Monday, November 14, 2005

A Pertinent Reminder of How Stark it All Is...

The thing about conspiracies is that - once they pass a certain point - you can no longer count on either whistleblowers OR the FBI to root them out. If 1% of this had happened under CLinton, the radio-hypocrites would have burnt out their antennas. (Note this is trimmed from a missive sent to me by someone generally reliable. Each item originally had four sources which I trimmed to one, for space.)

20 Amazing Facts About Voting in the USA

Did you know....

1. 80% of all votes in America are counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S.

2. There is no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the U.S. voting machine industry.

3. The vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES & S are brothers. 

4. The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

5. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S. He became Senator based on v otes counted by ES&S machines.

6. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee.

7. Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.

8. ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the U.S. and counts almost 60% of all U.S. votes. 

9. Diebold's new touch screen voting machines have no paper trail of any votes. In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters.

10. Diebold also makes ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail.

11. Diebold is based in Ohio.

12. Diebold employed 5 convicted felons as consultants and developers to help write the central compiler computer code that counted 50% of the votes in 30 states.

13. Jeff Dean was Senior Vice-President of Global Election Systems when it was bought by Diebold. Even though he had been convicted of 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree, Jeff Dean was retained as a consultant by Diebold and was largely responsible for programming the optical scanning software now used in most of the United States.

14. Diebold consultant Jeff Dean was convicted of planting back doors in his software and using a "high degree of sophistication" to evade detection over a period of 2 years.

15. None of the international election observers were allowed in the polls in Ohio.

16. California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad. Despite Diebold's claims that the audit logs could not be hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it!

17. 30% of all U.S. votes are carried out on unverifiable touch screen voting machines with no paper trail.

18. All -- not some -- but all the voting machine errors detected and reported in Florida went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates. 

19. The governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush, is the President's brother. 

20. Serious voting anomalies in Florida -- again always favoring Bush -- have been mathematically demonstrated and experts are recommending further investigation.


Anonymous said...

How the hell could you post this with a reference to this.
There was a statistically-absurd election in Ohio last week.

Tony Fisk said...

...and this: The GAO report on the security and reliability of electronic voting systems which states "some of [the] concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes."

And much else besides! Fritakis and Wasserman cover it here.

As you said a year ago: 'and the trend, o Lord!'

As it happens, I think there are definite possibilites in electronic voting (*open* electronic voting).

But not under this pack of back scratchers.

At the risk of sounding indignant (dangerous term here), does anyone care to bet if and when the two term restriction will get removed?

The light's dyin'! Rage!

(Actually, I'd refer you to 'A Force More Powerful' first)

Anonymous said...

Ok sorry I know this should have been in the last blog, but David has moved on and I know this gets a better chance of being read in the if its under the new one. but I have to make a comment on this whole Darwinian debate. First off its not survival of the fittest, that’s just some BS somebody added to Darwin’s thoughts later on. In each big large scale species die off (the dinosaurs are most famous but are only 1 of 20 or more extinction periods) its mostly luck!! Mostly. Like your little group of mammals where grubbing in some deep cave and didn’t get smeared into goo when the massive Yellowstone park volcano blew (equivalent to lets say 50, 100 large size thermonuclear bombs). That’s how that species survived.

And secondly this survival of the fittest for our race line is complete BS. It was those none “fittest” types that have allowed us the life we have today. Ever heard of Ben Franklin and electricity, he is not a “fittest” type, Stephan Hawking another none “fittest” type. Generally take away most of these none “fittest” types that gave us society as we know today and we are back to being subsistence farmers, not living in paradise!!! And don’t give me that “one with nature” or “simple things equal happiness” crap. I was raised on a farm and have lived in rural areas in third world countries and the simple life is not fun!! Your teeth fall out because no-one has invented a toothbrush or toothpaste (there are places that have no idea what these are) or your kid is sick and in pain, because no-ones invented some simple stomach cramp medicine.

