Everything Old Is New Again: Voting Fraud in Ohio

The first signs of autumn are in the air. I'm not talking about early morning chill, the smell of woodsmoke, or turning leaves. You know fall's just around the corner when old allegations of election improprieties begin to drift down from on high. Diebold voting machines are back in the news, of course. But it was John Kerry who really kicked off this season's traditional "we wuz robbed" chorus. In an email urging donors to support Rep. Ted Strickland for governor, Kerry charged that Strickland's opponent, Ken Blackwell, "used his office to abuse our democracy and threaten basic voting rights."

Blackwell was Ohio's secretary of state and honorary Ohio campaign co-chairman for Bush. Obviously, this is somewhat dodgy. But several lawsuits have failed to find any serious wrongdoing. There's one more pending, which alleges discrimination against minority voters. The original paper ballots are slated to be destroyed soon, following usual procedure, which will supposedly be precipitating a NYT expose in the near future.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell, who is black, noted that 1 million more Ohioans turned out to vote in 2004 than in 2000, and that the state had a record turnout of black voters.

Treking around Ohio on Election Day 2004, I learned that watching voting fraud statistics get assembled is only slightly less messy than the proverbial sausage-maker at work--and just as nauseating.

Read Tim's roundup of the scraps and hooves of real fraud here.

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  • ||

    Blackwell was Ohio's secretary of State and honorary Ohio campaign co-chairman for Bush.

    Anyone that tone-deaf and insensitive to conflicts of interest should never hold any public office.

  • ||

    R C Dean,

    Amen to that. At least here in Ohio, Strickland (who I hope wins over Blackwell) can't be any worse than Taft was.

  • ||

    As a proud splitter from Bob Bennett and the ORC here in O-hi-o, I saw no problem with Blackwell being "HONORARY co-chairman for Bush". If anything, I like the transparency. He could've just pretended to be nonpartisan while putting an "R" next to his name. I mean, really, who harbors some kind of fantasy that Republicans don't want Republicans to win?

  • ||

    RC, jf, what are the duties of an honorary Ohio campaign co-chairman, and how do those duties conflict with his elected duties as Secretary of State of Ohio? Specifically.

    If the Secretary of State of Ohio is elected, why is it wrong to assume he would continue to be partisan after being elected? Maybe Ohio elected a Republican in that position because they wanted a Republican there.

  • Chuck||

    Anyone that tone-deaf and insensitive to conflicts of interest should never hold any public office.

    I was going to say something similar, but this is far better and more concise than what I was about to write. Unfortunately, most of our public officials can see no difference between "barely legal" and "ethical." I guess law school will do that to you.

  • ||

    "most of our public officials can see no difference between 'barely legal' and 'ethical.'"

    They need to look more closely then, because the girls in "Barely Legal" are much better looking than the girls in "Ethical".

  • ||

    RC, jf, what are the duties of an honorary Ohio campaign co-chairman, and how do those duties conflict with his elected duties as Secretary of State of Ohio? Specifically.

    As Secretary of State, he is most likely in charge of the voting machinery on election day, and charged with ensuring that the outcome is clean and impartial.

    As a campaign official, he supposed to be getting his guy elected.

    If you can't see the conflict between "getting my guy elected" and "overseeing an clean and impartial election", then I suggest that you are also too tone-deaf and insensitive to conflicts of interest to be trusted as a public official.

  • Jennifer||

    Forgetting all partisanship or left vs. right arguments, I have a serious question I've never seen answered: what, exactly, are the alleged benefits of a purely electronic voting system that leaves no paper trail and can't be independently verified? Is it supposed to save money, or is it just assumed that anything high-tech is better than anything old-fashioned?

  • ||

    BadMood,

    R C did a great job answering, but I'll point you to his original post, and what I agreed with

    Anyone that tone-deaf and insensitive to conflicts of interest

    You can disagree, you can trot out the "offical duties of honorary co-chairpersons," but the fact remains that it looks bad to other people ("other people" being people less enlightened than myself, of course).

  • ||

    I have no doubt that some fraud took place somewhere in Ohio in 2004, but Bush carried the state by 120,000, and I think we would have found out about fraud on that scale. It's not like Florida in 2000, where the vote was so close that small things could make a difference.

  • Jennifer||

    I think we would have found out about fraud on that scale

    Assume for the sake of argument that there was fraud on that scale. How exactly would we have discovered it, with no paper trail and no independent verification? Call every voter in the state, ask them how they voted, and confirm that every single one of them answered honestly?

  • thoreau||

    I don't know much about Ohio's elections, but having been an election administrator in California, and having seen some of the system from the inside, I have a few thoughts on the matter:

    No system is perfect. The goal is not to design the perfect system, but rather to design a system where it would be difficult to do significant harm and not get caught. It's not terribly difficult to find a dishonest person in this world. It's somewhat harder to get a bunch of them all in the same place, with one of them in charge and no other honest people watching them. Then you have to design a system where they won't get caught.

