- It's been all downhill for Howard Dean since he lost
the New Hampshire primary by a significant margin. But, now questions are
being raised about the security of New Hampshire's voting system in the
wake of a recent analysis of the election results. It could add up to nothing,
but it does underscore how easily technology can be used to sabotage the
Only one company, Massachusetts-based LHS Associates, Inc., programs and
services all of New Hampshire's optical (ballot) scanners. Only two manufacturers,
GOP-friendly Diebold and ES&S, provide all of the state's scanning
equipment. And only Microsoft's Excel software tallies the results of all
of those machines. It looks like New Hampshire has put all its eggs in
However, New Hampshire is unusual. Unlike many states that allow ballot-less
voting, in 1995 the New Hampshire legislature passed a law that requires
paper ballots in all elections. Has this law made New Hampshireâs
voting system any more secure? Twenty percent of the ballots are hand-counted,
but 80% are optically scanned - a technology that has a long history of
being highly vulnerable to election fraud, which is documented in various
reports as well as in the book, VoteScam: The Stealing of Democracy.
Recently some people have been asking if the 2004 New Hampshire primary
Martin Bento published online an interesting analysis of New Hampshire's
election results based on the voting systems used.* It's been getting a
lot of attention. According to Bento, Howard Dean lost to John Kerry by
only 1.6% when the ballots were hand-counted, 9.7% when ES&S optical
scanners were used, and 14.7% on Diebold scanners.
That doesn't look good. On the other hand, pre-election and exit polls
do seem to match the election results. Of course, polling organizations
can be as partisan as think tanks, so their accuracy should always be suspect.
The exit poll for the major news networks was done by (Warren) Mitofsky
International and Edison Media Research (on whose board Mitofsky, the "father"
of exit polling, sits). It's really a reconstituted version of the highly
secretive and controversial Voter News Service. Curiously, Mitofsky's exit
polls do not disclose their over-all results. Everything is broken down
into subcategories. The people at Edison told me to ask Kathy Levine of
ABC's World News Tonight for that information. Levine told me that I could
"buy it" from Edison "like the major networks did."
As if I could afford it. Well, there always seems to be something fishy
going on with the networks and their election polls, something that's also
documented in VoteScam.
Moving on. Others point out that geography was the real factor in how the
New Hampshire vote count went down, that the more populated areas where
optical scanners are more often used are closer to Massachusetts (Kerry
Country). Whereas, the rural areas where hand-counts rule are nearer to
Vermont (Dean Country). The problem with that analysis is that it's a 'guess'
at best. The only way to really know for sure is to check the ballots.
But, there seems to be little interest in doing that.
"We don't audit our elections," says New Hampshire's Assistant
Secretary of State Anthony Stevens. Frankly, I don't know a state that
does, although it sounds like a good idea. Stevens contends that the numerous
hand recounts that the state has conducted over the years for contested
elections, serve as a deterrent to machine tampering and ensure that the
machines work properly. But, Stevens admits that he wants to examine the
exit polling data to see if there's anything to Bento's analysis.
That begs the question, why not just check the ballots? Isn't that what
they're there for? Reliance on questionable polling data is no substitute
for examining the hard evidence of how people actually voted. State election
officials say that they have never overturned an election due to a machine
malfunction. But, that doesn't mean that it can't happen. And there are
trillions of dollars at stake in this particular election.
Although New Hampshire law does not provide for audits, "it doesn't
prohibit them either," says Assistant Attorney General Bud Fitch.
Considering the fact that a handful of corporations control the optical
scanners and vote tabulation system in the state, one would think that
election officials would be more vigilant and less trusting.
Voters can't count on any certification process or pre-election testing
to prevent vote fraud. Although touchscreen voting machines (DREs) have
received the bulk of criticism lately, computer security experts are quick
to point out that optical scanners can also be easily rigged to manipulate
votes and remain undetected. Even a specially marked ballot can reprogram
software as it's being scanned. Or, Microsoft's Access or Excel program
could tally the results incorrectly. Off-the-shelf programs are exempt
from any federal guidelines (such as they are) for voting equipment. And
it doesn't help that all the software is proprietary (i.e., a corporate
trade secret), although "open source" software is highly vulnerable
to tampering, as well.
It doesn't take a vast conspiracy to rig an election. Just one person from
LHS or Diebold or ES&S or Microsoft or an election official or some
rouge programmer could rig a large part if not an entire election in New
And if that news isn't bad enough for the security of New Hampshire's current
voting system... the future is in Internet voting, if Republican Governor
Craig Benson has his way. It's the most insecure voting system in the world.
Even the Pentagon canceled their online voting project for this year due
to a scathing report from a panel of computer scientists. But, New Hampshire's
governor is undeterred. The state has joined the National Student/Parent
Mock Election project. Together with America Online (AOL), the nation's
largest internet provider, New Hampshire has joined other states across
the country "to make it possible for participants to cast votes online
from around the world if they wished, foreshadowing the way Americans will
vote in the future," according to the project's website.
I've always viewed the people in New Hampshire as conservative folks who
like to hold government accountable. Yet, from what I can tell, they're
practicing the same faith-based voting that's going on in the rest of this
crazy country. Oh well. There's one thing we can all count on. Questions
will continue to plague American elections as long as voting machines are
part of the process.
* Martin Bento's analysis can be found on the Internet at "livejournal.com/users/explodedview".
- Lynn Landes is one of the nation's leading journalists
on voting technology and democracy issues. She is also the publisher of
<http://www.ecotalk.org/>EcoTalk.org. Lynn is a former news reporter
for <http://www.dutv.org/>DUTV and commentator for the British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC). <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com
/ (215) 629-3553