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THAT COMPUTER ATE MY BALLOT!
2004 Election-Theft in Progress?
By David Moses

Background on the 2000 Election
The winner of the 2000 presidential election, George Bush, received fewer popular votes in the United States than his opponent Al Gore. Bush trailed Gore by 540,000 votes in the popular tally, out of 104 million votes cast.1 In the decisive vote of the Electoral College, "Bush won by a margin of 271 to 267, the narrowest victory, with the exception of one, in the course of American popular elections.2

Up until the point Bush was declared the winner of the 2000 election, the election was a plot filled with twists, surprises, and improbabilities reminiscent of Dickens or detective fiction.3 The expert technology of the twenty-first century "proved unreliable in winning the campaign, predicting the election, or even counting the vote."4 The final result of the election depended on the seemingly archaic Electoral College, "slow procedures in the courts, and old-fashioned hand counting of individual ballots."5

The 2000 presidential election centered on which candidate would win the all-important state of Florida. The 25 electoral votes that would go with winning Florida would put each candidate over the necessary majority of 270. The close results in the state of Florida for Bush and Gore became a drama that educated an entranced electorate, delighted reporters, paraded lawyers, and exhausted vote counters. Changes in the tally "over the next weeks of recounting resembled the overtime period of a close football game," in which the Republicans tried very hard to keep their thin lead against a charging Democratic offense.6 Meanwhile multiple referees ruled on conflicting violations until the clock ran out. 7 After eight recounts of the Florida votes and after several court cases dealing with the 2000 election in the Florida courts, the matter was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a bitter 5-4 division, it ended the recounting, and effectively decided the election contest in Bush's favor.8 In the end, the choice of "104 million Americans depended on the voices of seven Republican and two Democratic lifetime appointees."9

Electronic Voting and the 2004 Election
The recount of the 2000 election "exposed embarrassing flaws in the US electoral system,"10 not the least of which were the dependence on "punch-card machines that invalidated many votes by producing 'hanging chads'."11 In an attempt to fix matters, Congress has proposed adopting "touch-screen voting machines, similar to ATM devices."12

In order to keep mistakes by electronic voting machines to a minimum several safeguards must be put in place. First, there should be rigorous standards of the software companies that create the electronic voting software. The standards should "spell out in detail how software and hardware are to be tested, and fix deficiencies computer experts have found."13 Second, there should be tough penalties for "voting machine companies and election officials who try to pass off uncertified software and hardware as certified."14 And they should face civil and criminal penalties for their actions. Third, there must be alternative machines such as punch-card systems ready for use on election day in case the need arises. And finally (and most importantly), there should be a "voter-verified paper record, either a printed receipt that voters can see for touch-screen machines, or the ballot itself for optical scan machines."15 The ballot will serve as a real record of a person's vote that can be compared to the machine's totals to make sure the counts are honest.

Critics of electronic voting by touch screen voting machines have pointed out that these devices do not leave a paper trail of how people voted and further they are suggesting that software flaws could be used to rig votes. An additional problem is the insistence of manufacturers on "secrecy about the software that runs the voting machines." 16 "In states where electronic machines have been used, problems include names disappearing from ballots and hackers gaining easy access to the system."17 Concerning the bugs and malicious code that may be in electronic voting software, Dr David Dill, Stanford University professor of computer science, says "there is no technology that can find all of the bugs and malicious things in software."18

Conclusion
Electronic voting appears to be a good idea, but should probably not be used until the 2008 election. The reason we should wait until the 2008 election to fully use electronic voting is so that in the meantime we can do a great deal of simulation and quality assurance of the electronic voting machines. This will allow us to get most of the bugs out of the software before we rely so heavily upon them. But remember, there are bugs inherent in the software, and the electronic voting system may still be prone to computer hackers. Harvard University professor of computer science, Rebecca Mercuri, states that there are "literally hundreds of ways to embed a rogue series of commands into the coding," of the electronic voting software.19 Further Avi Rubin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute in Baltimore, said, "given the gravity of the security failings of the computer security community has documented...it is irresponsible to move forward without addressing them."20 Once we get the bugs and security problems worked out, it is still necessary to have several safeguards for the electronic voting system. The most important of which is printed receipts of individual's electronic votes.


1 P.125, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
2 P.125, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
3 P.126, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
4 P.126, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
5 P.126, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
6 P.127, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
7 P.127, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
8 P.127, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
9 P.131, The Election of 2000, Gerald Pomper. Chatham House Publishers, 2000.
10 P.9, Australian Financial Review, April 30th, 2004.
11 P.9, Australian Financial Review, April 30th, 2004.
12 P.9, Australian Financial Review, April 30th, 2004
13 P.10, The New York Times, May 30th, 2004
14 P.10, The New York Times, May 30th, 2004
15 P.10, The New York Times, May 30th, 2004
16 P3, USA Today, July 13th, 2004.
17 P14, USA Today, June 4th, 2004.
18 P.9, The New York Times, May 30th, 2004.
19 P9, The Australian Financial Review, April 30th, 2004.
20 P.A20, The Gazette, July 8th, 2004

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