Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bad News For Cathy Cox?

Cathy Cox, candidate for Georgia Governor, always proudly touts her primary accomplishment as Secretary of State. Following the Florida ballot disaster of 2000, Cox moved quickly to install Diebold electronic touch pad voting machines in Georgia. The machines were installed by the 2002 elections and initial feedback was positive.

The nagging doubt has always been security. Without a paper trail, how could anyone be sure there had been no tampering? There is no doubt the new machines solved problems of undervoting but were all the votes cast as expected?Just fodder for the conspiracy theorists and tin foil hat brigades?

Maybe not.

Elections officials in several states are scrambling to understand and limit the
risk from a "dangerous" security hole found in Diebold Election Systems Inc.'s
ATM-like touch-screen voting machines.

I still believe this is less of an issue than someone will make but surely Cox primary opponent Mark Taylor will use this to go the offense and question her judgment. Only time will tell, if this will be a non- issue or a drag on Cox current momentum.


Anonymous said...

It's already started.

Sara said...

Look what you made them do!

Button Gwinnett said...

People who make such a big deal out of our current election system either are unaware of or simply ignore the problems with Georgia's old way of doing things. 94,000 people didn't have their votes counted in the 2000 presidential election due to all kinds of errors that have become an inescapable reality with 40 year old lever machines and other antiquated technology that is no longer manufactured on a large scale and have parts that are hard and expensive to find. Frankly, some counties were keeping their systems working literally with such accessories as chewing gum, gym clips, and scotch tape. That's not an exaggeration either. That's a fact as reported after extensive research by the bipartisan state election board. And it's not hard to believe considering the sheer amount of complaints filed against individual jurisdictions because of machine failure with the old systems.

The system bought was the best system available at that time. But the industry is rapidly changing and whether or not there is an actual need for a paper trail, people are demanding it and should have it.

People continue to attack the system warning of future stolen elections. But it was only because of Gov. Barnes' expedited time table that Diebold was required to be so involved in the 2002 elections in the first place. Cathy Cox's proposal was to stagger the implementation of the new system so that training would be completed so that each individual county could run their own election independently. She set the goal of having all 159 counties using the same system by the Nov. 2004 election. We lost a full 2 years not because of Cathy, but because of Gov. Barnes' insistance that it happen that way.

At this point, most counties either have trained staff that manage the system from ballot creation to consolidation of votes post-election. If they don't have in-office staff trained to do so, they have local computer experts that free lance in this area to do it. Considering Diebold's high support fees, I doubt there are many, if any, counties still hiring their staff to run any part of their election.

If all of this is true, then elections are as safe in GA as they always have been. Because whatever type of system we have ever used, the same people are still the same ones creating ballots, programming and calibrating machines, collecting vote totals, and consolidating results. And those are the same local people that performed the same functions on the older equipment. If there wasn't a problem then, there doesn't seem to be any reason for a problem now.

There is no perfect system and there never will be. People will still sometimes make human errors despite any amount of poll worker training and public info. sessions and machinery will still break down from time to time.

If some people don't like the system, that's fine. Work against it and support a different system more to your liking. But considering what happened here in Georgia in 2000, it makes no sense to blame Cathy for not sitting on her hands and waiting for the lawsuits to start. As it is, there are several states still using outdated equipment and they're all being sued by citizens groups and voting rights groups because of the errors associated with them. The same thing would be happening here now if the state hadn't made a change.

griftdrift said...

Actually, button, I agree with most of what you say. I probably wasn't clear enough in my post. I support electronic voting and I actually like Cathy Cox.

But working in the software industry, the fact that the only people who have viewed the source code for these machines are Diebold worries me.

We should have electronic voting but the source code should be open. Or at least independant software engineers should be allowed to view it.

It's a rule in software (at least in open source circles) that the only true way to find weakeness is transperancy.

Open the code and I support electronic voting 100%.

Button Gwinnett said...

Oh, don't misunderstand me. My comments are directed at anyone in particular, and certainly not because of the article that you linked. It's more of a general comment about how unaware people seem to be about Georgia's election history, voting fraud, and equipment malfunction. This didn't start with touch screen machines. It's been with us since the first election ever held.

The article questioned machine security. But it also doesn't take into account Georgia election law as it pertains to the safekeeping and security of voting machines. The key to fair elections in Georgia will always lie in the hands of local election officials. I spent 12 years working in elections. And I know that if proper procedures are followed, there is very little chance that free standing machines can be tampered with once they have been loaded with ballot info, tested for logic and accuracy, and safely stored in a secure manner.

As for Diebold itself, they're acting like a greedy pig that's looking to create a monopoly in an industry with unlimited potential that is just being born. But however they make their business decisions, I don't think we can hold that against their clients. We all base our decisions on what we know at the time of the decision and what can be reasonably foreseen.

Most people don't realize this, but you can't just simply enter a bid on voting equipment. The U.S. Dept. of Justice Voting Rights Div. has to give its approval first. And when the bipartisan state election board, headed by Cathy, awarded the contract, Diebold and its equipment had already been certified by federal regulators.