October 2, 2006

One Man, One Vote... Mostly

This November's midterm elections are crucial to our nation in a way that such non-presidential polls often are not. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are potentially up for grabs, and there is a good chance that Democrats will rest control from the GOP in at least one of them. Achieving such control is crucial to stopping the tide of corruption, falsehood, mismanagement and criminal negligence emanating from Washington in the wake of unchallenged Republican power, and the importance of voter participation cannot be over-emphasized.
During the reign of George W. Bush, Congress has been little more than a rubber stamp for the over-reaching, radical ideology of the current administration. Failure to restore congressional oversight through an opposition majority in at least one house of the legislature means that President Bush will be free to continue doing as he wants, unconstrained by any concerns about keeping Congress Republican for the rest of his term.
And make no mistake; while national disgraces like the recently-passed Military Commissions Act are victories for this imperial president, Mr. Bush has been constrained. As bad as the President's decisions and policies have been for this country, it is only renewed congressional oversight that will keep it from getting much, much worse. That oversight requires strong Democratic gains.

Given the President's abyssmal approval ratings, the solution would seem to be a simple one: mobilize the Democratic base and get it to vote, and if there are more ballots cast for Democratic candidates, more of them will be elected. Unfortunately, in the United States of George W. Bush, nothing is simple.

To whit: last month, the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University published an independent study entitled Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine. While not blessed with the catchiest title, this is a document with implications vital to the 2006 elections. From the study:
The Diebold AccuVote-TS and its newer relative the AccuVote-TSx are together the most widely deployed electronic voting platform in the United States. In the November 2006 general election, these machines are scheduled to be used in 357 counties representing nearly 10% of registered voters. Approximately half these counties — including all of Maryland and Georgia — will employ the AccuVote-TS model. More than 33,000 of the TS machines are in service nationwide.
Why is this important? In 2004, then-CEO of Canton-based Diebold, Walden "Wally" O'Dell, wrote in a letter that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." President Bush, in fact, carried Ohio in that election, and the Buckeye State turned out to be his margin of victory. O'Dell resigned from Diebold in 2005, following unrelated fraud allegations, but there were numerous accounts of irregularities in the Ohio poll, ranging from organized disenfranchisement to mysterious transfers of votes cast for John Kerry on eVoting machines to Bush's total. Unfortunately, much of this was treated as Democratic paranoia, and little effort was made to follow up.

As it turns out however, those pointing out problems with electronic voting machines in Ohio weren't part of the tinfoil hat crowd. In the most recent Maryland primaries for example, Diebold machines and implementation of electronic voting contributed significantly to widespread election day chaos, leading the governor to call for a return to paper balloting. The main findings of the Princeton study amply illustrate that Diebold voting machines can be manipulated, as does the accompanying demonstration video of a successful hack:
  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.
Between the Princeton study and the bedlam observed in eVoting-heavy primaries, common sense demands that something be done to safeguard the American franchise. That safeguard comes in the form of HR 550, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, sponsored back in February by Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, and now co-sponsored by more than 200 other members of Congress, as electronic voting issues are given more credence. Among its provisions, HR 550 mandates that electronic voting machines produce paper receipts that can be used in a recount, and calls for eVoting vendors to offer greater transparency to their software.

Unfortunately - although perhaps predictably - the Committee on House Administration did not send HR 550 to the floor of the House during this session of the legislature, and Congress has adjourned until after the November 7th election. By keeping the bill from the floor for a vote, the Republican-led committee ensured that it would be impossible to audit midterm ballots cast on electronic voting machines. Constituents may reasonablly ask then, with a reform bill effectively buried through parliamentary procedure and the risk of their votes disappearing - or even being tallied for another candidate - should they simply stay home?

Absolutely not.

Electronic voting machines still serve only a small minority of the country, and while there are all manner of ways in which votes can be suppressed by those in charge of elections, high voter turnout and heavy polling for Democrats will make obscuring or altering the results more difficult, even if it is attempted electronically. More importantly, there is nothing more quintessentially American than exercising one's right to vote. Not only are there big picture implications for the transfer of power and the hobbling of the thugs and hacks currently squatting in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - in addition to a chance to install a legistlature that will work to rectify electronic voting issues - but the simple act of casting a ballot is a victory over the creeping authoritarianism of George W. Bush.

Key races across the country are heating up, with Democrats suddenly competitive in areas that were thought to be safely Republican, and leading outright in others. This is our last, best chance to mitigate the damage that George W. Bush is doing to our country. So vote, volunteer, encourage like-minded individuals to do the same, whatever.

Just do something. Your country needs you.


Register to vote at GoVote

Check your existing registration at MyDem

October 7: MS, NV, RI, SC
October 8: AK, TN, WA
October 9: AR, AZ, HI, LA, WY
October 10: CO, DC, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MI, MT, NM, OH, PA, TX, UT, VA, MO
October 13: ID, NC, NY, OK
October 14: DE
October 17: MD, ME, MN, NJ, OR, WV
October 18: MA
October 19: WI
October 20: NE
October 23: CA, KS, SD
October 24: CT
October 27: AL, IA, NH, VT
Election Day Registration Permitted: ID, ME, MN, ND, NH, WI, WY


footshooter said...


Another thing we can do, unrelated, is remind people that a political party is not like your fraternity or your college team -- voting for a party does not mean you cannot vote for another during the remainder of your life.

The USA, however, is like your high shool football team. Your country is yours for life. And your responsibility, indeed your duty, is to find the best steward for your team, your country.

If this means that this time you feel you should be voting for a different party this time than last time, then this your duty as a citizen of a democracy.

And please remind your Republicans friends of this too.

PBI said...

I couldn't agree more. Politics-as-team-sport is an all-too prevalent attitude today. There is an over-reliance on the false belief that governing is a zero-sum game, and we need to change that. Voting on issues, rather than on party lines, is one way to do that.