Electronic Voting: Can It Work?

Not content to accept the results of the elections – even after the Kerry Campaign recognized the numbers just aren’t there – the Left in this country is now attempting to argue that massive voter fraud occurred everywhere in such numbers that (you guessed it) Bush didn’t win “this time either.” The primary focus of their efforts regards the electronic voting systems in use in a variety of locations around the country and the security/veracity of such systems.

Excellent points.

As I have read it over the last several months, there are a number of such systems made and used around the country. Diebold appears to be the biggie here, but that’s just my take on it based on the stories I read. Now, before I get started, I want to make a couple of things clear. First, foremost: I accept the results of the election and I recognize George Bush as President of the United States. Nothing so far put out here suggests problems of such a magnitude as to overturn the results of the election. I believe that people who are still striving to that end are wasting their time and the time of the majority of voting citizenry who elected President Bush. I further believe that if they contend to be members of this democracy, they should accept the will of the democracy and start bending some of this effort they’re expending to meeting the stated goals of the democracy. Time will come that their side is the winning side in an election and they will be expecting those of us who prevailed in this election to do the same.

Secondly, I’m a network engineer whose specialty is designing and implementing computer networks that provide services in a redundantly robust fashion and protect the data transported from both interception and loss of integrity. That’s my day job. I make networks that are there when people need them and slam 5-foot thick iron doors in the face of people not authorized to use them. While it feels strange to actually say this, I’m an expert in the field and recognized as such by a number of folks in departments of the government for whom that kind of talent is a requirement. I am qualified to speak on the topic of electronic voting systems and the security features they have.

So whose bright idea was it to make a system that isn’t logging an audit trail? Diebold’s system does not have a hardcopy feature in place. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Sneakers”, you’ve seen such a device even if you didn’t recognize it. When the Sneakers team is working to enter a secure building, they have to swipe an ID card over a reader to get through several doors. Every time such a swipe is made, a printer at the guard station prints off a line or two indicating who just entered and what door they passed. That’s a hardcopy audit device. That’s there so forensics can follow the trail of who entered what door and when even in the event of a total computer failure. Does that sound like a good idea for a national voting system? I think so. And before anyone tells me that this isn’t really used today – I pass by 3 of them on my way to my desk every morning.

I read somewhere (and I wish I could find it now) that Deibold’s engineers said they didn’t have one because they couldn’t couple a printer to their system. Bullcrap. It’s an output device that accepts a text stream, just like the modems they found a way to hook onto their devices. They can still find serial printers, too, so don’t try that one. Hey, you can even make it interactive, if you like, and run the paper through a plastic window like they do with cash register tapes at the mall. That allows someone to read what’s been printed. In this instance, that would allow a voter to vote, look over at the tape, and verify that what they voted was what the machine printed. It would, in fact, slow the line down a bit but is that really an issue? That’s solvable by deploying more voting machines.

Speaking of modems, let’s talk about data collection. (Briefly, these stories make it sound like the voting machines are individually hooked to modems with a dial-up line connected. Some stories even make it sound like these modems will actually answer the line if someone dials into it. That’s an amateur mistake, if true) I would suggest that every voting location collect all the data from their day’s voting onto a local storage device, even something like a removable hard drive. With that caveat, you can then hook the voting locations up to data circuits to stream the data into a central collection point for the county. The county stores it locally, again, and then streams their collected data up to the State. Run the tally and announce the results. All the paper trails and storage devices are carried to their upline collection points and eventually all of them arrive at some State-level facility to be kept for a period of time – perhaps 2 years.

The most secure method to do that, of course, is point-to-point data circuits between the locations. That’s also hideously expensive. Personally, I’d run encrypted tunnels from each site across the Internet. Yes, yes, I know. Hear me out. Nearly every voting location I’ve been to is at a school or county building. Virtually all of them already have Internet circuits there, so there’s no install/disconnect cycle to go through. Connect to the local Internet circuit with a router capable of creating the encrypted tunnels to the collection points and allow the data to pass through them. If that’s not secure enough for you, put a hardware encryption device – something that can’t be hacked via software – in line between the voting machines and the new router. The voting machines’ data is encrypted, passed to the router who encrypts it again and sends it out the tunnel. The opposite end reverses the process and the data comes into the clear. It can be done.

