Voting is a sacred right and an awesome responsibility. My Greek heritage makes me proud of the origin of voting, while my American citizenship makes me a beneficiary of its strongest instantiation. As a security expert, I am deeply suspicious of electronic voting machines, especially those that do not have auditable logs. So it is no surprise to me that the rush to adopt paperless, non-auditable electronic voting machines has subverted trust in the process and outcome of elections. The most recent example comes from the South Carolina primary.
According to Benford's law, we can expect that the first and second digit of the election results will follow a predictable statistical distribution, if those election results are the outcome of a real election. If the numbers are "made up" then the distribution will deviate by a measurable amount. Dr. Walter Melbane, a political science and statistics professor at the University of Michigan, analyzed the South Carolina primary results with second-digit Benford's law analysis and came to the conclusion that such results could only occur "by chance" 10% of the time. A different way of stating this result is that 90% of such number distributions are manufactured, not natural. Interestingly, the same process showed even less confidence in Iran's last election -- 5%.
Which brings us back to the voting machines: How have we reached the point where the only way to audit an election is statistics? Why can't we get a robust, audited and validated election result? The simple answer is that we can, but we choose not to. If you withdraw money from an ATM, you get a paper receipt and the bank gets a paper trail. With billions of transactions worldwide, the number of disputes with ATM transactions is negligible. If you put a quarter in a slot machine in Vegas, the Nevada Gaming Commission ensures that you will have a fair chance at winning, regardless of the manufacturer of the machine. Not only are the machines scrutinized and tested rigorously, the entire process of procurement, distribution, installation and maintenance is hawkishly monitored and inspected.
We can do better with voting machines, but we choose no to. The process is fragmented into 50 states, each with its own vendors, machines, processes and laws. Until we have a federal, robust and consistent standard for voting machines, the best solution is paper and pencil. It is auditable, secure, repeatable, easy and robust. It's just not fast. Then again, who said election results should be fast? I'd rather have "true elections" than "fast elections" myself. Until then, it's paper ballots by mail for me.
I know historically there has been bad blood between DailyKos and The BradBlog, but like it or not, Brad has doggedly pursued the issue of the threats represented by electronic voting without audits or controls while too many have been willing to simply whistle past the gates of the graveyard.
BradBlog has an article up today on the South Carolina situation, as well.
Clyburn: SC's E-Vote Computers May Have Been 'Hacked'; Rawl: 'Systemic Problem in Software'
Former Circuit Court Judge Vic Rawl's official protest against the results of South Carolina's Democratic U.S. Senate primary election last Tuesday --- when he was purportedly beaten by Alvin Greene, a jobless man who didn't campaign and didn't even have a campaign website --- will focus on what he describes as "systemic issues involving the software of the voting machine," according to the four-term, former state legislator in an interview with Fox "News" today.
The video and transcript of that interview --- in which Rawl displayed a very impressive command of the issues surrounding the 100% unverifiable ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting machines used in the election --- are posted below. It's well worth reading and/or watching.
But first, Democratic House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) also appeared on Fox today where he said, "I believe there was hacking done into that computer." He later added, that because SC used the type of voting machines that have been decertified by so many other states, "maybe somebody wanted machines that were easily hacked into."
Clyburn's comments are remarkable --- certainly for a currently-serving Democratic official, much less one as high ranking as he is. Perhaps his comments will help change the way the bulk of the mainstream media has been covering this issue to date. They've been looking at everything but the obvious potential for computer failure or manipulation, even though Rawl has been going out of his way to point to it --- as we saw in his remarkable statement announcing his protest of the election results filed yesterday, due, in no small part, to "the well-documented unreliability and unverifiability of the voting machines used in South Carolina."
I for one still vote early here in Bloomington, IN, with my wife, so that we can avail ourselves of the pens and the paper ballots that a human being with eyes can count, review, and recount as many times as necessary to insure an honest election.
I have spent the past nearly 30 years as a computing and IT professional, doing extensive database programming, and I will tell you bluntly: if you do not mistrust electronic voting, you just don't understand how dangerous it is.
I for one think we should return to paper ballots completely.
And I agree with the Network World author. I trust how gambling is managed in Las Vegas more than I will ever trust the electronic voting machine.
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