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Friday, January 4, 2008

Exclusive: Scary 'NYT' story on faulty voting machines coming on Sunday


Coming between the Iowa and New Hampshire tallies, this Sunday's cover of The New York Times Magazine ought to strike a chord. It shows a man inside an exploding voting booth with a WARNING label over it and the words: "Your vote may be lost, destroyed, miscounted, wrongly attributed or hacked."

The massive Clive Thompson article, titled "The Bugs in the Machines," is quite chilling. "After the 2000 election," it opens, "counties around the country rushed to buy new computerized voting machines. But it turns out that these machines may cause problems worse than hanging chads. Is America ready for another contested election?" One key passage: "The earliest crtiiques of digital voting booths came from the fringe -- disgruntled citizens and scared-senseless computer geeks -- but the fears have now risen to the highest levels of government."

One expert says that "about 10 percent" of the devices fail in each election.

The piece focuses on the newly popular "touch-screen" machines, noting that "in hundreds of instances, the result has been precisely the opposite" of the intention to add "clarity" to results: "they fail unpredictably, and in extremely strange ways; voters report that their choices 'flip' from one candidate to another before their eyes; machines crash or begin to count backward; votes simply vanish. (In the 80-person town of Waldenburgh, Ark., touch-screen machines tallied zero votes for one mayor candidate in 2006--even though he's pretty sure he voted for himself.)"

During this year's primaries, about one-third of all votes will be cast on touch-screens. The same ratio will likely hold this November, even with some states junking the devices. The Times notes that "what scares election observers is this: What happens if the next presidential election is extremely close and decided by a handful of votes cast on machines that crashed?"

Then there's this: "If the machines are tested and officials are able to examine the source code, you might wonder why machines with so many flaws and bugs have gotten through. It is, critics insist, because the testing is nowhere near diligent enough, and the federal regulators are too sympathetic and cozy with the vendors."

The reporter seems to agree with this, detailing "a regulatory environment in which, effectively, no one assumes final responsibility for whether the machines function reliably," and everyone pointing fingers at each other. This is my favorite bit: "In essence, elections now face a similar outsourcing issue to that seen in the Iraq war, where the government has ceded so many core military responsibilities to firms like Haliburton and Blackwater that Washington can no longer fire the contractor."

Comments one elections supervisor: "This is a crazy world. The process is so under control by the vendor."

Thompson reveals that during a visit to the polls a suburb of Pittsburgh just days before last November's elections, he was left alone with six iVtronic voting machines. It looked easy to cut and reseal the seals. "In essence," he concludes, "I could have tampered with the machines in any way I wanted, with very little chance of being detected or caught."

10 comments:

Ian said...

yet another reason why this country and its claims of being a great democracy ae a joke. how in the world is it we are in 2008 and we haven't figured out a way to accurately count votes, or that we should abolish the electoral college, or that we should find a method that will allow all people an opportunity to vote, and that we should not try to rush everything through in a day. it makes me sick to my stomach that almost a decade after the bush/gore disaster, our govt could not get their collective %^& together long enough to settle this already.

redsock said...

Two thoughts:

1. At least 7 years too late. Way to go, NYT!

2. If the US cannot guarantee honest elections, what makes it a democracy?

BlastFromGlast said...

"a regulatory environment in which, effectively, no one assumes final responsibility for whether the machines function reliably,"

Yes that is the problem...here is an example of the SOTS Office of Connecticut lack of follow-up.

http://www.ctvoterscount.org/?p=125

john_despertt said...

This country isnt interested in counting every vote... Most of the people may be but the politicians certainly arent, Republicans and Democrats alike.

This has been the case for the history of voting. Machines are just the latest excuse. The ruling classes were so afraid of losing power that even after women and blacks were given the power to vote they were blocked via lynching and burning or a simple a$$ whuppin from hubby telling the misses that she better not be caught going out to vote, individual rights be damned.

George W. Bush and todays republicans are terrified of everyone's vote in this country be counted. Their tactics of challenging votes in poor and minority districts is legendary and they continue to say that their way is the way the majority of Americans think, I beg to differ. Another travesty is the voting rights of District of Columbia residents and former inmates who have finished paying their debts to society, they still cant vote unless they move to a state that allows it and DC residents cant even vote on how to spend their own money or when and how to tax the 30% of their property that's inhabited by Federal Government Employees.

As Ian said, this county is a joke and even those who think they're on the side of those gaming the system are now being gamed. From oil prices to the US dollar to the mortgage crises, to the global warming REALITY, to the Federal Reserve propping up the markets, to the corporations finding ways to not pay their taxes while we do.... I can go on and on and pretty soon we will all be feeling it, some to our own demise. What air are republicans gonna breathe, and what water are they gonna drink. keep letting Rush, Sean, and Bill tell you what to think, youre gonna suffer with the rest of us.

Okay, Im done ranting.

Anonymous said...

This election-vote-count debacle indicates our national priorities. I can lose a charge card in Timbuktu and get it replaced the next day, order whatever I want securely online or by phone, and get cash accurately from ATMs in delis or bodegas, but somehow every adult citizen is automatically not registered, has to register weeks in advance, then has to go somewhere on a certain day to wait in lines, sometimes outside in bad weather, to vote with a machine that might flip or spoil their vote? It is obvious that Not Voting is the Priority.

Phil said...

Your not an electronics technician I can tell. If you were one you would know there is no way to validate electronic signals. If you can't validate electronic signals, then why would you want to tabulate with electronic signals.

You can PRINT paper ballots with electronic signals, because we can actually SEE that with our EYES.

This is the problem with electronic voting, the technology should have never been used to tabulate votes, it should have only been used to assist the disabled to PRINT paper ballots to be hand counted with public oversight.

But your going to go ahead and spin it like this ain't happening.

San Francisco Impeach Now! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E. Ferrari said...

I kept the December 11, 2004 email received from then Public Editor Okrent regarding my request that the New York Times cover the fraudulent mess in Ohio. In his reply, Mr. Okrent said they had gotten 700 such requests. He also said they would cover it should a story emerge.

Readers might remember that this was still during the period when the Times was sitting on the illegal wire tapping story.

Those of us following these machines gave the Times everything they needed to raise this question years ago. And, they took a pass.

In addition to machine fraud, this time out we have to contend with voter roll purges and vote caging that is now facilitated by HAVA mandated voter registration data bases. USA Today did a good story on this last week if anyone is interested.

Anonymous said...

I think it was Josef Stalin who said "It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes."

You would think we would have learned long ago, how unreliable, and subject to tampering these machines are, and will continue to be. One would also think the problem would have been addressed by a Congressional majority which in effect has lost two elections, under very questionable circumstances. Unfortunately, to the detriment of the American voter, it has not.

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