The voting systems themselves should run software coded specifically for that device. In short, the application should wake up, take a look around, and determine whether it’s running in a voting machine or something else. If it’s “something else”, then the application should terminate. If possible, it should be running in an operating environment specifically created for it and no other. In other words, they shouldn’t be running Windows 98, if you catch my meaning. Frankly, the only publicly-available operating system with the security needed for the job is BSD. Various flavors of Linux, perhaps, but not all. And absolutely no Microsoft product of any kind need apply. Create one interface for the local election worker to verify that a newly fired-up machine has no votes already on it and that it’s correctly communicating on the local network. Create another for the actual voting screen and you’re done. All the serious addition and reporting capability can be handled at the central collection point.

Anyone that has concerns beyond what I’ve already addressed I welcome you to comment. I don’t suppose that I’ve already got all the answers regarding the system requirements for this kind of job, and that’s the important part of designing the system. Feel free to join in.

(Please note, I mean “join in” as regards finding a solution for electronic voting that works, not for tossing out more unsupported accusations of voter fraud in the last election. Plenty of that going on elsewhere.)

Time To Put Ohio Behind Us

It appears that a hugely increased percentage of provisional ballots cast in Ohio are being declared valid – about 81% of those examined. That’s way, way up from the norm of 25% previously reported. Should that be the case across the state (and it would be an unprecedented level, to be sure) then 125,823 ballots will be accepted and counted. Even if we assume the nearly impossible and just say that all 125K+ votes are for Kerry, he’s still just over 10,000 votes behind. Far more likely would be an outcome that roughly mirrored the State’s election tally, which had 51% voting for Bush, 48% for Kerry. That puts Kerry’s take of these ballots at 60,395. Still over 75K behind President Bush’s totals, and let’s not forget that his total would then be raised by 64,170 votes as well. Doing the math, 136,000 – 60,395 (new votes for Kerry) = Bush’s lead at 75,605 votes; 75,605 + 64,170 (new votes for Bush) = Bush’s lead at 139,775 votes. So what would it take to call Ohio for Kerry?

It would take the number of valid provisional ballots to get up to 88%, an increase of 7% over current levels. And Kerry has to win them all. Remember, if Kerry only takes 48% of the ballots, there’s no way he can win. If he flip-flopped the percentages (pardon the term) and took 51% of the ballots instead of 48%, he could theoretically catch up. But only if there are 4,533,334 ballots. The math simply doesn’t work. Bush won Ohio and it doesn’t matter how you slice it. With Ohio out of Kerry’s grasp, he could not – and can not – win the election. The election is decided and it’s time for those who are saying Kerry really won to (pardon the term) move on. Better yet, join with your countrymen and work toward our democracy’s decided goals. Make your case again in 3 years and come up with better arguments. That’s the only way you can win.

John O’Neill: Courage Under Fire

Swift Boat Vet John O’Neill has had to endure some of the most vicious attacks of the most biased of alleged “professional journalists” in the past year. Finally, an article in the Chicago Sun-Times gives the man the credit and fair handling he’s been due.

:::::::: Of all the targets of vitriol and attempted ambushes during the presidential campaign, I most admired John O’Neill of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for his calm determination to stand his ground on his charges against John Kerry’s Vietnam service in Unfit for Command, the book he co-authored.

O’Neill was called a ”liar” to his face on a number of TV appearances, and, on an Oct. 14 ”Nightline,” ABC-TV’s Ted Koppel actually sent a crew to Vietnam to film alleged eyewitnesses in order to disprove one of the accounts — how Kerry won his Silver Star — in Unfit for Command. Casually, ABC news director Andrew Morse mentioned that ”the Vietnamese require an official minder to accompany journalists on reporting trips.” The minder-censor from the Communist totalitarian state was there to ensure that the ”eyewitnesses” stuck to the government script.

