Saturday, November 06, 2004

Electronic-Voting Critics Scrutinizing U.S. Election

Electronic-Voting Critics Scrutinizing U.S. Election

By charlie smith

A Seattle-based nonprofit organization has announced that it is conducting the largest freedom-of-information action in U.S. history to examine computer voting in the November 2 U.S. election. Bev Harris, a founder of, told the Straight that her group plans to file requests for the internal audit logs of all computerized voting machines used across the country.

"Any system that is counted by computer has the vulnerability that some programmer somewhere, who we don't know, has some sort of proprietary code that we can't review," she alleged.

Harris, author of Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century, said that her group recently obtained records from the King County primary election six weeks ago and discovered that three hours had been deleted from the audit log. "The audit log is like the black box in an airplane," she said. "It automatically generates reports of who got access into the system and the different types of actions they took. So when you have an audit on election night that has had three hours deleted, you've got to raise your eyebrows."

She estimated that 20 million votes were counted using electronic voting machines across the U.S. on November 2. She claimed that one of the biggest risks of tampering occurs when results are sent by telephone modem from polling stations to a central election site.

Harris claimed that it's possible to tamper with results because voting records are copied and stored in different repositories inside the program. "We found that counties didn't realize the access phone number is very sensitive information," she said. "You get that number and you can dial in and control the server."

In July 2003, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Rice University released a paper alleging that people can access the touch-screen system off-site and vote repeatedly. The manufacturer of the most widely used touch-screen system, Ohio-based Diebold, issued a lengthy technical response on its Web site ( on July 25, 2003, offering assurances about its system.

"A continuous or unmonitored internet or modem connection would be necessary in order for last minute or stealth changes to be downloaded to a voting terminal," the company stated at the time. "As installed by Diebold, this voting terminal contains neither. Diebold does not connect its voting terminals to the internet."

Harris said it's "insane" that the U.S. conducts elections without any formal way of auditing the votes. She said that no candidate should concede an election until after this occurs.