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  • Friday, November 03, 2006


    Hacking Democracy

    I have only watched the first 15 minutes of a 90 minute program so I may be speaking prematurely by saying everyone should watch Hacking Democracy, a documentary on HBO. I don't think anyone who watches it will ever again cast their vote on an electronic voting machine.

    I'm no stranger to the many reports of problems with electronic voting but this doc lays out the concerns and evidence in a very strong manner. A highlight was a candidate going in to check the machines shortly before an election and actually filming the voting machine transferring her vote to another candidate. As the doc points out, because most reported cases of this happening come from voters voting in the privacy of the booth, this situation is rarely documented and caught on tape. In this instance, these were real world machines already set up for a real election.

    The situation of having private companies owning and keeping secret the technology for voting seems intolerable to me. I guess there is a stream of thought in computing that says keeping the technology secret provides a form of security but that argument doesn't hold much water with me. Secure is not synonymous with secret.

    Bev Harris and her organization are central figures in the documentary. I don't really remember whether there was split or whether they were always separate organizations but there is also Black Box, which seems more like a blog covering electronic voting in the news with opinion thrown in. Harris and Co's seems a much more complete site with lots of related links. Black Box seems very determined to not be mistaken for Harris's group. I don't know what's up with that. Ah, there's some information in this Wikipedia article on Black Box Voting. However there seem some questionable facts in the article. Such as
    In the U.S. presidential election, 2004, about 25% of voting was done on electronic voting machines. As of February, 2006, 80% of all votes in America were counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S, and there was no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the US voting machine industry.
    This makes it sound like 80% of ALL votes cast are counted by Diebold and ES&S. I'm fairly sure they mean 80% of the 25% of votes cast electronically are counted by Diebold and ES&S. Bad editing there, I think. [EDIT: I may be wrong on this. Some sources say the total number of votes counted by these companies is over 80% right now but I haven't tracked down a good explanation of what I perceive as discrepancy between the electronic voting machines (25% of the total vote) and the assertion the companies count a much higher percentage of the total votes. Perhaps something to do with centralized tabulators which count the precinct votes? I don't know.]

    Still, the situation in the USA with electronic voting is tragic. I'm lucky I live in a small town with a wooden ballot box and paper ballots in a state not rushing onto the electronic voting bandwagon. If I lived elsewhere, I would probably demand a paper, absentee, or provisional ballot rather than use these damn machines. And this is even taking into account that doing so would vastly increase the odds that my vote wouldn't be counted at all.

    Democracy Now! did a story on the doc including an interview with Bev Harris.

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