Suspicions About New Electronic Voting Machines

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 14, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Talk about fishy. Just wait until the next election. A lot of folks will be holding their noses around the new electronic voting machines (search). There's already a stench of suspicion surrounding some of last year's elections which used touch-screen machines made by Diebold (search). They may have been tampered with after they were certified.

David Allen is co-author of Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century. Mr. Allen, that is today's big question. Were electronic voting machines suspect in the Georgia elections?

DAVID ALLEN, AUTHOR, BLACK BOX VOTING: Well, certainly that's the question. And the problem with the way the touch-screen voting machines are constructed and how they function, it's a question which unfortunately we can't answer. We can ask lots of questions. We can have lots of suspicions, but since there is no paper trail, there is no paper ballot to fall back on, there is no way to validate what went into the machines.

GIBSON: Okay, let's talk about what we think was smelly. What we think was smelly was that in the governor's race, the polling was turned on its head by the results of the election. In the Senate race, the polling was turned on its head by the results of the election.

And, also, lastly, I guess, it turns out that Diebold was doing what's called an electronic patch of the machines, having to do with the software that runs the electronic touch-screen voting machines after those machines were certified as ready for the voters. What was that? How did that happen?

ALLEN: Absolutely. Well, according to… one of the technicians who was working on the machines, getting them deployed in Georgia, these patches were handed down because when they unloaded them from the truck and began using them, they were having problems with them freezing up, with them not booting up, with them not functioning at all.

So, they kept patching trying to find out what exactly the problem was in order to get the machines that are functional. Now, the software is supposed to be certified by an independent testing authority, who say the code is OK, everything's fine. There's no shenanigans or funny business going on in the code. Once they're certified, it's for that specific version and any changes have to be approved by the ITA…

They have to certify the patch before it's applied. Because when you patch a machine, you make a change to the code and you can introduce new errors that you didn't foresee, and these can cause problems.

GIBSON: Now, here's the wrinkle, though, the real wrinkle is there's no separate paper trail on the voting that went into that machine.

ALLEN: Right.

GIBSON: You're asked to accept the data that's in the hard drive or the magic card or whatever it is and that's it. There's no way to double-check it. Right?

ALLEN: You have to accept what is in there. I call it faith-based voting, because you have to have faith that your vote — when you touch the screen and say, “Cast my vote,” there's nothing you see that happens that can assure you that your vote has been recorded correctly. And, you know, the major thing — or the big bugaboo everybody talks about is somebody rigging an election.

And that's certainly a possibility. It's more glamorous to think about people, specifically a conspiracy, supporting one candidate over another. And that's interesting, but the real threat is just simple computer bugs, the typical software snafus and glitches that occur that could result in the tally being wrong, that could change the outcome of an election. And anybody who ...

GIBSON: One of the stories I was reading about this today came from the hotly anti-American Independent out of London… they were suggesting that Diebold was trying to put the fix in for the Republicans, that they were Republican contributors, and that they did these things to make sure the Republicans won in Georgia and the Democrats got beat. Did you find any evidence of that?

ALLEN: I haven't seen any evidence of a conspiracy or anyone rigging the elections. All I'm concerned about — I was a computer professional for a number of years before I went into publishing, and I know what the computers are capable of and I know what they are not capable of. I know mistakes and errors can happen. So, I feel the greatest threat to the vote not being counted correctly would be simple malfunctions. And before we went into the Georgia election in 2002, these machines were having a terrible time running.

GIBSON: David Allen, Black Box Voting: Ballot Hampering in the 21st Century. David, thanks very much. Appreciate.

ALLEN: You're very welcome.

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