especially for larger users, the cost saving over time can be substantial.

Why is "open source" superior for e-voting?

Perhaps the greatest problem with current e-vote software is that there is no way for anyone external to its development to have any real sense of assurance as to its quality. The development of it is hidden, the testing process is hidden, and even the end user can't really "see" it working. With open source e-vote software, that problem disappears. No, you and I might not personally test the software, but everyone is free to and hundreds and even thousands of others may very well do so. And as a software developer for twenty years, I can assure you that the final quality of a piece of software goes up dramatically as the number of testers go up.

Many in our current e-vote firms might argue that open source is open also to hackers, and while this is true, closing the code is a false (and even dangerous) economy. Hackers will find it sooner or later anyways, and they will find it when it is far less tested than an open source version would have been. In fact, not only is that larger group of testers more liable to find a vulnerability before a hacker, they are also more liable to find a better fix for it than the code's deveveloper might. It is simply a matter of using more brains to solve problems, and open source allows that.

Scott Ritchie understands this, and his efforts are right on track. If we are going to e-vote, open source is the only real way to do it.

Monday, January 19, 2004
If you liked the Florida recount, you'll love the Iowa caucuses.
A very good article from Slate explaining how the Iowa caucus works. I read earlier how the candidates running in Iowa are almost forced to make direct contact with individual voters there. It all seems to hold together nicely, especially as the "first primary".

As the article's by-line implies, Slate has a problem with the lack of vote totals produced in this. But as I have said before, I have no similar problem. This is a primary run by what is a "private" political party. If Iowan Democrats feel that this is how they want to assign delegates, that's fine with me.

Via TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime, links to a Center for American Progress article on this subject and a link to a more substantial Human Rights Watch article.

If you are not familiar with TalkLeft, it's an excellent blog written by a lawyer covering most liberal legal issues, and the "Comments" section is often quite interesting. Voting issues are covered frequently, especially those regarding disenfranchisement. And that is after all what the black box issue is all about.

SACRAMENTO, California -- Delay was the order of the day in California Thursday as the secretary of state's Voting Systems Panel, or VSP, postponed announcing any sanctions against Diebold Election Systems.

Voting activists from across California converged on the secretary of state's office to see what action, if any, the government would take against Diebold for violating voting-system certification laws and to see whether the state would certify the company's latest touch-screen voting machines. [More]

Sunday, January 18, 2004
Thank You
to my readers
OK, it's not like the big time, but Benedict@Large and Black Box Notes have recieved a combined 5,000 visits since I started tracking back in September along with over 7,000 individual page views. Thanks for stopping by, and if you've been here before and thought it was worth coming back, thanks again.
NYTimes Editorial:
Fixing Democracy
An excellent and substantial New Yorks Times editorial addressing issues of voting technology (problems with e-voting systems, the lack of paper trails, ownership of voting machine companies, and internet voting), voter participation (vote roll purging, voting by mail, an Election Day holiday, and felony disenfranchisement), and competitive elections (partisan gerrymandering). Naturally, the big news here for black boxers is that the Times is calling for paper trails. We're definitely mainstream now.
Election Strategies:
Blue States, Latino Voters
Traditional wisdon says that for a northern Democrat to win the Presidency, he (or she) must make inroads into the southern "red states". The rapidly increasing Latino vote may be changing that.
An excellent graphic prepared by the Chicago Tribune listing all primaries by date, mapping primaries that occur in groups, charting the percent of total delegates selected by week, and more. If you are following the primaries, this will be a good aid.
Tuesday's D.C. "protest primary" suffered a number of glitches with their new electronic voting machines which caused an early under-reporting of election results. The problems included:
  • The touch-screen machines had no way to report to election headquarters electronically, meaning that cartridges had to be hand-delivered.
  • A vendor operating the machines turned off a function that counted blank or improper votes. (Why are they letting vendors operate these machines?)
Of the 42,370 ballots cast, 15,065 were cast using the touch-screen machines. Results from these machines were not reported until after midnight, well after the results from paper ballots.
Saturday, January 17, 2004
by Lynn Landes
The Michigan Democratic Party wants to use Internet voting for their primary, and Landes has a few problems with that. On her list is the fact that candidates Dean and Clark have not come out against this (the others have), and that the Internet is "the most insecure voting technology on face of the planet". Well, I have a few problems with what Lynn is saying here, before I demolish what she is saying, I will give her credit for suggesting a return to paper for the upcoming elections. I really don't see any other implementable solution, given the time constraints.

