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Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

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Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

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Voting machines are front burner concern, but not hacking them

American culture of liberal politesse mutes explicit alarm from leaders

But Times, Common Cause quietly mention theft as a concern

Chances that 2008 will be heavily guarded look small, however

votecheck1.jpgToday (Oct 9 Thu) a Times editorial focuses on the gathering concern over the Diebold machines which might “drop votes”, and both chatter on NPR and at an American University conference today in Washington reviewed all the interferences with voting which are taking place or are in view as the Presidential election reaches climax.

But it is noticeable that the dread possibility of hacking these machines as everyone including the Simpsons seems to acknowledge probably robbed Kerry of the election in 2004 remains in the background.

Here is the Times editorial today, That’s A Pretty Big Glitch:

Election officials, who will have plenty on their minds on Nov. 4, have one more thing to worry about: Diebold electronic voting machines that drop votes. Ohio’s secretary of state raised the alarm after local officials reported problems with the March primary count. Diebold has since notified more than 30 states to be on the lookout for missing votes.

In the early days of electronic voting, critics who warned that it was unreliable were dismissed as alarmist. Now it seems that hardly an election goes by without reports of serious vulnerabilities or malfunctions.

In the case of Diebold, votes are being dropped when they are transferred from individual machines to the central server in a county’s election headquarters. When an election worker inserts the memory card from a machine into the server, a green arrow is supposed to light up after all of the votes have been uploaded and added to the county’s totals. In some cases, the green arrow is wrong, and none of the votes have been added.

When election officials in Ohio’s Butler County first spotted the problem, Premier Election Solutions — a unit of Diebold — suggested that antivirus software on the voting machines or human error was at fault. That turned out not to be true; the fault was Diebold’s. In August, the company notified clients of the software glitch, advising election officials not to rely on the green arrow, but to use alternative methods of checking that every memory card — and every vote — is counted.

When dropped votes are noticed — and so far they appear to have been — they can be recovered. But the flaw is troubling, the latest in a long line of problems.

Computer scientists have shown that electronic voting machines are easy to hack. And voters report errors like vote flipping, in which the vote they cast for one candidate is recorded for another. Ohio’s secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, is suing Diebold over the vote-dropping and noted that its machines crashed repeatedly during last year’s voting in Cuyahoga County.

There is no time left between now and Election Day for states and localities to upgrade their machines or even to fix the vote-dropping software. All they can do is double-check their vote totals, audit their paper trails and be on the lookout for the next, as-yet-undiscovered computer glitch. After that, Congress must require that all states adopt voting systems that include voter-verifiable paper records for every electronic vote cast.

In other words, the danger of hacking the machines is recognized at the Times (the boldface is ours) but it is too late to do much about the vulnerability!

Common Cause is aware of potential

At American University in Washington today sessions were held on the topic of voting and improving the sorry state of affairs in this regard in the US, and at one point an unidentified but heroic gray haired dark suited gentleman in the audience won the microphone and asked the crucial question: how did the panelists account for the wide gap that opened up between exit polling and the official results in recent elections?

“If the past is prologue, I think much of the distrust in the system has been because there has been no rational explanation for the disparity between the exit polling data in 2004 and the actual vote count particularly in eleven swing states if not more. And I wonder why – well perhaps that information is available but can you offer any basic understanding as to what that disparity represented and why is it in other countrioes like the Ukraine we throw out an election on the basis of thayt disparity whereas in this country it goes relatively unnoticed in the academic literature or in the media?”

The first panel member, Bob Edgar, president and CEO of the Common Cause advocacy group, replied by saying that Common Cause had just held a book party in New York for Mark Crispin-Miller of NYU whose analysis in detail of Florida and Ohio in 2004 had convinced him that “an election stealing took place”.

Edgar believed the book was a

“helpful review of the actual details and I would hope if that occurs at the local Congressional Senate or Presidential level that the person who loses that close election would pause before they stand before the cameras and concede. Because I think not only is it important for us to know that each and every vote is counted but it is also important for us to see where possible manipulation could take place, because Senator Kerry conceded so quickly it wasn’t until years after the 2004 election that a careful analysis could take place. And in some instances because of the concession ballots were destroyed quickly and you could not monitor the issue.

“You raise an important issue and I am troubled we are not more concerned about it. In other countries they obviously are more concerned about the manipulation of the vote but Common Cause and the League of Women Voters and others are committed to making sure we get it straight in 2008.”

Right on, Bob. Let’s hope that Common Cause and the League of Women Voters in alliance with the Times and anyone else who is mildly concerned about this issue – mild in tone if (we hope) not in intent – will do enough about it to spike the guns of those waiting to do the same thing and repeat their successes of 2004 and 2000 which landed the world in the gargantuan mess it now finds itself in.

League of Women Voters are not

However, judging by the lame brained response of the lady sitting next to Edgar in response to the same question, and the feebleness of the Times call to arms today, we fear that the general level of caution in addressing this concern forcibly for fear of disenchanting the voters who still believe in the system will see too little done.

Said lady in a light blue tailored suit, Nancy Tate, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters, opined as follows:

“I think what I recall as the explanation of some of that was faulty statistical practice. I mean they were polling people that were coming out that turned out later to be too heavily weighted toward the Democratic candidate and thought that would be representative of the larger sample. I can’t really speak to that in detail but that’s the explanation they gave and I guess we all accepted it.

