Black Box Voting opposes Rush Holt bill, calling it "dangerous"
By Bev Harris
Online Journal Guest Writer
Apr 10, 2006, 01:50
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
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
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 . . .
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 . . ."
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.
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
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
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.
money, more scientists, more paychecks, more layers of complexity, more people
to point the finger at when elections turn out to be secret unsubstantiated
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.
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
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
It's all part of
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
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.
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
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
Reprinted from Black
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
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