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Has the Washington Post Missed the Boat...Again?

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Message Mary Kiraly
Why do we continue to treat the Washington Post with deference when it has proven reluctant to take the hard questions to the Bush Administration for nearly six years? Because we continue to hold up the Watergate Investigation as the example of what the newspaper can be. We are frail human beings and we continue to have hope where none may exist. We think that the Washington Post is, at its core, a courageous investigative arm of the Fourth Estate that has been napping rather than comatose. One day, it will awaken and tell us.... Who Forged the Niger Documents, for instance. But I digress.

Take today for instance. The Post has placed a potential bombshell of a story back in the Metro Section: "Officials Probe Possible Theft of Voting Software in Maryland." Are we being kidded here? The story is not the theft of three DVDs. The story is that someone, at the Maryland State Board of Elections, or at Diebold Corporation, has risked their job and potential prosecution to get three DVDs, that contain the source code for the Diebold AccuVote TS system, to someone who can reveal their contents.

Sometime this week, the three DVDs appeared at the office of Cheryl Kagan, a former State Delegate with strong concerns about the accuracy and security of Diebold touchscreen voting (read: very smart woman), sent by an anonymous donor. The Washington Post got to see them; and made copies that they turned over to Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins University for analysis- after advising him not to try making his own copies. The FBI became involved on Thursday.

So we have data about the source code and no one is telling us whether that source code contains errors, viruses, or malicious code that could change an election outcome? This is the sorry state of our activism: that no matter how hard we have tried, the mainstream press does not understand this issue, does not understand the questions that need to be asked, and then goes to the wrong people for answers. Take Maryland Elections Administrator Linda Lamone, always contacted and quoted for these articles.

Let's say right up front that "Maryland has the lowest voter error rate in the nation." Because that is what Ms. Lamone says whenever questions arise about the accuracy and security of Maryland's voting system. Maryland voters may not have their votes accurately recorded and counted; but we have a .3% voter error rate: we may not have voted for the person we intended; but we managed to vote in every race. It is such a relief.

But there is a slight whiff of change on the breeze, an "unrelated development," the Post reports. Maryland state auditors are claiming that Ms. Lamone has not been sufficiently controlling the access to the new statewide registration database: MDVOTERS. And she may have been paying contractors without sufficient billing documentation.

Documents, schmocuments. Maryland is such a magical place. Every problem that has arisen around the election system has a Diebold solution, provided by Ms. Lamone. You may recall that Maryland had a wee bit of an election meltdown in the Primary, around the absence of smart cards. The smart cards are programmed by the Diebold E-Poll Books, to become the Voter Access Cards for the Diebold voting machines. When the smart cards were not available when the polls opened in Montgomery County, voters had to vote on provisional ballots. When the E-poll Books wrongly noted that voters had already voted, voters had to use provisional ballots. When the data wrongly built up on the VAC cards, so that there were problems all around, voters had to vote on provisional ballots. Montgomery County voters used nearly 12,000 provisional ballots in September.

So there was a projected need for many more provisional ballots for the General Election. Late last week, Administrator Lamone "ordered" Diebold to print 1.6 million provisional ballots. Now the voting loop is complete. Maryland voters check in with Diebold E-Poll Books, and they vote on Diebold machines. Unless there is a problem. Then the Diebold technician enters the polling station, opens the voting unit, and fixes things. If all else fails, the voter can vote on a provisional ballot that has been printed under the auspices of the Diebold Corporation.

So there is a little problem with monitoring the billing practices of contractors? Surely there is a Diebold software auditing product that can monitor these practices and produce a record of the transaction. No paper record needed, or course.
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Mary Kiraly is a voting activist in Maryland.
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