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Thursday, November 1, 2012

U.S. voting machines open to hacking, rigging. System lacks transparency.


The chief of Russia's Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, ranks the U.S. electoral system as one of the worst in the world.
The west is quite familiar with criticism by western observers of elections in other parts of the world but now the United States is also being criticized by the head of the Russian Central Election Commission. In an article in a Russian news outlet, Vladimir Churov claims that the U.S. voting system lacks transparency.
International observers are allowed only in a few states in the U.S. including North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Missouri, and D.C. In all other states, the governors have the final say over whether OSCE monitors are allowed. Churov maintains that even in states where they are allowed, observers have sometimes been barred from entering polling stations. This lack of transparency, Churov argues, leaves the way open for manipulation and fraud. Churov next turns to the issue of voting machines.
Voting machines have been an issue for years in U.S. politics. The machines do not provide a receipt for voting and they are subject to manipulation. Actually, there are good reasons not to provide a receipt for a vote. The receipt could be used to sell votes etc. However, a paper ballot plus scrutineers, would seem to provide a much better record and allows ballots to be checked and numbers cast confirmed etc.
Churov said:
"American voting machines have not been designed to provide any documentary evidence of citizen participation in the electoral process. Moreover, operators [of the machinery] are technically capable of adding or dropping votes in favor of one candidate or another, leaving behind no evidence of violations.”
In a recent Harper's Magazine article, Victoria Collier also criticizes the use of voting machines. She claims that with the introduction of the new technology a brave new world of election rigging emerged. She complains that voting technology has been outsourced to a handful of corporations that operate in the shadows, as she puts it.
The trend towards voting machines dates far back to 2002 when George W. Bush offered states $3.9billion in subsidies through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to help modernize election administration. Bush apppointed DeForest Soaries to head the Election Assistance Commission created by HAVA to oversee security standards for new voting devices. Soaries resigned in 2005. He maintained his office was a charade and that he had been deceived by the White House and Congress. Soaries said
“... there’s an erosion of voting rights implicit in our inability to trust the technology that we use. And if we were another country being analyzed by America, we would conclude that this country is ripe for stealing elections and for fraud.”
Now Churov is saying precisely what Soaries said seven years ago!
Computer science and security experts at the Vulnerability Assessment Team at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illiniois have demonstrated, that for an expenditure of about ten dollars in parts and armed with a limited knowledge of technology, a person could hack into about one quarter of the voting machines used by Americans. The hacker could manipulate the vote without leaving a trace.
There are already suspicions that votes have been altered in the past. In the 2004 presidential election the CEO of Deibold a manufacturer of voting machines said that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president." According to Collier's article:
“In one Ohio precinct, exit polls indicated that Kerry should have received 67 per cent of the vote, but the certified tally gave him only 38 per cent. The odds of such an unexpected outcome occurring only as a result of sampling error are 1 in 867,205,553.”
Churov also criticizes the electoral college system. Churov notes:"It is generally believed that the American people will elect their president on November 6. In fact, the president – an individual bestowed with enormous powers – will be elected by the so-called Electoral College. The president will be elected by the 280 electors, not by all American citizens."
Churov concludes that even with international observers conditions in U.S. elections are such as not to guarantee a democratic process.
While Russia has its own shortcomings when it comes to democracy, this may mostly be for reasons other than the mechanics of voting itself. In the U.S., on the other hand, the actual mechanics may contribute to manipulation of the results. Surprisingly, there does not seem much emphasis this campaign on the issue of voting machines. Any Americans who vote using voting machines are engaged in faith-based voting.

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