I think they were trying to tell us something
in the mid-80s. Something we were too naive to consider. Something
about the voting machines in America. The New York
Times and The New Yorker both hinted at it but
we were too dumb to understand. The idea that most voting
machines might be fixed was inconceivable. To us. But not
to the traitors involved. Here's a message from the past.
Another one we ignored.
Like Ronnie Dugger's
New Yorker article, it's never before been on the
web since it predates the Internet.
But here it is, digitized.
Post a link to it from your site.
Save it to your hard drive.
Put it on your own site.
Email it to everyone you know.
Computerized Systems for
Seen as Vulnerable to Tampering
By DAVID BURNHAM
Special to The New York Times
July 29, 1985
WASHINGTON, July 28 - The computer
program that was used to count more than one-third of the
votes cast in the Presidential election last year is very
vulnerable to manipulation and fraud, according to expert
witnesses in court actions challenging local and Congressional
elections in three states. The allegations that vote
tallies calculated with the widely used computer system may
have been secretly altered have raised concern among election
officials and computer experts. That is because of the rapidly
increasing use of such systems, the lack of Federal or state
standards that mandate specific safeguards and the widespread
lack of computer skills among most local voting authorities.
Potential for Problems
"There is a massive potential for problems," said
Gary L. Greenhalgh, director of the International Center on
Election Law and Administration, a consulting group in Washington.
He added that the problem with computer-assisted
voting systems was that they "centralized
the opportunity for fraud."
Mr. Greenhalgh said that while lever-type voting machines
could have their counts rigged only machine by machine, counting
votes by computer was done at one central site in most counties.
With computer systems, a voter usually punches holes in thin
cardboard ballots and the computer program then "reads"
the holes in the cards and totals them, presumably counting
all votes and counting them only once each, on commands from
Challenges in 4 States
The vote counting program that has been challenged in Indiana,
West Virginia and Maryland was developed by Computer Election
Systems of Berkeley, Calif. In Indiana and West Virginia,
the company has been accused of helping to rig elections.
The computer program has also been challenged in Florida,
but so far experts there have not been permitted to examine
the program in connection with the challenge.
John H. Kemp, [wish I could find
out if he is any relation to Republican Party Activist Jack
Kemp] president of Computer Election Systems, said
in a telephone interview that he absolutely denied the company
was involved in fraudulent schemes. County officials involved
in the cases have also categorically denied participation
But Mr. Kemp also
said that any computer system could be tampered with. "It
is totally economically unfeasible to have a fraud-proof system,"
he said. Such a system, he suggested, might cost $1 billion.
[So even the president of
the company admits that no computerized voting system is secure
or could be made secure for less than a billion dollars. Wouldn't
paper ballots be more secure and cheaper?]
Mr. Kemp said that while there were some differences in the
programs used by various jurisdictions, the company's fraud-prevention
controls had remained "essentially unchanged" in
recent years. He added that the company's six or seven programmers
"always are looking for ways to prevent fraud."
In 1984, Computer Election Systems provided more than 1,000
county and local jurisdictions with equipment and computer
programs that collected and counted 34.5 million of the 93.7
million votes cast for President, along with all votes for
other offices and issues in those jurisdictions.
64% Voted on Computer System
The areas that the company served in 1984 include
major jurisdictions like Cook County, Ill., with more than
2.7 million registered voters, and tiny areas like Archuleta
County, Colo., with 2,490 voters.
Although it dominates the computer voting market, Mr. Kemp
said the company has eight competitors. According to the Federal
Elections Commission, approximately 60 percent of American
voters used some kind of computerized election system in 1984.
No allegations have been leveled against the other companies.
Most of the other votes cast in the United States were collected
and processed on mechanical-lever machines such as those used
in all of New York and Connecticut and most of New Jersey.
Computer Election's equipment is used by voters in the New
Jersey counties of Salem, Sussex and warren, while Gloucester
County used the computerized system of a competitor.
