Swans Commentary » swans.com February 27, 2006  



To Ignore Is To Participate


by Milo Clark





(Swans - February 27, 2006)  If we begin with that premise, to ignore is to participate, perhaps we can understand better why the alleged excesses of the Bush Republicans as yet remain operative and inadequately challenged if, in actuality, challenged at all. We are now hearing some words as opposed to few words, but have yet to see concrete actions.

Why should I isolate Bush Republicans when so many of those who are ignoring so much are others, many of whom are supposedly or nominally their opponents?

Earlier this year, I predicted that the Bush Republicans would scorch the earth to retain control of Congress in the 2006 elections. Since then, based on events, I have added "scalded" to scorched. We are probably on our way to scoured, too. I should add that, to date, fire departments are staying in station or are out picking up lunch.

Here in Hawaii, the allegedly dominant Democrats are very much ignoring 2004 election problems, evasions, and illegalities.

We go into the 2006 election season with high prospects for more of the same. Without exception, no elected official, no state or federal prosecutor, no party official, not one, is challenging the State Elections Office to obey the law and to follow regulations. A State Elections Commission was stillborn and remains quiescent. State and local media are chasing chimeras instead.

If Hawaii is an example or even partially representative, the participants in local, state, and national election evisceration are myriad in number and form. To ignore is to participate.

In 2004, I worked in the Hawaii County Counting Room as an Official Observer (see "A Day As Observer" and "A Summary From The Hawaii Political Trenches"). 2004 was the first year that totally electronic voting machines (Direct Recording Electronic [DRE] voting machines) were introduced here. I learned a great deal about them, undoubtedly observing much more than intended.

I now have a reasonable understanding of how they are vulnerable to manipulation. I saw how some minor election results were manipulated as though in preparation for subsequent years, if needed. By whom needed remains a question.

I learned just how specious the paper ballot issue is in actuality. Yes, by adding a printing capability to DRE voting machines, an allegedly duplicate ballot may be printed out which a voter can acknowledge as "theirs" at that time.

That allegedly duplicate ballot, each duplicate ballot thus generated in fact, however, is in a different format than a "paper ballot" would have followed in previous elections. Some manufacturers provide only an adding-machine type of printout. The electronic format is not common within the ballots printed out. The formatting of the machine-originated "paper ballot" will vary with the voting selections of a voter whereas the older type paper ballot would be uniform with only those selections of a voter marked. This difference makes it quite difficult, if not impossible, to recount by hand if required. Recounting older-styled paper ballots with identical format is simple in comparison. To recount electronically is vulnerable to the same manipulations alleged to cause recount. A Catch-22. Voters can't win by losing.

In 2004's Hawaii County Counting Room, we tried to verify sampled precinct counts using printouts from the DRE voting machines. There were problems and irregularities with this effort such that the recount was swept away and buried beyond access or review. These results were not, as required by law, observed by or signed off by the assigned Official Observer (me).

In spite of assurances to the contrary, early in the post-election morning and with only one or two compliant officials involved, the papers and "printed" ballots were taken from the Counting Room to locked storage in highly suspicious processes. No effort or appeal succeeded in exhuming those papers.

In any case, I learned how easily electronic voting machines can be manipulated to make "paper ballot" printouts specious.

Hawaii County has 72 precincts. It takes a few hours to drive ballot containers and voting machines from distant precincts to the Counting Room in Hilo, the Hawaii County seat.

All ballot containers and DRE voting machines (with their removable cards in place), once precincts are closed, are required by law to be under control of Official Observers or surrogates. Precinct results tabulations are theoretically done exclusively in the Counting Room before forwarding electronically to the state Elections Office near Honolulu, the state capital on Oahu island.

Note that results are forwarded electronically by ordinary modems and open telephone lines. There is nothing secure about this process.

In 2004, results from some precincts in western and northern Hawaii Island were diverted and forwarded to the state Elections Office. Only electronic voting machines results were involved. These steps were taken without involving Official Observers. Therefore, these results were forwarded in violation of law. In previous years, no "paper ballot" results were similarly diverted.

Those familiar with the manipulations of electronic voting machine results in Riverside County, California may see similarities.

In a few Hawaii precincts, votes impossible to have been cast by voters were entered into the results. Admittedly, these numbers were small. However, it can be noted that they occurred and that it is possible for votes not cast by voters or different than those cast by voters to enter the system, at least given that brand of DRE voting machine.

Recording and reporting of DRE voting machine results in the Hawaii County Counting Room were under control of a representative, one in number, of the voting machine manufacturer/programmer.

Sorting, electronic counting, processing and forwarding of Election Software and Systems (ES&S) "paper ballots" and results were done by a staff of ES&S employees. They were very open in demonstrating the processes and machinery involved. Official Observers assigned to the ES&S room were knowledgeable and attentive. Once tabulated, individual precinct cards were stored in a separate section under control of at least two county employees.

The cards from the Hart precinct level DRE voting machines were read and stored to be forwarded all within two laptop computers operating under control of manufacturer's programs and operated by that single company employee. One of the two laptop computers used was the personal property of the company representative. Either laptop could be used to record and to report results up the line. To be explicit, no county or state employee handled or directly supervised the recording and results reporting processes.

