An open invitation to election fraud
Sept. 23, 2003 | As if the public image of punch-card voting machines had not already been bruised and battered enough, on Sept. 15, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals went for the K.O. Punch-card voting, a three-judge panel of the court said in its ruling halting the California gubernatorial recall election, is an embarrassment to our high-tech times: "Just as the black and white fava bean voting system of revolutionary times was replaced by paper balloting, and the paper ballot replaced by mechanical lever machine, newer technologies have emerged to replace the punch-card, including optical scanning and touch screen voting."
But according to Bev Harris, a writer who has spent more than a year investigating the shadowy world of the elections equipment industry, the replacement technologies the court cited may be worse -- much worse -- than the zany punch-card systems it finds so abhorrent. Specifically, Harris' research into Diebold, one of the largest providers of the new touch-screen systems, ought to give elections officials pause about mandating an all-electronic vote.
Harris has found critical flaws in Diebold's voting software, and she's uncovered internal Diebold memos in which employees seem to suggest that the vulnerabilities are no big deal. The memos appear to be authentic -- Diebold even sent Harris a notice warning her that by posting the documents on the Web, she was infringing upon the company's intellectual property. Diebold did not return several calls for comment.
The problems Harris found in Diebold's system are perhaps the best proof yet that electronic voting systems aren't ready for prime time. Indeed, the vulnerabilities in the software, as well as the internal memos, raise questions about the legitimacy of the California recall election. In its ruling, the 9th Circuit Court put the election on hold until the six counties that currently use punch-card systems -- six counties that comprise 44 percent of the state's voters -- upgrade their systems. On Monday, 11 judges on the 9th Circuit reheard the recall case; they may very well overturn the decision halting the Oct. 7 election. If the recall vote is put on hold until March, however, many may wonder whether to trust the results: Four of the six punch-card counties -- including the largest, Los Angeles and San Diego -- have plans to upgrade to Diebold machines by March.