Fw: OVC article for openDemocracy

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Sat Jul 17 2004 - 09:47:40 CDT

This fellow from England interviewed my by phone recently. Does anyone what
to help with the article he wants?

Alan D.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Samuel Howard-spink" <samuel_dot_howardspink_at_opendemocracy_dot_net>
To: "Alan Dechert" <alan@openvotingconsortium.org>
Sent: Tuesday, July 13, 2004 3:54 AM
Subject: RE: OVC article for openDemocracy

Hi Alan,
Just wanted to see if all is well with the OVC article we've emailed about.
It turns out that my editor Solana has also been in touch with Edward
Cherlin, who has written for openDemocracy before. Anyway, please let me
know if you have any questions or problems getting the piece done by the
Hope all is well,

-----Original Message-----
From: Samuel Howard-spink
Sent: Fri 7/9/2004 1:05 PM
To: Alan Dechert
Subject: OVC article for openDemocracy

Dear Alan,

I have some extra info for you now re the article we discussed. Let me know
if the specs below (especially the deadline, which we can move a little)
work for you or not.

Deadline date: July 21
Word count: 800

Brief: Basically we want a computer expert's take on what the major problems
are with the systems as proposed and largely implemented. Why is the "Just
trust us" principle of proprietary voting software simply not satisfactory?
What are the solutions, the obstacles, and why are you personally interested
in this as a programmer/computer expert? This is an opinion piece, so feel
free to be subjective. Any links you can provide for further reading
throughout the article would be great.

One important point to bear in mind: this piece will be read by people all
over the world who will not be familiar with the specifics of California
politics or anything too technical (I had one editor ask me for tech pieces
that her grandmother would be able to read...). It is important that as wide
an audience as possible can see the significance of your perspective within
the overall framework of the series. If we can do that without losing the
subtleties of the argument, we've nailed it.

Please send your piece to me, and then I'll be forwarding it to Solana
Larsen, my colleague and an openDemocracy commissioning editor in New York,
who'll send it back to London. Somewhat circular I know, but we're
internationalists ;-)

Let me know if the above is ok with you, and thanks again for your
Kind regards,

-----Original Message-----
From: Alan Dechert [mailto:alan@openvotingconsortium.org]
Sent: Tue 7/6/2004 6:47 PM
To: Samuel Howard-spink
Subject: Re: enquiry from openDemocracy

Thanks for calling, Sam.

Here are the links I mentioned. This article is a bit technical. There are
links at the end to the conference submissions we made recently.


Here is the AP article by Rachel Konrad I mentioned I had some input on this
although Rachel didn't quote me. She did quote Doug Jones, who seems to
often come up with just the right words.



SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Ambushing registrars and tracking down executives at
their homes and offices, a literary publicist has uncovered conflicts of
interests and security flaws inside the companies that make electronic
ballot machines.

Searching the Web and poring over newspaper clippings, Bev Harris has
unearthed obscure arrest records, ties to conservative political groups and
other embarrassing secrets of senior executives at voting companies.

Her conclusion: there will be so many problems with the more than 100,000
paperless voting terminals to be used in the November presidential election
that the fiasco will dwarf Florida's hanging chad debacle of 2000.

"We have a train wreck that's definitely going to happen," Harris said. "We
have conflict of interest, we've taken the checks and balances away, and we
know the votes are already being miscounted fairly frequently. This is going
to be huge."

Harris, 52, didn't set out to become a muckraking voting technology expert.

Accustomed to working with manuscripts and authors in suburban Seattle, she
preferred doting on her new grandchild to debating politics. She still
doesn't vote regularly.

But when Harris was idly surfing the Web during a lunch break two years ago,
she became obsessed with an issue essential to democracy, quickly becoming
the unlikely center of a movement to ensure integrity in the nation's voting

Critics say Harris, author of "Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the
21st Century," is a fear-mongering grandstander and a presumptuous
conspiracy theorist. The prime target of one investigation - voting
equipment maker Diebold Inc. - says her antics undermine democracy.

"We must not frighten voters or inadvertently provide any type of
disincentive to voting," Diebold spokesman David Bear wrote in an e-mail
when asked to respond to Harris' claims that the company's software is
riggable and insecure. "While security is an important issue ...
improvements can and will be made."

