Friday, November 03, 2006

Hacking Democracy: Definitely Worth Watching

After reading this review in yesterday's WaPo about the HBO film, Hacking Democracy which aired last night, I was so disappointed by the tone of the review and therefore expected the documentary to be an inconsequential letdown. It was neither. Here's some of what the WaPo reviewer had to say:

The documentary's basic theme is that elections can be stolen by people able to manipulate the vote-recording software in electronic balloting machines. That should not shock anyone who has touched a computer. Given the increasing use of electronic voting machines -- they are counting about 80 percent of the votes cast today, according to the documentary -- it's no stretch to imagine that they could be worked to subvert democracy.

Could be. But "Hacking Democracy" doesn't actually show democracy's corruption. The documentary merely suggests the possibilities and tallies the suspicions, leaving viewers to come to the obvious conclusion.

Actually, the documentary did far more than "suggest possibilities; they clearly demonstrated how easy it is to adjust vote totals without arousing any suspicion or leaving any trail of the adjustment.

And where was this reviewer during the segment on Volusia County in which certified election polling tapes were found in
the trash?

"We were sitting there comparing the real [signed, original] tapes with the [later printout] ones that were given us," Bev said, "and finding things missing and finding things not matching, when one of the elections employees took a bin full of things that looked like garbage - that looked like polling tapes, actually - and passed by and disappeared out the back of the building."

This provoked investigator Ellen Brodsky to walk outside and check the garbage of the Elections Office itself. Sure enough - more original, signed poll tapes, freshly trashed.

"And I must tell you," Bev said, "that whatever they had taken out [the back door] just came right back in the front door and we said, 'What are these polling place tapes doing in your dumpster?'"

Oh, I guess it was just innocent coincidence. Who on earth would suspect foul play?

The WaPo review continues:

To make their story more visual, and to humanize it, they've built their narrative around Bev Harris, a Seattle writer and gadfly who is convinced that electronic voting machines threaten the political process. Harris comes across as a zealot, imbued with the spirit of the righteous crusader, which is a nice way of saying she's a little hard to take.

Hmm, the issue here concerns elections that can be easily manipulated rendering our democratic election process obsolete, and this asshole is concerned about Bev Harris' overbearing personality? Personally, I didn't get that impression of her whatsoever.

He finishes the review with this irrelevant utter nonsense:

In case you miss where "Hacking's" sympathies lie, the documentary pounds home the message with sinister music, grave voice-over narration and an oft-repeated rock song that goes, "Something's broken in the Promised Land / A broken promise in the Promised Land."

That lyrics quite possibly might be true. But you'll want more proof than this.

I highly recommend the documentary for those of you who missed it. There is plenty of worthy information presented to cause concern about our political process. We can all cite plenty of examples of blatant corruption in politics and and campaigns, as well as surrounding elections. There's a myriad of ways to affect the outcome of elections aside from rigged voting equipment. Restricting the rights of ex-felons to vote, people incorrectly purged from voting registration lists, and insufficient numbers of voting machines in minority districts which force voters to wait for hours to cast a ballot, and obviously resulting in many voters just giving up, are but a few of the methods. To reject the probability that machines have been or will be tampered with simply because they can be is a rather foolish position.

I'm still heavily biased against Diebold. I believe if we are going to entrust a corporation to supply voting machines, the process of how the votes are counted must be transparent. The temptation for corruption is too great.

Here are some other interesting tidbits to digest. Aside from the tampering probabilities, let's not lose sight of the financial windfall flowing to the three major suppliers of electronic voting equipment, just in the US. That we are paying to potentially have our democracy hijacked is a staggering thought, but the dollar amounts on a national level are mind-numbing:

According to New Yorkers for Verified Voting, touch screen voting machines cost two to six times as much as optical scanning systems, and last only five to eight years, while optical scanning systems have a life span of between 10 and 20 years.

The cost differential is striking, stressed Rick Schwab, of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. Schwab told members of Community Board 10, gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 13th Avenue and 86th Street, for their October meeting, that the cost of replacing four lever machines with optical scan systems is $3,000, because one optical scanner can handle between 3,000 and 4,000 voters in a single day.

In contrast, he said, each touch screen voting machine costs $8,000, and can only handle 200 voters in a day, so it would take 12 touch screen machines to replace four lever machines, at a cost of approximately $100,000. “That’s why they (the manufacturers) want us to buy them,” added Schwab.

This is from the Columbus Dispatch in March, 2006:

The full coverage plan offered by Diebold Election Systems to service its touch-screen voting machines in Fairfield County, for example, would cost $90,000 a year.

That's just a service contract, not the actual machines themselves, for one county in one state.

From the St. Petersburg Times...

Florida knows more about the clerk who sells lottery tickets at the corner store than it does about the technician who troubleshoots voting machines at the corner precinct.

That’s because lottery ticket retailers must undergo criminal background checks, but there are no such state requirements for the employees of the companies that manufacture and maintain voting equipment for Florida’s 67 counties.


Louisiana requires some background checks, which it began doing after its elections chief pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from an independent Sequoia equipment distributor. Separate charges were filed and later dropped against a Sequoia executive.

The case led Pinellas County officials to delay signing their $14-million contract with Sequoia while they looked at the backgrounds of “key employees.” But county officials ultimately didn’t require continuing background checks for technicians in its contract with Sequoia.

Here's a very interesting Fortune magazine piece posted today at CNN Money. Some snips:

Though other voting-machine companies have also had their difficulties, it is "the dreaded Diebold," as one blogger on DailyKos refers to it, that stirs up the likes of Michael Moore. "The reason Diebold gets so much heat," says activist Bev Harris, author of "Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century," "is not because they're any worse than their competitors. It's because we got more information on them early on."

The drumbeat of bad news has never stopped. This year, researchers have found more security flaws, and another version of the software was leaked. In Maryland, Diebold allegedly knew that some of its machines had defective motherboards but did not replace them for a year. Both candidates for governor there advised their supporters to vote via absentee ballot rather than use Diebold machines.

America deserves better. It's unlikely we'll get it in this year's elections.

Other HBO playdates: Nov. 5(9:00 a.m.), 7 (9:00 a.m., 6:30 p.m.), 13 (12:30 p.m., 10:00 p.m.), 18 (6:00 p.m.) and 26 (1:15 a.m.). HBO2 playdates: Nov. 4 (noon), 7 (11:45 p.m.), 10 (6:30 p.m.) and 15 (3:00 a.m.).

In case my opinion was unclear, the documentary was excellent, and I disagree with most of the insipid review in the Washington Post. Also, check out what
Pam has to say, and she posted some photos.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

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