That said, we must remember the "chads" and Florida, 2000. Paper is hardly infallible, and it's fallibility is hardly restricted to hanging chads. I side with those who Lynn has mentioned who want machine produced paper ballots that then become the actual vote itself. This would remove entirely the need for an audit of any voting machines that were actually used by voters. If an error occurred on that paper ballot, it could simply be torn up, and the voter could vote again. If a similar problem occurred on that same voting machine, local offficials would be immediately aware of it, and could simply disable that machine. All of this would be fully observable by poll watches from any party that chose to have one present.

But on to my objections.

Objection #1: The is nothing inherently wrong with Internet voting that is not shared by every other method voting, including paper. The Internet is what you make it, and quite secure technologies exist for relatively safe voting via the Internet. Certainly no worse than other technologies. I don't particuarly agree with this Internet voting proposal (see "Objection #2 below"), not because it cannot be made fairly secure, but rather because they simply do not have time to implement it in that fashion. Above all, computer systems cannot be rushed, and this is exactly what the Michigan Democrats seem to be trying to do.

Objection #2: Primaries do not elect people. They are simply one technique that political parties use to select the candidate that they will put forward on the general election ballot. Given that all parties are essentially private organizations, each of those organizations should be fully free to select whatever method of selection they wish to determine their candidate. While I may not agree with a party's chosen method of selection, it is really none of my business unless I am a member of that party. If the method is agreeable to the members of that party, that is their business. If their method of selecting their candidate is not effective, then they will fail to put forth electable candidates until they change their method. But that is strictly their business, even if Michigan democrats want Internet voting.

Objection #3: Landes starts this article by taking a swipe at George Soros that simply is not justified:
Let's start with billionaire George Soros, the Democrats anointed billionaire savior. They should get to know him better. According to voting rights activists, Soros is a proponent of Internet voting, the most insecure voting technology on face of the planet. He's also a disciple for Direct Democracy (i.e., the initiative process). Think about that. For anyone who wants to control a government, the combination of the Internet voting and Direct Democracy is a fascist's dream-team. Through control of vote-counting technology, not only could "someone" pick our legislators, they could also pass their own legislation. They could be a true Wizard of Oz.
Aside from the condescending tone ("anointed billionaire savior"), the fact that Soros is in no way involved in the Michigan voting decision and therefore irrelevent to this article. Landes is simply wrong in her insinuation that Soros might have some fascist leanings. In fact, I might suggest that it is Landes herself that needs to get to know Soros better. A good way to do this would be to read the speech delivered by Soros (Jan. 12, 2004) at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., an event that served as the official release of his book, "The Bubble of American Supremacy."

In this speech, Soros skewers the Bush administration for its decision to invade Iraq, and indeed, it may be almost solely for this action that he wishes to see Bush defeated in the coming election:

Underlying the Bush doctrine is the belief that international relations are relations of power not law, and that international law merely serves to ratify what the use of power has wrought.

This dogma can be very appealing especially when you are powerful, but it contradicts the values that have made America great. And the rest of the world cannot possibly accept it.