It’s the “unfit” types that we need to nurture because they are the only ones that will save us. Take for example a couple of young Canadians scientists. They are overweight nerdy types, very non-survival and they just managed to pass electricity between 2 single molecules, which means somewhere down the road a single power plant will be enough for an entire city!!
for those interested

Sorry a bit of rant, got me worked up!!

Simon Neville

Anonymous said...

@ Simon

Playing Devil's Advocate: being the fittest isn't strictly a matter of your ability to fight wild dingoes bare-knuckled or live off rancid goat-milk for a week. I know the concept you're arguing against... ironically, a lot of Creationists would use the same argument, but it's something of a straw man.

Being the fittest, from an evolutionary standpoint, is about reproduction, about passing on your genes. It could be most precisely, if crudely, described as your ability to get laid.

In that regard, humans have become pretty self-selecting. In an environment in which we can and do keep Stephen Hawking alive, survival is not the biggest challenge you have to overcome to produce offspring.

Anonymous said...

Hawking has three children... I guess he's fitter than me.

Tony Fisk said...

That which survives...

Anonymous said...

Right, so the system responsible for counting our votes isn't just flawed, but corrupt.

Do we then further endorse a system we know to be corrupt by voting?

Or do we cede further control of our political voice(s) to the corrupters by NOT voting?

How did it come to this?

Anonymous said...

Right, so the system responsible for counting our votes isn't just flawed, but corrupt.

Do we then further endorse a system we know to be corrupt by voting?

Or do we cede further control of our political voice(s) to the corrupters by NOT voting?

How did it come to this?

Anonymous said...

LOL actually Palliard I don’t think it is a matter of getting laid and passing your genes on. Thousands of species screwed (well lets say reproduced in their own unique way  ) and still they died off. I would offer an opinion that it had more to do with adaptability than anything else.

A bit calmer, what I’m really trying to say is that whole mode of thought, concept, is done. It no longer exists as a standard for the human species. Case in point (anyone know for a fact) if Stephen Hawking wanted to reproduce in his current status he could so with in-vitro. It has nothing to do with his ability to function or his sperm count or his genes. Science can almost make sure 100% he will father a baby.

For the thousand of years in the history of our species Evolution/Nature have been the sole determiner of the course and survival of our species. That is up until about 50 years ago when we reached a point we could have a say in who was born. At that point Darwins theory became redundant as Evolution no longer was the final determiner

On a side note Evolution is still at work, some scientist predict that if things continue as they are in a couple generations, modern people will have noticeably longer thumbs from things like using cell phones, blackberry’s, and portable play station. All these devices make the need for a longer thumb more important!!

David has been talking about the age of professionals / amateurs and I would offer another name, the age of the specialist. Most people couldn’t grow a crop to save their lives (check out Zimbabwe as an example) most people wouldn’t know how to make electricity, build a house, fix a hardware computer problem, fix a “real” software problem. In modern society we are no longer sustainable as separate entities, as compared to times past when most people/families knew how to grow crops, make candles, build things, and have a trade on the side. So my point is that our society has grown in such a way that we are now a super-organism and totally dependant on each other for survival.

One last point since I have the time and am in the mood, I believe (from a Canadian point of view) that today’s society is about as close to paradise as we are going to get. Generally , I’m just saying generally in case of the working Labourer (the lords have always had it good) life is good. Most have a decent roof over their heads, they are equal under law and free from unjust persecution. Their children have access to affordable education, the family has access to affordable health care, working conditions/hours are reasonable and pay is “generally” enough for food on the table and a little bit extra. So for the average working/labour family life is good in comparison to any time, any society in history for the average labourer family. Well that’s my 4 cents worth today.

Another side note, most Asian cultures look into the past for their “Golden Era” of society and most Western cultures look into the future still waiting for their “Golden Era” to happen.

Simon Neville

David Brin said...

