I just finished reading Bev Harris’ book Black Box Voting: Ballot-tampering in the 21st Century — which you can read for free on the web: for example, here’s chapter 1.  It lists numerous examples of miscounted votes; voting machines really are error-prone.  It tells of suspicious discrepancies between polling data and election results. It tells of sudden come-from-behind-wins by GOP candidates. It tells of the purging of voter lists.  It tells of votes mysteriously appearing and disappearing. It tells of a revolving door in which state and county election officials are routinely hired by voting machine companies, such as ES&S and Diebold. It documents sloppy certification procedures, buggy software, widespread use of uncertified versions,and lax security. It tells of a tangled web of ownership by corporations and individuals, many of whom are big GOP donors, and some of whom have been convicted of fraud.

Harris’ main point is that there’s little reason to trust these systems and much reason to suspect fraud.  Most of the source code and the operations are secret, testing is lax, and it’s common for software “patches” to be installed with little or no verification. Hacking the systems would be easy.  Secrecy laws protect the proprietary software.

Harris was curious if she could find information about Diebold Voting Systems on the web. Amazingly, she found an FTP site containing proprietary documents about Diebold, including source code, instructions, proprietary Microsoft Windows code and, detailed voter lists from Texas with birth dates and address, and most suspiciously, a file called rob-georgia.zip. All together there were 42,000 files.

What if you knew that the devil went down to Georgia on November 5, 2002, and handed that state an election with six upsets, tossing triple-amputee war veteran Max Cleland out of the U.S. Senate in favor of a candidate who ran ads calling Cleland unpatriotic?

Suppose you knew that in Georgia, the first Republican governor in 134 years had been elected despite trailing in every poll, and that African American candidates fared poorly even in their own districts?

If you learned that these machines had been installed just prior to an election — and then you saw a folder called “rob-georgia,” looked inside, and found instructions to replace the files in the new Georgia voting system with something unknown, what would you do?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a 52-year old grandma and I never expected to have to make a choice like this. I wanted someone else to take care of it. We need investigators like Woodward and Bernstein, I thought, so I called the Washington Post.  (source: http://www.blackboxvoting.org/bbv_chapter-9.pdf)

A similar thing happened in Wisconsin, as I reported in my changes to the Wikipedia article about Chuck Hagel.

Allegations of inadequate disclosure and conflict of interest

In Bev Harris’ book Black Box Voting [11], in an article in The Hill [12], and in a CommonDreams article by Thom Hartmann [13], Hagel is accused of having covered up his involvement with American Information Systems, Inc., the voting machine company. Harris alleges that Hagel omitted mention of AIS from the required US Senate financial disclosure forms. [14]. Harris also says that Hagel hid his continuing investment in the McCarthy Group. Harris writes:

In October 2002, I discovered that he [Hagel] still had undisclosed ownership of ES&E through its parent company, the McCarthy Group. The McCarthy Group is run by Hagel’s campaign finance director, Michael R. McCarthy, who is also a director of ES&S. Hagel hid his ties to ES&S by calling his investment of up to $5 million in the ES&S parent company an “excepted investment fund.” This is important because senators are required to list the underlying assets for companies they invest in, unless the company is “excepted.” To be “excepted,” the McCarthy Group must be publicly traded (it is not) and very widely traded (it is not).”

Harris contacted Victor Baird, counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee, to inquire into Hagel’s disclosure statements. After some investigation, Baird agreed that Hagel apparently mischaracterized the nature of his investment in the McCarthy Group. Soon afterwards, Baird resigned — Harris suggests, without proof, that Baird was forced to resign — and Harris was told that he was unavailable to speak to the press. Harris says that Baird’s replacement supported Hagel’s characterization of the McCarthy Group as an excepted fund.

