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election fraud | political theory

Latest Corporate Spin: CBS News Brands Voting Machine Critics as Conspiracy Theorists

While this story is important for it's headline, it also plays into the new game in this country of tagging anyone who rejects the official story as a 'conspiracy theorist.' One could just as easily call CBS News a conspiracy news organization for publishing this story at all.
Published on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 by CBS News
Can Voting Machines Be Trusted?
Beth Lester of the CBS News Political Unit reports on new allegations about voting fraud that have been stirring up a storm in cyberspace.

A new conspiracy theory is taking hold across the Internet. It goes something like this: Computerized voting machines bought from companies owned by major Bush/Cheney supporters are being used to fix elections all over the country in Republicans' favor.

Sites like votewatch.com and truthout.com have been sounding the alarm for months, and the theory got a mainstream boost last week when Howard Dean said President Bush would be raising money from "the guy who makes voting machines, which doesn't give you much confidence in the electoral process."

Although the content varies somewhat, the conspiracy theory's plot is fairly consistent:

First, there are the three companies that make computer voting machines: Diebold, Sequoia and Election Systems and Software (ES&S), all of which are owned by big GOP contributors. Walden O'Dell, Diebold's CEO, for example, has signed on as a Bush/Cheney Pioneer, promising to raise at least $100,000 for the campaign.

Second are the charges of dirty tricks: Using computer software purchased under proprietary contracts that make it illegal to examine the equipment, votes for Democrats are lost, changed or disqualified.

Third are the paybacks: Republicans get into office, perpetuate the fraud and help advance the causes and stuff the pocketbooks of right-wing Americans.

For evidence, the Web sites cite questions about voting in the 2003 Mississippi and 2002 Georgia gubernatorial elections, early voting problems in Dallas in 2002 and voting irregularities in Broward County, Fla., and Baldwin County, Ala. There are also a number of public officials who have worked for voting machine companies before or after taking office, often in states that have chosen to purchase new electoral equipment. And there's even some academic back-up: studies by Johns Hopkins University and MIT/CalTech's Voting Technology Project both show computerized voting systems have major reliability problems.

Reacting to the criticism, voting machine companies insist say they have made improvements to the nation's voting systems. More states are using post-Florida "Help America Vote Act" monies to add electronic voting elements to their elections. Iowa will have electronic filing at its caucuses in January, Oregon conducts almost all its voting over the Internet and California is considering using touch-screen computers in its March 2004 presidential primary. For some election officials, the attacks are "fear-mongering by a few people who want to go back to the 19th-century way of voting," says Adams County, Colo., Clerk Carol Snyder, quoted in the Denver Post.

But response and improvements are not assuaging the conspiracy theorists' worries about a larger Republican plot. Web sites are raging with indignation about this perceived injustice. At onlinejournal.com, Ernest Partridge writes: "Might it be possible that, due to GOP control of computer voting machines, the electoral 'fix' is in?" On commondreams.org, a column by Thom Hartmann is titled, "If you want to win an election, just control the voting machines." Other sites like blackboxvoting.com. deeolistening.org and crisispapers.org make the same point in a tone that's growing more and more strident.

Time will tell if the conspiracy theorists are right or if their criticisms are as easily dismissed as the voting machine companies claim. For now, anger with the Bush administration and its role in perceived voting fraud is increasing. And the theorists' concerns, verging on paranoia in some cases, seem to indicate a widespread mistrust that will not be assuaged any time soon. Perhaps it's the reason that Dean's uncompromising anti-Bush stance has been so effective and why Dean felt he could bring this conspiracy into the mainstream.

MMIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc.


www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1111-12.htm
So what the hell??? It IS a CONSPIRACY! 12.Nov.2003 11:39

Mother

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, and looks like a duck...

Where's there smoke 12.Nov.2003 12:24

pix

It's good that the TV People are saying this. It will bring the issue to light, and insinuate doubt about the machines into the heads of the folks who never ever even think about this stuff.

Oregon votes by internet? 12.Nov.2003 13:40

jason

This sentence is in about the middle of the article:

"Oregon conducts almost all its voting over the Internet and California is considering using touch-screen computers in its March 2004 presidential primary."

I don't know, I'm fairly new to Oregon, but I have voted about a half dozen times via paper ballots recieved in the mail. I also don't know of any Internet option. Is this maybe a coming method of voting, or perhaps something done in rural areas (I live in PDX)? Or is, against all odds, CBS wrong?

It IS a CONSPIRACY! 12.Nov.2003 14:33

reader

so was the claim of wmds

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS? 12.Nov.2003 14:44

Ranger Rick

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS? Hell yes I am, and damned proud of it! CONSPIRACY COUNTRY: love her or leave her!

Oregon votes by internet? 12.Nov.2003 15:05

anonymous

No.

Oregon votes by mail.

That shows how shoddy CBS's research is 12.Nov.2003 19:48

Harry Flashman

How on Earth a major news outlet could make a claim that a state conducts any, not just most, of its voting over the Internet is truly mystifying.

Even a mere techno-tyro like myself is aware that no-one has yet proposed an Internet voting scheme that meets even the most primitive standards of tampering and fraud resistance. The suggestion that voting over the Net is currently desireable or even feasible is risible; the statement that it is already in use is a clear falsehood.

Another falsehood is the statment that the Johns Hopkins report was conerned with "reliability" problems. A quote from the report's abstract should settle what the researchers who scrutinized Diebold's source code were concerned with:

"Our analysis shows that this voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts. We highlight several issues including unauthorized privilege escalation, incorrect use of cryptography, vulnerabilities to network threats, and poor software development processes."

(The full text of the report can be found at  http://avirubin.com/vote.pdf .)

Notice that these are all SECURITY and not RELIABILITY issues. RELIABILITY, as the term is used in engineering, can be defined as "Reliability is the probability of a device performing its purpose adequately for the period of time intended under the operating condition encountered." (Source:  http://web.utk.edu/~leon/rel/overview/reliability.html )
This assumes that the device performs correctly initially and is concerned with subsequent failure. A device which fails to perform adequately the first time it is put to use doesn't have a reliability problem, it has a quality problem.

An insecure voting system could be said to be of poor quality, but that assumes that the "purpose" of the device is to record and report votes in a secure, verifiable, auditable manner. Since the design of current eletronic voting systems clearly leaves for verifiability and auditability out of the machine's designed purpose, its vulnerability to fraud can't strictly be classified as a quality problem.

Which brings us back to what the Johns Hopkins report repeatedly and specifically states is the problem with these systems: SECURITY.

For CBS to mislabel security problems as reliability problems demonstrates both that the author and whatever fact-checking staff were involved in the article have no understanding of the concepts of reliability, quality and security as they are used in the technical sense. It also demonstrates that the author either has some reading comprehension problems or didn't bother to read the actual report, relying instead on what other media sources thought was in it.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. And that's putting it charitably.


Lack or rebuttle interesting 14.Nov.2003 04:40

Duncan

I noticed that the article did not actually refute the charge that all the major vote machine makers were owned by republican-minded folks. Instead they chose to attack the people who brought the subject up.