Friday, January 11, 2008

"Hacking Democracy"

I just finished watching the HBO Documentary, Hacking Democracy. And, let me tell you, this video really made me wonder if our votes really count anymore. The video's premise is this: Do our votes really count? Are they being manipulated to sway elections in one direction or another? The voting machines themselves are owned by private companies that do not even allow those in charge of elections to understand the technology. They are supposed to be secretive, and only to be repaired and managed by the private companies. Yet, in this documentary, a number of individuals easily obtain program data from one of the larger corporations - Diebold. Diebold is harshly criticized for its negligence and conservative favoritism. Yet, as only the truly corrupt can do - it is not removed from its voting contract! Only the flawed machines were banned. The corruption within Diebold was scolded publicly, but embraced out of the spotlight. 

There are a variety of voting issues raised in this documentary. For instance, in areas with struggling economy and lower class citizens, very few polling machines were even given to them. One or two machines were expected to handle hundreds of voters, standing out in the rain for hours. This negligence is an issue all to itself. 

As a final blow to Diebold, a number of computer scientists manipulate Diebold electronics to rig a test election. The question was a matter of whether or not it could be hacked, and whether or not the hack could be detected.  Sure enough, it was successfully hacked, and sure enough, the hack was not detected! Diebold insisted that this was because it wasn't tested by their own technicians. Fortunately, this excuse does not hold sway, as a growing number of scholars and computer scientists have confirmed Diebold's nearly pathetic lack of security. This raises the very disturbing question for many citizens: How much do our votes count? In the 2004 presidential election, one district even managed to get negative votes! After a thorough analysis, it was determined that this was a very unusual problem that had never occurred before, and could only occur if someone was deliberately attempting to manipulate the votes. What's going on here? As a partial nihilist (I admit sometimes I really am), I'd say that this is nothing new. We know the government is corrupt, we know many Americans don't vote anymore, so is it such a surprise that private interests have begun to become more important than public?

Bringing this topic to the current presidential race, Kucinich has asked for a recount:

 Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, the most outspoken advocate in the Presidential field and in Congress for election integrity, paper-ballot elections, and campaign finance reform, has sent a letter to the New Hampshire Secretary of State asking for a recount of Tuesday's election because of "unexplained disparities between hand-counted ballots and machine-counted ballots."

Quoted on the issue, Kucinich says,

"I am not making this request in the expectation that a recount will significantly affect the number of votes that were cast on my behalf... Serious and credible reports, allegations, and rumors have surfaced in the past few days... It is imperative that these questions be addressed in the interests of public confidence in the integrity of the election process and the election machinery - not just in New Hampshire, but in every other state that conducts a primary election."

Kucinich raises a critical point that I feel may fall on deaf ears. The goals of those interest groups, those government officials are set and charged. They have their eyes on the prize, sitting comfortably in subtle thrones of power. Why would they want to give up their cushioned thrones of bureaucracy? This is something that the American people will need to continually keep tabs on, and consistently battle over. It's a fact of life that powers corrupts, no? It's something we all crave, yet I hope that our nation has not completely lost power in its ability to do checks and balances.

For anyone who's interested, here is an article describing Diebolds machines and elections:

You can watch the documentary in full here: HBO: Hacking Democracy

Or in parts 1-9, here: Hacking Democracy 1 of 9


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