The invasion of Iraq was the first practical application of the Bush doctrine and the rest of the world had an allergic reaction to it. Nobody had a good word to say about Saddam Hussein yet the overwhelming majority of the people and governments of the world opposed the invasion because we did it unilaterally, indulging in pre-emptive military action.
If we reelect Bush in 2004 we endorse the Bush doctrine and we will have to live with the consequences. We shall be regarded with widespread hostility and terrorists will be able to count on many sympathizers around the world. We are liable to be trapped in a vicious circle of violence, ... 2004 is not an ordinary election; it is a referendum on the Bush doctrine. The future of the world hangs in the balance.
Powerful words, but perhaps one could have opposed the invasion of Iraq in this fashion and still have anti-democratic leanings. Perhaps one can even oppose the Bush doctrine of power by force in a similar fashion. But Soros goes on to explain why he feels this way:
Perhaps I am more sensitive to the dangers than most Americans because of my background. I was born in Hungary and I am Jewish. The Nazis occupied Hungary and the Jews were deported. I would have perished if my father had not had the foresight to procure false identities for his family. Then Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union and my life could have been wasted if I had not emigrated. So I learnt at a very early age how important it is what kind of social system prevails. I chose freedom, first in England and then in America.
But it is even more telling that at this point, Soros invokes the name Karl Popper:
As a student I was greatly influenced by Karl Popper, the philosopher. He showed that there was something common to both the Nazis and the Communists. They believed they had the final answers. But the ultimate truth is not within our reach. So the final answers can be imposed only by force or repression. He advocated a different approach: A social system based on the recognition that nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth and might is not necessarily right.
This is critical to understanding George Soros. The fact of the matter is that one cannot be an admirer of Karl Popper without the complete belief that the democratic voting process is not only the best form of government, but indeed the only form of government that actually works.

Few outside of those who have studied philosophy have heard of Karl Popper, but that is also true of most philosophers. Great philosophical works are hardly bedtime reading. One must "eat" these works with intensity, much as one approaches a Thanksgiving feast. Popper has written two such works, both direct descendents of Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" (1781), in which Kant demonstrated that for human beings, captive to their own limited senses, absolute knowledge is impossible.

If this was so, thought Popper, what to make of science? Could it be that science does not prove anything, and if this is the case, what good is science? Popper's answer comes in "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" (1935), in which he argued that it is not the role of science to prove anything, but rather to establish theories in such a manner that they can be proven false ("falsifiablity"). When a scientific theory is established in this manner (and all real scientific theories are; "creation science" is a theory, but it is not a scientific theory because it is not stated in a falsifiable manner), they are either proven false or become accepted as "the current state of science". This acceptance is not proof that the theory is correct; merely that no one has yet proven it false. But it remains as "science" until someone can.

In fact, argued Popper, this explains exactly how scientific discoveries gradually replace each other, earlier ones being approximations, and later ones being simply refinements of those approximations. Just as Newtonian physics was "the answer" for hundreds of years until being superceded by the physics of Einstein, so also with all of science. Of course, this was not the work of Popper's to which Soros was referring, but it important to understand, as it is at the core of what becomes Popper's later masterpiece (and the one to which Soros referred), "The Open Society and Its Enemies" (1945).

At the time "The Open Society" was written, many were arguing that democracy was "inefficient"; that the overhead of educating voters created a drag on changes to government (i.e., law) that might be necessary. The American system was successful merely because of the great natural resources they possessed, but, all other things being equal, an aristocratic form of government could certainly implement needed reforms far more quickly and therefore more efficiently. (This coincides with the Platonic philosphy (embraced by Strauss and his heirs, the Neocons) that a "gifted elite" was the best form of government.)

No, argued Popper, in perhaps the most brilliant re-write of a philosophical work ever. Whatever the current form of government, that is merely today's approximation of the best government. But since human beings can never have absolute knowledge of anything, that government must also be falsifiable. It must be open to examination to anyone who can prove it to be "wrong". And the only system of governing that Popper saw that allowed for this is democracy. Popper had simply looked at the "efficiency" of "scientific discovery", and he applied it to governments. The "open society" of science, in which anyone can prove a theory to be wrong, was identical to governments. They are merely a "best approximation" of what a government should be, and only democracy allowed for the successive refinements needed to advance it in the exact same manner in which scientific discovery advances.

And this is what George Soros believes. It is also why Lynn Landes is way of base in this criticism. One cannot be merely "influenced" by Popper. One either "gets it", or one does not. George Soros gets it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Click to link to yes! homepage.Collected voting articles from yes!
I just ran into these articles about voting activism in a magazine called yes!, of which I was previously unaware. The first is from their latest issue. The rest are from their Fall, 2003 issue entitled "Government of the people . . . shall not perish". A very good collection, most of which justs gets into general interest voter issues.
  • Whose Voting Machines?: About ES&S, Diebold, and SAIC, the web of ties between them and the politicos, with even a nod towards Howard Ahmanson's money. (See "From Genesis To Dominion". Excellent.)

