it or not, computer technology will be used for most
elections in some way or other before too long. Already,
even in impoverished countries like Nicaragua, centralized
electoral systems use computers to manage the counting
process. Brazil votes using computerised systems.
In the United States, people worried about electoral
fraud are becoming more vocal - with good reason.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2000,
and the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, approved by President
Bush in October 2002, will force electoral authorities
throughout the US to adopt computerised voting systems
by January 2006.
the record of the leading companies supplying computerised
electoral systems in the United States is questionable.
Companies like Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia - who
have over 80% of the market for automated voting systems
in the US - have all been criticised as a result of
problems associated with their machines. Apart from
software and machinery malfunctions, computerised
databases of voters also cause problems. The Choicepoint
data systems company subsidiary DBT was responsible
for incorrectly purging over 90,000 registered voters
from Florida electoral lists in the 2000 presidential
the use of modems leaves the way open for data flowing
through these systems to be tampered with by anyone
with the necessary hardware and know how.
main points of view prevail on these issues. Proponents
of computerised voting systems argue the need to modernise
so as to facilitate voting and draw more people into
the electoral process. Other advocates such as Public
Citizen's Congress Watch say of HAVA, "In many
ways, the new law marks a significant step forward
in improving the conduct of elections in the United
States. At the same time, however, the compromise
sacrificed some additional steps that should have
been taken to ensure that every vote counts and contains
some of the ballot security measures that are not
useful to the democratic process." 
disagree strongly. Rebecca Mercuri, a computer science
professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania has
researched computerised voting for over a decade.
She asserts, "Fully electronic systems do not
provide any way that the voter can truly verify that
the ballot cast corresponds to that being recorded,
transmitted, or tabulated. Any programmer can write
code that displays one thing on a screen, records
something else, and prints yet another result. There
is no known way to ensure that this is not happening
inside of a voting system."
Mercuri and other critics point out that electronic
balloting systems without individual print-outs for
examination by the voters, do not provide an independent
audit trail. They also question the lack of certification
to international computer security standards of electronic
voting systems. Another main concern with these systems
is the shift of control away from election officials
to computer personnel.
G. Neumann of Risks Forum, who monitors problems with
computer technology, writes, "We have reported
election problems in Software Engineering Notes and
RISKS for many years..... We note that punched-card
systems are inherently flaky, and that even optical
scanning is problematic, but that direct-recording
electronic systems tend to be subject to serious potentials
for fraud and manipulation. Internet voting is a disaster
waiting to happen in light of the inadequate security
of the Internet, personal computer systems, and subvertible
servers. Proposals to vote from automated teller machines
are also problematic, and basically undesirable."
of computerised voting systems - often owned by large
transnational businesses - argue that security is
good and machines conform to government standards.
For example the ES&S company web site states,"ES&S
products are tested by an independent testing authority,
certified to meet or exceed the standards of the U.S.
Federal Election Commission, and have been proven
and validated through use in thousands of actual elections
worldwide." Peter Neumann
responds to these assertions, "The Federal Election
Commission standards that are in general use appear
to be those from the 1990s. The review process that
was used for the REVISED 2002 standards was seriously
flawed, and many of the review comments were ignored
almost completely. As a result, the newly approved
revised standards are fundamentally inadequate."
adjudicate these competing claims a look at real world
experience may help. In August 2002 the results of
at least 18 suburban Dallas County elections were
delayed through vote-counting problems using ES&S
software. The Dallas Morning News report on the glitch
referred to "Election Systems & Software,
the company that sold the previously trouble-free
equipment to the county four years ago".
what the Venezuelan national electoral authority had
to say about ES&S in May 2000. "We say ES&S
has not been sufficiently efficient in testing what
it was supposed to have supplied... the National Electoral
Council cannot accept such a failure of responsibility
by this North American company." 
