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HAVA and the Rush to Poor Judgment

By Vickie Karp  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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If you liked the Orwellian-named "Clear Skies Initiative "or the "No Child Left Behind " Act, you should really love the "Help America Vote Act ", another farce brought to you by our esteemed leaders in the White House and Congress.

How was HAVA created and what is its purpose? Here 's some history:

If someone took a poll today among average Americans on the street and asked them what was the most memorable snafu regarding the 2000 Presidential election, my bet is that overwhelmingly the response would be: the "hanging chad " debacle in Florida.

The media 's coverage of hanging chads created one of the most widespread and effective smokescreens ever devised to fool the American people into believing that chads were the reason for all the hub-bub in Florida, which ultimately led to the Supreme Court selecting our President-- rather than allowing the state to continue to count ballots and determine the real winner of that election.

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But hanging chads and the problems that they caused pale in comparison to the REAL reason for the election screwup: intentional matching of over 50,000 minority voters ' names with a list of convicted felons in such a way as to effectively (and illegally) disenfranchise them. The state gave specific instructions to the company executing the voter roll purge to assure that accuracy was not important. These non-felon voters ' ballots would likely have gone to Gore, giving him a clear margin of victory. All this was spearheaded by then - Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who doubled as head of the state campaign to elect Bush. (No conflict of interests there.) The plan began implementation in 1999, a year before the election. While happy voters slept in their beds, Harris plotted to remove their most valued right as American citizens --and she succeeded.

Had it not been for the persistent and relentless research, investigations and reporting of BBC reporter Greg Palast, the truth on this pivotal moment in U.S. election history might still be unknown. Palast 's carefully researched and heavily documented story on this can be found in his book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy ", concluding that the faulty "fake felon purge " by itself could have easily flipped the election in Bush 's favor.

Even today, the only Americans who know this are those who seek their news elsewhere besides the mainstream media; the same media who successfully buried the true story until many months after the election was called for Bush and the story would have no meaningful impact, such as, reversing the election results and handing victory to the true winner, Gore.

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In my opinion, the hanging chad debacle was planned specifically to lead to the later passing by Congress of the "Help America Vote Act " (which does anything but ...) in October 29, 2002. HAVA dangles the carrot of $3.86 billion in federal funds to the states, county by county, in exchange for upgrading old punchcard and lever voting machine systems for newer, improved voting systems, and for thereby insuring the disabled the right to a private vote.

How clever to use the politically correct and truly important issue of providing a private vote for the disabled as an impetus to create a mad rush of county officials all across the U.S. to purchase paperless electronic voting machines or optical scan counters-- whose vendors were standing by with their products waiting to provide the supposed solution to the HAVA requirements. Time is running out for the counties, many of whose officials have been misinformed on the real requirements of HAVA. But one thing is certain: the HAVA deadline is January 1st, 2006: upgrade your voting systems, or no federal funds. The race is on! And the race for HAVA funds is also a race to poor judgment on the part of many well-meaning, but often ill-informed, election officials.

Electronic voting is not new --it started creeping into our country during the '90 's. In fact, there was enough evidence of election anomalies produced by the supposedly technologically superior machines that Bev Harris, an investigative journalist from Washington state, began researching them in 2003 for book, "Black Box Voting Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century ".

Harris got a lucky break when she was surfing the net and googled up "Diebold ", the second largest e-voting machine/software vendor in the U.S., and found their secret software on their website.

At first she wasn 't sure exactly what she had, but she downloaded it and shared it with computer scientists and programmers she knew. The ultimate conclusion they came to? This election software amounted to a "virtual handbook on how to tamper with an election ". In July of 2003, Harris set up a "mock election " on a laptop, using the Diebold election software, and was able to execute a "back-door hack " that allowed her to flip election results in less than ten minutes, then exit out of the system totally undetected.

A Johns Hopkins-Rice University study also done in July of 2003 concluded that electronic voting, with its modems, secret software, and no paper trail, poses "a threat to democracy ".

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Harris and her non-profit consumer organization, Black Box Voting (.org) has continued to research Diebold as well as the other top four vendors of electronic voting systems: ES&S (Electronic Systems and Software); Sequoia; and Hart InterCivic. She now has the Diebold hack down to less than 60 seconds with the help of her world-class computer expert team, stating that the election software is "elegantly designed for multiple, sophisticated hacks "; and her team has discovered the ability to manipulate results at the central tabulator (where the final vote totals are stored) even when printers are added to the machines. This startling and recent discovery should alert well-meaning election reform activists that a legislative effort toward "paper trails " on electronic voting systems is a waste of time. The vendors are way ahead of our efforts to catch up with them. (see http://www.blackboxvoting.org, report from 7/4/05)

BBV and team has also discovered a "live program " which resides in the "memory cards " of Diebold optical scan counters (used with paper ballots) which can give instructions to the central tabulator upon being downloaded that will cause a manipulation of the final vote totals at the central tabulator - yet another way that perpetrators can "flip " election results --even in a paper ballot election --when optical scan counters are used! Harri Hursti, computer programmer and security engineer, said that hacking into the machines "is an exceptionally flexible, one-man exploit requiring only a few hundred dollars, mediocre technical ability and modest persuasive skills (or, in lieu of persuasive skills, inside access.) "

Another computer expert, Jeremiah Aiken of Riverside California, happened upon the Sequoia software on the internet, downloaded and researched it, and found other easily hackable features about that vendor 's software.

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