Investigation will your vote count
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An I-Team 8 Investigation
Part One: Will Your Vote Count?
By Rick Dawson and Loni Smith McKown
An I-Team 8 investigation reveals recent changes in voting technology have raised the risk of fraud and miscounting. The investigation finds serious questions about security and troubling concerns on both how the technology is sold, and who is getting rich on public money. It’s an investigation into the heart and soul of our way of government: your ability to vote.
You can blame all of this on the fiasco of the 2000 presidential election. It prompted the most change since the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. But after billions have been spent we have to ask: will your vote count?
The curtain is closing on the lever machines of yesterday, but new voting technology has new worries.
“It opens the possibility for a very quiet and subtle alteration of the vote nationally, by someone who wished to do that,” said Eugene Spafford, Purdue computer expert. That someone could be an insider or hacker who could electronically rig an election.
Another concern: testing of voting machines isn't tough enough and could miss problems. There's always the possibility of equipment failure.
Ever since the presidential election of 2000 put the words “hanging chad” into the lexicon, states are going high-tech.
One reason Marion County chose optical scan machines is because ballots are saved in case of a recount. “These machines are much more secure and much more tamperproof than old lever machines ever were,” said Doris Anne Sadler, Marion County clerk.
But other technology, like touch-screen machines, has no paper trail.
“There's no way to do the recount. All you have are the numbers. It's not a recount; it's a reread. And there's a significant difference there in the quality of results,” said Spafford.
Programming the Ballot Box
Karen Horseman helped choose Marion County's new machines. But she tells the I-Team she has reservations about the technology. “The companies that program them, who's watching them and what they're doing? Imagine how simple it would be to program a machine to read a ballot a certain way every third precinct,” said Horseman. “Instead of actually stuffing the ballot box, now you program it.”
There is another over-arching concern, and that's money. How much we are paying and who's getting rich?
“No one on this planet knows how much money the federal government ultimately is gonna give us yet,” said Todd Rokita, Indiana secretary of state .
When President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act , it promised almost $4 billion of our federal tax money would be reimbursed to counties buying new equipment. But the I-Team learned we'll only get back about two thirds of our investment.
In all, Indiana counties will spend almost $80 million for equipment purchased from just a few companies. When you multiply that by 50 states, “They're making a lot here. I think they are making a good degree of money,” said Rokita.
Fifty years ago, sales pitches for voting equipment emphasized accuracy and security. They still do. “I think this year you'll see that our entire industry is going to be under the microscope,” said James Ries, president of MicroVote .
Indianapolis-based MicroVote has been making electronic voting machines for about 20 years. The company's president knows this technology has skeptics.
"Leap of Faith"
“It's one of those areas of a leap of faith. That you really do have to have a faith in your local jurisdiction, that they are conducting equitable elections in the best faith of the voters,” said Ries.
Others wonder how much faith we should have in those making the machines. “We have one of every kind of our technology and equipment in here,” said Ken Carbullido, executive of Election Systems and Software (ES&S) .
The I-Team went to Omaha, Nebraska, where ES&S bills itself as the world's largest provider of voting machines. US Senator Chuck Hagel was once president of this company whose machines actually counted many of his Nebraska votes. “Senator Hagel might have had an affiliation some years ago, some role in the company. He's completely out of the operation at all,” said Carbullido.
In fact, the I-Team has learned that the Senate ethics committee found Senator Hagel still has financial ties to ES&S’ parent company, the McCarthy group. The senator's campaign treasurer is the chairman of that company.
Walden O’Dell is the man behind Ohio-based Diebold. The company is more widely known for its ATM machines. In the voting machine business for only two years, Diebold has become a major player.
Last summer O'Dell sent a fund-raising letter to fellow Republicans saying he's "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president."
“Perhaps it was a little irresponsible for these CEO’s or anybody in this kind of business to say something like that,” said Rokita.
But Diebold's money is talking, too. In the last election cycle, together, O’Dell and his company donated more than $100,000 to the Republican National Committee.
Ties That Bind
“When you work with a vendor, you develop a relationship,” said State Representative Kathy Richardson. She should know. Rep. Richardson was the Hamilton County clerk when she began purchasing $1.3 million worth of electronic voting machines from MicroVote. She's still Hamilton County's election administrator and says she plans to purchase an additional $700,000 worth of equipment.
Marion County's new $11.1 million optical-scan equipment was set up by Wendy Orange, a former employee of the Marion County clerk's office. She's now the ES&S project manager, with her office in the election board's warehouse.
The companies don't think that's a conflict. All these years, they've been saying, "trust us."
Companies still have many friends in government. But they have more than a few foes in academia, like Eugene Spafford of Purdue University, one of the nation's leading computer security experts. “This is a system that has the potential to hurt the public's confidence, to hurt some of the elections, and we should not be rushing headlong into adopting it,” he said.
Remember: States rushed to buy new voting machines because the federal government said they had to in time for this year's presidential election. That deadline has since been extended. But because of concerns about accuracy, reliability and security, many counties and even some states are holding off from any further purchases.
The machines are supposed to be tested to make sure they work properly, but I-Team 8 found that testing standards aren't tough enough.
Part Two: Will Your Vote Count? - I-Team 8 put Marion County's voting machines to the test. We also looked at how easily an election could be rigged.
Click here for excerpts from interviews with MicroVote and ES&S executives, plus links to election reform websites.