Concern about weaknesses in preventing computer fraud led
separate Federal agencies in 1978 and 1981, to recommend adopting
a series of safeguards. But state and Federal officials acknowledged
that the recommendations from the National Bureau of Standards
and the Federal Elections Commission have not resulted in
A panel of the election commission is scheduled to meet Aug.
4-6 to discuss, among other things, standards for computer
In three of the four legal challenges brought against Computer
Election Systems, the losing candidates hired separate
computer consultants who have said in court affidavits, testimony
and interviews that their examination of the company's program
showed it had been designed in such a way that vote totals
could: be altered without leaving any sign of tampering,
Eva Waskell, a Reston, Va., writer
on computer and scientific matters who was among the first
to become aware of the court cases pending against the company,
said she was astonished because it
appeared that "even when local officials learned of the
problems, little apparent effort was made
to correct them."
'Assaults on the System'
The allegations that the Computer Election system was
open to manipulation were supported by two other experienced
computer consultants who independently examined material obtained
in the pending court cases for The New York Times.
One of the experts was Howard Jay Strauss, the associate
director of the Princeton University Computer Center. Mr.
Strauss, who formerly worked at Bell Laboratories, the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration and the RCA Corporation,
said the program used to count Indiana votes was vulnerable
to manipulation. "Extra
votes may be entered in the form of bogus ballots on punched
cards, or vote totals may be altered through the use of control
cards," Mr. Strauss said. "Either of these assaults
on the system could be performed successfully by a computer
Mr. Strauss added that someone with a ."fair amount
of computer knowledge" could turn off the portion of
the program designed to document any changes made in either
the program or the votes being counted by the program.
The Times's second consultant was Eric K. Clemons, an associate
professor of decision sciences at the Wharton School of the
University of Pennsylvania. He said that because
of the excessive complexity of the program, "a doctored
version of the code could be used to modify election results,
and it would take weeks of study to determine what had happened."[And
no one has been allowed those weeks of study.]
`Very Difficult to Trust'
"Code this complex is very difficult to trust,"
Mr. Clemons said. One particular 'flaw he cited was that
"the main program does not log all invalid ballots."
Another was that the printed log of error messages could
easily be edited or altered.
The civil cases brought by defeated candidates against Computer
Election Systems involve elections held in 1980, 1982 and
1984. In West Virginia and Indiana,' where most of the contested
races involved in the suits were quite close, the company's
representatives have been directly accused of being involved
in vote rigging. These suits, which the company and county
election officials won in lower courts, are pending before
Federal appeals courts. In Maryland and Florida, the cases
were brought in state courts and are still pending..
In West Virginia, a former Democratic Congressman and three-term
Mayor of Charleston, John Hutchinson, charged in his suit
that several Kanawha County, election officials and Computer
Election representatives successfully conspired to deprive
him of his re-election in November 1980.
Mr. Hutchinson, in an interview, said he last the election
by a margin of 52.5 percent to 97 percent. He said, however
that, the totals in Kanawha County, where he lost by 6,000
votes, were totally unexpected because preelection polls had
shown him an overwhelming winner there.
Mr. Hutchinson's expert witness was Dr. Wayne Nunn, a computer
architect with the Union Carbide Corporation, who also operates
an independent computer consulting concern. Dr. Nunn said
that from his examination of the Computer Election system
used in the disputed election, "it was entirely possible
for a knowledgeable operator to make vote changes without
leaving any 'fingerprints.' "
Federal District Judge Charles Haden found the company and
the county officials not guilty, saying that much of the evidence
presented appeared to be "purely speculative and mere
In Indiana, Richard Clay Bodine, a Democrat who lost his 1982
bid for election to Indiana's Third Congressional District,
and several other candidates have brought suits charging that
the counting and certification of the votes were "false
and fraudulent." The suit names both the Elkhart County
Election Board and Computer Election System as defendants.
