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Beast of the Month - December 2003
Walden O'Dell, Diebold CEO
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Say what you will about the 2000 election, but at least we have a paper trail proving that George W. Bush swindled it. If a group of electronic voting companies get their way, in the future (including, frighteningly, next year in November 2004) an election won't even have that.
Where to begin? Start in Georgia. In 2002, Republican Saxby Chambliss upset incumbent Max Cleland by a 53-46% margin. Polls showed Cleland leading 49-44%, understandable after Chambliss attacked the war hero (Cleland lost three limbs in a grenade explosion) on his supposed lack of patriotism. Republican Sonny Perdue also defeated incumbent Roy Barnes in the governor's race by a margin of 52-45%. The most recent poll showed Perdue trailing by nine points.
In January 2003, a folder - cleverly named "rob-georgia" - was discovered at Diebold Election Systems, the company which built and programmed all of the Peach state's voting machines. There were three more folders inside it: one had instructions to place new files in the election management folder, the second had files which were to replace existing ones in the management folder, and the third instructed users to replace Windows with its contents and run a program. The Georgia Secretary of State's Office admits a patch was administered to all 22,000 voting machines in the state before the election.
Diebold is one of the top two firms in the electronic voting field, and is a heavy contributor to the Republican party. Diebold's CEO is Walden O'Dell, The Konformist Beast of the Month. O'Dell is a major fund-raiser for the Bush 2004 election campaign. He recently wrote a letter declaring he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president (sic) next year." When a controversy ensued in the Buckeye State over his statement, he explained he wasn't talking about rigging the state's machines. For some reason, his explanation doesn't sound particularly reassuring.
Meanwhile, in 1996, Chuck Hagel, a Republican, won the Nebraska race for the US Senate, the first Republican Senate victory in the state in 24 years. The Washington Post declared his "victory against an incumbent Democratic governor was the major Republican upset in the November election." His stunning victory included many largely black communities that had never before voted Republican, made more remarkable by Hagel's right-wing political views. In 2002, he won by an astounding 83% of the vote.
Hagel is the former chairman and chief executive of ES&S, Diebold's main competitor and the company that made all the vote-counting equipment in the state of Nebraska during both elections. ES&S is a heavy contributor to the Republican Party. Hagel failed to disclose his relationship to and continuing ownership of the company to Senate ethics investigators and on his FEC disclosure statements.
Back in Florida, some voters who pressed the touch-screen button for Jeb's opponent in the 2002 election noticed something strange: their vote was registered for Bush. In the other Bush homestead of Texas, Jeff Wentworth won his state Senate seat, Carter Casteel her state House seat and Judge Danny Scheel won re-election. Nothing necessarily suspicious about that - except they all won with exactly 18,181 votes. All three are from Comal County, and both Wentworth and Casteel are Republicans while Scheel is a conservative.
All of which is enough to make one say, "What the hell?" That two of the most predominant electronic voting machine makers are heavily tied to the GOP is a pretty disturbing fact (as they would be if tied to the Democratic Party.) There is usually no paper trail left by the machines, and they use source codes which are proprietary - which means they're the corporation's private property unavailable for public inspection, including losing candidates.
Dan Spillane was a software engineer for VoteHere, an electronic machine company that includes former CIA director Robert Gates and Dick Cheney's former assistant as directors. After uncovering holes in their security system, he was fired, and has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit. He describes their vote integrity program "very much like Arthur Andersen in the Enron case."
Speaking of Arthur Andersen, they've changed the name of Andersen Consulting to Accenture, and incorporated offshore in Bermuda. What is Accenture up to? Besides other schemes, it's landed the fat contract for the new Pentagon online voting system in the 2004 presidential election to help American soldiers vote. Now that's supporting our troops.
Even without these blatantly dubious examples, voting with no paper trail is a terrible plan. So is privatizing the power to count votes. Even if the companies involved in these activities weren't corrupt, the influence they would have on democracy would likely turn them corrupt quickly. Electronic voting is what is known as "a bad idea."
