I’ve been a touch light on posting during the busy holiday season, so yesterday I filled some space with a little joke derived from the death of John Diebold, which prompted a comment near the top of the thread from our good friend Stefan:
Hey, Goldy, joking about the late Mr. Diebold is perfectly tasteless. But I’m glad we have common ground in finding flaws in Diebold election technology. After all, it is Diebold software and a Diebold business unit that help process King County’s mail-in ballots and which helped cause hundreds of ballots to be misaccounted for and illegally counted last year. I’m glad you agree with me that Diebold helped put the wrong person in our Governor’s chair.
As to his first point… um… duh-uh. Joking about anybody’s death is tasteless. But I’m pretty sure that the majority of HA readers prefer posts that taste good over those in good taste.
But it’s his second point I really want to comment on, because it is yet another example of the type of rhetorical bullshit the public has been treated to in its coverage of King County Elections. Stefan correctly states that KC uses Diebold equipment and software to count ballots, but then disingenuously insinuates that this flawed technology was manipulated to “put the wrong person in our Governor’s chair.”
But once again Stefan’s overeagerness leaves his own arguments open to ridicule, for as I wrote a couple weeks ago in reporting security flaws uncovered during tests in Leon County Florida, just because the Diebold system can be hacked, doesn’t necessarily mean it was.
It should be noted that while this is exactly the same type of Diebold system used in King County and throughout much of WA state, our state’s electoral integrity survived the most grueling and definitive test of all: the 2004 gubernatorial hand recount. Apart from the ballots legally added between tabulations, the difference between the hand and machine counts was statistically insignificant, proving that there was no manipulation of the data coming from the optical scanners or the GEMS central tabulator.
To imply that the software was fraudulently manipulated to alter the vote tally is utterly ridiculous… but wait… Stefan really didn’t imply that, did he? Carefully rereading his comment, no… but in the context of my joke about paper trails, that’s surely what he intended readers to infer. And that in a nutshell is really where most of the public’s misconceptions about the 2004 election come from… insinuations, inferences, and various “facts” intentionally misrepresented and taken out of context.
Furthermore, I find his sudden interest in Diebold’s security flaws doubly curious, considering how little attention he has paid to it over the life of the election controversy. GEMS is built on top of Microsoft Access for chrissakes! Who the hell would want to run an election on that? Yet this is the first I’ve heard from Stefan — a computer guy — that he has any concerns about running elections on buggy, proprietary software from companies like Diebold.
Stefan and his fellow travelers at (un)Sound Politics have become champions of election reforms that make it harder for people to vote, yet seem to ignore reforms that actually ensure that these votes are counted properly. Where’s their outrage over the touch screen voting machines in Snohomish County, where the prosecutor’s office received numerous complaints on election day 2004 about machines recording the wrong vote? Where’s their demand for voter verifiable paper trails? Where’s the debate on (u)SP over the merits of moving towards open source software?
No, instead, one of the major reforms promoted by the (u)SP types is to eliminate hand recounts… thus eliminating the one absolutely foolproof audit on our vote tallying software.
The evidence shows that in the wrong hands the Diebold software can be hacked, but the hand recount proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that in 2004 in WA state, it wasn’t. So if Stefan and I really do share common ground in believing the Diebold software to have serious technical flaws, perhaps we can put the rhetoric over the 2004 election aside for a moment, and discuss some real solutions?
I’ll start. Hey Stefan… what’s your opinion on the relative security tradeoffs involved in moving to open source software?