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OK, right off the bat, I have done a LOT of work on e-voting activism over the years starting with the Diebold fiasco starting back in 2002. For those who wish to bother and check my bona fides , I served on the NC Select Committee on Electronic Voting in 2005 which helped draft one of the toughest e-voting laws in the nation. I WAS associated with Bev Harris back in the day, but haven't been since 2004. I coined the term "black box voting". While I view paperless voting as a major threat to transparent and accurate elections, I do NOT subscribe to the numerous theories out on the net that various elections were stolen using touch screen voting machines (Diebold's or anyone elses). I am a hard facts kind of guy with a computer hardware/software background. In my view, there is plenty of hard evidence to invalidate the use of ANY paperless voting system without resorting to skullduggery. That said, the use of a voting system without tangible ballots makes skullduggery easier.

One thing I have told many election officials and voting machine execs over the years is constant: If you don't want to be inundated with conspiracy theories about criminal misconduct and stolen elections, do not behave in a manner which fuels such speculation.

Do not, for example, have the CEO of your company head up the GOP election efforts and write letters telling people "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president [Bush]" when you make voting machines used in that same election.Do not hold secret meetings with other voting machine makers where you conspire to undermine independent testing of voting machines.

And now, we have the latest move down below the spaghetti code found in your typical Diebold voting machine

Owners Of Electronic Voting Machine Company Are Romney Super-Fans
The Daily Dolt

Private equity firm H.I.G. Capital, LLC bought out a “significant” portion of Hart in July of 2011, and now the majority of Hart’s board directors are employees of H.I.G. (It’s not entirely clear how much of the voting machine company H.I.G. owns, but the financial advisors responsible for the transaction state that “Hart Intercivic was acquired by HIG Capital.”)

 -   H.I.G. was founded by Tony Tamer, a former Bain employee and bundler for Mitt Romney’s campaign.

-   Of H.I.G.’s 22 American directors, 21 donated to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. One person made no political donations at all;  one person donated to both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama; the remaining 20 directors donated exclusively to Mitt Romney in 2012. (See below for links to donations.)

-    Of these 22 American directors, seven of them (nearly one-third) are former Bain employees. Now, we should note (as a reader helpfully pointed out), this is Bain & Co., where Mitt Romney used to work way back when and then left in order to start the affiliated Bain Capital. The connection is therefore a little more tenuous, but we still find H.I.G.’s overwhelming allegiance and financial support of the Romney campaign surprising (not that it’s surprising that a private equity company would lean Republican, but this level of support is pretty unusual).

There is plenty more at the link, by all means, read up and look at the sources.

Now, I think I am on firm ground when I say that voting machine companies should be like Caesar's wife, beyond all reproach. Having political/business cronies running a voting machine company is the very definition of "improper" in my opinion. But, before people get carried away with scenarios of stolen elections using dodgy computer code, let me point out that it would be quite easy to "influence" an election without all that much effort. All one has to do is control machine deployment. If the number of "functional" machines were to become in short supply on election day, and if the "malfunctioning" machines tended to be in key precincts, it would certainly be possible to affect an election, possibly decisively.

Such a scheme is far safer than actual screwing with the code, since, despite what you read online, is not as easy as some would have you believe without leaving evidence of tampering. No, machine failure is far easier to manage (and is a simple variation of vote suppression being perpetrated in states right now) especially as the code in these machines are the software equivalent of the Ford Pinto.

So, please, if we are to discuss this issue, and I feel it very much needs to be addressed, let us concentrate on the impropriety of Romney partisans owning a voting machine company that will count Romney votes, and the ease at which an election could be affected by the failure of the company to deliver RELIABLE machines on election day.

10:08 AM PT: According to the Ohio SoS site, only two counties use H-I machines, Williams and Hamilton. Do any Ohio folks know how accurate that information is? This is less of a problem if it is only two counties, but still, in a close election....

I am old enough to remember a presidential election decided by 527 votes in Florida.

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Comment Preferences

  •  H/T for non CT approach. (8+ / 0-)

    I completely agree with your premise.

    We need transparent voting, and paperless machines do not deliver it.

    Numbers are like people . . . Torture them enough and they'll tell you anything.

    by Actuary4Change on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 10:03:10 AM PDT

    •  Technology should only be employed... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      plan9pub, HudsonValleyMark, ColoTim facilitate the creation and filling out of a paper ballot that can then be reviewed by the voter, and then easily hand counted if/when the need arises. I see the advantages of touch screen technology for all sorts of voters, but it should only be a "tool" to generate a paper ballot.

