Diebold tries to block "Hacking Democracy"

matthew's picture

Yesterday, Diebold (the major manufacturer of US electronic voting machines, though it represents a tiny fraction of their business) attempted to block HBO from airing a documentary entitled "Hacking Democracy". The video documents the activities of Bev Harris -- a whistleblower and former Diebold employee who runs BlackBoxVoting.org -- as she attempted to call public attention to the inadequacies of the electronic voting system and have them addressed.

One-third of us will be voting using electronic voting systems this year. 33% of the vote is a big freaking number when the two most recent presidential elections were decided by extremely narrow margin. 80% of votes in the USA are tabulated via computer, even if the voting machines themselves are not electronic. In the 2000 election, an electronic voting machine in Florida tabulated a total of minus 16,022 votes for Al Gore. That's right, negative votes. Whether a product of malicious tampering, mechanical failure, or engineering error, I simply don't trust that closed-source software is free of defects.

I hope to find a way to view this film prior to the election, as I've had a long-standing concern over electronic voting. In my opinion, we absolutely must have a method of hand-recounts in case of a dispute, because electronic results can be -- and are -- tampered with. An electronic recount won't do, and neither will a "receipt" which is illegible to the average voter.

The only solution I see is that the software which drives our voting machines must be open-source. That is, the source code is made publicly available to be inspected by any interested person, and every single vote must carry with it a checksum indicating that the vote was tabulated by a machine carrying a "blessed" (that is, publicly-approved and released) binary of the software.

In addition to the implications of insecure software tabulating our votes, there's the political issue. Electronic voting, in many districts, was railroaded through on an irregular election day. Including mine. That is, incumbent politicians frequently managed to sneak the issue of electronic voting onto recent ballots on a day when they knew that most of those voting would be aligned with their interests. In our case, it was brought to the table on the day of our primaries two years ago, and now for this election, the incumbent politicians are sitting fat and happy with their Diebold machines out on the floor.

I'm sorry, but with several of these machines in Florida refusing to allow votes for Democrats, I'm concerned! I perceive an enormous anti-incumbent atmosphere in the US right now. Doesn't matter whether that incumbent is Democrat or Republican. The incumbents are well-positioned to interfere with election results by greasing the right corporate palms at Diebold.

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weed's picture

A Quickie

My concern is how to marry the idea of a paper trail showing who you voted for with the idea of anonymous voting, to prevent intimidation? Because just as people will mess with the voting machines to win an election, people will intimidate voters to win elections.

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

Sammy G's picture

Tried To Block?

Matt,

In reading the article, I didn't get a sense that Diebold was trying to block the movie from getting shown. It doesn't seem Diebold went for a court injunction to stay the showing, and I'm not getting the sense Diebold used any political or street tactics to stop the movie from debuting. Writing a letter that gets promoted through media channels is a PR move designed to soften any blow to Diebold's image, especially if Diebold feels the documentary is misrepresenting the truth.

My experience with HBO is that they run their features several times a week during the entire month originally aired. If you missed it last night, maybe there's somebody that can hook us all up with a copy? I would like to see the movie as well!

rowan's picture

Closed-source

While I feel that, as all things in this increasingly technological age, the shift to total electronic voting is inevitable and more likely than not beneficial, I'm concerned that our proprietary software laws prevent us from being able to learn what the hell happens to our vote once we push the button.

Diebold's voting machines are now a part of what is the core process of our democracy: the election. Now, I'm assuming that election law mandates that the process of tabulation be made available to the public for their scrutiny, and that might not be true. But if it IS the case, then I believe Diebold's code should be made public as well.

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matthew's picture

Discovery...

It doesn't seem Diebold went for a court injunction to stay the showing...

True. It was a strongly-worded letter, not an injunction attempt. My take is that if they went for an injunction, there'd be a thing called "discovery"... and Diebold could not afford that with as dirty as their election automation campaigns have been...

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

Sammy G's picture

Call For Open Source

The loser of the FL 13th district Congressional race and some voters are contesting the November election, claiming electronic voting machines failed to count approx. 18,000 votes. Jennings lost by fewer than 400. They are calling for the source code, asking for an investigation.

A federal judge had actually denied the source code request! The Tallahassee Democrat ran an editorial calling for release of the source code, writing the business rights of a voting machine company to protect its trade secrets do not outrank the interests of Florida voters.

http://www.christinejenningsforcongress.com/

The machines weren't operated by Diebold.