On camera, O’Neill told Koppel: ”You went to a country where all the elections are 100 percent elections, and you relied on people that were enemies of the United States” for this “testimony.” O’Neill repeatedly showed Koppel how the supposed eyewitnesses contradicted Kerry’s own accounts in the past.

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O’Neill is owed an apology – in prime time with advance advertising – by almost every news organization that reported on him during the election. The actions taken against him are beyond justifying and some nearly defy belief. When the rest of the media can be honest about things, they should begin healing their wrecked credibility by apologizing to this man who calmly stood his ground.

French Diplomacy Strikes Again

Noted at LGF, French President Chirac manages to look down his nose at America again:

:::::::: “Well, Britain gave its support but I did not see much in return,” Chirac was quoted as saying in the Times. “I am not sure that it is in the nature of our American friends at the moment to return favors systematically.” ::::::::

Yeah, we like that a lot. When Britain allied themselves with us against terrorism, they did it because it was the right thing to do for British citizens as well as American. What we’ve done together is the right thing for Afghan and Iraqi citizens as well. Chirac seems to be working specifically to keep the relations between America and France chilly as possible. I get it that he doesn’t agree with what we’re doing – he’s made that abundantly clear. It’s unnecessary and, in fact, provocative to “get personal” by impugning America’s committment to her allies in this Coalition. It’s just a bit too obvious an attempt at driving a wedge between us and the Brits and makes it hard not to look upon the French as hostile.

Afghanistan: Still Improving

The media lost all interest in Afghanistan when it became clear that the US-led coalition there had delivered on pretty much all the promises made. And after the elections were completed in good order, they really decided to ignore the place. Thankfully Aussie blogger Chrenkoff hasn’t let up and offers his 6th episode of good things from Afghanistan. I’d pull quotes from his story, but there’s way, way too much there and it’s all important. Definitely worth a read.

Illegal Immigrant Issue

I’ve been thinking a great deal about a number of political issues lately, since well before the elections. One of them that I find myself absolutely on the other side of the fence from the President is the issue of illegal immigrants in this country. Let me state this very clearly right off the bat: I am adamantly opposed to any program being implemented that would allow someone who illegally penetrated this country’s borders to remain here, let alone be granted citizenship.

From a security standpoint, it makes no sense to simply shrug off the concept that we don’t know who is here from a foreign country. All the efforts we’re going through to secure the airlines and all the wailing during the election of how we don’t search every imported can of beans in every shipping container are useless if we don’t secure the borders. That means that we don’t allow people to enter illegally and when someone does, they don’t stay. Period.

I know people who came here legally. The rigorous process we make them go through to even get a green card, let alone become a citizen, takes years to complete. It is not fair, in any consideration, to make those people who follow the rules wait years and then allow someone who flipped those rules the finger to stay. They get to have the same status immediately. That’s not right, and I don’t care what economic reasons you stack up against that realization. If they want to come here to work, great. I applaud that. But they do it by following the same rules every other immigrant has had to follow.

So, what do we do with all those that are here now? We do exactly what our laws say we’re supposed to do. We arrest them and deport them. I have no problem with them coming back, so long as they do it within the normal channels. Oh, and if we had to hunt them down to get them back to their own country, that information should absolutely be kept on file. Just as those who voluntarily put themselves into the system should be commended and assisted where we can.

I’ve heard all the arguments about how we need these workers to do jobs “that whites won’t do.” I don’t concede that whites won’t do those jobs but what concerns me more is the part of that argument that’s always left unspoken: that whites won’t do the jobs at the pay being given to the illegal immigrants. And I say if there are businesses that can’t make it without paying the sub-minimum wages they can get away with by employing illegals, then that business shouldn’t be in business.

Amnesty, in the sense being discussed here, is a bad idea. It rewards criminal behavior and provides zero incentive to come into this country through the front door. It shouldn’t be done.