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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Will my Vote Count?

Maybe. If you voted on an electronic voting machine, it is possible that your vote did not count. Stories about voter fraud in the USA are nothing new. Voters have been disenfranchised ever since the process began. Electronic voting machines can make hijacking an election even easier especially if there is no paper trail. Without a paper trail, there cannot be a recount.

There are many ways that electronic voting machines can be manipulated. Someone can hack into the system which tallies the votes and change the outcome. The change does not have to be drastic. In most cases a 1% to 2% switch in votes is more than adequate and most likely will go undetected. Another technique is to manipulate the electronic voting machine software. This would most likely be done by the manufacturer. The software can be changed so that candidate A will always maintain 1% lead over candidate B. It is also possible to switch the votes at a predetermined time. In short there exists and infinite number of algorithms for tackling this task with varying degrees of complexity.

There is no way to determine if the electronic voting machines are working correctly. The manufacturers have refused to publish their code and hardware design. Since these companies belong to the private sector, most likely they won't have to do it.

It is not unimaginable to assume that some of these companies have a vested interest in who wins in an election. Mother Jones Magazine had an article on Diebold who manufactures many of these electronic voting machines. The next paragraph is taken from that article.

In recent years, central Ohio has been transformed from a bastion of Republicanism into a Democratic stronghold. Six of Columbus' seven city council members are Democrats, as is the city's mayor, Michael Coleman. But no Democrat has been elected to Congress from central Ohio in more than 20 years, and the area around Columbus still includes pockets where no Democrat stands a chance. One such Republican pocket is Upper Arlington, the Columbus suburb that is home to Walden "Wally" O'Dell, the chairman of the board and chief executive of Diebold. For years, O'Dell has given generously to Republican candidates. Last September, he held a packed $1,000-per-head GOP fundraiser at his 10,800-square-foot mansion. He has been feted as a guest at President Bush's Texas ranch, joining a cadre of "Pioneers and Rangers" who have pledged to raise more than $100,000 for the Bush reelection campaign. Most memorably, O'Dell last fall penned a letter pledging his commitment "to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President."

From his own statements, it does sound like Diebold had a vested interest in who won the 2004 election. Rest assured that central Ohio was not the only instance where voter fraud may have taken place in 2004. There were many cases which include: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Hampshire. Pretty much anywhere the exit polls differed drastically from election results, fraud may have occurred. Traditionally, exit polls are very accurate in predicting the election outcome. The odds of the exit polls not matching the results are highly unlikely.

Luckily the non profits: Black Box Voting and Verified Voting have investigated and documented many of these instances of voter fraud in 2004. Their work is far from done. Proving fraud existed is just one of the many steps. The next steps involve educating the public, proposing a change, and lobbying for change. Their proposal might be to eliminate all electronic voting machines and vote tallying machines. The votes will have to be counted and verified by hand. The only drawback to the American people is that we will have to wait until the morning to find out who won. If that's the price we need to pay to have faith in our voting system, then so be it. I believe our democracy is much too important to rely on a machine that may or may not have been manipulated.

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