So the Venezuelan elections scheduled for May 28th
that year were cancelled. Back in November 1998 faulty
ES&S voting machines used in Hawaii on election
day "led to Hawaii's first ever statewide election
review and a first in the history of the United States."
practical problems with electronic voting are well
documented. Peter Neumann's Risks Forum posts a daunting
list of errors and failures. The recent highly publicised
case of the Diebold company's electoral software,
discovered by chance on an open web site, downloaded
and tested by computer scientists, confirms that fears
to do with security, use of databases and software
passwords are all too justified.
apart from the technical aspects, computer voting
raises old issues of undue influence and interference
in a new guise. Who owns these computerised electoral
systems companies? What are their sympathies and connections?
The answers to these questions are not comforting.
Big money and shady business-political connections
threaten the integrity of computerised voting systems
1999, 22 people were indicted in Louisiana and 9 admitted
guilt in a huge bribery scam involving the acquisition
of Sequoia voting systems. Sequoia Pacific's Regional
Manager and a regional sales executive were indicted
for paying around $8 million in bribes to Louisiana
Commissioner of Elections Jerry Fowler. In all, 22
people were indicted. Nine pleaded guilty. Fowler
was sentenced to over 4 years in prison.
the US state of Georgia companies are vying for a
US$54 million contract to supply 18,000 touch screen
voting machines. Among the
competing contractors are Diebold Election Systems
and Northrop Grumann Diversified Dynamics. Diebold's
CEO, Wally O'Dell, is a major fundraiser for the Ohio
republican party. (Ohio Democrat leaders are seeking
to block Diebold's bid to supply voting machines to
the state.) Northrop Grumman Corporation are a major
defence contractor with links to the Carlyle business
group, a nest of eminent Republicans, including former
President George Bush.
involvement of big business in the management of electoral
databases and computing of votes is inherently and
profoundly undemocratic. Politicians have come to
see manipulation of the vote much as they see gerrymandering
boundaries of voting districts - all part of the electoral
game. For many people disenchanted with politics and
politicians, the system has long been not one person-one
vote but one dollar-one vote. There is a growing sense
that the ruling plutocracy seem to find elections
a pesky irritating ritual and fixing them a necessary
and legitimate route to power.
case of Senator Chuck Hagel exemplifies concerns in
the context of questionable business and political
links. In 1996 Hagel won a totally unexpected victory
in an election his own company's computerised voting
systems were counting. He was the first Republican
in 24 years to make the Senate in Nebraska.
In 2002, Hagel ran again and was elected with 83%
of the vote - a feat worthy of dictators like Anastasio
Somoza in Nicaragua or Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti
in their prime. Thom Hartmann observes "80 percent
of those votes were counted by computer-controlled
voting machines put in place by the company affiliated
with Hagel: built by that company; programmed by that
company; chips supplied by that company."
the trend results swung the Senate for the Republicans
in the 2002 elections. In Georgia popular Democrat
Max Cleland was leading the pre-election polls 49%
to 44%. Mysteriously, his lead evaporated on election
day turning into a 53% to 46% win for his opponent
Saxby Chambliss. In Georgia, Democrat Roy Barnes led
Republican Sonny Perdue in the opinion polls by 48%
to 39%. Nonetheless, Perdue won with 52% of the vote
against Barnes 45%. In Minnesota, just days before
the election, veteran Democrat Walter Mondale - a
late replacement after the death in a plane crash
of leading Democrat Senator Paul Wellstone - led Republican
Norm Coleman by 47% to 39% in opinion polls. But Coleman
won, 50% to 47%. In all these states computerised
voting systems were used to count most of the vote.
It seems very strange, to say the least, that opinion
polls in three states should have goofed so badly.
available evidence indicates that the worst case may
well be true and that the 2004 election will be spectacularly
and in most cases undetectably rigged using computerised
systems supplied and managed by companies linked to
the Republican party. Foreign
involvement in those companies is another issue. Sequoia
is owned by De La Rue, the British security systems
transnational with a minority shareholding by the
Dublin based Jefferson Smurfit Group, another transnational
company. A contract to record the votes of the US
military has been awarded to Accenture, a Bermuda
based company formerly part of the Andersen auditing
group, so thoroughly discredited during the Enron
collapse. These transnationals work comfortably with
the business interests currently running the White
Bush and his advisers have almost certainly already
put in place their plans to fix the 2004 election.
