Election fraud

I don't know if there's another blogger out there who has done more to bring election fraud, especially the issue of black box voting, into the public consciousness, than Brad Friedman of Brad Blog. He's been a leader in this from the earliest days, and I suspect that Charlie Crist's decision to require paper trails for all Florida voting machines in 2007 came about because of the public outcry Brad and his like-minded activists raised on the subject.

He's got a horrifying story right now about some hardcore voter fraud from Kentucky, and unverifiable electronic voting machines are at the heart of it, but not quite in the way that most of us imagine when we worry about black box voting.

The fact is, those who know anything about computer security understand that it is the insiders who are, by far, the greatest threat to security on such systems, as even the phony, GOP-operative-created Baker/Carter National Election Reform Commission determined in its final report: "There is no reason to trust insiders in the election industry any more than in other industries."...

Well, now we've got a whole passel of still more crooked officials to add to the list. Moreover: The Kentucky officials arrested and indicted today, "including the circuit court judge, the county clerk, and election officers" of Clay County, have been charged with "chang[ing] votes at the voting machine" and showing others how to do it!
If these allegations are proven, they'll be evidence of a truly heinous plan to rig elections. You've got judges, county clerks and election officers implicated, and they used their positions of trust to deceive voters into thinking they had cast their ballots when in fact they hadn't. Then they went behind the voter, changed the vote to say what they wanted it to, and cast it for them. There was also your garden variety vote-buying going on. In short, this was basically a case of fraud that's like many others--it's a high tech version of ballot box stuffing, but it's still stuffing.

Here's where I have a problem with Brad's argument using this example. The fears that most people have with black box voting are based on an outside hacker scenario--the database system is compromised and people with outside access are able to change vote totals from inside, and with no paper trail, there's no way to audit the vote. That's why optical scan systems have become so popular--there's a paper ballot that can be counted in the event of a mechanical breakdown or a challenge. That's not what Brad's talking about here, but it's not really clear from the way he phrases it.
In addition to the absurd charge that those of us who believe in transparency are unduly "attacking" election officials, the latest PR line from e-voting vendors, and election officials alike, is that there is no proof that any election has ever been manipulated electronically.

Setting aside that we disagree --- wholeheartedly --- with that oft-used bit of propaganda, the above indictments would seem to give us a very specific allegation of exactly that, manipulation of electronic votes.
It seems that Brad, when he used the term "manipulated electronically," means "changed votes on an electronic machine." That's an awfully wide definition in my view. It's like saying that sticking someone up at an ATM and forcing them to withdraw money is electronic theft of funds. It minimizes the direct human involvement in the crime, and it seems to me that the machines--much as I dislike them--aren't at fault in this case. Here's the relevant part of the indictment:
3. It was part of the conspiracy that the Defendants and their co-conspirators agreed to take advantage of voter unfamiliarity with new voting machines by misleading voters as to the mechanics of casting their votes once they were selected.
It worked like this: an election official would tell the voter to
into leaving the 'booth' after pressing the "Vote" button on the ES&S iVotronic. That button, does not actually cast the vote, as one might think (and as these voters were told), but instead, it brings up a review screen of the voter's "ballot."

Instructing the voters that they were done, the conspirators then, after the voter had left, would change the voters' votes as they saw fit, before finally pressing the "Cast Ballot" button."
That doesn't sound like electronic manipulation to me. It sounds like deception, abuse of power, and the manipulation of an electorate unused to new voting machines, but the security of the machines wasn't violated here. An optical scan machine would have been better, certainly, because it offers a paper trail, as would a machine that provides a receipt for votes cast, one that doesn't print out until the vote has been completed. But the scenario above doesn't qualify as electronic manipulation in my eyes because the electronic side of the voting process wasn't what was tampered with--voters who saw that pushing the vote button brought up a review screen (and I've voted on those machines--they're reasonably clear) that included a "cast ballot" command and who pushed the second button kept corrupt election officials from changing their votes.

Maybe I'm picking on a minor difference here, but I don't think so. What these officials did--despicable beyond question--isn't that different from what people who have been tampering with elections have done for centuries now. The fear that I have about these electronic voting machines is that the vote tampering is being done in the counting process and there's no way to check it against a physical trail of votes. This case illustrates how a paper ballot or receipt would make it more difficult to interfere at the "voter at the machine" stage of the election--these election officials allegedly preyed on the ignorance of the voters in their districts, but they didn't hack the boxes themselves, which is what I and I suspect many others think of when we hear the term "manipulation of electronic votes."

Brad ends his post by asking "So will the voting machine company representatives out there (and that includes many election officials who have forgotten for whom they work) continue to report that no election has ever been manipulated via an electronic voting system?" In this case--and in this case alone, I want to add--I think voting machine companies would be perfectly justified in saying "the problem wasn't with our machines," because it wasn't. The machines seem to have worked the way they were designed to. It was our election system that failed the people of Clay County KY.

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