Sunday, December 19, 2004

Ukraine levels of electoral fraud?

I am still hoping that much of the talk about election fraud in this country is exaggerated. Certainly our lifetimes have never witnessed so many dubious or outrageous twists, warpings and "coincidences"... 100% of which so far have favored just one side. That fact, alone, should have made talk-radio pundits less stridently one-sided and more somber. Alas.

It would be sad to see American as another Ukraine, needing international observers to hold our own elections. Of course this fits trends that were already underway, no matter whether or not the effect was to "steal" the election of 04. From 92-2000, for example, the number of secrets held by the government got winnowed DOWNWARD steadily, through hard work, openness rules and a dedication to accountability. Since 2001, the number of secrets kept by the US government has LEAPED by an order of magnitude. A clear sign that we the people are not to be trusted. This is a simple fact. How can anyone defend it, or feel anyhting other than a chill?

Here are election-theft postings from a recent congressional candidate, Mike Byron. They are biased and emotiional, that means you should use a grain of salt. But that doesn't make them untrue. And the trend. Oh Lord.

1) Definitive statistical proof that the 2004 Presidential election was without any doubt whatsoever STOLEN.

2) Ohio vote count battles escalate amidst new evidence of criminal activity.

3) The full Clint Curtis sworn testimony before members of House Judiciary Committee is now available here. (Previously, we only had links to a portion of his testimony, which did not include his naming of Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) as having asked him to write the "vote-rigging software prototype! This clip now includes all of Curtis' testimony!)

4) Ohio recount reports.


Anonymous said...

we're taught in school that "ours is the best way". this seems like a commmon meme-imprinting that children get, right behind the one you always mention of anti-authoritarinism. The combined message seems to be "trust the system not the leaders".

But in this case people seem unwilling to think the system might have broken down even if leaders were acting badly. most people don't want to entertain the possibility..."it can't happen here...we're the best". That's a problem that happens "over there". This means that such suspicions aren't given proper amounts of air-time.

sadly this meme and the unwillingness/inability to think "maybe we don't have the best" keeps us from making any sorts of improvements to our election systems (IRV, proportional representation)...after all, if we already have the best system, why change? (the other sticking point is the "simpler is better, don't make me think" meme)

as evidence of pervasiveness of this "we have the best system" meme, what happens when any constitutional issue is brought up in any forum for discussion?...people usually ask "what did the founding fathers mean by X" (or maybe "what would they say if they were alive today"). The thing people SHOULD ask..."what were the reasons the founding fathers said that". The former is looking back to the perceived/received wisdom of a golden age, whereas the latter is a much more pragmatic "not taking down a fence until you know the reason it was put up".

--steve mcclure (seattle area)
(not anonymous, just don't want an account)

Anonymous said...

Electoral fraud is hardly new in the US. Indeed, we have a long tradition of it. Well into the 60s ballot boxes from largely black precincts would routinely go missing, eventually to turn up in the back of some sherriff's pickup after the election results were certified. The Democratic machine in Chicago was famous for a wide variety of tricks, particularly having life-long Democrats continuing to vote the party line posthumously. Chicago also gave us the phrase, "Vote early and vote often." (Today, it is generally accepted that the machine stole Chicago, and thus Illinois and the presidency, from Nixon in 1960. Nixon had enough class not to dispute the results and create a major divide. Sometimes, history really is stranger than fiction.)

That being said, there does appear to have been a great deal of funny business going on in certain key states. When more votes come out of a precinct than it has voters, there is definitely something wrong. The biggest problem seems to have been with the new touchscreen machines that leave no paper record. this baffles me. I live in Germany and they also use a touch screen method, one which generates not one, but two paper records. One for the voter to be able to double check that everything is right and one that goes directly into a locked box untouched by human hands in case a hand count is necessary. It's a fairly simple and obvious system, and I don't see why something similar couldn't have been developed for the US. (Then again, Europe has been able to develop a low-flush toilet that doesn't need to be flushed three times in order to clear the bowl.)