      Paper ballots should ALWAYS be the end result/product of any voting procedure. Small-d democracy is too important to cede to any paperless, "black box" scheme.

      When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

      by Egalitare on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 10:17:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Computers may be used to (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HudsonValleyMark, beverlywoods

        tally vote counts, as is done with Optical Scan systems, BUT only when such a system is audited by random HAND recounts in precincts to verify that hand count and digital count match.

        Some people advocate "hand-counted" paper ballots, but that is impractical in elections where ballots can run 6+ pages.

        Computers do have a role in the vote counting process, but only with proper auditing oversight.

        •  hey there -- most "should" be using eScans (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I haven't inquired with Hamilton County to see whether that is the case, but I sort of doubt that many people would prefer eSlates if they had the choice. The Hart dial seems to be the least familiar standard input device among voting systems. The eScans are considered the "standard" equipment -- although it is not universally the case that most people use the standard equipment.

          I believe it "should" be possible to accommodate people with paper ballots even if the eScans aren't working.

          Moving to other topics....

          The eSlates do produce VVPATs, so everything should be auditable (if the printers work...). I think this year's audit directive calls for a 5% audit of the presidential contest and several others -- but the timing of the audit is such that it could come very late. So if there are serious issues in the presidential contest, the audit may not help much.

          However, Ohio has a partial recount provision (as well as a recount provision if the outcome is very close), so some paths are open if the results are dodgy.

          Election protection: there's an app for that!
          Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

          by HudsonValleyMark on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 11:23:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Any system lacking (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            a tangible ballot is unreliable, so on that we agree.

            However, manipulating the deployment of voting machines could have a serious affect on the vote count that cannot be corrected. Not enough machines and people don't get to cast a vote at all.

            •  again, "shdn't" be so much an issue with scanners (0+ / 0-)

              The scanning time typically is a small fraction of the voting time. I once talked with a clerk in a New Hampshire jurisdiction (I think a large town) who had thousands of people casting votes on a relative handful of scanners without delays. That isn't a law of nature, but scanners generally are less prone to long wait times than DREs are -- even in scenarios where some aren't working.

              However, I'm not very familiar with the eScans, and in particular, I don't know what provision there may be to deposit ballots if the scanner is inoperable. (A tricky proposition, since obviously allowing people to deposit ballots can be a security breach.)

              I would guess that Hamilton and Williams have had all the eScans they plan to use for a while, but I don't know.

              I'm not very worried about the Bain connection in practice, but the optics stink, and the machines aren't all that great either. It's actually not so easy to make a great voting system. This probably isn't something we should expect private companies to do very well regardless of their intentions -- although I know people who still swear by the lever machines.

              Election protection: there's an app for that!
              Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

              by HudsonValleyMark on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 11:57:44 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Easily hand counted? (0+ / 0-)

        A programmed device can be programmed just as easily to switch the votes and display them as correct and print them to appear correct, and then delete itself when the machine is tallied.  Here’s my 2 cents -- a systems programmer for 10 years and IT Manager for 10 years.

        Bringing every voting American back in to have them present their voting receipt to check the electronic votes is not feasable.  It's hard enough for some voters to get to the polls once.  And besides, how many people will have their printed receipts available two weeks after the election?

        And talk about cost?  The cost of the voting machines.  Cost of the service and maintenance for them.  Cost of having a technician on every site.  Cost of all that proprietary printout paper.  Cost of paying for the service of sending votes to the central tabulator.  Cost of the company who actually does the electronic counting of the votes.  Companies are making big money all up and down the line in this system.  Then the cost of a recount to verify the original electronic counts?  Now that's large money.

        Canada and countries the world over run away from electronic voting because it is vulnerable to corruption and exceedingly expensive.  They have gone to a more reliable, cheaper and trustworthy system.  Publicly Hand Counted Paper Ballots.  The news media have free access to the process, removing the cloak of secrecy from their election process.  Here, all we have is secrecy and uncertainty.

        Publicly Hand Counted Paper Ballots is simple and cheaper.  Canada uses it and has its results the next day.  Our own primary elections are counted by hand with the press on site.  We can do the presidential election separate from the rest.  Some things will need to be worked out.  But it certainly wouldn’t even approach the clustermuck that we have now, unless we foolishly use the same corporations we use now to do that.  

        In collective mind of the American people in the year 2012, if technology can be used to do something, it absolutely must be used.  Not true in any case.  And tech worship doesn't get the job done here either.  Keep it simple, keep it accurate, keep it paper.