The ranting social darwinists are 90% schoolyard wimps who dream that they woulda been lords if only... but who would be the first served up on the cannibal feast when the New Lords arise. ("Oooh, stringy, but TENDER!")

The remaining 10% are Holnists. I said my piece about them.

Mind you, I'll bet our descendants will make genetic decisions and some of those may seem suspect or creepy to us. Women may decide to modify males (see Glory Season) for example. But that's not our concern. Our concern is providing those kids with a decent open, error-correcting, free and creative and basically ethical society.

See Heinlein's only prescriptive utopia BEYOND THIS HORIZON, and then exclude all the superficial Code Duello gun bullshit. What's left is one of the best ruminations about genetic engineering, till later books, that is.

But no, evolution does not stop. Think about what's causing kids to be born NOW, that we have choice. Some examples.

1. Homosexuals need no longer mask who they are under pretense marriages. Hence their reproductive rates have probably plummeted, despite

2. Every generation of weaponry makes it more lethal to be a temperamentally out of control male (as in the stone age).

3. This is probably driven even faster by substance abuse. I'll wager we are MUCH calmer and less prone to addiction than we were 10,000 years ago, when beer was discovered.

4. All species have a compulsion to do sex... which ensures reproduction. We have separated these two. Hence, mostly it is people who WANT kids that have them. HENCE what is being reinforced is...

... the trait of wanting kids. If this continued 30 generations, humans would WANT kids as much as they currently want sex. See Niven & Pournelle's A MOTE IN GOD'S EYE.

For nonfiction about evolution continuing, see Chris Wills's CHILDREN OF PROMETHEUS.

Anonymous said...

THank you David

Everything I wanted to say, but said so much better.

(comes from being a writer I guess)

Simon Neville

p.s I answer so quickly because it is only 2pm in Thailand here.

Ben Tilly said...

Anyone who believes that Darwin's theory no longer applies to our species either does not understand Darwin's theory or does not understand exponential growth.

I should further note that anyone who confuses evolutionary fitness with any other form of fitness (eg being physically fit or financially successful) clearly does not understand Darwin's theory.

Rob Perkins said...

It has nothing to do with efficiency, or accuracy, or fairness. Well, maybe fairness.

It's simply this: *knowing* (KNOWING!) that any one automation technology is sure to fail, that is, it will fail in a given span of time, no matter what, it's only common brute horse sense that the data managed by that automation be copied in a format which *another* automation, or no automation at all, can read.

IOW, not to have a paper trail in your elections is stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

More stupid, of course, would be carrying out a blatant rig of the '05 Ohio elections, knowing that people who don't trust you are a-gonna sue to get the whole system vetted after they lose.

Even so, David, you're almost declaring guilt by association. Was the Utah Olympics rigged and run by the Mormon Church, because Mitt Romney has friends and family high up in its heirarchy? (as the Salt Lake Tribune claimed, at the time?)

No. It's nonsense. The worry, though, is that your pile of claims is *not* nonsense; this isn't something as harmlessly symbolic as the Olympics, natch.

So we need to have a care that in addition to the correlation apparant by the 20 points there, that there is also a chain of causation provable. Otherwise the sky is falling and ain't noone gonna bother listening.

I'll keep watching...

Anonymous said...

@ Simon

"some scientist predict that if things continue as they are in a couple generations, modern people will have noticeably longer thumbs from things like using cell phones, blackberry’s, and portable play station"

There you're venturing into the territory of learned-vs-inherited behavior. Here's a simple observational trick you can do: the next time you see someone dial his cellphone, watch to see if he dials with his thumb, or his index finger.

People that dial with their thumbs have (primarily) spent years around video games, and are used to doing stuff with their thumbs that people normally don't do in the course of their daily lives.

Unless there's some game out there I don't know about, this capability does not give you a greater chance of having kids. Super Nintendo Thumbs don't seem like a characteristic that currently will be bred true.

The apparent generationality of it is simply due to when and where video games became widely and cheaply available.

David actually is closer to where things are going, I think... reproduction NOW is about whether you want to have kids.

