Oct 132011

Electronic voting machines have the potential to destroy any democracy quickly and silently. By handing over the power of the people to the hands of a few corporate or governmental insiders the potential for fraud is obviously enormous.

Imagine a country where the outcome of elections can be controlled by a few or even just one corporation. In the extreme it could be a single programmer writing an effective vote-flipping computer virus. [see video links below]

Unthinkable in a free country like e.g. the USA you say? Let’s think about this:

Democracy is only an illusion without a safe voting system. Cartoon: Brian Narelle.

The American people already had to get used to the choice between only two (authoritarian & right of center) parties – something unique among western democracies. In the US only 5 corporations control 80% of the media, corporate media openly promote and decide the “elect-ability” of presidential candidates.
In the US it is not only legal but normal that corporations finance election campaigns of favorable politicians that last about 2 years and can cost a billion dollars to advertise  one of the most quoted person in the past years while hardly anyone knows that both Hillary Clinton and Obama made it to the top 10 of the judicial watch list already in 2007.

Is electronic control / vulnerability of the voting system next?

Electronic voting machines were already used to count 80% of all votes in the last presidential elections. Without the  corporate media monopoly could news like this (voting machine company accidentally leaked elections results) already be reality?

Computer experts demonstrate hack / virus for Diebold electronic voting machines

Researchers at Princeton University demonstrate in this video and this study how easy it is to manipulate election with electronic voting machines used in the US.

1. Malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection. The malicious software can modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machine, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss. We have constructed demonstration software that carries out this vote-stealing attack.

2. Anyone who has physical access to a voting machine, or to a memory card that will later be inserted into a machine, can install said malicious software using a simple method that takes as little as one minute. In practice, poll workers and others often have unsupervised access to the machines.

3. AccuVote-TS machines are susceptible to voting-machine viruses – computer viruses that can spread malicious software automatically and invisibly from machine to machine during normal pre- ! and post-election activity. We have constructed a demonstration virus that spreads in this way, installing our demonstration vote-stealing program on every machine it infects.

4. While some of these problems can be eliminated by improving Diebold’s software, others cannot be remedied without replacing the machines’ hardware. Changes to election procedures would also be required to ensure security.

Renowned British security expert and author, Bruce Schneier writes about electronic voting machines:

  • In Volusia County, Florida in 2000, an electronic voting machine gave Al Gore a final vote count of negative 16,022 votes.
  • In a 2003 election in Boone County, Iowa the electronic vote-counting equipment showed that more than 140,000 votes had been cast in the municipal elections, even though only half of the county’s 50,000 residents were eligible to vote.
  • In San Bernardino County, California in 2001, a programming error caused the computer to look for votes in the wrong portion of the ballot in 33 local elections, which meant that no votes registered on those ballots for that election. A recount was done by hand.

There are literally hundreds of similar stories.

Bruce Schneier does not totally condemn electronic voting but comes up with a list of needed improvements:

The auditing that is conducted on slot machine software in the US is significantly more meticulous than that applied to voting software. [..] If we care about the integrity of our elections, this has to change.

In this context he joins the general opinion of security experts on this topic:

  1. Electronic voting machines must have voter-verifiable paper audit trails. This is a paper ballot printed by the voting machine, which the voter is allowed to look at and verify. He doesn’t take it home with him. Either he looks at it on the machine behind a glass screen, or he takes the paper and puts it into a ballot box. The point of this is twofold: it allows the voter to confirm that his vote was recorded in the manner he intended, and it provides the mechanism for a recount if there are problems with the machine.
  2. Software used on electronic voting machines must be open to public scrutiny. This also has two functions: it allows any interested party to examine the software and find bugs, which can then be corrected, a public analysis that improves security; and it increases public confidence in the voting process.

Despite Schneier’s claim that security experts agree what needs to be done, Bev Harris, director of non-profit election watch dog group Blackboxvoting.org indicates that security experts in the US still appear to propose a continuation of the current “security through obscurity” policy:

German scientists [..] testified in court that you cannot secure the system from its own administrator (e.g. a government official or vendor). 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. ..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, [..] they come down to this: It will be verified [by us] for you.

While according to Schneier there is a consensus amongst security experts to use paper trails and open source software, it does not seem to translate into reality in corporatist America.

I am thinking:

Why would someone build a voting machine that does not create a paper trail or anything to confirm the user input – like in any banking machine/cash point?

