By Ronnie Dugger, The Nation, August 16, 2004 issue
Back in 1988, Ronnie Dugger wrote an article for The New Yorker, called "Counting Votes" which exposed in great detail the risks of computerized vote counting and the absence of federal voting system oversight at that time. His 1988 article is considered a "must-read" by anyone seeking to understand the history of computers in voting in the U.S.
Dugger now offers another lengthy review of the state of our country's voting systems, this time in The Nation.
The four major election corporations count votes with voting-system source codes. These are kept strictly secret by contract with the local jurisdictions and states using the machines. That secrecy makes it next to impossible for a candidate to examine the source code used to tabulate his or her own contest. In computer jargon a "trapdoor" is an opening in the code through which the program can be corrupted. David Stutsman, an Indiana lawyer whose suits in the 1980s exposed a trapdoor that was being used by the nation's largest election company at that time, puts it well: "The secrecy of the ballot has been turned into the secrecy of the vote count."
According to Dr. David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford, all elections conducted on DREs "are open to question." Challenging those who belittle the danger of fraud, Dill says that with trillions of dollars at stake in the battle for control of Congress and the presidency, potential attackers who might seek to fix elections include "hackers, candidates, zealots, foreign governments and criminal organizations," and "local officials can't stop it."
Last fall during a public talk on "The Voting Machine War" for advanced computer-science students at Stanford, Dill asked, "Why am I always being asked to prove these systems aren't secure? The burden of proof ought to be on the vendor. You ask about the hardware. 'Secret.' The software? 'Secret.' What's the cryptography? 'Can't tell you because that'll compromise the secrecy of the machines.'... Federal testing procedures? 'Secret'! Results of the tests? 'Secret'! Basically we are required to have blind faith."