  • Young, Righteous - and Voting: Not about BBV issues at all, but still important. Most of us are not strangers to voting, many of us are familiar with activism, but few of us are familiar with turning activism into real electoral politics. One woman's story of turning that corner.

  • Getting Out the Vote: A list of "get out the vote" activist organizations, most of them progressive.

  • Clean Elections - Making a Difference: Maine started. Full public funding for candidates who refuse other funding. It worked there, and now it is spreading.

  • Every Neighborhood Counts: A Green knocks an incumbent Democrat off and the reprisals.

  • fighting for the soul of the democratic party: Back in 1964:
    So long as klansmen and the police could attack black people with impunity, it would be impossible for activists to organize local communities. After Allen’s murder, “We were just defenseless,” SNCC leader Bob Moses recalled. “There was no way of bringing national attention. And it seemed to me that we were just sitting ducks. People were just going to be wiped out.”
  • Visualize a Fair Election in 2004: By Greg Palast. Need I say more? About "Voting While Black" and his alliance with Martin Luther King, III to prevent another Florida-style scrubbing of black voter rolls.

  • Build from the Grassroots: You don't need to go outside of your party. You only need to build your movement with it.

  • Stand Together:
    “During the next year, I will be there at least five times for someone else’s fight, as well as my own. If enough of us are there, we’ll all start winning.”
  • Update Voting Rules: We are a two party system and will stay that way until we adopt new ways of counting votes. Some ideas.

  • how to change the world in three easy clicks: A brief history of from grassroots to major political mover.

  • 2004 Survival Guide: How you can get involved in transforming U.S. politics: The title says it all. Check it out and get involved. Somewhere!
OK, I said I didn't want to infuse particism with Black Box Voting concerns, and these articles are pretty much about what progressives are doing to involve people in the voting process. Though I am a progressive, this is not an advocacy for that. Rather, it is a guide for anyone who wants to mobilize politically on how others have done it. Everyone needs a voice. These are just articles on how some have and are trying to do that.

I've also got an older web page out with dozens of links to articles of interest to Black Box Voting folks that you can find here. It's about a year old, but still has some very good links on it. In paricular, read "A primer on understanding conspiracies", an enlightening and perhaps the best article on this subject.
Saturday, January 10, 2004
Off Topic ...

But I thought I'd mention it. It's my intention to keep Black Box Notes as non-partisan as possible. Clean elections should be everyone's desire, and black box voting is simply not a partisan issue.

That said, I myself am highly partisan, and I do write in that fashion over at my other blog, Benedict@Large. As we approach the 2004 elections, I'll be looking increasingly for "out of the way" stories about voting issues beyond the "black box" and campaign strategies not relating to the issues, but rather towrds manuvering blocs of voters, and I will be cross-linking to them from here. My feeling is that most people "into" the black box issue are so because they are also politically-motivated and interested especially in "dirty tricks" (voter abuse) campaigning.

My first cross-post is to Election Strategies, an article that links to two others.

The first is about Katherine Harris' possible run for the US Senate. It looks quite likely that she will, but there is a lot going on in the background here. The White House is saying "no", while the President's brother is saying, "Bug off." Here's why.

The second article addresses an announced GOP strategy to gain 25% of the black vote. It's by The BLACK CoMMentator, who claims this to be a manipulative fiction. If you've ever read them before, you'll know that they back up their claims with a lot of solid research.

So drop by if this stuff meets your tastes.

Friday, January 09, 2004
Collected links while I was away
Appologies for my absense of late. I've been very busy on my other blog and have been fighting off a quite insidious Trojan Horse that made its way into my computer.

