EJF Newsletter —Why Demonstrations Of Hacking Electronic Voting Machines Is Now Insanity by Bev Harris


Charles E. Corry

President, Equal Justice Foundation

The only way to be sure a computer is secure is to shoot the programmer.

Adage from the earliest days of computers

March 9, 2011 —Bev Harris' article below is quite timely for Colorado Springs is in the process of holding an election that will determine the course of our city government probably for decades to come. There are already numerous and entirely foreseeable problems with the election. First, and foremost is the fact that it is being conducted by the method of choice for election fraud, a mail ballot election.

Disenfranchised voters

An immediate effect of a mail ballot election is the disenfranchisement of some 95,000 registered voters, or 37% of all registered voters in the city, a situation the local newspapers (Gazette and Independent) are railing against. But probably too late to change now.

Supposedly it is possible for "inactive" voters who didn't vote in last November's election to go in to the city clerk's office and pick up a ballot and cast it. But when queried on this process in the April 2009 city election it turned out that those ballots from "Voter Not Active" were not counted (see Eligible Voters). So even those inactive voters who go to the trouble of getting a ballot from the clerk are not likely to have their vote counted.

Phantom voters


Colorado also has major problems with potential "phantom" or illegal voters. The statewide voter registration database, SCORE, at one point had some 5.2 million registered voters in it. However, there are only about 3.5 million citizens in the state eligible to vote. How much that has been cleaned up or corrected is unknown. But in February, in an attempt to require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, the Secretary of State ran a comparison between SCORE and the Dept. of Motor Vehicles drivers license database that does contain citizenship information. Turned out there are at least 11,000 non-citizens registered to vote in Colorado.

Of course the bill to require proof of citizenship was defeated despite this overwhelming evidence of the need. Of course all these "registered" voters will be mailed ballots in the forthcoming election, corporeal or not, illegal aliens or not, phony voter registrations or not. Colorado even allows online voter registration to make it easier.

So vote early and vote often because there will be plenty of ballots available even it you don't get one in the mail at home.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

City and county clerks who conduct our elections have no education or significant experience with modern computer technology or programming. Our current deputy county clerk, who was once responsible tor testing and certifying all electronic voting machines in Colorado, was once asked what a GUI is? He didn't know! And our city clerk knows less than that.

In effect election officials have become shamans who guard the sacred magic voting machines.

Like all mail ballot elections, the ballots will be counted out of sight by a black box. Our city clerk has a lovely arrangement with GES/Diebold/Premier/Dominion Election Systems (at least I don't think they've changed their name yet again due to yet another scandal). So the outcome of the election is what these minions, or priests of one of the most distrusted companies in the world will tell us it is. Or maybe not, or maybe they will run the ballots through the machines a couple of times if the results aren't what they think they should be. Or maybe they won't properly program the machines to read the ballots as in the April 2003 election. Or maybe they will "program" the machines, or invoke mystical incantations to obtain the magic numbers. But who knows? Citizens certainly don't and can't find out! We will "believe" their numbers because we have no choice.

So what should be most publicly visible and verifiable, counting our ballots, is the most closely guarded secret, while what should be secret, how a citizen voted, now is not.

No secret ballot


Mail ballots also negate the state constitution requirement for a secret ballot. For example, here is what happened with my ballot in the April 2009 election:

Voter ID: 447321

Ballot issued: — 3/41871 in precinct 306, District 3

Ballot mailed — 3/17/2009 to 455 Bear Creek Road, 80906

Returned envelope scanned for signature verification -3/25/2009 3:58:22 PM

(Note that my signature was on the outside of the envelope and publicly visible)

Signature verified and accepted — 3/26/2009, 11:08:015 AM

(One might reasonably inquire as to why there was a 19-hour delay between scanning and acceptance?)

Returned envelope in — Tray 43, Sequence 111

Ballot counted — Deck 5, PCS 2, 4/6/2009 2:15 PM

Of course, in all that there was never a chance that any election official could see how I voted? Or was there?

