"Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."
--Russian Dictator Joseph Stalin
As millions of American voters prepare to use electronic voting machines for the first time, questions about who owns and controls these vote-counting machines are rife.
In at least two states, companies with very close ties to the Bush administration are in prime positions to control the voting systems in the 2004 presidential elections.
In Illinois, Populex is the company that is creating the electronic voting system for the state. It was recently revealed that Ronald Reagan's former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci now serves on the company's five-member Advisory Board. Carlucci is also the chairman emeritus of The Carlyle Group, the defense contractor often called the "Ex-President's Club" because of the high profile partners and advisors on its payroll. These include key players from George W Bush's inner circle, such as former President Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker III.
Meanwhile in Ohio, Diebold Inc. is one of the companies vying to sell electronic voting machines in that state. Diebold and its CEO have strong Republican ties, specifically to the Bush administration.
A recent article by Julie Carr Smyth in The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the head of Diebold is also a top fundraiser for President Bush's re-election. In a recent fund-raising letter Diebold's chief executive Walden O'Dell said he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
"I think the question that this has raised is, has he crossed the line?," said The Plain Dealer's Smyth on Democracy Now! "We hear a lot of comments that a C.E.O. should be allowed to be as politically active as he wants, he's a businessman, he's allowed to favor the president. But I think in the business of election systems, the question is, has this crossed the line?"
"Basically what we have is a company that is giving money, hand over fist and helping in campaign strategizing for a particular political party at the same time as making the machines that count the votes," said Bev Harris, author of Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century.
Harris told Democracy Now!: "We now know that the machines that they're making that count the votes are not secure from tampering. And add to that, we've got a situation where everything inside the machines is secret, we're not allowed the see how they count the votes. So this is not an acceptable situation."
Ohio is anticipating spending about $161 million not just on machines but also on the entire implementation of the new system. Diebold is one of ten original companies that came to Ohio to bid for the contract.
In July, O'Dell invited Vice President Dick Cheney to his house for a fundraiser, which poured $500,000 into Cheney's coffers.
On a trip to Ohio, President Bush visited one of Diebold's board members - W.R. Timken - who took him on a tour of the company. Timken, like O'Dell, is a "Pioneer" - the name given to wealthy Bush benefactors.
According to Harris, a study of the campaign contributions made by Diebold and its employees revealed an unusual pattern: Hundreds of thousands of dollars were being funneled to a few Republican candidates with very little to any other party.
Harris says that Diebold's electronic voting machines are wide open to tampering. "There's actually several different methods that we've been looking at. One of the first things you do when you look at any kind of fraud is look what they tell you not to look at," she said.
Harris managed to obtain the source code that is used in Diebold's electronic voting system simply by searching the Internet.
Harris told Democracy Now! that she recently uncovered another file on the Diebold site that she says "may very well be the smoking gun that brings this thing down."
The file, she claims, proves that Diebold has the ability to keep track of election results as they come in. More concerning she says technology exists that would allow Diebold to alter election results.
Diebold has long claimed it does not track votes on Election Day but Harris said this file of election data from San Luis Obispo County, California shows otherwise.
"It is impossible for this file to have existed if there wasn't some sort of illicit electronic communication going on for remote access," Harris said.
"It's against the law to start counting the votes before the polls have closed. But this file is date and time stamped at 3:31 in the afternoon on Election Day, and somehow all 57 precincts managed to call home add them themselves up in the middle of the day. Not only once but three times," Harris said. "If you have no electronic communications between the polling places and the main office, how does that happen? Because what would you literally have to do is to shut down the polling place in 57 places at once and get in a car and drive this card into the county office. That's not going to happen."
Technically, under the Diebold system that means it is possible for someone who has access to the system to monitor the progress of the voting results throughout the day and to potentially manipulate them.
"You see, a modem is always two way," says Harris. "If you can pull the information in, you can also push it back through the pipeline the other direction. So that means if they can pull the information in, they can also send information back into those machines."
"We've known for some time that this is one of the weakest areas," