Thursday, March 13, 2003

How the quote process should work

3/13/2003 4:26:56 PM
Posted By: Jim Romenesko

Having worked as a reporter for 25 years, I've got to say I'm completely and utterly appalled at Jonathan Weisman's account of how the Bush Administration is vetting quotes and demanding changes in quotes on stories about public policy proposals. For one thing, when nobody says them, they're not quotes, period. End of story. To say they are quotes is a lie. End of story. And my sources do not get to tell me what they said. They say what they say, I write it down or record it, and I put it in my stories if I think it's relevant, with the blessing of my editors. If I do not quote them correctly, I do not get to continue working as a reporter. That's how it works, or rather how it's supposed to. To me this is just one more example of the the way the Washington press corps has rolled over and become lapdogs for the Bush Administration.
There are terrific stories to be told about this bunch, as good as or better than anything that ever came out of the Clinton years, but for a variety of reasons (fear, laziness, misguided patriotism) they are not being told. Sept. 11 changed some things, but it did not change the press's responsibility to act as guardians for the public interest and of the public's tax dollars at work.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Sunday, March 09, 2003

My apologies for my inactivity of late --- I've been working on a very time-consuming project and have not had much time to catalog CNN's attrocities. I'm sure they are spewing them out, fast and furious.

I hope to get back to serious Blogging next week. In the meantime, here are some stories that I hope people will send out to friends. If our votes are not counted then our Democracy truly is, once and for all, destroyed.

I know most people are pretty much obsessed with ChimpCo's coming war (thank you, Karl Rove), but we can't forget other looming issues. This is one of the biggest, in my opinion.

Welcome to the nightmare:

In the rush to correct problems exposed by the 2000 Presidential election debacle in Florida, many municipalities were pressured or required to procure new voting systems. The most vulnerable of these systems are the fully electronic touch-screen or kiosk (DRE) devices because of their lack of an independent, voter-verified audit trail. The vendors and certifying
authorities have taken a "trust us" stance, claiming that the machines are "fail-safe" and that the internal record and tally constitutes an accurate reflection of the ballots cast on the machine. In fact, machines have failed in actual use, not only displaying choices that were not selected by the voters, but also by mis-recording votes (in some cases losing them entirely, or shifting them to other candidates). Some of the machines enter a lock-down mode at the end of the balloting session, where it is impossible to later check that votes could be cast properly for each candidate or issue. Vendors have tied the hands of election officials and independent examiners by protecting their systems under restrictive trade-secret agreements, making it a felony to inspect the operation of the machine without a comprehensive court order. The articles linked below in my writings section provide an illustration of the magnitude of these problems. My analyses are based on computer science and engineering facts, and are not politically motivated. Please read these materials carefully and contact me if you should require further clarification or assistance.

Who makes the vote-counting machines?

This is an article about just three things: disclosure, conflict of interest and potential for manipulation. It is not a conspiracy theory or a political point of view. I think you'll agree with me: We don't care who wins the election, as long as it's who was VOTED FOR.

If we lose confidence in our voting system, it won't matter what we think about any issue. Voting won't matter. Democracy won't matter.

A lethal combination: Three nasty little guys that don't belong anywhere near our voting system keep showing up at the polls. Their names are Nondisclosure, Conflict of Interest, and Potential for Manipulation.

How credible is the information in this article? Click the links and you'll find verification, often on the companies' own web sites. Click footnotes and you'll find sources and excerpts.

A Vote for Less Tech at the Polls  By Joanna Glasner

Story location:,1367,56370,00.html
02:00 AM Nov. 19, 2002 PT

In the national debate over upgrading election infrastructure, Peter Neumann is an unlikely defender of the low-tech approach.

As principle scientist at Stanford Research Institute's Computer Science Laboratory, Neumann has spent the last 20 years studying how intrusion detection systems, cryptography and advanced software engineering can improve the reliability and security of computer systems.

But get him talking about how to run an election, and Neumann becomes an outspoken advocate of the paper ballot. He's also a sharp critic of computerized touch-screen voting machines.

"Some of them have lovely human interfaces, but if there's no assurance your vote goes through, it's irrelevant," said Neumann, who is concerned that in the fervor to embrace new voting technology, many jurisdictions will compromise the integrity of the election process.

Two weeks after the most highly computerized federal election in U.S. history, a number of computer scientists continue to raise concerns over security risks created by the widespread adoption of touch-screen voting systems.

Despite reports of smooth performance on Election Day from the major voting machine manufacturers, many experts remain concerned about fixing potential bugs before states spend billions more on touch-screen systems to automate the election process.