So the pertinent question is... who wants to have kids? Easy answer: who HAS kids?

HarCohen said...

Touch pad voting was not universal in Ohio, thanks mainly to the commissioners in many counties who stood up and said "what the hell?" when Secretary of State Blackwell started imposing deadlines for the introduction of electronic voting equipment.

Peculiarly, I vote with a punch card system here in Ohio, the very same that caused the insistence on the move to electronic voting in the first place. Cuyahoga County (the democratic bastion in which Cleveland is centered) will purchase EVM once we're offerred one that offers a paper trail.

Please keep in mind that a paper trail is one more way that your secret vote will be not so secret any more.

I'll try to keep an eye on Diebold for you. But I've been unemployed for an extended period now and if they offer me a job I'll have to take it.

Rob Perkins said...

A secret ballot system needs a few things in order to work. Among others:

1 -- It must permit only eligible people to vote
2 -- It must not let a person vote two or more times
3 -- It must produce anonymous ballots
4 -- The ballots must clearly show the intent of the voter

It ought to be possible to come up with a hybrid paper-electronic system which eases counting of votes and provides for at least dual redundancy for the data. And I've seen several systems with a paper trail.

I've also voted in areas where all you got was a ginormous panel of buttons, grouped by contest. There was not only no way to get a paper trail out of them, there was also no way to correct a ballot if you pushed the wrong button. And I recall my parents using similar machines in New York State. So it's not unprecedented to not have a paper trail.

Anonymous said...

Is there a term for ignoring something so hard because you fear the consequences? (Think of this in regards to natural selection too.)

You will recall after the elections in 2000 and 2004, news outlets dropped their interest in voting irregularities, it seemed to me, because they were embarrassed to be asking the question. A few people came on and said, "No, it is impossible," and any news outlet that pursued it was labeled as extreme liberal.

Whether or not the rigging really happened, it is a sad state of affairs when news organizations stop investigating something beause they fear being called liberal.

Regarding paper trails and voting machines, there are solutions that prevent vote buying. Here is one I think would work. Print out a receipt for the voter and in an enclosed transparent slot in the machine. The output to the voter is encoded with a public-key encryption so that they can't show it to someone to prove how they voted. The slip behind glass has the encrypted version along with a plain text version, so that you can make sure that it accurately reflects how you voted. If it is contested, you can go back in and decrypt your receipt and election officials would be able to compare it to the offical receipt. You could use a two-key encryption system to preserve your identity until and if a result is contested. There is still a possibility of abuse (i.e. finding out the private key and decoding receipts to pay someone for a vote) but it doesn't require any more security than is currently needed and would seem to prevent wholesale vote tampering.

Transparency and confidentiality together.

Anonymous said...

I've been following the e-voting scandals for some time, and this has been a subject I have written multiple letters to congresscritters, papers, friends, etc.

I've repeatedly said that the only way I would allow electronic voting machines into my district without screaming at the top of my lungs was if the following set of procedures was followed:

1. All voting software must have the source code available to anybody who requests it, including the data files for each election.
2. Before the election, a complete dump of each voting machine's contents is made before the machine is locked up tight by representatives from all political parties involved in the election, in addition to any independents on the ballot who wish to add their own lock, as well as election representatives. All keys are immediately deposited in escrow at a known safe location. Yes, this is a lot of locks. Yes, this is a VERY good idea.
3. Person e-votes.
4. Person receives human-readable printout of vote.
5. Person feeds printout into OCR tabulator, which tabulates the person's votes and stores the printout.
6. After the election, the locks on each box are undone, and a diff is made of the contents of the box from the snapshot made before the election began. If any differences are detected (other than the vote tabulation data itself) the machine is disqualified and the votes are hand-counted.
7. After the e-votes are counted, a random statistically significant portion of the votes are counted by hand. If there is a significant deviation (say, by 1%) from the percentages reached by the e-vote, then the e-vote is discarded, and a hand recount of ALL ballots is performed.
8. A post-election audit of any discrepancies will be performed to determine how any errors crept into the count, and the results will be publicly posted as soon as they are available.

