Friday, November 02, 2012

You Can't "Tweak" a Liar; Fraud in Early Voting

I'm not inclined to shout "I told you so," when I am right about something that otherwise is not believed by other people, but in this case ... well, read for yourself.

I am referring here to columns I have written going back four years noting the ease with which electronic vote counting machines can be manipulated, primarily through pre-programming the desired results so it really doesn’t matter how many people vote or for whom.

Now we find out that early voters in North Carolina, Ohio and Nevada who are choosing Mitt Romney are seeing their votes registered for Barack Obama! But elections officials and even some in the media are ho-humming the situation and acting as though voter fraud is business as usual. Well maybe they are right, but they shouldn’t be!

An Ohio elections official who must have received his information technology degree from the Fly-by-Night University of Flippancy even claimed there is no way to pre-program computers to register a vote for anyone other than the intended recipient. I guess he is the same guy who put a stake in the American space program on the belief that we never got anything worthwhile from either the research or the exploration!

Not to be outdone in the stupidity race an elections official in North Carolina said it is no big deal, machine malfunctions happen all the time and the voting machine merely need to be "tweaked."

Tweaked my rear end! Wouldn't you love to vote in that district? These are computerized voting machines and they do exactly what they are programmed to do. If these machines register votes for Obama even though people are trying to vote for Romney it is because they are wired that way and have been since before they were set up for this election.

Years ago, before I became a journalist and writer I spent nearly a decade in the electronics field, first as an avionics technician on Marine Corps helicopters, then after serving in the Marines I went back to college and earned a degree in electrical engineering. My engineering course load included computer programming, and in addition to my time in the Marines I spent a few years in the defense industry before going back to school and earning my English literature degree.

I realize that was a long time ago and when I was in the electrical engineering program I studied Fortran – Formula Translating system – which is used in engineering as opposed to COBOL COmmon Business-Oriented Language, which is used in business and finance. Both preceded Microsoft with its MS-DOS and were way before the rise of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Apple, or personal computers, but there are still some very basic concepts that haven't changed even with the advent of Artificial Intelligence.

Computers still do what humans program them to do and the claim that a machine which registers a vote for a candidate other than the one selected by the voter is just a matter of the computer being out of adjustment and needing "tweaking" is absurd. What those machines need is to be reprogrammed to do what the voters intend them to do; record each vote for the right person and nothing else.

Going back to 2008 I wrote about some of the ways that electronic voting machines can be manipulated – basically by writing code in the software that gives the desired result. It can be as simple as changing the number of votes cast to reflect a higher turnout than really occurred, or it can be what voters in Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio are experiencing – casting votes for Mitt Romney and seeing them counted for Barack Obama.

I guess it goes without saying that election officials in a precinct where voting machines are known to 'malfunction' on a regular basis, are not going to be in a big hurry to find out exactly what is wrong with those machines or correct the problem. At least, they don't want to do anything until after Election Day.

To drive this point home I'll share an anecdote from my college days. When we first started taking computer programming classes a couple of my classmates who were really, really into the new technology, sneaked into the computer lab late one afternoon and loaded their own program into the mainframe's control circuitry.

From that point on whenever someone ran a program that contained an error, the computer would stop in the middle of the run, at the time the error emerged, and print out a huge picture of a mouse lying on its side holding a sign that said "You Blew It Stupid!" All done in tiny x's by the way, since we didn't have modern graphics back then.

That was the first instance of computer hacking that I encountered, and after a bit of sputtering and red-faced indignation the professors realized that for their students to progress that rapidly they must be doing something right and no one was punished or reprimanded. But that was a college prank and this is reality; the future of our country is at stake and voter fraud should be dealt with quickly and seriously.

I have a solution for questions regarding automated voting machines and I'll repeat it for those who may not have paid attention in the past. If your district uses vote scanners in which a paper ballot is filled out and then inserted into a machine that reads and records the votes listed on them, do a test run before the polls open and again after the polls close.

I suggest filling out 600 test ballots – with SAMPLE – written across them in big bold letters so no one can mistake them for real ballots. Fill out 400 for Romney and 200 for Obama and run them through the scanners. The counter and vote tallies should register exactly the numbers on the samples and if they don't there is a problem.

It is unlikely that machines could be tampered with during the actual voting but I believe in double checking just to make sure, so a final test run after the voting is recommended.

For districts where touch screens are used, I recommend essentially the same procedure, but instead of inserting ballots into a scanner, elections officials should cast a similar number of votes for each candidate and check to see that the proper number of votes cast is recorded, as well as the proper number for each candidate.

I am recommending using a relatively large number of votes because it would pick up any anomalies in the programming that might be based on percentages rather than raw numbers.

In computer language this is called "do-loop" in which the computer is instructed to do the same task over and over until a pre-programmed result in reached; in this case simply registering the votes as they are cast. However, since coding for a "do-loop" usually includes a variable input, which results in a variable output – in this case the number of voters voting and the number of votes cast for each candidate – it also can be instructed that once it reaches a predetermined result, a "go-to" instruction can require it to do something different.

For instance, the "do loop" can register 97 votes for Romney, but after that threshold is reached it is programmed to give the next three votes cast for Romney to Obama. Once it completes the instructions in the "go to" coding, it returns to the "do loop" and starts all over. But this would mean than an extra 3 percent of the votes would go to the wrong candidate! This could not only alter the outcome of the election in a close race, but it also is outside the margin that triggers an automatic recount!

The late Soviet Union dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin is quoted as saying it doesn't matter how many people vote; it only matters who counts the votes. I believe we would be wise to remember this when we go to our polling places on Tuesday. The national polls, which I don't believe, say this is to be a close race.

I don't think it is going to be that close, but just to make sure, we should each take a few extra seconds to ensure that the vote we cast goes exactly where it is intended, and if it doesn't – raise holy hell and keep it up until the problem is publicized and corrected!


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