You Must Watch "Hacking Democracy"

How can the people in charge have created a computer system where recounts are impossible? How can that be?
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Please watch the documentary Hacking Democracy on HBO. I just watched it, it was first on two days ago, but I missed it then.

It tells the story of Bev Harris, who was worried about computer voting systems, and several years ago did a simple google search on "computer voting" + glitch, and found several dozen articles around the country. The documentary follows her story as she as an individual citizen takes on the task of investigating this, along the way creating a website called

She is a genuine hero, and the documentary is riveting.

The Boston Herald says: "The thought of watching a documentary on possible voting fraud may sound as appealing as, say, a PBS special on mushroom farming (say, is it pledge week yet?), but "Hacking Democracy" ... unravels like a "24" episode."

The New York Times review from Nov. 2nd says: "Rigged voting in Louisiana? Say it ain't so. But it's not shocked-shocked you feel watching this; it's genuine shock. As the drama proceeds, adducing more evidence for the unreliability of the voting machines than can possibly be explored here, you might also feel flattened. Computers count around 80 percent of votes in America. The marketing director for Diebold, Mark Radke, who defends both the company and its chief executive (a major Republican fund-raiser who once promised in a letter to "deliver the electoral votes of Ohio" to President Bush), talks in maddening doublespeak and wears the arched-eyebrow expression of a silent-movie fiend. His Nixon-era nondenial denials turn the stomach."

Here are some times coming up:

Sat 11/4 at 3:00 PM on HBO2 - West
Sun 11/5 at 9:00 AM, HBO High Definition - East
Sun 11/5 9:00 AM HBO LATINO - East
Sun 11/5 9:00 AM HBO - East
Sun 11/5 12:00 PM HBO LATINO - West
Sun 11/5 12:00 PM HBO High Definition - West
Sun 11/5 12:00 PM HBO - West

Additional times through December are at this link.

I want to post this fast, I just want you to watch the documentary.

But a few things.

I first heard of Bev Harris several years ago, she's famous for her work in this area. Talk about good citizenship, she is the grandmother equivalent of Erin Brokovitch.

She is also married to an African American, and says humanly that her focus on this issue could have destroyed her marriage, except her husband is 100% behind her and says his family has been fighting for fair elections for generations. (Anyone want to do a "Harold, call me!" ad about them? Karl Rove? Ken Mehlmann?)

I have known (approximately) most of the facts in this documentary for a couple of years. Part of the overwhelm of living in Bush America is that there is SO MUCH awful stuff to respond to that you find yourself distracted, and running from awful thing to awful thing like a dog drawn to chasing too many scents.

In Pennsylvania where I vote, for the first time we are having computer screen voting. WITH NO PAPER TRAIL.

Though in the documentary, you see an investigation into a Florida election where fraud is pulled off even WITH the paper trail.

And that particular fraud is found out because of Ms. Harris' exhaustive tenacity sending out "freedom of information" requests. Even then, she's given the WRONG information to her information request for voting records; instead she's given a "fresh print out" dated days after the election. She finds the signs of fraud (or voter machine malfunction) by going through the garbage.

There's a lot of people forced to go through the garbage in this documentary - which is an unhappy and effective metaphor: our freedoms have indeed been thrown out in the garbage.

At the end of the documentary there's a fabulous experiment to see if one of the Diebold scanner machines could scan correctly and then have the tallies changed WITHOUT ANY SIGN ANYTHING HAD BEEN CHANGED IN THE COMPUTER.

They do the experiment with 8 people voting on the question "Can a Diebold machine be hacked?" Since it's a scanning machine, they fill out 8 paper ballots - 2 saying yes, 6 saying no.

The computer person, who has been told to see if he can change that tally, does so in a separate room.

He does something to the "tally card" (the disk that has the vote count) in private, and when he boots up the Diebold machine it says correctly at first that no votes are in the memory. He then puts in the "tally card" and the Diebold machine prints out this tally: 7 votes saying yes, 1 vote saying no. Remarkably different than the actual vote.

Ms. Harris and her workers are pleased to see, once again, their suspicions are founded, that they're not "conspiracy nuts" as they're often called.

They realize they have to do an additional check though - is it just the print out that's wrong? Are the correct votes still on the "tally card", and thus one could find out the fraud if one compared the two?

Or has it been changed on the tally card itself with no sign of any tampering. And thus no way of discovering or proving the tampering.

They take the tally card to another computer able to read the contents. And indeed the vote count on the card itself is the bogus one: 7 yes votes, 1 no. There is no sign of, or record of, the original correct vote count.

At this point one of the women starts to cry. She is brilliant. She is right to be so upset at what is happening to our country. It was a relief to see someone have an appropriate emotional response to what our country has become (or is becoming; I fear "has become").

So please watch this documentary.

