You Have To Trust The Machine

That’s what it’ll come down to if computerized voting takes off. I tend to agree with the computer geeks at places like MIT and Stanford, that going ahead with computerized voting is just plain nuts.

Now that the feds have bankrolled computerizing elections by allocating close to $4 billion dollars under the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA), it’s all but a done deal. And it will be the final undoing of an already fraud-filled system of electing public officials in this country. Besides the inherently disturbing implications of a system where votes can not be verified (the way they could when simple paper ballots were counted at the precinct in which they were cast), these machines are — according to one MIT professor — “monstrosities.” Ted Selker says the machines cost ten times what they should and their design codes (“proprietary” is the word used) kept secret, make accountability a joke. Guys who know, like Stanford computer science professor David Dill, say we’re making a big mistake.

Dill, along with hundreds of his similarly-credentialed colleagues have come to the conclusion that “you have a black box, the vote is recorded internally… you can’t see what is recorded. You have to trust the machine.”1

Computer scientist Peter Neumann spent two decades looking into computer software security. He’s big on computers, it’s safe to say, but when it comes to computers and elections he says “paper” is the way to go; pointing out computerized touch-screen voting machines can provide no assurance our votes have been recorded. Neuman is, like hundreds of his colleagues, a proponent of paper ballots despite the advent of high tech voting options.2

I, too, prefer paper over plastic. Black plastic boxes can be hacked. After the presidential election debacle in Florida, Washington mandated that each polling place have at least one touch-screen voting machine. Congress also offered up the money for this. As with any federal offering, states comply with the conditions for these handouts even if taking the money means creating more problems. We’ve seen this time and again.

Counterpunch’s Chris Floyd calls computerized voting “a shell game… a sinkhole… where paid-off public servants, and presidential family members lie down together in the slime.” He believes George W. Bush will be re-elected no matter who the people actually vote for!

Here’s why we simply can not “trust the machine”: Three major corporations — Sequoia, Election Systems & Software (ES&S) and Diebold — all have ties to the Bush administration according to Floyd. The corporate head of Diebold, he says, is Wally O’Dell, a top Bush fund-raiser who has “publicly committed himself to ‘delivering’ his home state’s votes to Bush next year.” The election division is run by a man (Bob Urosevich) whose brother is a top exec at another computer voting company — ES&S. Now add to the mix Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel (R). Before he was elected he was the CEO of an earlier ES&S company. So, in essence, his own company counted his votes for the senate seat. They called his election an “amazing upset.” Hagel’s still in the voting machine business. He has a million dollar interest in ES&S’s parent company.

Trust the machine.

Touch-screen voting leaves no paper trail, making manual recounts impossible. Courts have ruled that secret software can be used to record and thus count our votes. In fact, a study published by CalTech and MIT found that direct recording electronic or DRE machines, most of which are touch screens, weren’t nearly as accurate as mechanical lever machines and optically-scanned ballots. With all the information coming out about the unreliability of these machines, you’d think elections officials would hold off buying the machines. They’re not. They can’t buy them fast enough.

What used to be the stuff of the conspiracy-theory crowd has now become the province of mainstream academics.

Currently 40,000 Diebold machines are being used in 37 states. Most of them use touch-screen technology. And the machines are far from secure as one computer expert discovered.

Aviel Rubin of Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute worked with three other computer scientists and discovered glaring security breaches. Within minutes the team found security holes so big you could drive a truck through them. The glaring breaches included passwords embedded in the system’s source code, something any novice computer geek learns not to do on day one of computer geek school.

Trust the machine.

Another “stunning” flaw these guys found was that voter “smart” cards could be made to cast more than one vote, that software could be re-tooled to allow changing of actual votes, and that the machines could be electronically manipulated by remote.

Trust the machine.

One of the first attempts to shed light on the fraud that has become our voting system was the book titled VOTESCAM: The Stealing of America. When it first came out in 1992 it was prominently displayed in the window of Barnes & Nobles’ East Village, New York store. Within days the display was gone, the book was pulled from the stores and now people who inquire about it are told it’s “out of print.” It is not. It has sold over 30,000 copies simply by word of mouth.3

Now lots of fraud-savvy people are working on getting the word out about how dangerous computerized voting is to a freedom-loving electorate.

Renton, Washington publicist Bev Harris has become a nationally-known activist on this issue. In fact it was Harris who “outted” Sen. Charles Hagel on the fact that he’d been a little too quiet about his voting machine company connections.

Do a little homework, and then write some short, concise “letters to the editor” in your local paper. Contact radio talk show hosts and local affiliate TV news departments. Send them an article or two. Call your elected officials. The last thing this ailing republic needs is to “trust the machine.”

1 Seattle Weekly, 6/03
2 Wired, 11/02

Votescam, Collier& Collier, Victoria House Press,,,

Mary Starrett was on television for 21 years as a news anchor, morning talk show host and medical reporter. For the last 5 years she hosted a radio program. Mary is a frequent guest on radio talk shows.
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