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Elections & Voting Last Updated: Apr 10th, 2006 - 01:55:08

Black Box Voting opposes Rush Holt bill, calling it "dangerous"
By Bev Harris
Online Journal Guest Writer

Apr 10, 2006, 01:50

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There is a major push right now to pass H.B. 550, a bill put forth by Rep. Rush Holt to mandate a paper trail (along with a flimsy audit that no accountant would agree is adequate).

Election reform groups are split on whether they support H.B. 550. Black Box Voting normally does not weigh in on legislation, this time we will. Citizens need to be informed of the dangers as well as the benefits when being urged to support legislation.

Like an antibiotic that's too weak, we believe that H.B. 550 will create a more resistant strain of election infection.

Like a placebo, people may think the election system is getting well when in fact, the medicine is only a sugar pill that makes everyone think it's better. For a minute.

Paul Lehto, an attorney who is a leader in the election reform movement and the plaintiff in a groundbreaking lawsuit related to electronic voting, has a unique clarity in public policy issues. Lehto says, "[The] paper record requirement, combined with a worse than anemic audit feature, is so darn dangerous in terms of its ability to create false confidence . . .

"Putting into the Holt bill a provision specifying the method of EAC audit (2 percent or more precinct sampling) simply telegraphs to cheaters how to cheat and not get caught . . ."

Any Major Political Movement Has the Inside Game and the Outside Game

The inside game involves writing letters, lobbying, working with legislators, and in the case of a privatization issue like voting machines, meeting with vendors and working with regulatory groups.

The outside game involves investigative work, communications on subjects even when they are considered impolite, expos�s, agitation, occasional civil disobedience, and an overwhelming push to give citizens power over those who govern them.

The Inside Game Resists the Outside Game

Those who play the inside game tend to believe that the outside game is undisciplined, a bunch of mavericks, and endangers the goal. The inside game is polite, conciliatory, respects authority and likes to tell others what to do.

"Support H.B. 550; it's good push this button send this email now."

Those who question and probe are painted as irresponsible.

There is no doubt that Black Box Voting usually plays the outside game. We know we'll be attacked from within the movement -- from the establishment-oriented inside game - for taking the position that H.B. 550 will do more damage than good.

But here it is: Black Box Voting believes that H.B. 550 is unwise. It will not be effective to improve citizen oversight or election integrity. It is dangerous, because the weakness of the antibiotic will create a more resistant strain of election manipulation.

The likelihood is that, if H.B. 550 is passed, it will simply "prove" that electronic voting works "fine."

It Was a "Fine" Election . . .

As another blogger noted, notice the frequency with which elected officials are now using that word. I suppose it's an improvement over a couple years ago, when they called us "terrorists," but I still scratch my head when I hear the new talking point: "We had a fine election." Not "we had an accurate election." Not "we had a fair election." We had a fine election. What do they mean by that?

Well, rest assured that electronic voting will look just "fine" under the Holt bill because, as Paul Lehto notes, the way the audits are set up they won't catch anything to make the election look "not fine." To solve the inadequate auditing provisions in the Holt bill will require drafting a whole new bill.

So if H.B. 550 is passed, everyone will pat themselves on the back and go home and not a damn thing will actually change, except that more taxpayer money will be expended for retrofitted machines.

The Inside Game People Want the Current Kinds of Technology to Work

And -- note the players involved -- many of them will have no role in this if they don't make the current kinds of technology work. Note the recent Wyle Labs transcript, where Systest Labs refers to the meeting in Nov. 2005 -- you know, the one where all the industry perps showed up but the public, and even the chair of the California Senate Elections Committee was excluded. Systest reports that the academics seem to be heading toward creating an IV&V effort, another layer of testing and certifying.

More taxpayer money, more scientists, more paychecks, more layers of complexity, more people to point the finger at when elections turn out to be secret unsubstantiated messes.

The Inside Game Has Tolerance for a Much Longer Timeline

You don't need to hurry if you don't think any crimes will be committed.

The inside game is addressing what they perceive to be the problem by adding a "vvpat" and quibbling over just how to do a 2 percent audit, or layering test labs into the process, or ponderously altering standards in response to critical security failures, while grandfathering old systems in for years.

No Major Reform Movement Will Survive Without the Outside Game

The civil rights movement would not have gotten very far without the outside game. Rosa Parks was outside game. The Selma-to-Montgomery March was outside game. The civil rights workers -- some of whom were killed -- were outside game.