Poll watchers are no protection


But, you say, aren't poll watchers supposed to make sure the ballots are counted correctly and all ballots are counted? In the April 2003 city election the EJF documented what poll watchers were allowed to do:

"Poll watchers were restricted to a nine square foot area, marked out by red tape on the floor, in a doorway to the ballot processing room where ballots were opened, sent to duplication, or presented for machine tabulation. Ballot "duplication," described below, was not visible at all to the poll watchers from this area. Passage into or out of the room required the poll watchers to move out of the other person's way.

At the entrance to the room where voter signatures were allegedly verified at the city offices poll watchers were also restricted to a nine square foot area again marked out by red tape on the floor. Yellow police tape was used to block entry into the clerk's business offices next to the verification room. In stark contrast, at the county offices poll watchers have been given full access to the signature verification and all other election processes.

Poll watchers were generally not allowed to ask questions of the election judges. Two employees were to take questions and then obtain answers from the city clerk. However, the designated city employees were not readily available. There were no city employees at the signature verification area located in the county offices.

Poll watchers were also prohibited from verifying computer operations."

Since then the Colorado Secretary of State has imposed even more stringent rules on poll watchers that do not allow them to come closer than 6 feet to any election official. And, like the county clerk in Saguache County whose case is now going to a grand jury, our city clerk has "found" a number of mail ballots after Election Day in her offices. Or maybe she gets them and doesn't find them? With a mail election ballot tracking is impossible and tens of thousands of ballots simply disappear.

Many other lies and damn lies are associated with mail ballot elections, e.g. "increased voter turnout." But let Bev Harris scare you even more if you thought our elections were fair, honest, impartial and conducted with a secret ballot. Clearly, we must take our elections back from the mismanagement of election officials if trust is to be restored.


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Why Demonstrations Of Hacking Electronic Voting Machines Is Now Insanity


Bev Harris

Black Box Voting

March 9, 2011 —About once a week, I am asked to bring in a team somewhere and demonstrate the hacking of a voting system. I don't, because I've concluded this is a form of insanity, tracking the old adage that insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over again and expecting a different result.

If you want to see a demonstration of hacking voting machines, just click here to watch the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy."

That was a ground breaking effort, by the Black Box Voting organization and two exceptional British filmmakers (Russell Michaels and Simon Ardizzone). But in the end it changed nothing, and new hacking demonstrations never will.

That's because they focus public attention on security, diverting attention from the real issue: Our right to self-government, and how current election systems have stripped away necessary public controls.

The crucial concept here is not "security" — because as it turns out, you can never secure a system against its own administrator — but rather, the right to self-government. It is smack dab front page in the US Constitution that representatives shall be chosen "by the people," and what has happened with our election system is that the choosing system for our governance has been usurped by the government itself, removing it from the public. And if you doubt that we have an inalienable right to self government, take a close look at the Declaration of Independence, and for added academia read the diagrams carefully in the eminent Laurence H. Tribe's book The Invisible Constitution, where self-governance is a cornerstone.

Back to hacking: You cannot secure a computer from its own administrator. Its administrator is an insider in a government office, and/or the vendors he selects.


Why won't hacking more systems prove our point?


It was a good start, to help the public with conceptual issues about computerized vote counting. But:


1. Nothing meaningful has changed, and some elections jurisdictions actually went right out and purchased the exact specifications they saw in the demonstrations, for in-house use.


2. Further thought on this reveals an incontrovertible truth: Any concealed, computerized system can be subverted by its own administrator.


3. Focus on computer security gave birth to an ivory tower and rather greedy little sub-industry, self proclaimed "security" experts who promise to make a system that we could trust. Upon further review, what they mean is that we should trust them to tell us that the system "has been verified."

If you doubt this, try asking any one of these consultants if they mean "the public can see and authenticate" or "it will be verified for the public to trust." Inevitably, (after professing not to understand your question and sometimes, attempting to divert you to some altogether different topic), they come down to this: "It will be verified [by us] for you."

This simply shifts trust from the government to an academic elite, and makes the system not a whit more accountable to the public.


So where do we go from here?