OTOH, so much of this is so far over the top that one has to wonder if a lot of disappointed people aren't building themselves a reality around the "government is corrupt and stupid" meme in order to deal with that disappointment. That or this bunch is infected with an arrogance, a hubris, so huge that one has to wonder just how long they can keep all their balls in the air.

Headcase said...

It's ironic that under Bush today and Clinton yesterday both preach and sermonize about democracy and how wonderful it is.

Yet, as representatives of the dominant political parties in this country, they conveniently overlook the undemocratic and made in the USA practice: gerrymandering.

Of all the things that makes makes me cynical about the political process in this country, gerrymandering ranks up there.

Living in Sacramento, CA I read and hear about the backdoor deal made by both parties when it came time to redraw the political districts after the last census. Unlike the Texa Reps and Dems who overacted in an overheated political theater of the adsurd over their last redistricting.

Some political commentators call gerrymandering protecting incumbents. True. Others call them ensuring that the hard core left and right of both parites will dominate the election process. True.

Our governor is floating a idea of having retired judges redraw the maps for the next. He's hoping that this will break the idealogical logjam CA is mired in. Moderates in both parties are rooting for him but realize that their party establishment will do anything to stop Arnold.

Maybe we should import observers to embarass both parties over this undemocratic practice.

I just love the irony every time Bush, Rummy, etc on the right and Albright, Clinton, Kerry on the left go on and on about democracy. Perhaps, we'll graft gerrymandering onto Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Yes gerrymandering is a big problem. But the real problem is "districts" and "winner takes all", which naturally lead to it. Districts were a good solution when viewpoints mapped to geography but (despite the "red and blue" media oversimplification) we really don't work that way any more.

One possibly better solution is to let people vote for parties or "tickets" (essentially temporary parties) (there should be N>2 of these). Then, apportion the available positions proportionally. If the foobar ticket/party gets 10% of a state and that state has 10 reps, the foobar's top choice gets one. If the foobar party had 20%, their top 2 candidates go to washington. (Ideally you'd fit this in with some rank-order voting scheme like IRV or condorcet.)

So in cases where a state is about evenly split (the usual case) so is their delegation. Today, unless they are divided up neatly (or not neatly as in gerrymandering), you can have a party get 49% in a state and get no say in DC, simply because they are too evenly distributed.

It should also greatly reduce pork if this approach were done on a national level.

--steve mcclure

PS. as an aside if the scheme above were implemented it would be interesting to map out the party voting to see if "natural districts" had emerged, and if so how close they were to previous gerrymandered districts.

Karl said...

Definitive proof from exit polls?
This is silly -- anyone with any statistical training would understand that immediately -- I expected better analytical thought from someone like yourself who has the mental horsepower to understand mathematics.

What might be interesting is an analysis of voter counts in each county for each party to see if they follow Benford's Law or other fraud detection analysis that is statistically valid.

(BTW I've never voted for anyone named Bush for either President or Vice President)

Sean Dustman said...

Merry Christmas David! Lets see how this all turns out over there, it sounds like a bad movie script. Need more reality TV people over there filming it!

Anonymous said...

Greetings Dr.

I fear sir you are chasing a rather small circle argument. The discussion about fraud is most certainly not ezaggerated; maybe just not particulary correct in regards to vote counting..

The true fraud is the "representative democracy" system in place in America.
As a libertarian commentator in likes to point out, this country is not a democracy, it is a "republic" which is not based on the idea of one man one vote.

Therefore the feeling of fraud is a feeling that is less a fact than a social fact.. Most people in this country DO feel like something was stolen, I dare say most people in this country are against the policies of pres. Bush;

However the votes of MOST PEOPLE do not count in this political system and never have; the electoral college is the tip of the iceberg; the Republican , Democrat monopoly (duopoly?) , is the fraud.

As I'm sure konw, by dividing the country along simple lines (red/blue) the real diversity of opinion has been reshuffled to become the necessary diversity to maintain control by the existing players.

Had the vote been on War / Peace do you think the election would have gone the same way? Current polls at the time, and current polls today suggest they weren't.

And yet people are quite serious in insisting that the problem was due to alienation of the conservative minds... well maybe; but it wasn't Michael Moore who did it; it was the apathy of the Democrats, in chosing another Skull&Bonesman to highlight the travesty of elections ..