While paper ballots, punch cards and lever machines have their problems, a worry among some computer scientists is that the risks presented by touch-screen systems are more insidious because they are harder to detect. Critics of so-called direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines, most of which employ touch screens, are particularly concerned about the lack of a paper trail. Although the most widely used DRE machines can at day's end print out at a record of ballots cast, detractors say this is insufficient.

Votescam in the Electronic Age

THE FIX IS IN A week before the midterm election, President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act. It provides $3.9 billion to the states over the next three years to upgrade local election equipment. A handful of election technology companies have positioned themselves to reap the bulk of the money from the legislation. Expect them to lobby hard in the coming year. The system they are pushing most aggressively across the country, also happens to be the most expensive. It’s called direct recording electronic or DRE. Typically, DREs involve computerized touch-screen voting machines.

DREs offer an opportunity to commit electoral fraud with an astounding efficiency only available in the computer age. The machines offer no real-time evidence of a vote beyond what appears on the screen. (Cartridges collect the voting data which then can be printed out after the election.) Even though most customers at ATMs demand an immediate receipt of their transaction, with DREs voters are not afforded the same measure of accountability when electing their civic leaders. The source codes to operate the machines are proprietary to the company that supplies them. And as any computer programmer knows, it would be a simple matter to add a line of code to switch votes or simply lose them.

The fears of cynics (and those who read history) aside, DRE technology has produced enough unintentional errors to make one wonder about the glitches that go undiscovered. Researchers from Caltech and MIT concluded that three percent of ballots that went through DRE machines were not counted in the 2000 presidential race. In Dallas County this past election, dozens of voters in a number of precincts complained during early voting that when they selected a Democratic candidate on the touch screen, it registered a Republican. Election officials blamed the problem on "badly calibrated voting machines." Democrats unsuccessfully petitioned Republican District Judge Karen Johnson to order a court-supervised testing of the machines.

If You Want To Win An Election, Just Control The Voting Machines

by Thom Hartmann


The respected Washington, DC publication The Hill ( ) has confirmed that former conservative radio talk-show host and now Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel was the head of, and continues to own part interest in, the company that owns the company that installed, programmed, and largely ran the voting machines that were used by most of the citizens of Nebraska.

Back when Hagel first ran there for the U.S. Senate in 1996, his company's computer-controlled voting machines showed he'd won stunning upsets in both the primaries and the general election. The Washington Post (1/13/1997) said Hagel's "Senate victory against an incumbent Democratic governor was the major Republican upset in the November election." According to Bev Harris of , Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many largely Black communities that had never before voted Republican. Hagel was the first Republican in 24 years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska.

Six years later Hagel ran again, this time against Democrat Charlie Matulka in 2002, and won in a landslide. As his website says, Hagel "was re-elected to his second term in the United States Senate on November 5, 2002 with 83% of the vote. That represents the biggest political victory in the history of Nebraska."

What Hagel's website fails to disclose is that about 80 percent of those votes were counted by computer-controlled voting machines put in place by the company affiliated with Hagel. Built by that company. Programmed by that company.

"This is a big story, bigger than Watergate ever was," said Hagel's Democratic opponent in the 2002 Senate race, Charlie Matulka ( "They say Hagel shocked the world, but he didn't shock me."

Is Matulka the sore loser the Hagel campaign paints him as, or is he democracy's proverbial canary in the mineshaft?

Hacking democracy?

Computerized vote-counting machines are sweeping the country. But they can be hacked -- and right now there's no way to be sure they haven't been.

By Farhad Manjoo

Feb. 20, 2003  |  During the past five months, Bev Harris has e-mailed to news organizations a series of reports that detail alarming problems in the high-tech voting machinery currently sweeping its way through American democracy. But almost no one is paying attention.

Harris is a literary publicist and writer whose investigations into the secret world of voting equipment firms have led some to call her the Erin Brockovich of elections. Harris has discovered, for example, that Diebold, the company that supplied touch-screen voting machines to Georgia during the 2002 election, made its system's sensitive software files available on a public Internet site. She has reported on the certification process for machines coming onto the market -- revealing that the software code running the equipment is seldom thoroughly reviewed and can often be changed with mysteriously installed "patches" just prior to an election. And in perhaps her most eyebrow-raising coup, she found that Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, used to run the company that built most of the machines that count votes in his state -- and that he still owns a stake in the firm.

Computerized Voting Comes Under Fire in Georgia and California


Georgia, however, did use the open server, downloading software patches to tweak the elections program and ensure it worked properly on Election Day. Brit Williams, a college professor who tested and certified Diebold's system in preparation for Georgia's November elections, explains in a Web-published transcript of an interview with Harris that "we were in the heat of the election. Some of the things we did [involving the open server], we probably compromised security a little bit. . . . We've gone back since the election and done extensive testing on all this."

Black Box Voting by Bev Harris