Others question the motives behind her obsessive investigations of
politicians and executives at big voting equipment companies such as
Diebold, Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. and Election Systems & Services Inc.

"She bases her whole theory on a continuous string of untruths," said Lou
Ann Linehan, chief of staff for Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. In the 1990s,
Hagel headed voting equipment company American Information Systems Inc.,
which later became ES&S. Hagel maintains investments between $1 million and
$6 million in McCarthy Group Inc., a private bank with a large stake in

Harris, who dubs Hagel "poster boy for conflict of interest," says the
Republican did not disclose the extent of his American Information Systems
involvement and questions whether a former executive of a company whose
machines count votes in precincts nationwide should run for public office.
Hagel's staff insist that his former career doesn't affect his political

"I don't know if it's sloppy research or she doesn't care," Linehan said. "I
don't spend a lot of time worrying about it because it's all so ridiculous."

Criticism, as well as legal threats from ES&S, Diebold and other companies,
has enervated Harris, whose blond hair turned completely gray last year. But
legions of fans - from New Zealand bloggers to respected computer
scientists - encourage her.

Exploiting the power of the Internet, Harris has created a Web site that
documents hundreds of local, county and state elections that have been
botched or contested because of flaws with voting software.

She details an incestuous web of voting company executives, politicians and
election officials - people who are often related or have worked for each

Her style is brash. She drives her Toyota Corolla and rental cars thousands
of miles to ambush registrars in counties where election results didn't
match exit polls.

Frustrated that few mainstream journalists have publicized her exploits,
Harris once left voice mail for Washington Post star Bob Woodward. When he
didn't call back, she trashed him in a Web forum called "Media Whores

"It took me a while to recognize that despite her over-the-top personal
style, she was doing valuable sleuthing," said Douglas Jones, associate
professor of computer science at the University of Iowa and a member of
Iowa's Board of Examiners for e-voting. "But her style, which tends to be a
bit alarmist and tends to appeal to conspiracy theorists, may be necessary
to get the attention of the people who need to pay attention."

Harris, who in the 1990s freelanced as an investigator for companies that
suspected employees of embezzling, dismisses conspiracies. She blames a lack
of federal oversight, and human nature for voting problems such as those in
the November 2002 election, when Bernalillo County, N.M.'s turnout was
48,000 - but only 36,000 votes were tallied on Sequoia touchscreens.

"I never looked at this as a computer problem or even a conspiracy," said
Harris. "I always looked at it as an auditing problem, the exact equivalent
of taking away canceled checks, invoices and receipts. You take away
oversight - someone will steal. I guarantee it."

Harris' obsession with e-voting began during a lunch break in autumn 2002.
On the Web, she stumbled upon an article called "Elections in America -
Assume Crooks are in Control," by freelance journalist Lynn Landes.

Harris began wondering how easy it would be to change electronic ballots to
rig an election without a trace.

By trial and error, she tracked down people who work at voting companies by
trolling on online job boards, high school reunion sites and other Internet
haunts. She collected e-mail addresses and phone numbers for eight dozen
programmers. Some boasted they could easily insert malicious code, alter or
delete ballots and "flip" an election.

Harris wondered how easily these people could be bribed.

"I figured that if a middle-aged woman like me who has never done a `covert
op' in her life, working on the Internet, could find the people who program
our voting machines, then certainly the bad guys must know who they are,"
she wrote in her roughly edited book, which reads the way Harris talks -
full of enthusiasm, gall and expressions such as "oookay" and "right,"
dripping with sarcasm.

She took a loan from her father to self-publish her book. When critics said
she was fear-mongering for money, she posted chapters free online. She says
the book has cost her and her second husband, who works at Boeing Co., about
$50,000, and they've made almost nothing from it.

In January 2003, Harris did a Google search for Vancouver, B.C.-based Global
Election Systems Inc., the software company Diebold acquired in 2002. On the
search engine's 15th page of hits was a link to proprietary code, which
Harris burned on seven CDs and stashed in a safe-deposit box. She didn't
sleep for 44 hours while downloading 40,000 files.

Blogs began buzzing about secret voting software without password
protection. Eventually, computer scientists at Johns Hopkins and Rice
universities analyzed the code.

Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns
Hopkins, concluded that any clever 15-year-old could rig the system and vote
multiple times. Alarmingly, "1111" was Diebold's default password
identification number for microchip-embedded "smartcards" that voting
administrators used.