  •  I've recommended but... (0+ / 0-)

    I have to disagree on how easy it would be to change the results without leaving a trace.  It's my understanding that these programs are written in Access.  I'm assuming the data in stored in Access tables as well.  At the least, the data may be stored in SQL or Oracle tables and linked in the Access program.  It would not be at all tough to create a link to those tables and change the results from outside the actual program, without changing a character of code.

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. - 9th Amendment

    by TracieLynn on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 11:46:01 AM PDT

    •  Some are (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ColoTim, TracieLynn

      some aren't. But you have to have access to each of the machines to alter them. Having sat in precincts and having worked an election as a tech for ES&S I can tell you that is not exactly an easy thing to do.

      Again, the overt act of tampering with a voting machine is dicey and a felony. If I am the person responsible for machine deployment on election day, or deciding which precincts get replacement machines (in short supply) when machines fail (and they will) on election day, I can have an affect on the vote count depending on my decisions. The chance of someone proving a crime in that instance is practically nil.

      Yes, software can be tampered with, but it is challenging and absolutely a crime. Simply deciding how many machines go to which precinct or who gets spares is a judgment call.

      One has jail time, the other is not even a crime.

      •  I'm not disagreeing (0+ / 0-)

        that there are many ways to skin this particular cat.  I just don't' see them having much of a problem finding someone willing to do the dirty work of results (not code) tampering.  And, I don't see where you would have to have access to each machine, just each machine's uploaded results.  

        Call me cynical after all these years.  I won't argue with that.

        The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. - 9th Amendment

        by TracieLynn on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 12:04:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  it depends on the HW and canvass procedures (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TracieLynn, plan9pub

          It's pretty common for precinct-based voting equipment to produce printed vote counts plus some electronic record of the counts. The electronic records are stored on some sort of memory device, and ultimately aggregated, often at the county board of elections.

          Hacking the database should not be very hard -- in some cases it is trivial. The trouble is that the printed records still exist. Of course, that isn't much trouble if nobody ever looked or looks at the printed records. But many jurisdictions have systematic canvass procedures. The adequacy of those procedures has an important impact on overall security, although obviously even perfect canvass procedures are useless if the machines themselves have been subverted.

          Election protection: there's an app for that!
          Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

          by HudsonValleyMark on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 12:41:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            In NC, TS systems require a printer which prints all choices for the voter to review. Hacking the system would result in a deviation between the recorded count and the printed count which would show up during canvassing or auditing.

            To be fair, I have yet to meet an election official I would be worried about counting votes. I DO worry about their child-like faith in salesmen's promises and most lack a tech guy on their side to call BS when needed.

            •  I agree with that last, but to be upbeat... (0+ / 0-)

              I'm privileged to work (tangentially) with some dynamite election officials who are doing what they can to get the word out that you can't trust the vendors -- and to share information. I'm not going to say that we've licked the problem, by a long shot, and some election officials really aren't interested in dealing with it. But at least to some extent, a new collaborative culture is emerging, and I'm thrilled to see it.

              As you may know, I spend a lot of time on the auditing end. What happened in Palm Beach County this spring (two city council contests botched, then fixed) exemplifies why audits are valuable, and why Florida should have better audits -- because that problem could have been missed. It's been portrayed here on DKos as another reason to Be Very Afraid, but I think it's mostly good news: that election official has a great story to tell.

              Election protection: there's an app for that!
              Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

              by HudsonValleyMark on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 03:40:56 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Unfortunately, I fear this is where we are headed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Given the decreasing demographics of the Republican party, and their current efforts at preventing legal citizens from voting, some form of this WILL be in our future.

    Think about how Republicans operate...they're sore losers, and they believe in winning at all costs.  When they are having trouble winning legitimately, then they will try to win illegitimately.  Remember hearing about campaign literature sent out encouraging people to vote on the wrong day? Yeah, it's going to get worse than that.  

    I agree that machines can be used to create, print and count ballots (with random counts done by hand to insure accuracy) but every ballot counted should have a paper ballot actually marked by the voter as its end product.

    One person can make a difference--and everyone should try. --John F. Kennedy

    by GypsyT on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 12:46:20 PM PDT

    •  E-voting shills LOVE to claim (0+ / 0-)

      that we have paperless financial transactions going on every day in banks across America, involving hundreds of billions of dollars.

      As someone who installed computers in banks for a living, this is absolute nonsense. NO financial transaction occurs in a bank without MULTIPLE pieces of paper being generated. Anyone who doesn't believe me should watch a teller handle their deposit next time they are in their bank.

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