I'm sure there are a few holes in there, but it's a good start.

Anonymous said...

On the evolution of man front:

There is still variability in our species (small though it is compared to other species), and there is still selection pressure, so there will be evolution. We have a lot less isolation now, though, so speciation may not happen. Something that is frequently forgotten is that while evolution makes new species, it does not mean that a whole species evolves into another whole species. Subsets (isolated by geography, behavior, or other factor that restricts cross-breeding) diverge from the parent species. Interesting idea: with humans, I hypothesize that it would be possible for memes to serve in the place of genetic isolation. Perhaps in the future, romantics and modernists will be different species.

Intelligence is not being selected, however. It only takes a small percent advantage in a natural system for a trait to become widespread. People with high intelligence on average have fewer kids. Some days I fear that intelligence is a recent aberration and will be selected out of the species. (e.g. Vonnegut's Galapagos) As Dr. Brin says, what is being selected for is the desire to have many children. Perhaps the future world will be (over)populated by anti-birth control Catholics and Mormons? (Note: not a dig on religion, just on an anti-birth control attitude that seems to go along with the "party line" of certain religions.)

Anyway, in the absence of widespread eugenics, I don't see any reproductive penalties benefitting changes. We may have been evolving towards losing our little toe or appendix or whatever, but in the present day the advantage conferred by slightly less energy overhead is swamped by the plentitude of most of our societies. Interesting idea: human evolution may continue to occur in desperately poor countires, and stop in rich industrialized countries. Perhaps homo novis will speciate in Africa.

"The best place for eugenics to occur is in your past. That way you get the benefits while rightously and correctly condemning your ancestors." (Steve, 2005)

HarCohen said...

"Is there a term for ignoring something so hard because you fear the consequences? (Think of this in regards to natural selection too.)"

Possible Candidates (in no particular order):

1) Enlightened self-interest
2) Ostrich behavior (sticking your head in the sand)
3) Prioritizing
4) Catatonia
5) Coma
6) Tunnel vision
7) Cowardice

Don't forget that folks will also ignore the consequences of failure when taking action, leading to:

Heroes, litterbugs, polluters, fanatics, zealots, and martyrs.

HarCohen said...

One thing we've had in counting ballots is that at least two political parties are represented in the counting.

So while the ballot entry software and hardware needs to be open to examination, each ballot must also be interpretable by each political party's software. That could be anything from Comma Separated Values records to XML.

Encryption isn't required if physical security is maintained. The computers used for auditing ballots should not be networked to anything and operate under a strong trusted OS and administrators with a capital T.

Conversely there has always been voter fraud, its just that the conspiracy can have greater impact with fewer hands at some level.

Ben Tilly said...

If the 2004 election in Ohio was questionable, the 2005 ballot initiatives were simply absurd.


As far as I'm concerned, we officially no longer have a democracy. I doubt less and less Kevin Phillips' prediction that this country is likely to be in civil war around 2015 or so.

Anonymous said...

Up here we manage quite nicely with paper ballots. They are stored until the election results are in and the candidates have decided not to demand a recount. They are counted by hand with volunteers from all the parties present to agree that no fraud has taken place.

Ben Tilly said...

Yes, I know the Canadian system. I've also seen US ballots.

I would not want to count US ballots by hand unless I absolutely had to.

Canadian ballots are simple - who do you want your MP to be? One piece of paper, one question. Easy to count.

US ballots are not simple. On one piece of paper you say who you want for President, Senate, Congress, city council, schoolboard, local elections for judges, whether you like multiple propositions, whether various bonds should be issued, and whatever else manages to get stuffed in there.

In Canada you do not directly vote on as many things, and different questions (eg provincial vs federal government) are handled in different elections, rather than by making each ballot more complex.