That's the main point of my post, but here are some additional thoughts:

I have long believed there was voter fraud in the 2000 election, and in the 2004 election.

By creating machines with a security flaw that includes the ability to change vote tallies with NO SIGN THAT SOMETHING HAS BEEN CHANGED -- that's one helluva security flaw -- Diebold shows itself to be a truly dishonest company. One could decide they're just incompetent - they're only receiving billions from our tax dollars for these fraudulent machines - but I think it's fair enough to say they're dishonest.

I have no idea if my vote on Tuesday will register properly. And if the votes in my area don't match "exit polls" or national Pennsylvania polls, there's no way to do a recount without the paper trail. No way.

And already the Republicans are putting out the "narrative" about how great they are at getting out the vote... and even CNN, which has had some very good and tough reporting lately (an astonishing series called Broken Government, which criticizes both Republicans and Democrats, but more the Republicans since they are, after all, the ones who've been IN TOTAL POWER for nearly 6 years), even with that, the CNN reporters are starting to recite that talking point of how great the Republicans are at getting out the conservative vote and how if there are surprises on election day, it'll be because of that.

So, to me, that talking point is meant to get us all ready for not distrusting the results, it's just that brilliant Republican machine again. No need to do a recount, which you probably can't do anyway.

I have some hope the Tuesday elections can't be totally stolen... it's easier in a Presidential race to tamper with some specific races in, say, Ohio (and New Mexico too, the documentary reminds me)... but it may not be possible to arrange to steal as many different races as would have to be done to keep the House. (At least I hope that's true.)

But if the Democrats take at least the House, and with hope maybe the Senate, we must make TRUE ELECTION REFORM a major part of our lives and energy.

And we need a couple of senators and a couple of Congressmen to join forces with Bev Harris and fight for us all.

The lack of energy on this topic from Democratic leaders over the years has been disgraceful. I know there's a lot to do... but if the votes aren't counted right, well... none of the rest works out either, does it?

But we must, and we will, find people in Congress - even a Republican or two - to change this. We must go back to paper ballots. Or maybe computer systems with paper receipts that are kept and honestly recounted if a recount is needed.

How can the people in charge have created a computer system where recounts are impossible? How can that be?

That's like building schools and then not putting fire alarms in them. "Well, you see, we don't intend ever to have fires," they would say. Oh, okay.

Finally, I have this snippet I intended to use in a previous post and didn't. It includes quotes from DeForest Soaries, the now appropriately angry head of the Election Assistance Commission.

After the "hanging chad" mess in Florida (and at least you could SEE those), Congress passed the Help America Vote act, which was supposed to make our voting process safer and more reliable. And they came up with the computer system. Great, huh.

Republican DeForest Soaries was made the head of the Election Assistance Commission, and he and others were to make recommendations of how to implement the Help America Vote act. I saw Soaries once on C-Span a few years ago during a meeting, and because he was a Republican I couldn't tell where he was coming from. Or where he stood on the need for paper trails from the computer machine, which seems such a "no brainer" to me (just like waterboarding seems a no brainer to Cheney).

But boy Soaries is burned up now. I DVR'd his appearance on CNN's The Situation Room with Lou Dobbs on October 23, 2006, and I transcribed some of what he said.

He was on the program with his Democratic co-chair Ray Martinez (who was mild in what he said; he agreed but was mild).

Dobbs first presented figures that in the last election 26 states had problems with their computer voting. And he asked Soaries what he thought would happen this election. And Soaries first said there'd be confusion because a lot of the poll workers wouldn't know how to work the machines. And then he said "...and if there's a close race, there'll be tremendous frustration because there'll be difficulty confirming what the real results were, given the lack of any paper to verify what happened at the polls."

He said the above rather calmly, and it's something we all know. But it was instructive to know that he knows it too, and said it aloud.

Then Martinez said some dull-ish things (but ok), and then Dobbs asked Soaries if he thought we were better off now in 2006 with our voter system than we were in 2000.

And this is where Soaries spoke with passion.

He said: "Well I think we're worse off because in 2000 at least we knew what we didn't know. And the Hanging Chad became center stage in 2000. Today, 6 years later, after spending 2 and a half billion dollars, we don't know what we don't know. We don't know about security, we don't know enough because the EAC never got enough for research. The Congress passed a law that authorized 30 billion dollars for research, the EAC to this date has received zero of those dollars." [Lou Dobbs said "Zero!" but Soaries kept going on.]

Soaries: "The Republican party, the Republican-led Congress, and the Republican White House have failed; and what Ray and I were invited to do was really a charade, and I think the public, as Ray says, should be outraged and demand results from the local to the federal level."

A few more brief exchanges were made, and Dobbs said he hoped they'd come back a few times in the next two weeks, and that what they told him makes him want to cry.

And the woman in the documentary did cry.

We must solve this problem.

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