I usually like to write commentaries on the articles I post, but I have a great many stacked up that I never got to, so allow me to just list them out for you. Some of these are no doubt a bit dated, but I have not posted them before. I am merely dumping my collected archives of previously unposted articles. Some will be of interest to anyone concerned about e-voting, a few are simply multiple citations of the same story, and others may concern only those with a special focus. The newest articles are first:

January, 2004

December, 2003November, 2003October, 2003September, 2003That's a lot of stuff, and some of it you no doubt have run into. I'll be trying to get stuff here sooner, as I do have some quite good links from which to gather news on e-voting. Perhaps not as much personal commentary as I would wish. I seem to have stretched myself quite thin of late. Thanks for your patience.

But we are getting noticed.

By David Damron | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted January 9, 2004
South Florida officials tested new voting reforms Thursday as they recounted an election in which 12 votes separated the two top finishers, but 134 voters inexplicably cast no votes in the only race on the ballot.

National election experts said the cloudy contest in Broward County likely would fuel criticism of new touch-screen machines and add to slowdowns in implementing national reforms prompted by Florida's 2000 election debacle.

They also predicted the mystery will prompt more calls to require a paper-record trail for electronic-vote systems. Broward's system has no such safeguard.

"I think we're in a great stage of uncertainty," especially on touch-screen machines, said Kimball W. Brace, president of Election Data Services, a veteran Washington-based voting-system consultant.

"The move to new equipment is grinding to a halt," Brace said.

In the wake of Florida's election mess almost four years ago, the Fort Lauderdale area led a host of major cities in buying costly new touch-screen machines. Fifteen Florida counties, including large metropolitan areas such as Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, have purchased such systems.

The hope was to avoid controversies caused by dangling chads on punch cards or certain paper systems prone to allow mismarked ballots to be cast.

But this week, Broward County voters proved once more that no system is perfect.

Tuesday's special election was held to replace Connie Mack IV, who resigned to run for Congress. The state House District 91 seat he left runs along the coast between southeast Boca Raton to north Dania Beach, east of Interstate 95.

Before the recount, Ellyn Bogdanoff had 2,816 votes, or 26.3 percent, and fellow Republican Oliver Parker had 2,804 votes, or 26.2 percent, according to unofficial results out of a total of the 10,844 ballots cast.

The rest of votes, a sliver of which were cast in nearby Palm Beach County, were split among five other candidates.

State officials said Thursday that a manual recount of a small number of paper ballots -- provisional and absentee ballots -- would be ordered, to be completed by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

During the recount Thursday, Broward elections officials found 134 cases in which no vote was registered. That same number of "undervotes" was found after Tuesday's election, County Attorney Ed Dion said.

"The machines are doing what the machines are supposed to do. But you never know why people do what they do," said Brenda Snipes, Broward elections supervisor.

Experts said it's not clear why so many voters would boycott the only race on the ballot. Brace said investigation would be needed to find out where those undervotes occurred. If they were concentrated in a small number of precincts, that could signal a problem, he said.

Broward election officials could not be reached for further comment Thursday.

Election Systems & Software, the Omaha, Neb., maker of Broward's voting machines, said in a statement that it was reviewing precinct data to determine the cause of the undervotes.

"We absolutely don't believe this is a case of voters intending to cast a ballot that was not counted," the company said.

But the questions about the computerized-voting systems are delaying voting reforms across the country and perhaps eroding voter confidence in close elections, said R. Michael Alvarez, who helps lead the California Institute of Technology's joint vote-reform group with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Alvarez said that disputed elections like Broward's will ignite more calls for paper records to accompany electronic voting and add to a "political polarization" that signals less confidence in close results.

"There's distrust," Alvarez said, "especially among Democrats."

Washington is largely to blame for the national reform slowdown because of funding delays, Brace said. Of the $3.86 billion Congress and President Bush promised for voting reform in 2002, only $650 million arrived to states so far.

Computer experts are also causing local election officials to pause before buying new electronic machines, saying the systems are vulnerable to hackers. Touch-screen-machine makers dispute those claims.

Still, Congress is considering laws to require paper receipts for touch-screen users.

"Clearly you wouldn't have the problem you're having with a paper record," said Freddy Oakley, the Yolo County clerk/recorder in California and a leading reform advocate.

Oakley is waiting to replace her punch-card system but distrusts an electronic system with no paper trail.

"This is the exact nightmare I'm trying to avoid in my county," Oakley said.

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