Dissident of the Month: Bev Harris

I first clued into the possibility that the US elections are questionable due to a tiny story in the New York Times a few days after 9-11. I was working in a mail room in an office building in Toronto. Many of the executives subscribed to US newspapers. Right up until the attack, the front page headlines were blazing with coverage of the court challenge, the aborted recount, the exclusion of large groups of voters from the polls and the unusual number of damaged ballots in Florida. Anyway, to make a long story short, in a tiny blurb buried in the middle of the paper, the New York Times reported that, in collaboration with other news organizations, they had commissioned an independent recount of the Florida ballots. The results were in, they said, but they had decided not to release them, since the most important consideration in America after 9-11 was unity. After a bit of reflection, it became clear to me the independent recount must have shown that Bush lost, since if he’d won, independent confirmation of his legitimacy would have helped rather than hindered the cause of American unity, right? It would have been big news.

Anyway, I became interested in the issue of electoral fraud in the US because of this curious little blurb. At that time there was not much out there. I dug up a few unverifiable fringe accounts of engineers and programmers discussing all the ways voting machines could be tampered with and some scattered reports of election irregularities, and then I lost interest.

Bev Harris, on the other hand, started out like I did but continued on to about page 15 of her google search (I usually give up around page 3), where she unearthed an unprotected Diebold FTP site containing, among other things, Diebold’s vote counting software, GEMS. She downloaded about forty thousand files and gathered a veritable army of programmers and analysts to look at them. Her research has culminated in a book, a large web community, and an HBO documentary.

In my view, Bev and her cohorts at Blackboxvoting.org proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the technology responsible for counting 80% of America’s vote has no security at all and can not be audited – and Diebold is fighting hard to keep it that way. Bev’s team of geeks have uncovered half a dozen ways in which election results can be tampered with. In an interview with Salon.com, she says “Once you know the steps, a 10-year-old can rig an election.”

Whether her efforts and those of others who have exposed the weakness of electronic voting technology pay off in 2008, only time will tell.