Harris and Hartmann imply that Hagel’s landslide victories in 1996 and 2002 may have been due to vote tampering. Harris writes, “Hagel defeated popular Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson, who had led in the polls since the opening gun… becoming the first Republican to win a Senate seat in Nebraska in 24 years… What the media didn’t report is that Hagel’s job, until two weeks before he announced his run for the Senate, was running the voting machine company whose machines would count his votes.” [15]. However, Harris and Hartmann provide no concrete evidence of fraud. All they can point to is circumstantial evidence, such as the unexpected nature of the election upset (Hartmann writes, “Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many largely Black communities that had never before voted Republican”) and the odd fact that the voting machines used to count votes in Hagel’s Senate bid were built by the very same company that Hagel had recently chaired and that Hagel continued to invest in. Also, Harris reports [16] that Alexander Bolton, author of the Hill article about Hagel, complained that prominent Republican lawyer Jan Baren and Hagel Chief of Staff Lou Ann Linehan visited The Hill office and pressured Bolton, unsuccessfully, to kill or soften the Hagel story.

Note that in my writeup I kept to the facts and was careful to mention that there is no solid evidence of fraud. An earlier version of the Wikipedia article had mentioned the issue of Hagel’s apparent conflict-of-interest, but someone had removed the content, saying that it’s irrelevant. The same thing may happen to my change.   Progressives need to be diligent about editing Wikipedia articles to reflect a balanced view of the facts.

One more scary story, from Chapter 10:

Investigative reporter Greg Palast did an important investigation into the illegal purge of more than 50,000 citizens, who were not felons, from the Florida voter roles.  If your name was Bob Andersen of Miami, and Robert Anderson of Dallas was convicted of a felony, there was a nasty possibility that you might not be allowed to vote in Florida.

Explosive stuff. Proven stuff. Stuff that should be on the CNN news crawler, especially since these wronged voters, even after the case was proven, did not get their right to vote back in November 2002. These facts were documented, confessed-to, and validated in a court of law, but they were not covered at all by most news outlets.

One reason: Early on, some reporters called the office of Governor Jeb Bush and asked whether Florida had purged voters whose rights had been restored in other states, and Jeb’s office told them it wasn’t so. That was a lie, and documents proved it to be a lie, and an important part of the news story was, in fact, the uttering of that lie, but here’s what happened: Reporters decided not to report the story at all, justifying their decision not to over it by pointing to the lie, without checking to see if it was the truth. After all, it was a statement from the office of the governor.

The last chapter reports on a meeting of a voting machine trade organization. Their intent was to lobby for nationwide deployment of voting machines, to market to the public the virtues of voting machines, and to prepare to defend against efforts by critics to point out the weaknesses of the technology.

Chapter 14 is “A Modest Proposal. ”  It starts by describing how a convicted embezzler,Jeffrey W. Dean, who specialized in sophisticated alteration of computer records, was programming the King County voter registration  system for Diebold.  “According to the Diebold memos, Jeffrey W.Dean apparently had access not only to King County , but also the entire suite of  optical-scan software used in 37 states and the security-sensitive Windows CE program for the touch screens.”

Harris writes: “Everyone out of the pool. We have to disinfect it.”

Harris proposes that every step in the voting process be open to public scrutiny (while respecting voters’ right to a private ballot). Some other countries use open source software for counting ballots.  We need a secure, verifiable paper trail, so that the voter can verify that the machine correctly registered his or her vote.   Electronic counting is quick, but we need the final count to be verifiable and to depend on paper ballots. Vote counting should be done in the open, preferably at the polling place.  Absentee ballots provide numerous opportunities for fraud (anyone with access to the voter list can potentially submit fake absentee ballots, and their counting is difficult to monitor). Allow for ample auditing and spot checking of results.

The early chapters of the book were the best. Later chapters had too many lengthy quotations from transcripts of meetings and such.  But she has analyzed and organized a substantial body of frightening information.

Chapter 15, Practical Activism, has concrete suggestions for organizing to oppose black box voting.  “If you think you’re too small to be noticed, you’ve never had an ant crawling up your leg.”

Bev Harris lives in Renton,WA, by the way. Visit her broad-ranging website at http://blackboxvoting.org.  There are discussion forums, investigations, and resources.