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The hidden danger of ‘Black Box Voting’ machines

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There’s been a lot of discussion on blogs recently about the new touchscreen voting machines (sometimes called “black boxes”) that are being purchased by states eager to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002. An article in the Independent (UK) earlier this week offered an overview of some of the allegations and concerns raised by these new voting systems, and Wired is running a story alleging that patches were applied to the system before last year’s Georgia elections, but that the machines were never recertified after the changes were made, something that should have been done, according to election laws.

I’m not really in a position to get into a serious discussion how much of a threat there may or may not be from the reported security problems with the machines or the concerns that there may be something of a conspiracy afoot to use them to help ensure Republican victories. Most of what I’ve read has been from the BlackBoxVoting site – a site who’s sole purpose is to raise awareness of the potential threat to democracy that the operators believe these machines present, but I’ve not found much offering any other side to the story.

Still, there are solid reasons to be concerned about these machines. They leave no paper trail and there’s no way to verify that the votes recorded are actually the votes that were cast. There are extensive security concerns about the machines – many of them listed in a report done by testers at John Hopkins (file is in .pdf format) – that, if left uncorrected, could leave the machines vulnerable to tampering both locally and from a remote location. On top of that many of the executives working for or otherwise associated with the firms designing and marketing these machines are staunch supporters of the Republican party. Walden O’Dell, the chief executive of Diebold has – in a fund-raising letter recently sent to Republicans in Ohio – made a promise to “deliver” that state’s electoral votes to Bush. Additionally, US Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) holds an ownership interest in ES&S, another firm that makes these machines.

There’s another danger, though, posed by these machines, that I’ve not yet seen widely discussed – and in my opinion, it’s the most dangerous one of all. In comments on several threads I’ve read about the black box voting machines, I’ve noticed a number of people saying that with these new machines being so vulnerable to tampering and with the companies that make them so firmly in the Republicans’ pockets, they feel like there’s no point at all to voting next year. The Republicans are going to win, these people figure, so their vote won’t matter – especially since there’s a good chance that their vote won’t even be counted correctly by the machines.

What I find really ironic is that, the way things are going right now, the Republicans and their supporters in the election-machine industry may not have to do a thing if they want to win. The more alarmist stories that are published, with bold headlines shouting that the next election is already rigged, the more dispair I see in the comments being posted in response. By offering little or no defence to the charges, giving few answers to the questions being asked and paying minimal attention to the concerns being raised, all that’s being heard are the voices of doom, telling us that the fix is in. But if we buy into that mentality – if we let the frustration, cynicism and anger we feel silence our voices – then the Republicans will win. They won’t have to use any dirty tricks or try to manipulate the data. They’ll win by default.

Like I said, there’s plenty of reason to be concerned, and any problems that are found must be fixed – but we can’t let the concerns get us down. If we do, then it won’t matter if every single vote in every single district in every single state across the country is registered accurately and counted correctly. We will have defeated ourselves.

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