It will mean extending to other States the same chaos
that prevailed in Florida in 2000. Voting lists will
be "consolidated". New technology - vulnerable
to tampering - will be put in place under HAVA. The
resulting mess will be adjudicated in the courts -
if disputed results ever get that far. No one needs
reminding the last time that happened, back in 2000
when George Bush was appointed President by a Supreme
Court divided on party political lines. Imagine that,
but multiplied by the number of States the Republicans
will need to steal next time around after four years
of domestic economic, environmental and foreign policy
protections are needed to prevent a wider repeat of
the Florida voting manipulation fiascos of 2000 and
2002. Effective monitoring of voter
databases to prevent purging of legitimate voters.
A physical audit trail so
people can be sure not only that their vote is registered
that someone can verify it. Strong, legally enforceable
statutory standards for all computerised voting systems
and voter database systems (not contemplated in HAVA
which empowers Electoral Standards Boards to implement
only vague "voluntary guidelines"). And
finally, open, non-proprietary verifiable software
for all these systems.
recent report from John Hopkins University on computerised
voting systems concluded: "...there is little
difference in the way code is developed for voting
machines relative to other commercial endeavours.
In fact, we believe that an open process would result
in more careful development as more scientists, software
engineers, political activists and others who value
their democracy would be paying attention to the quality
of the software used for their elections....such open
design processes have proven very useful in projects
ranging from very focused efforts...through very large
and complex systems such as maintaining the Linux
Hughes runs the WorldWatch web site
that addresses social, political and economic aspects
of Linux and non-proprietary open-source software.
He explains, "Linux is a free and open operating
system standard developed by people all around the
world. Linux itself and many applications programs
written for Linux are produced under a public license
agreement. No one has a monopoly of the basic product
goal of electoral software is clear: namely to accurately
collect and report information. There's nothing secret
about the task itself (as opposed to the confidentiality
of the information collected) so there's no reason
to use a system that depends upon or requires secrecy
about how it works. Making the implementation of electoral
software open means that the integrity of the software
can be freely reviewed by any interested party.
cost of the system software will be lower because
the software is free, with all the benefits of Linux
innate reliability. Also if we are using this open
development approach then even the already very low
cost of development can be shared by all of the jurisdictions
that will be using the software.
would take about six months to develop viable free
open source electoral software in Linux. Obviously
it would require testing. But much existing commercially
developed electoral software is still showing problems
despite many years of use. Linux will certainly do
better and be more reliable because it is open source,
available to everyone."
open to everyone? Sounds just like what the computerised
voting market needs. And fast.
1. Greg Palast, November 2nd 2002,"The re-election
of Jim Crow: How Jeb Bush's team is trying to steal
2. Public Citizen Congress Watch web site. 13th
3. "Rebecca Mercuri's Statement on Electronic
Voting" © 2001 by Rebecca Mercuri. See
4."Risks cases as of 22 August 2003" Copyright
2002, Peter G. Neumann, SRI International EL243,
Menlo Park CA 94025-3493. www.CSL.sri.com/neumann
5. ESS web site 11th September 2003
6. August 5th 2002, Ed Housewright, The Dallas Morning
7. Press release. May 25th 2000 Venezuelan Tribunal
Supremo de Justicia web site
8. "Ghosts in the Machines:The Business of
Counting Votes", Jason Leopold, COUNTERPUNCH
September 2, 2003
9.Bev Harris " Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering
In The 21st Century "
10. April 22nd 2002 "Voting Machine Firms Enlist
Lobbyists" by John McCosh, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Staff Writer. www.ajc.com
11. 'The theft of your vote is just a chip away',
Thom Hartmann. July 31st 2003 www.smirkingchimp.org
12."The 2004 Election Has Already Been Rigged",
by Schuyler Ebbets, September 2nd 2003 www.thepeoplesvoice.org
13. "Analysis of an Electronic Voting System"
Kohno, Stubblefield, Rubin, Wallach. July 23rd 2003.
John Hopkins University.
14. visit Worldwatch.linuxgazette.com
(Toni Solo is an activist in Central America. Contact:
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