The anti-Vietnam War movement would have failed without the outside game. Vietnam Vets Against the War were outside game. Burning draft cards was outside game.

The outside game knows it needs the inside game, because when the message is sufficiently focused and the goals are sufficiently clear and the people themselves are beginning to drive the train, it gets pitched to the inside game and changes are made to legislation.

But it isn't just legislation that is pushed down the tracks by the outside game. Media tend to gravitate towards coverage of the outside game. The message of the outside game sticks in the public's consciousness better then legislative bill numbers. After the outside game succeeds in pushing the message into the mainstream, embedding it in the public psyche, change becomes more durable.

The inside game doesn't necessarily think the outside game is necessary. Because the outside game pushes the envelope, opening up new frontiers, it pushes concepts into the mainstream that are -- by definition -- not really accepted yet. When you depend on the establishment to do your bidding, you have to distance yourself from the outside game. The smartest of the inside game folks recognize how the ecosystem works, though, and often provide discreet support and/or intelligence to the outside game.

Less savvy inside gamers allow themselves to be persuaded that the outside game is dangerous, puts the agenda at risk, endangers the country. This is helped along by disruptors (posing as part of the movement) who are actually working for the opposition. In the civil rights movement, and in the anti-Vietnam War movement, there were paid infiltrators who posed as activists, but those individuals persuaded many real activists over to a more controlled, less "dangerous" point of view. They also helped pit them against the outside game.

It's all part of the playbook.

You Don't Catch Criminals by Passing a Rule Against Crime

The outside game defines the problem a bit differently. Let me give you an analogy to show just how ridiculous the current inside game is to those of us who start with the premise that there just might -- possibly -- be a criminal enterprise at work in certain election situations.

Let's say it's small, localized, and simply mercenary. For $40,000 a guy with inside access will make sure a developer-friendly commissioner gets in. To get the guy in, he arranges to exploit a known hole in voting machine security.

Now, the Rush Holt bill will have you wait a couple years before it even gets to the rules committee, where the lobbyists step in and gut the bill. So that won't do a thing to protect 2006, because it wont be in effect by then, and it probably won't protect 2008 because even if it makes it to the rules committee, it will be quietly tweaked behind closed doors.

So the guy pockets his $40,000 and the commissioner gets into office. It will almost certainly never be discovered, because there are no audit provisions anywhere for electronic voting machines likely to catch this stuff, but let's say it does get caught.

If you're playing the inside game, you take this example of the $40,000 cheat and spend nine months discussing it into new standards, then a couple years to grandfather the old voting systems, and finally, around 2009, you address what the guy did for $40,000 back in 2006.

By this time, another guy is selling elections using a different back door. He builds a better hack, having learned from the NIST discussion what they ARE looking at. All he has to do is go where they are not looking.

If You're Worried About National Politics, Listen Up

In a time-critical situation, the inside game runs out the clock.

Let's not call this dirty tricks or Rovian spin or pretend it is just the way hardball politics work. If we can't substantiate the data in our elections systems (both voter registration and votes) these weaknesses will attract people who want to manipulate elections. Subverting election-related data is a criminal act. If it involves more than one person, it is a criminal enterprise.

If criminal enterprises want to manipulate a national election by attacking the data, that criminal entity will be thrilled to see activists derailed into sincere actions that actually just run out the clock.

Efforts to steer everyone to the inside game is a bit insidious. Think for yourself.

The idea that you can solve election fraud by making standards, putting machines into testing labs, and doing poorly defined, weak, and statutorily limited audits came about because the inside game thought it was impolite to define the problem accurately.

It's Not About a Paper Trail; it's About Banning SECRECY

If we want a trustworthy system, we need to be unafraid to entertain the idea that if you make any facet of elections secret (other than who a person votes for), it will attract criminals. Such a temptation may take place inside a voter registration database or voting machine vendor's operation. In the case of a rogue programmer, management need not even know (if the programmer is positioned correctly). It may exist inside an elections office, or with a poll worker, or through a political operative.

You won't stop it by passing a rule against it. We need to be lobbying to end secrecy and re-enable citizen oversight. Lobbying for anything else may give us "fine" elections but we'll never really know whether our vote was counted as we cast it.

Save your lobbying for something that eliminates secrecy. And if only a computer scientist can understand it or only an elections official can monitor it, it's still secret. H.B. 550 doesn't do much of anything to get at the core problem, which is secrecy.

Reprinted from Black Box Voting..

Bev Harris is the executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc., a non-partisan, nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization, and author of "Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century,"

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