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Our duty in the voting booth is a sacred one even in good times. The gravity of our task is multiplied many times when we're sending our loved ones into the paths of bombs and bullets, and when national and global financial systems are collapsing. For that reason, the trust we place in our voting systems must be absolute.
We cannot say for certain the systems we're using today are accurately recording our votes. We have no evidence to suggest the MicroVote touch-screen machines purchased for Perry County several years ago have betrayed us. Similar machines elsewhere, however, have demonstrated problems that give us reason to worry.
Early voters in Tennessee and West Virginia this year have reported their votes were flipped from their candidates to others.
"This is something that we saw in at least 11 states in the 2004 election," said Mark Crispin Miller during an interview Wednesday on the Democracy Now news program, "hundreds and hundreds of people coming forward to say, 'I pushed the button for Kerry, and the button for Bush lit up.' So, clearly, this was a systematic programming decision by the people in charge of the machines."
Miller is a professor of media culture and communication at New York University and the author of several books, most recently "Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008." He also authored "Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why They'll Steal the Next One Too."
Like this one, counties throughout the nation bought electronic voting equipment after being convinced by state voting officials they had to under the Help America Vote Act. Evidence has surfaced ever since then that ought to have driven thorough, nationwide examinations of the machines.
In addition to vote flipping, problems have included lost votes, high "undervote" rates, failures to register votes when a ballot contained only one question, some votes counted twice and other irregularities.
The possibility the machines may simply be inadequate is a serious problem, but evidence suggests evil intent may have been built into at least some of them. An article headlined "The Top 21 Tech Screw-ups of 2006" in PC World magazine ranked at No. 3 "a previously unknown backdoor in Diebold's AccuVote-TS touch-screen voting machines that could allow an attacker to manipulate votes, cause malfunctions, or create a 'voting virus' that spreads from machine to machine - all in under a minute and with little fear of detection. Meanwhile, Princeton researchers found that Diebold's touch-screen machines could be opened with the same kind of key used for hotel mini-bars, offering easy access to the machine's memory card."
According to Ed Felten, writing at http://freedom-to-tinker.com, the same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment and jukeboxes "It's a standard part, and like most standard parts it's easily purchased on the Internet," he wrote. "We bought several keys from an office-furniture key shop - they open the voting machine, too. We ordered another key on eBay from a jukebox-supply shop. The keys can be purchased from many online merchants."
We are amazed that America has allowed what could very well be the wholesale compromise of systems through which we exercise our most important right. At this point in this election season, all we can do is use the systems carefully and remain alert for problems as we each register our opinions on who should next lead this country.
Beyond this election, we can press our legislators to enact laws requiring voter-verified paper records of our ballot choices and mandatory manual audits in randomly selected precincts to spot-check the tallies.
These steps are the eternal vigilance which is the cost of freedom, and are the duty of every American.
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