Diebold vs. Democracy

Coming a little late to the Diebold/Swarthmore story, but I think it’s an important enough issue that can benefit from as many voices as possible being added to the mix. Students at Swarthmore are being denied university Internet privileges for doing what I’m about to do: linking to Why War?’s archive of internal Diebold memos and e-mails. Diebold is handing out court orders left and right to get sites hosting these fairly incriminating documents — which detail the pattern of mismanagement, fraud, and downright contempt for the electoral process and the very idea of a free and fair election — and Swarthmore’s administration has caved to their demands, shutting down sites and penalizing their owners for even linking to Why War?

The material Why War? has posted is scary stuff. Take a look at the highlights on the front page — there’s more just like it in the rest of the archive. In Why War?’s words:

We have in our possession the internal memoranda of Diebold Elections Systems, the company in charge of the electronic voting machines in 37 states, and we intend to share them. These memos prove that Diebold knowingly produced an electronic election system that contained absolutely no security against voter fraud. In fact, the lead engineer from Diebold wrote over two years ago that anyone could change votes without leaving a trail: “Right now you can open GEMS’ .mdb file with MS-Access, and alter its contents. That includes the audit log.” GEMS stands for Global Election Management System and is the central computer in each county on which the votes are stored after the election.

What is perhaps scarier than the incompetence and disregard for accurate vote-tallying expressed in these archives is the very fact that Why War? got hold of them in the first place. Any security expert worth half a damn will tell you that the most unsecure part of any security system is the people who use and operate it. Major security breaches almost always involve an insider, someone with expert, first-hand knowledge of the system. Someone like whoever leaked these materials to Why War? or Why War?’s source. If Diebold can’t even keep its own dirty laundry private, how can we trust them to keep a secret ballot secret?

This leak calls into question the whole idea of computerized voting — although fraud was and is possible with paper ballots, the decentralization of the system and the difficulty of changing or forging enough physical ballots to affect any major election made vote tampering difficult enough that we could be fairly confident in the results we got. Computerized voting — especially Diebold’s method, which relies on notoriously unsecure Windows-based software like MS Access — makes vote tampering significantly easier to accomplish, and significantly more difficult to detect and prosecute. Effectively, what once required a massive conspiracy will, in the dawning Diebold Era, be accomplished much more easily by 15 year old “script kiddies”.

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