“I think on our end even if they would be accurate we would be inclined to think it would be better if they didn’t release the polls because it influences v oters one way or the other. Whether accurate or not a lot of people if their candidates ahead maybe say well I don’t have to go you know or if your candidate’s too far behind maybe I don’t have to go. It kind of undermines the one person one vote idea.

“We are also not crazy about the idea of calling the election when people in California and Hawaii havern’t voted. So even if the data is correct this can have psychological impacts on people and we think it is important for everyone to participate, that the actual numbers do matter whether its close or large you’ll feel better participating and you’ll know you have participated and everyone else will know when the system will be better for that.”

A pretty young blonde’s head nodded in the audience at this tripe which actually revealed that the League of Women Voters is led by a lady who has overlooked the salient fact that exit polling going awry is the only canary in the coal mine of election machine tampering, and without it there will be no signal whatsoever of that malfeasance. Any Republican operatives in the audience planning such thievery were probably beside themselves with glee over her comments.

Surely what is needed is an armed guard standing over every voting machine day and night throughout the voting and counting process, with an expert bonded computer programmer to check the software before, after and during its operation.

If this sounds expensive, let’s acknowledge it is easily manageable by an Obama campaign which raised $60 million last month and is probably doing even better in October.

Catch Stealing America for free October 21

When even Bart Simpson has his vote switched and nearly gets eaten by a voting machine, it is time to take the kid gloves off. Someone should send When Even The Simpsons Make Fun Of E-Voting Machines to Nancy. Unfortunately, Twentieth Century Fox have suppressed the actual clip on YouTube.

Or better, here is where she can obtain a $5 copy of Stealing America, the film which says it all.

Note that on October 21st this film will be available for free viewing and download.

Meanwhile, techdirt ran a pretty good little mention of the New Jersey debacle last Friday in Judge Won’t Allow Researchers To Reveal Report On E-Voting Machines

From the it’s-not-like-we-have-an-election-coming-up-that-use-these-machines dept

You may recall that earlier this year, after some serious problems were discovered with Sequoia’s e-voting machines in New Jersey, that the state asked a group of independent researchers to investigate the machines and prepare a report. Sequoia threatened to sue the researchers though. Luckily, a court allowed the researchers to investigate the machines, and said that 30 days after the court had received the report, it could be released. However, Sequoia, in its usual “It can’t be our fault, no, no!” fashion, has convinced the judge to suppress the report.

Despite the fact that we’re a month away from an election that will use these machines that time and time again have been shown to have problems accurately and reliably counting votes, no one is allowed to see the report. Voters in New Jersey won’t be told the results of the report until after it’s too late to request absentee ballots. As the head researcher on the report notes, even New Jersey’s governor and secretary of state are not allowed to read the report and use it to make public policy decisions that would more likely create a fair election. For so many years now, the e-voting companies have dismissed concerns, blocked attempts to investigate, threatened investigators and almost never admitted any fault, despite tons and tons of evidence that the machines simply do not work that well. It’s a travesty that this report is being suppressed.

Clearly the American system will soon become the laughing stock of the world but for the incipient enthroning of Barack Obama, that is, assuming all these last minute defensive efforts of the Republicans fail.

Given the feeble response so far as outlined above, there is still cause for worry.

An amusing look at the shenanigans in Colorado is at the Colorado Independent, Amid scandal, Colorado is at election storm central: Are we ready?:

• Last December the Colorado State Auditor issued a blistering report on the management of the Secretary of State’s Office under Coffman. As the Colorado Independent’s Dan Whipple reported, the auditor’s report found eight major areas of failures in the office, including duplicate voter registration records, voting by dead people and felons, failing to account for $445,000 in federal funds, and numerous conflict-of-interest violations among employees, at least some of which Coffman was aware of. The most widely covered conflict of interest was the allegation that former employee Dan Kopelman had used state voter data in an outside business, a political consulting website Political Live Wire, which serves primarily Republicans…

• Then there was the electronic ballot machine decertification and subsequent recertification fiasco that stretched out over several months. Last Dec. 17, Coffman announced he was decertifying three of four types of election machines currently in use in all but 12 of Colorado’s 64 counties — including six of the state’s 10 most populous counties. In layman’s terms, Coffman declared that the electronic machines were unreliable and that they could potentially be hacked. The announcement left clerks and recorders across Colorado scrambling to figure out how they could possibly make necessary adjustments in time for this year’s August primary and November general elections. The day after Christmas last year, Coffman’s office announced his recommendation that voters cast paper ballots at polling places for the 2008 presidential election. Two months later, after the Legislature jumped in, Coffman recertified the machines, deeming them reliable after all.

• A month ago — just weeks before the election — Coffman’s state elections director, Holly Lowder, abruptly resigned amid an outside inquiry involving her longtime relationship with John Paulsen, who has received $183,800 in election-related contracts from the state of Colorado. Turns out, as the Rocky Mountain News reported, that Lowder also lived in a Denver condominium owned by Paulsen and that the two have shared the same phone number.

All this raises the interesting question, what will happen if miscreants try it on this time, and actually succeed in flipping the results in the US electronically as they seem to have done so brazenly in 2004 and got away with it?

This time one imagines Obama will not immediately concede, and nor will the Supreme Court be able to cut the review short.

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