Instead of purchasing machines with the recommended specs (paper trail, public software) or sticking to manual counting like most other countries, Diebold was sued and in Dec 2004 settled for $2.6 million but continued to operate and supply the machines. Soon after, it changed its name to Premier Elections Systems before it was acquired by one of its few competitors ES&S now dominating the electronic voting machine market by 75%.

Athan Gibbs’ company TruVote  offered electronic voting machines as demanded by security experts: paper trails and public software. Unfortunately Athan died in March 2004 in a car accident one week before he was to demonstrate his machine to Congressional representatives. Short video here.

Clint Curtis, a computer programmer who was commissioned by Florida’s Speaker of the House to create a “vote-flipping” software which he demonstrated in the below video. In the same video he also testifies in front of the House Judiciary Committee during a public hearing on election irregularities in 2004.

If proper security cannot be accomplished, America may be better off abandoning the untrustworthy electronic voting machines altogether.

Sign the petition to abandon electronic voting machines in the US here


 Additional Information and videos on electronic voting machines

  1. Diebold Inc. sold its US election-systems business to Election Systems & Software Inc (ES&S) on Sep. 3, 2009. Following the sale, Election Systems & Software Inc. controlled over three-quarters of the voting machine market.
  2. The average cost of a typical direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine is between $2,500 and $3,500. In 2004, Maryland purchased 16,000 machines for $55.6 million, equalling $3,475 per machine. A disabled-accessible voter-verified paper ballot printer could add as much as $1,000 per voting station.
  3. Electronic voting machine manufacturer Diebold Inc. and its executives contributed $400k to the (then) winning Republicans between 2001 and Sep. 2004, while contributing $3k to Democrats in the same time frame.
  4. Four alternative voting systems to electronic voting machines used in the US are paper ballot, mechanical lever machines, punch card systems, and optical scan.
  5. Electronic voting machines and punch cards had the worst records of counting votes of the five voting systems used in the 2000 US Presidential election with approximately 3% of votes cast on electronic voting machines not being counted.
  6. Another firm: Sequoia Voting Systems with significant security weaknesses
  7. Think Tank analysis finds electronic voting machines vulnerable
  8. More Diebold law suits.
  9. Remote controlled hacking of electronic voting machines.


Recommended documentaries and short videos on electronic voting machines in the US

  1. UnCounted: The New Math of American Elections “.. is a 2008 documentary by David Earnhardt. Earnhardt addresses the principle issues driving successful election fraud in particular in the years 2000, 2004 and 2006.
    He explains how the likely Democrat-voters among the poorer black and Latino communities appeared to be hindered from casting their votes involving failing electricity, broken voting machines and more. He also tells the untold stories of various whistleblowers like Clint Curtis who was hired to write vote flipping software or Athan Gibbs who tried to sell his safe electronic voting machines but died days before he could present his machines to members of Congress. The whole video may be on YouTube. A trailer video is here.
  2. Hacking Democracy” .. is a 2006 documentary investigating the flawed integrity of electronic voting machines, particularly those made by Diebold Election Systems (now “Premier Election Solutions” and acquired by ES&S). The film culminates dramatically in the on-camera hacking by Finnish security expert Harri Hursti of the in-use / working Diebold election system in Leon County, Florida.A 20 min compressed version of “Hacking Democracy” can be watched here, the full version may be on YouTube.In September 2007, Harri Hursti testified to the New Hampshire legislature and the NH Secretary of State. Hursti explained the risks and vulnerabilities of the tamper-friendly Diebold optical scanners counting 81% of New Hampshire ballots. Apparently the legislature and the Secretary of State responded to his testimony by doing absolutely nothing. The video is here. His Diebold TSx evaluation report from May 2006 is here.
  3. Short videos

    Sign the petition to abandon electronic voting machines in the US here

The electronic voting machine problem is particularly relevant if politicians who advocate fighting corporatism and/or fighting large government are involved as they may find additional obstacles to the usual media blackout and spin. So, supporters of Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader or any future status quo changers – you might want to sign the petition or promote it.

[update Jan 2012]: Recipe for Vote Fraud: Global Internet Voting Firm Buys U.S. Election Results Reporting Firm


  No Responses to “Electronic voting machines – Is hacking US democracy possible? A short review.”

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>