From Jonathan Simon:

Mark,

We know better than to put anything past them. That said, we would expect to find a few glitches out there. The pattern we would see if pro-GOP rigging was rampant would be a certain very small amount of visible vote flipping both ways (those would be the glitches) while the real rigging was invisible.

Vote flipping visible on the screen is a risky and rather stupid way to rig elections and there’s obviously no need for it; you can just program the invisible counter on the chip to “flip” the votes. Visible vote flipping can lead to voter frustration and longer lines and work as a “denial of service” attack, but that is small potatoes compared to the potential of flat-out rigging. It could also conceivably provide an excuse for “maintenance,” allowing technicians to recalibrate the rig.

And, finally, it could be a calling card left visible to show that it’s just “innocent” glitches (which go in both directions) and not systemic fraud, as the unilateral pattern in the past has led us to claim.

Who knows. I strongly doubt, however, that it’s a GOP attempt to bring pro-Democratic rigging to light. They have way too much to lose by triggering any additional public attention to this phenomenon on either side. If I had to guess, I would say these flips are either genuine glitches or perhaps programming mistakes on the part of inside manipulators who just screwed up their code.

I have hoped that at some point a white-hat hacker would come in and rig an election such that, say, one candidate got 25 million votes in a state like North Dakota with a tiny fraction of that population. That would certainly get some attention and should be easy enough to do. I wondered briefly whether the flips that have been reported were part of such an effort, but I doubt it.

–Jon



One Comment to “Vote-flipping is the least of it (Jonathan Simon)”

  • Mark,

    I hate the topic of “vote flipping” precisely because there is an “innocent” explanation and many people want to latch on to the more nefarious meaning of voting tampering.

    I personally think these vendors are criminally negligent with the design of the touchscreens. This isn’t a new technology, this isn’t complicated, this isn’t hard to get the software engineering correct nor the human interface issue solved. Touchscreens are used every day in this country by millions of people from bar tenders to baristas to almost every person in this country using an ATM machine. It isn’t that hard to copy or implement how these things work.

    You don’t hear about people storming into the bank because the ATM flipped their choice of $20 to $40 withdrawl. Why is that? You don’t hear about Starbucks employees accidentally overcharging you. But every election I hear about vote flipping and calibration issues. Why is that?

    Why did US taxpayer dollars to well over $1B get spent on this poorly designed voting machines? I guarantee the Pentagon would be reviewing any vendor that bilked a military contract for that much money and delivered a product that fails this miserably. Why isn’t the US Atty General or groups of states banding together to sue these companies, well I think there are maybe still three of them left after all the mergers.

    Anyways, back to vote flipping. From an engineering perspective what is happening is that on DRE Touchscreen voting machines, they have designed the active touch sensitive regions (virtual buttons) to be too close together. Go look at the ATM next time you use it, the box for $20 is separated from the $40 box and if you click between them the machine doesn’t do anything. There is almost no “dead zone” in the touchscreen voting machines that you hear about having vote flipping problems. There is clear button for A, and then a dead zone area, then the button for B. Any press close to the area beween A & B is prone to jumping or flipping in voting machines. It is a simple software fix just like the calibration shouldn’t be an issue, but somehow always is. It is either criminally incompetent or it is done this way on purpose.

    There are many other human interface design problems with voting machines as well. The new ES&S DS200 used in Florida and Ohio have a review screen after you feed in your paper ballot. The green check mark that says something like “Accept” really means “I meant to overvote, please don’t count that race, I don’t want to fix my ballot”. The red X that says something like Return Ballot is what most voters would want to press. The overvote in counties using the DS200 is much higher than previous precinct based optical scan systems.

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