Hacking Democracy

Watch the Hacking Democracy democracy documentary playing on HBO this month. It's also available for download from Google video.

As documentaries go, it's not great -- they had about 40 minutes of material that they padded out to 80 minutes with long, lingering pans across rows of machines while the music swells -- but the content is important and infuriating.

Please watch this, because I'm constantly amazed at how many of my friends don't understand the problem with electronic voting machines, and don't know what I'm talking about when I bring this up in person. I've been posting links about this ongoing disaster for years, but I guess all of you are just here for the poop jokes.

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42 Responses:

  1. korgmeister says:

    Well, the democrats won. So they can't be that bad.

    (Or perhaps this is their wily scheme, to lure us into a false sense of security - Buwahahahaha!)

    • god damn it, I was going to make a snarky joke along these lines and then you had to go and say it seriously. shitheel.

      • korgmeister says:

        I would recommend you check my icons page and see what keywords are assigned to the icon I used.

        I'm used to icon keywords are shown on mouseover. It'd be nice if this newer, shinier mouseover thingy did that, too. I don't give a crap about talking to people over Gizmo but I do care about making it clear when I'm being sarcastic.

    • tongodeon says:

      It could be that the Democrats stole this election, just like it could be that the Republicans stole the last one.

      We'll never know until we get a verifiable voting system.

      I care far, far less about who wins the election than whether that election can be verified and contested.

  2. jsbowden says:

    You make poop jokes?

  3. hafnir says:

    Saw it last weekend - <lj user="kyronfive"> and I opted for paper ballots instead yesterday.

    My favorite while voting was line two of the instructions says "don't use a felt tip pen" and they only provided a felt tip pen! So I used my own pen.

  4. I'm actually much more interested in the occassional post you make about Things That Are Going Horribly Wrong (either either the world or DNA, actually), than the weird furries posts.

    The HBO documentary is absolutely on the to-watch list. Ever seen Manufacturing Consent? Another great watch; very dense.

  5. netik says:

    I saw the documentary and while I knew the machines were hackable, the way in which the acuvote cards were hacked was amazing. No evidence left behind, and a true zero count at the start of the machine's run.

    Is there a paper outlining this attack anywhere? I'd love to know why there is executable code on those cards.

    • jwz says:

      The "why" is "because they're fuckin' idiots."

      Maybe it's just an autorun.

    • tongodeon says:

      I've been following the issue pretty closely and I understood the attacks and issues, but seeing the evidence being gathered and seeing the attacks performed illustrated the issue a lot more clearly and reminded me of a few things that I didn't realize. That optical scanners could be hacked as easily as touchscreens, for example.

      Definitely worth watching.

      • strspn says:

        False; optical scan ballots comprise an auditable paper trail, which touch screen systems without voter-verifyable paper records lack. Random sampling for such audits can be made very robust to detect fraud with a 95% confidence that no fraud influenced any election outcomes with an audit of usually around 0.3-3.0% of the ballots cast, depending on the types of elections (instant runoff being better than plurality in this respect, as usual.)

        • tongodeon says:

          I said that the optical scan systems could be hacked, not that the hacks were impossible to uncover by people motivated to discover tampering.

          That leads into the *second* surprising thing that the documentary showed me: that audit trails are not utilized or utilized incorrectly, and that discrepancies are ignored.

          For example they ask for a paper printout from a voting machine, and they get a printout from a machine dated that day. They recover the original printout and the numbers don't match. The election board does not seem to care.

          Later, they supervise a hand recount. The election law says that a random 3% selection of the ballots are hand-checked for discrepancies to see if the entire section needs to be recounted. The "random 3%" arrives pre-sorted into Democrats and Republicans, spurring speculation that the ballots had already been counted in secret because they were kept selecting "random 3%s" until they found a 3% that passed. They don't want to find discrepancies so they don't find them.

          Paper ballots are much better because they are verifiable, but being verifiable is not the same thing as getting verified.

  6. wilecoyote says:

    There's also the ArsTechnica How to steal an election article, which I read the other day. What do the Knowledgeable People (tm) around here think of it? Does the doc cover basically the same ground?

  7. morrisa says:

    Personally, I was delighted to see paper ballots at my local polling place, and told them so, but I was a little disconcerted when I fed it into the reading machine and it sounded exactly like my paper shreader.

    • sir_bissel says:

      It only shreds it if you:

      A. Write in an invalid name
      B. Didn't fill the arrow out correctly
      C. Vote for the Independent/Third Party
      D. Vote for the Democrat
      E. Vote for the Republican

      So no worries there :)

  8. sc00ter says:

    I was listening to an interview on NPR a few days ago and they had some "expert" talking about electronic voting and how good it was.

    A caller called in and talked about that video that shows the Diebold hack that was on the internet a few weeks ago that not only showed how easy it was to do it, but how it also tricks the "sanity check".

    The "expert" spoke about the sanity check. Then there was a 15 second argument about how the sanity check can be fooled and basically ended with the caller being hung up on.

    So sad.

  9. pnendick says:

    Well, JWZ you just have no idea what a technical challenge it is to make such a device. Data entry, storage and retrieval - done reliably and accurately - just isn't that easy. It could take hours of effort by a drunken monkey on a machine no less powerful than a talking greeting card!

    • baconmonkey says:

      I want the nevada gaming commsion put in charge of electronic voting. you wanna talk secure? slot machines have an insane level of security and certification.

      also, a sober chimp can comprimise that drunken monkey greeting card system.