No Record of Changes
Mr. Bodine's computer consultant was Deloris J. Davisson,
the chairman of the Department of Computer Science of Ancilla
College in Donaldson, Ind. After studying a Computer Election
printout describing how the disputed votes were counted in
1982, the computer expert said in her affidavit that because
of the lack of necessary systems to audit changes made in
the program "it is impossible to know exactly how the
program tallied the vote for the Nov. 2, 1982, election."
[This is the great problem with such
system. It is impossible to know if the vote was tallied correctly.]
She further contended that a
Computer Election representative had in fact changed the computer's
instructions that night, but that it was impossible to know
what the changes were because they "were not documented
or overseen by any knowledgeable or interested person."
Federal District Judge William C. Lee dismissed the case,
saying there were "no allegations in the record for this
court of any willful conduct" undermining the election.
Both the West Virginia and the Indiana cases are under appeal.
Question of Adequate Safeguards
In Maryland, Wayne Cogswell, a candidate for the Carroll
County School Board, brought suit in Carroll County Circuit
Court asking that the results of the 1984 election processed
by Computer Election equipment be re-examined because of a
widespread discrepancy between the preliminary and final vote
tallies. Mr. Cogswell did not charge fraud, and a court-ordered
recount of the vote on June 11, showing Mr. Cogswell defeated
again, has resolved most of the questions concerning the election.
However, the case has not been withdrawn.
But Mr. Cogswell's computer consultant, Emily Johnston, said
in an interview that on the basis of her examination of the
computer program used to count the Carroll County vote last
November, she agreed with the Indiana consultant that the
Computer Election system did not have adequate safeguards
to prevent fraud.
In Palm Beach County, Fla., David Anderson, the unsuccessful
I984 candidate for county property appraiser, charged in his
suit that the election had been run on "machines that
permit a means of changing the result on the ballots contrary
to the votes cast by the electors through an alter system
in the commands in the computer program."
Although Mr. Anderson's suit is aimed at local election officials
and does not mention Computer Election Systems by name, lawyers
for the company have obtained a court order forbidding him
from studying the company's program in connection with his
suit. They said disclosure of the program and documentation
"would breach the security of the system, and thereby
cast doubt upon the results of C.E.S election programs"
in jurisdictions all over the United States. [Right.
No one can look at these programs because it might cast doubt
on the results of elections run with these programs all over
the country. That's like saying fraud can't be investigated
because it might lead to the discovery of more fraud.]
U.S. Recommends Protections
In 1979. the Information Technology Division of the National
Bureau of Standards, recommended that all computer processing
programs and systems include a number of protective procedures
that it felt were essential to maintaining an accurate vote
The division emphasized that a complete system for documenting
all changes and alterations should be maintained. "Every
change to a program, even those involving only one statement,
should be authorized, approved and documented with no exceptions''
the agency said. "Otherwise, control is lost and the
programming becomes anarchistic."[This
still is not done. Just last fall in the Georgia election
an unauthorized patch was applied to every voting machine
In a 1981 report to Congress on the need to develop national
voting standards, the Federal Election Commission reported
that the commercial concerns selling voting equipment to local
jurisdictions have "paid little attention to data quality
The commission also noted a lack of information at the state
level on problems caused by voting equipment. Deborah Seiler,
for example, is the chief of the California elections division,
a state that in 1986 expects to cast all of its votes on computerized
In a recent interview she said that
while her division certified all of the computers, it had
not examined the computer programs used to instruct the equipment
how to count the votes. "At this point we don't have
the capability or the standards to certify Software and I
am not aware of any state that does," she said.
ANNALS OF DEMOCRACY COUNTING VOTES
by Ronnie Dugger
The New Yorker, November 7, 1988 <<
Real Scandal Is the Voting Machines Themselves
on election processes
Voting - Rebecca Mercuri, Ph.D.
Emphasis, comments and links from Alllie