Yes, by all means build a new coalition; but as long as it participates in a game as defined by the current owners of the game you're doomed to fail.

It's when a new game comes aboard that things really change..

Anonymous said...

Election Theft? What election theft?

The observers said they had less access to polls than in Kazakhstan, that the electronic voting had fewer fail-safes than in Venezuela, that the ballots were not so simple as in the Republic of Georgia and that no other country had such a complex national election system.

"To be honest, monitoring elections in Serbia a few months ago was much simpler," said Konrad Olszewski, an election observer stationed in Miami by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Variations in local election law not only make it difficult for election monitors to generalize on a national basis, but also prohibit the observers from entering polling stations at all in some states and counties. Such laws mean that no election observers from the OSCE are in Ohio, a swing state fraught with battles over voter intimidation and other polling issues.

As for electronic voting, Gould said he preferred Venezuela's system over the calculator-sized touchpads in Miami. "Each electronic vote in Venezuela also produces a ticket that voters then drop into a ballot box," Gould said. "Unlike fully electronic systems, this gives a backup that can be used to counter claims of massive fraud."

"In Venezuela we drove around to all the polling stations ahead of time to make sure this didn't happen," Gould said. "Here we consider studying the system more important than looking at actual voting."

- International observers on the U.S. Elections [1]

The 2004 U.S. Elections have had more than 100 complaints of fraud and electoral malpractice cataloged about them on one website alone.[2] Neither side is innocent of malpractice. On the other hand, one side does seem to have been much more systematic with its dirty tricks than the other- and also seems to have been far more effective. As that side also won, this is not going to be unbiassed, but it is going to ignore such petty tricks as trying to convince people to turn up to the election on the wrong day.

If you really want to control the result of an election, there are three basic ways of doing so. The first is to control who votes, on the grounds that turkeys are unlikely to vote for christmas. The second is to influence what they know, but this is a part of standard electoral campaigning (even if often unethical), so I shall not deal with it here (Note: this includes attempts by both sides to convince the other to turn up on the wrong day or at the wrong place). The third is to control who counts the votes, and make independent verification impossible.

"He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past."
- George Orwell, 1984

When designing an electronic voting system, you need it to be secure, so people can't easily vote early and vote often or disenfranchise others. You need it to be transparent, so people can see what is happening with the vote and any mistakes are brought to light. You need there to be a paper trail, so independent recounts are possible in case of serious tampering with the machines.

There is no paper trail with the new American electronic voting systems. All votes from such systems are collected internally, to the point that no one can be certain of who they have voted for.[3] This also makes recounts impossible. No problem if the computer works perfectly (but have you ever used Windows? - which the Diebold voting systems do run [4]). Note that this is actually illegal in Ohio [5] - but Ohio uses the same machines as everyone else.

The system is not transparent. People use the voting machine and then can not be certain their vote was counted, or that it was counted for the right party. The source code is not normally accessible, allowing things to be hidden in the code. [6]

The system is not secure. From a recent report into the electronic voting by members of John Hopkins University, "Our analysis shows that this voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts. ... We show that voters, without any insider privileges, can cast unlimited votes without being detected by any mechanisms within the voting terminal software. Furthermore, we show that even the most serious of our outsider attacks could have been discovered and executed without access to the source code. ... We conclude that this voting system is unsuitable for use in a general election." (emphasis mine). [7]. Although this report only dealt with the single machine for which the source code is accessible, even one of the systems having all the holes indicated in the report is a huge flaw- never mind the possibility of hiding easter-eggs in the code or different code for different areas.


None of the above would be half as serious if the companies running the electronic voting were non-partisan. I could list the donation figures, but a mailing by Walden O'Dell, Diebold's CEO, stated his commitment "to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."[8] (Note: Diebold also runs the electronic voting in Florida - and ran the electronic voting in Florida back in 2000.

Let me get this straight. We have the vote tallying in critical states in each of the last two elections not just in the hands of a partisan, but a partisan who promises to deliver the state to his chosen side. And this is democracy?