    (It doesn't matter if they're willing to take personal risks for their cause, because if they're caught the cause suffers. If they care about the cause they won't participate in a risky plan. If they care about themselves they won't participate in a risky plan either. So you have to find stupid people. But stupid people are bad at carrying out evil schemes.)

    And then, just to add icing to the cake, you have to make sure that none of these dishonest people will talk. That they won't perhaps harbor a grudge and decide to get back at somebody. That they won't gloat about what they pulled off. That they won't become afraid and talk to save themselves.

    Is this all possible? Sure. Is it easy? No. Can it be done on a large enough scale to switch more than 100,000 votes? Almost assuredly not, at least not in this country.

  • ||

    Thanks for the specifics, guys. I am continuously amazed at the sanctimonious nature of humans after they come to the realization they can put more than one sentence together in a row. Go. Once you�ve realized there is a slight chance you may be wrong about something, come back.

  • ||

    what, exactly, are the alleged benefits of a purely electronic voting system that leaves no paper trail and can't be independently verified? Is it supposed to save money, or is it just assumed that anything high-tech is better than anything old-fashioned?

    I have wondered this myself....and also I have wondered why it seems that that people who love electronic voting the most are the ones most against the idea of a paper trail to audit those results.

    Diebold (to choose just one example) makes ATM machines that have paper trails and are auditable via humans going over that paper trail and comparing it to its stored transactions....yet somehow its too much/too difficult/too costly to basically print a receipt for the voter? I don't buy it.

    Personally, as someone who works in software development, I can attest to the fact that there is no such thing as bug free software.

    Telling a machine that is potentially buggy or maybe even hacked to recount its own results is not an accurate audit mechanism.

    Without some kind of hard copy audit trail that is not subject to the potentially buggy (of modified) code -- there is very little that can be done to spot check the accuracy and integrity of these machines. (And there have been quite a few stories of machines that were supposed to be certified and locked away in secure locations until the election winding up being stored for days at campaign workers houses where potentially anyone has access to them)

    Add to that the fact that most of the contracts for these machines are done under a contract that allows the source code to be owned and viewed only by the company and its employees -- meaning independant auditing of the code is impossible. These machines are basically black boxes. Even in the absence of any nefarious agendas this leaves the system very vulnerable to mistakes not being noticed / reported quickly or even the company supressing any glitches (no one wants bad PR)

    And this isn't a partisan issue....Dems and Republicans alike seem to be quite dismissive of anyone who has doubts about the machines or any requests for proper audit trails.

  • Jennifer||

    Is this all possible? Sure. Is it easy? No. Can it be done on a large enough scale to switch more than 100,000 votes? Almost assuredly not, at least not in this country.

    If you were talking about paper ballots I'd agree with you, but it wouldn't be hard for someone to hack into a computer system and change the votes.

    I know the goddamned server squirrels have made posting impossible for most of the day, but I'm still curious to know if anyone has an answer to my question: if 120,000 electronic-machine votes were stolen, how could we possibly find out about it, let alone prove it?

  • Ron Hardin||

    For those not up on ancient computer science, any fraud you want is easy to do undetectably with all-electronic voting.

    Not even vetting the source code will catch it.

    The trick is that the code does not necessarily do what the code says it does. The compiler determines what the code does.

    You can look at the compiler, but it too is just code, and it only does what the compiler already has it do, and you can't see that.

    You can follow this down to the level of microcode and lose it just the same way. Nobody knows what the machine will do, if somebody in the process of supplying it has had access to it and wanted to change it.

    Formally, see Ken Thompson's Turing Lecture (``lesson : don't let people like me write compilers'') http://www.acm.org/classics/sep95/

    You absolutely need a paper trail with a voting machine.

    It's only a question of motivation whether fraud is worthwhile, and the motivation is pretty big here.

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    ChicagoTom:

    You are 100% correct. This is totally a non-partisan issue, except for the fact that the people in charge of making the changes are either (a) partisans or (b) getting money from the manufacturers of said machines.

  • Ron Hardin||

    Conflict of interest : Coleridge wrote that a conflict of interest is the pulley on which good character is hoist into public view.

    Life is a conflict of interest.

  • ||

    On the subject of voting machines, I have yet to hear a good argument against optical scan machines, where you fill in the ovals with a pen and the machine reads them. You then have both the paper ballots and the digital readout.

    Is it perfect? Hell no. Is the redundancy superior to a touchscreen machine with no paper backup? Hell yeah.

  • ||

    Jennifer: what, exactly, are the alleged benefits of a purely electronic voting system that leaves no paper trail and can't be independently verified? Is it supposed to save money, or is it just assumed that anything high-tech is better than anything old-fashioned?

    Damn good question. I asked this a lot in late 2000 and the conversation tended to go like this:

    ajay: "Why don't you just use ballot papers and pencils and count them by hand?"
    interlocutor: "Well, machines are so much faster. Hand counting takes ages."
    ajay: "What, longer than five weeks?"
    interlocutor: ...

  • Nike Dunk Shoes||

    thanks

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