Diebold issued a 27-page rebuttal, insisting the code was out of date and
not used in more than 30,000 machines nationwide. But the study hit a nerve
among computer scientists, who lended legitimacy to a ragtag movement.

"I worry that sometimes her arguments sound farfetched, and I have been told
on more than one occasion that she is hurting the credibility of all of us
with her wild theories," Rubin said. "On balance, though, I am grateful for
the work that she does. We each have our own style."

Harris hopes more secretaries of state reach the conclusion of California's
Kevin Shelley, who this year banned some Diebold machines and required
counties to have a paper record of ballots.

"I would consider this last year a year of crisis," said Harris, who last
year struggled to meet mortgage and heat payments. "I didn't want to get
involved in this. I just don't understand how anyone could discover this
stuff and live with themselves if they didn't say anything about it."

On the Net:
> Dear Alan,
> thanks for getting back to me so quickly.  I was thinking that we could
arrange a time to talk on Tuesday or Wednesday this week (btw, if there's a
better day let me know, I have a couple of weeks to put this all together).
Since London is eight hours ahead of California time, can we make it during
your morning? Please suggest a good time to call your number. Looking
forward to speaking with you.
> All the best,
> Sam
> -----Original Message----- 
> From: Alan Dechert [mailto:alan@openvotingconsortium.org]
> Sent: Fri 7/2/2004 6:09 PM
> To: Samuel Howard-spink
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: enquiry from openDemocracy
> Greetings Sam,
> I am available to talk with you now if you're available.  If the 772
> is busy, call back on the 791 number and leave a message.  I'll get right
> back to you.
> We could arrange a time this week-end if you like.
> Alan Dechert, President
> Open Voting Consortium
> 9560 Windrose Lane
> Granite Bay, CA 95746
> 916-772-5360
> 916-791-0456
> cell: 916-792-1784
> alan@openvoting.org
> http://www.openvotingconsortium.org
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Samuel Howard-spink" <samuel.howardspink@opendemocracy.net>
> To: <mail@openvotingconsortium.org>
> Sent: Friday, July 02, 2004 4:38 AM
> Subject: enquiry from openDemocracy
> To whom it may concern,
> My name is Sam Howard-Spink and I'm writing on behalf of the London-based
> website openDemocracy.  We're an online magazine for debate about global
> politics and culture that's read by about 100,000 people worldwide.  I'm
> working on a project called  "How we vote", a series of articles covering
> all kinds of voting technologies being used across the world. The idea is
> show that regardless of the method used, the issues at stake in voting
> by extension democracy) are always openness, accountability and trust.
> As well as commissioning articles from scientists, academics and political
> activists in several countries, I am writing a piece about the grassroots
> movement in the US that has pushed the voting machine issue to prominence.
> I'm interested in how activists -- and in particular technologists such as
> yourselves -- use the Internet to spread information and raise awareness,
> the effectiveness of Weblogs and the resistance this underground movement
> has met from mainstream media and the voting machine manufacturers.
> I am very interested in conducting a telephone interview with a
> representative from the Open Voting Consortium to discuss these and
> topics.  I'm based in London and I am happy to call you when it is
> convenient for you.  Please let me know if you are interested and we'll
> arrange a time.  I look forward to hearing from you.
> Kind regards,
> Sam Howard-Spink
> www.opendemocracy.net
> <http://www.opendemocracy.net>
> ********************
> This e-mail and any files transmitted with it are confidential and
> solely for the individual or entity to which they are addressed. Any views
> or opinions presented or expressed are those of the author(s) and may not
> necessarily represent those of openDemocracy.  No representation is given
> nor liability accepted for the accuracy or completeness of any information
> contained in this e-mail unless expressly stated to the contrary.
> If you are not the intended recipient or have received this e-mail in
> you may not use, disseminate, forward, print or copy it, but please notify
> the sender that you have received it in error.
> Registered Office: 23-25 Great Sutton Street, London, EC1V 0DN
> Registered No.     3855274
> ********************
= The content of this message, with the exception of any external 
= quotations under fair use, are released to the Public Domain    
Received on Sat Jul 31 23:17:05 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat Jul 31 2004 - 23:17:15 CDT