Actions speak louder than words anyway. So let's look at the actions. A precinct reporting 4,268 votes for Bush when there were only 638 votes actually cast in that precinct. [9] (The explanation given for voting machines spitting out daft numbers is that they are a warning system when things go wrong [10]. (This, of course, explains why it's the Republican who gets the benifit and why they haven't simply put in an error code). Florida's votes under different voting machines showing significantly different patterns, with the implication that the Optical Scanners were penalising democrats. [11] (Note: this is not proof, and without a paper trail there is unlikely to be proof). 10,000 negative votes to the Democrats in one precinct[12] (something which I believe is supposed to be explained by the above) (and yes, that was the 2,000 election and was in Florida).

So we have a system in which whenever something goes wrong, the error message is a screwy result that favours the republicans rather than a normal error message. Why?

As for actual results, In most cases Exit Polls are considered a highly reliable method of verifying whether the election was fair or rigged- with the correlation between the Exit Poll and the actual results persuading Jimmy Carter to say the Venezualan elections were fair. On the other hand, in many cases (particularly in states with electronic voting) there is an extreme discrepancy between the exit poll and the actual vote count (and no prizes for guessing which way it goes). [13] [14] (Note: Both references here are fairly partisan)

More technical information on the Electronic Voting can be found on Slashdot [15] and [16]

Then there's the other system to prevent people casting their votes: tangling them up in red tape and simply discarding their registration forms. Again, Ohio was the textbook example of this. Two major ways to stop people voting: Firstly when they register and secondly stopping them at the polls. Stopping people at the polls in many cases is simple bureaucratic inefficiency. [17]

Taking things in reverse order, I've dealt with many of the ways of invalidating a ballot above. There were also the Ohio voter challengers,[18] despite being first blocked by the courts [19] (the GOP appealed and got them through) and the fact that it was something that the Repuplican Party had promised it would not do again [20]. Note that this was one of the reasons for the high number of Provisional Votes in Ohio... It is also a good source of voter intimidation.

As for blocking voter registration, methods ranged from saying the paper weight for the registration forms was too light [21] (to be fair, a newspaper tried printing registration forms on its own paper, and it's that that triggered the clampdown), the denial of Provisional Ballots to voters at the wrong polling station [22] (the whole point of a provisional ballot is to check whether someone is legally entitled to vote if they can't prove it). Much in the way of other events, although the quote that to my mind sums it all up is the Republican lawmaker saying the Republicans would fare poorly if they failed to "suppress the Detroit vote."[23] Again, this was not strictly a Republican attitude (see, but it is one thing they seem to have been better at. On the upside, there seems to have been nothing on the scale of the removal of voters from the rolls in Florida in 2000

Still, all this may be enough to add up to a Kerry win in the Electoral college, but is highly unlikely to total the 3.5 million votes he lost the country by. There is also hope: Ralph Nader is challenging the black box voting [24] and the largest ever Freedom of Information request has been filed by Blackboxvoting,org in order to check for fraud. (I won't seriously worry unless that request is refused).

Whatever the case, the result on November the Second sure as hell wasn't clean.

[7] ibid

(Feel free to forward - also this was written on 06/11/04 (UK date) - more has come to light since then...)

Anonymous said...

David, Love your books.. Cannot wait for something like the future they describe to materialise (assuming we dont destroy our environment/oourselves prior to it).

Anyhow, I was hoping to find the RSS (or even better ATOM) feed for your blog.. Anyone know if there is one, and if nor PLEASE PLEASE create a blog somewhere where those are options, because I need to keep up with ya..

Also, I wonder if anyone has ever approached you about making a movie/mmorpg out of the Uplift Saga? I wanna make a MMORPG from it sooooo bad.. Or even just a single player RPG (so that there is more indivudual plot relevance)..

Tony Fisk said...

If you want the RSS for this, or any blogspot, then just append '/atom.xml' to the url address.

If you're using Firefox as a browser, then things are even simpler: just click on the little orange doohickey (a broadcast symbol?) on the bottom right of the display, and a bookmark will be added that keeps track of any new postings.

Checking this takes a couple of seconds.