In the 2004 Hawaii primary election, a woman, designated as Republican, interested in things other than the machines was the Official Observer assigned to the Hart station. She had no training for this role and was a proud computer illiterate. For most of the time, she sat at a desk several yards distant from the station involved. She disappeared thereafter. In the general election, a newly recruited Republican Observer defended this turf with spiky elbows. Due diligence was a concept quite foreign to the situation or to Counting Room management. My presence from time to time made the company representative very nervous.

Note here that Hawaii is politically dominated by the Democratic Party. The head of the State Elections Office is a nominal Democratic appointee and sacrosanct, fireproof although theoretically serving at the pleasure of the Governor (presently a Republican).

The Official Observer group in Hawaii County tends to be mostly the same local folks carried over from previous elections in which "paper ballots" were the norm. "Training" is a hasty one hour session; attendance not required. From previous elections, Official Observers may have some idea about the particular aspect of "paper ballot" Counting Room process to which they are assigned. However, in terms of electronic voting machine operations or processing, there was little, if any, interest or appropriate expertise displayed. When not directly involved in their assigned stations, Observers tend to sit around talking, playing cards, doing puzzles, reading, eating or napping.

Conclusion: Someone so minded and prepared could manipulate machines and situation with little probability of being noticed.

The 2004 certification procedures related to DRE voting machines used in the 72 Hawaii Island precincts were hastily cobbled together and technically deficient in meeting the requirements of law and relevant regulations. The bidding process and award were set too late to allow the manufacturer to send enough machines for the primary election certification. The one or two State Elections Office employees assigned to learn about them were much over their heads. These were employees brought up under "paper ballot" elections procedures. Computer expertise and experience was limited to desktop PCs or laptops.

Law requires that all precinct voting machines used in an election be certified by Official Observers. Certification requires that each precinct machine be physically available and put through its paces. In fact, only sample numbers of the DRE voting machines were partially tested (10 for the primary and 12 for the general election). Few, speciously relevant, efforts had been made by State Elections Office personnel to develop appropriate procedures given the changes in technology involved. Likewise, their understanding of the technology involved was sketchy. The certification systems used were, therefore, inadequate verging on negligent.

To my knowledge, few, if any, changes are in place for the 2006 elections. Bids for 2006 electronic voting machines are going out exactly as in 2004 with a high probability that different machines and manufacturers will get the awards. For 2006, Hawaii will try to use the Direct Recording Electronic voting machines exclusively. In 2004, only one machine per precinct was the norm. There will be no more quasi-paper ballot system such as the ES&S system used in recent elections.

There will again be inadequate time to process bids, to make awards, to ship, to install, to demonstrate and to certify machines for 2006.

Voter confusion is built in to the process thereby. Whose needs are met by building in voter confusion? Is voter confusion a bi-partisan element?

In terms of programming, numerous experts in such matters have written copiously about the openness of DRE voting machines to hacking. More significantly, open to manufacturer manipulations.

Each of the major manufacturers of such DRE voting machines (Diebold, ES&S, Hart, Sequoia, et al.) is reputed to be managed and financed by people professing strong identification with the Republican Party.

None of the manufacturers will open their code to examination. In parallel, as none of the alleged national certification authorities requires examination of code as part of their certification process, whatever actually goes on inside those boxes is not available for third parties to examine adequately to ensure that results cannot or will not be compromised. Most states rely on these national certification authorities.

In 2004, results in Hawaii were sufficiently confused by the results from DRE voting machines to delay certification past legal limits. As a matter of fact, when finally "certified," relevant law and regulation were breached. Technically, Hawaii's 2004 election results are not certified. And no one would take any action on this situation. Admittedly, to do so would open Pandora's box.

If 2004 Hawaii is in any way representative of other states, there is plenty to worry about in 2006.

To diddle results in 2006 elections, very subtle manipulations of few machines themselves may be needed. A relatively small number of key precincts in key races would require only small manipulations of results to change the outcomes. Precinct-level machines can be untouched as manipulations can take place entirely within recording and forwarding sectors. Algorithms sufficient to make such changes are easy to slip into programs according to computer experts. There is reasonable concern that the 2000 and 2004 situations in Georgia, California, Florida, and Ohio were little more than warm-ups for 2006 and 2008.

For scald and scorch to become easier to visualize, add in the redistricting efforts in key states (Delay's Texas and Colorado, etc.) which tilt outcomes to retain incumbents and toward whichever party controls the state legislature.

Here in Hawaii, our two Congressional districts were gerrymandered after the 2000 census into the usual convoluted patterns which are here designed to keep Democrats in Congress.

In Hawaii, one of the incumbent nominally Democratic Congressmen elected in 2004 proved himself a very loyal Republicrat in actuality. For 2006, he is trying to be a wrecker in the Senate race. If he loses the Democratic Party primary, will he switch parties and retire to a lucrative establishment law practice in Honolulu?

2006 may be an exciting year in terms of voting manipulation sophistication.

It may also be a last hurrah for even marginal confidence in reported results. Remember the shock when exit polls were no longer deemed reliable?

To ignore is to participate.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/mgc178.html
Published February 27, 2006