Monday, November 6, 2006

"Hacking Democracy", an HBO special looking into election fraud in the U.S.A.

Hacking Democracy is an HBO documentary showing the work of Black Box Voting to investigate the reliability of elections in the U.S.A. The special has been posted, in its entirety, on video.google.com which you can get to on the above link or view below. The special shows several astonishing things about electioneering in the U.S.A. and shows that the vote can be changed (hacked) surreptitiously. And the special shows suspicious behavior on the part of certain election officials.

If we wish our Democratic system to remain true to the will of the people, our elections must be fair and honest. We've seen time and again that in countries where elections are not honest, the people routinely are suppressed and abused by their governments. It is our duty as citizens of a Democracy to ensure the system represents our will.

In the 2000 election one astonishing result was in Volusia County, Florida, the election showed a negative vote total for Al Gore. Negative! That's ridiculous, the count should only come out positive because when a vote is cast it can only increase the total. How could one end up with negative numbers? But because the vote recount was ended in Florida before the recount was finished, that anomaly was not investigated.

In the 2004 election Black Box Voting filed Freedom of Information requests for the polling records from across the country, so that they could investigate the results in detail. One county they especially focussed on was Volusia County, and they found strange happenings. First the results "tapes" they were given were not the official record, but were printed two weeks after the election. They demanded the original results tapes, and were told those were at the County warehouse. So they went to the warehouse, and found that the workers there were in the process of throwing out some trash, trash that contained votes, election material, and the original results tapes. By federal law the results tapes are supposed to be kept preserved for 22 months, so why were they throwing them in the trash? More astonishingly the results tapes they found, in the trash, differed from the results tapes which the county claimed were the actual results.

In other words, Volusia County was at it again, apparently, reporting fraudulent results.

The documentary showed several ways which, on the Diebold voting machines, the vote results can be easily changed without any hint of tampering.

One way is to change the results database on the central tabulator computer. The votes are stored onto memory cards which are collected from precincts. On the election night the memory cards are then read into a central tabulator computer, and software on that computer tallies the results and reports the totals. This is pretty straightforward in concept. While the tabulating software has several checks and boundaries that prevent tampering, there is nothing to prevent tampering with the data files from outside that software. The data files are just some kind of database file, probably built around Access. One can double click on the database files and edit the results tables directly. Or one can write a program that directly modifies the file contents. Both methods were demonstrated in the documentary.

Another form of tampering is to rig the memory cards ahead of time. The documentary showed a small test election conducted by Black Box Voting using the voting machines owned by a different Florida county. They set up a test election, used a rigged memory card to record the election results, filled out a known number of optical scanned ballots with known results, ran the ballots through the machine, and ended up with a fraudulent result.