This difference is why there is pressure to automate in the USA and not in Canada.

HarCohen said...

Oh, Canada! I thought anonymous was replying from heaven when he said 'Up here'.

@Ben Tilly
That story you linked reads like an epistle for Intelligent Design.

I never got the sense in Cleveland that any of these issues were going to pass. The Ohio Democratic Party did not support them and ignored RON. Local democrats had nothing to say or were opposed. The Republicans were flat out opposed everywhere, as you can imagine.

Here's a Plain Dealer post mortem:

Whatever the Columbus Dispatch might have been saying, the University of Akron called Issues 4 and 5 differently. I will admit to some mystification over Issues 2's defeat. Feel free to come in and start sampling ballots.

I read the official issues several times in the weeks before voting and the more I read, the more questions I had.

If RON or its successor really wants to aid Ohio, it needs to come up with a public school education funding program that makes sense. It's all local property taxes now. The poor districts are desperately underfunded. The rich districts don't want to lose what they've invested. Maybe if all property taxes are frozen while new funding is rolled in.

Now what should we tax when commerce and industry is so hard to preserve here?

Anonymous said...

Ohio Balloting:

1. Of all the people I talked to, the vast majority did not want issues 2-5 to pass. The difference between the projected passage by the media and the actual count doesn't really surprise me, because I think the media is primed with idiots, but that's just my opinion.

2. There were paper copies of my votes produced when I voted in a Diebold machine. I was not given one to take home, however, which was wrongly reported in our local press that we would. Come to think of it, we didn't get a copy of our vote when we voted with cardstock, either.

3. Protect the ballot: blue fingertips. Works for me.

Buckeye Girl

Anonymous said...

Multiple elections per ballot? That explains the stories about people not being able to understand the ballot.

Wouldn't it be simpler to have one ballot per election (even if you vote in multiple elections at the same time)? It would then be a pretty simple matter to sort the ballots by election, and a recount would be simple if there were any claims of a miscount.

Ben Tilly said...

How many trees do you want to kill?

In the main 2004 election I answered over 2 dozen questions. Using an ink ballot that was one piece of paper. I far prefer that to having a stack of ballots to fill out.

Anonymous said...

Also, in my NJ county, we don't use paper ballots or touch screens; we use electromechanical voting machines that look like a scale model of the Wizard of Oz's throne-room control console, complete with curtain. Inside on the front panel are numerous rows of small levers, over which is fitted a big label specific to that election. These things are ancient but still reliable — or at least no one's ever alleged there was machine-tampering, as far back as I can remember.

I don't know how you'd simplify the choices on such machines except by having different machines for each contest or question, and there aren't enough machines for this to be remotely possible. (This year, we were called on to vote for governor, 2 county freeholders, 2 members of state legislature and 2 members of town council, plus 2 statewide ballot questions. And this was an off-year.)

These machines can't last a whole lot longer, but there's been no big discussion as yet about what the county will eventually replace them with; after reading this thread, I'm definitely uneasy about the alternatives.

Admiral said...

Is this a joke?

Chuck HAGEL?! Listen, this guy has never and will never be in the Bush family's pocket. WHat's more is he has been nothing but a truth-telling thorn in Bush's side about Iraq since the beginning. Let's not get too overzealous and start assuming people are bad because of really specious points.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer to this problem is to go low tech. Here in Canada the last elections I've gone to involve physically making an X (or a check, can't remember!) on a physical ballot. They are then physically counted and can be recounted.

Now I understand that the US has a lot more stuff on their ballots (and 10x the population), but I think that this method is probably still best and easiest. It's not slick but it works!

I'm also curious about whether it's even possible to have a Federal agency run elections in the US - don't the states, by design, have authority over elections?

I've never been inately anti-Bush, but those points are quite disturbing! Has a machine ever been seized and reverse engineered or whatever to see if there's dubious functionality or software? Even if you can't decompile the whole thing, you could set some machines up replicating the election environment and then do some test voting and see what pops out.