That this even needs to be pointed out should be an embarrassment to American democracy. The idea that ensuring election integrity is a controversial subject shows a lack of fundamental understanding of political justice. Opposition to a paperless voting trail is not a partisan issue: it's a basic issue of legitimate democracy. That there are some (including executives like O'Dell) who want to pretend it isn't suggests either incredible ignorance or dishonesty in their motives.
Hanging chads, butterfly ballots and the like are a voting travesty. But the answer is to make it easier for voters to confirm that their vote goes to who it is intended for. Computerized voting is absolutely a step in the wrong direction.
There needs to be a voter-verified paper ballot for any man or woman who steps into a voting booth. Without it, there can be no trust for any result that follows. If computers are used in voting, hook up a printer to these electronic machines, and have election officials count the paper outputs for results. If the companies protest that printers sometimes jam, then that proves their equipment in unreliable and can't be trusted. Just in case, have paper ballots on hand as backup for the unexpected computer snafu. Come to think of it, just ditch the computers and use paper ballots in the first place.
The good news is that the controversy surrounding electronic voting (which had mainly been thanks to brave isolated efforts by Beverly Harris of BlackBoxVoting.com and Internet magazines such as Online Journal) has slowly started receiving mainstream coverage and may become a serious political issue in the coming year. Newsweek, to its credit, had an excellent article exposing the controversy in its issue dated November 3, the day before Election Day 2003. The bad news: in late October, a federal appeals court dismissed a suit over electronic voting machines, bizarrely justifying the machines by stating that "electoral fraud can never be completely eliminated no matter which type of ballot is used." Left unmentioned by the judges was why it would then be okay to use a system that seems to maximize the potential for abuse and fraud.
How will it all end? Authority gets away with only what the people let it get away with. The sudden rise in awareness at the sinister nature of electronic voting certainly gives one hope. On the other hand, as 2000 clearly established, the American public has a bad history of meekly consenting to overt electoral fraud.
In any case, we salute Walden O'Dell as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Wally!!!
Most of this article is based on material used in the upcoming Feral House book by Robert Sterling, 50 Reasons Not to Vote for Bush (coming in 2004.)
Conover, Bev. "Computerized Voting Systems Cannot Be Made Secure." Online Journal 20 October 2003 <http://www.onlinejournal.com/Commentary/102003Conover/102003conover.html>.
Hartmann, Thom. "Now Your Vote Is the Property of a Private Corporation." Online Journal 13 March 2003 <http://www.onlinejournal.com/Commentary/031303Hartmann/031303hartmann.html>.
Kravets, David. "Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Electronic Voting Machine Lawsuit." SF Gate 29 October 2003 <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2003/10/29/state0331EST0005.DTL>.
Landes, Lynn. "2002 Elections: Republican Voting Machines, Election Irregularities, and 'Way-off' Polling Results." Online Journal 8 November 2002 <http://www.onlinejournal.com/Special_Reports/Landes111402/landes111402.html>.
Landes, Lynn. "Internet Voting: The End of Democracy?" Online Journal 4 September 2003 <http://www.onlinejournal.com/Special_Reports/090403Landes/090403landes.html>.
Landes, Lynn. "Offshore Company Captures Online Military Vote." Online Journal 21 July 2003 <http://www.onlinejournal.com/Special_Reports/072103Landes/072103landes.html>.
Landes, Lynn. "Voting Machines Violate Constitution." Online Journal 15 April 2003 <http://www.onlinejournal.com/Commentary/041503Landes/041503landes.html>.
Leopold, Jason. "Electronic Voting Minus Paper Trails Makes It Easy to Rig Elections." Online Journal 4 Septe77mber 2003 <http://www.onlinejournal.com/Special_Reports/090403Leopold/090403leopold.html>.
Palast, Greg. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. New York: Plume, 2003.
Punpirate. "Did Your Vote Count?" Democratic Underground 15 February 2003 <http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/02/15_vote.html>.
Vankin, Jonathan. "Call Me Hal." Metro 21 December 2000 <http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/12.21.00/cover/election-0051.html>.
Zetter, Kim. "Did E-Vote Firm Patch Election?" Wired 13 October 2003 <http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,60563,00.html>.
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