      • pnendick says:

        How we just borrow American Idol's vote-by-sms system? Or we employ working technology from other parts of the world that actually know how to do electronic voting, from some working Democracy like South Africa. After all, it takes a banana republic to know one. While we're at it, UN voting oversight would be nice. Ain't nobody can fuck with Jimmy Carter's posse!

        • taffer says:

          You don't have to go that far, we know how to run an election up here in Canada.

          Didn't stop the majority from voting Idiot, but hey, at least we can verify it.

      • pnendick says:

        Holy balls that video is funny.

  10. scar_crow says:

    I will indeed watch this film. Thanks for the heads up.

  11. cvisors says:

    What I don't understand is the love of these machines, here in Australia we still use paper ballots, and an independent body running the election country wide.

    Yes I understand that Australia is a tiny (population wise) Country compared to the USA.

    Its just that the management of your elections, just seems so partisan.

    • taffer says:

      America is zany; apparently the "how" of an election is decided on a per-state (possibly per-county) basis. My American friends tell me it would take a Constitutional Amendment to change that in favour of, say, a system where everyone in the country votes the same way.

      I think the UN should send in election observers until they get this cleared up. ;-)

  12. z_koshmar says:

    Пока не знаю кто мне больше нравится:))) Наверное "мама".

  13. jkow says:

    You would probably like Man of the year.

  14. While the currently available electronic voting machines are abysmal and worse than what came before by way of sloppy design and sloppier implementation, the US's voting system is a total shambles regardless of the "electronic" detail. Quoting Jimmy Carter, who may not be able to chew gum and walk at the same time but is apparently Good Enough for Nicaragua to have as an external monitor on the fairness of their national electoral process, in a recent NPR story:

    [The United States] would not qualify at all for instance for participation by the Carter Center in observing [which isn't just own-name-dropping; big countries ask his Carter Center to do this because they've experience and are good at it]. We require for instance that there be uniform voting procedures throughout an entire nation. In the United States you've got not only fragmented from one state to another but also from one county to another. There is no central election commission in the United States that can make final judgment. It's a cacophony of voices that come in after the election is over with, thousands or hundreds of lawyers contending with each other. There's no uniformity in the nation at all. There's no doubt that that there's severe discrimination against poor people because of the quality of voting procedures presented to them. Another thing in the United States that we wouldn't permit in a country other than the United States is that we require that every candidate in a country in which we monitor the elections have equal access to the major news media, regardless of how much money they have. In the United States, as you know, it's how much advertising you can by on television and radio. And so the richest candidates prevail, and unless a candidate can raise sometimes hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, they can't even hope to mount a campaign, so the United States has a very inadequate election procedure.

    The current crop of electronic/computerized voting systems certainly aren't helping right now in their early generations, but the whole dairy is gutted and spewing blood all over the floor, which makes me have a hard time finding tears over spilling a couple of gallons of milk to get started mopping up. I'd rather people didn't turn and run in fright if they weren't marking a piece of paper to vote in the US... it's the only practical way we can get standardized voting across a populace of this size. It'd be nice if we'd waited at least on the beta version for public testing, but...

    • wfaulk says:

      There is no reason that an electronic system cannot produce a verifiable audit trail. The clamor is not about the electronic-ness, but the lack of verifiability. There must be a human-readable ballot to count.

      Ignoring the potentially contentious issue of intentional vote tampering, what happens when a voting machine crashes catastrophically, losing all of its votes in the process? If it produced a paper ballot for each vote that the voter could see and read, that would make both arguments irrelevant. But none of the existing electronic voting machines do anything like that.

      And, I must point out, the voter cannot be allowed to take a receipt of his vote, as that can lead to buying votes.

      In my mind, the best system is an electronic one that produces paper ballots that are read independently. That said, there's nothing wrong with the optical-scan systems that have been used in my area for fifteen years. They're both human- and machine-readable and not hard to use.

  15. romulusnr says:

    the problem isn't the lack of caring, it's the fact that none of the resources out there are the kind that will make an impression on my easily bored, easily turned off by sky-falling, blinders-wearing family. "So you say the tabumalator can be hackered with a key from a file cabinet? That doesn't make any sense."

  16. I demand that all of my poop jokes have a paper trail, dammit.

  17. jason0x21 says:

    I'm here for the boobies.

    My prediction is that after this, we'll get strong bipartisan support of paper trails. I can almost here George Allen saying "Whatdayamean, 'A recount is pointless.'?" right now.

    When "recount" means "hit refresh on the static Excel sheet.", it becomes a lot less satisfying.

  18. Google Videos also has the director's cut of "America: Freedom to Facism" 1h:49m. I would recommend the gentle readers to view that one as well. It is about the Federal Reserve/IRS.

    As for Bev Harris, I do find the separation of blackboxvoting.com vs. blackboxvoting.com kind of interesting. It is a bit curious, though similar to in-fighting amongst the 9/11 truth groups.

    As for Diebold, I think the CEO statement of delivering Ohio in 2004 pretty much says it all to me. He said it, they did it. See also: http://www.dkosopedia.com/wiki/Academic_Papers_on_2004_Election_Results

  19. wdr1 says:

    More poop jokes please.

  20. remaker says:

    From The Dilbert Blog:

    "I hear all the nervous Nellies wetting their pants over electronic voting machines. I believe those worries are totally misplaced. Now don't get me wrong - there's a 100% chance that the voting machines will get hacked and all future elections will be rigged. But that doesn't mean we'll get a worse government. It probably means that the choice of the next American president will be taken out of the hands of deep-pocket, autofellating, corporate shitbags and put it into the hands of some teenager in Finland. How is that not an improvement?"

  21. belgand says:

    Well, I voted by absentee ballot this year so at least I know that my vote won't be counted.