Black Box Voting recently helped sponsor an event called The Democracy School in New Hampshire. The Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools are a key piece of community organizing by The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

Those running the Democracy School are focused on environmental issues. But the lessons they bring to the table about what works to take back public controls are illuminating.

They are faced with exactly the same obstacles we encounter when fighting for the restoration of public elections — corporate takeovers of the public commons, nonresponsive legislators, structurally problematic systems which block self-governance, and the Cattle Chute.

The Cattle Chute is their term for that pervasive tactic whereby public problems are redefined into microscopic single issues; then public complainers are funneled to a hearing, over a nonessential micro-issue like "should version 1.54 be certified?"

The public is taught that the cattle chute is democracy, while what it is really doing is diverting from the core issue.

Only after years of being funneled down the cattle chutes do many of us see that this does not take us nearer to our goal.

The core problem in elections is concealment of the essential processes, removing public ability to see and authenticate the crucial steps (who can vote, who did vote, chain of custody and the count).

Engaging in these issues on human rights grounds is amazing. People understand it in 10 minutes. Then we get to the real issue: "Do you believe in self-government or not?"

I find that many of the USA scientists who have become part of the elections industry admit they do not believe the public has a right to authenticate. Rather, they contend, the public should accept having the elections "verified" on their behalf, again using insiders and concealed systems.

That is not freedom, it is simply transferring control over the process from one entity (government) to another (a small handful of scientists).

German scientists were more intellectually honest, or at least, actually believed in freedom, and so they testified in court that you cannot secure the system from its own administrator. Here in the USA, our scientific community is not so honest. They are raking in millions on grants and consulting fees, and government officials are relying on them. So we have to circumvent them.

The Democracy School faced the same problems — cattle chutes, corporations, and academics striving to answer the wrong problem.

They have succeeded by going local, focusing on Home Rule in the most real way — and that means, knowing that laws which remove our right to self-governance are invalid laws, and should be ignored if necessary.

In the face of resistance from every level of every "elected" official, local citizens have begun taking control, passing local ordinances that prohibit, for example, dumping sludge on their property. This despite efforts to overrule by the state, and refusal of local officials (at first) to comply. They simply did it, made it happen, and when the state tried to tell them their law was not legal, said "so sue us." The state did, the first time — in this case, the state was Pennsylvania, but other local ordinances in other communities followed, forcing a Pennsylvania state official to utter the words that he does not believe there is a right to self-governance.


Wow. Now that's a statement that will make you unelectable. If we had real public elections.

When faced with undemocratic arrogance, it is useful to get it out in the open. They want to say that? Good. Mark them with yellow tape so everyone can see what they really stand for. Laugh at them, for they are ridiculous, and know who they are, for they need to be removed.

Now let's translate the concept of taking power through local control to restoration of public elections.

Nancy Tobi passed a law in her local community prohibiting concealed election processes. She researched the process, got the signatures, presented it in public meeting, got the vote and now it's law.

In Lyndeborough, the list of who can vote can be purchased for $25. The list of who did vote is at the polling place and can be reviewed by anyone. The chain of custody is in public view at all times, with all votes, including the minute number of absentee votes allowed for need-only voters, hand counted in public on Election Night before any ballots are moved anywhere.

Does this mean only hand counting will do? Engaging in debate on that transfers your activism from rights to mechanics. When asked what mechanism she is recommending, New York attorney and activist Andi Novick replied, "any mechanism that lets the public see and authenticate, without need for special expertise."

Carve out local laws in terms of RIGHTS, not MECHANICS.


There are 80,000 home rule locations in the USA, and many different derivatives empowering various actions for incremental gain. And for those locations without Home Rule, the Democracy School points out that structures which remove self governance are invalid structures. "Just do it," they say. Never apologize. Stay on message. Don't back down.

When it comes to elections, there is some low-hanging fruit, you know. Over 1,000 locations still hand count in public — a path of least resistance to set multiple local precedents.

The key is no longer hacking the machines, but instead, educating our constituencies on their right to public controls, and then — starting local — organizing, empowering, and taking control.


Permission to excerpt of reprint granted



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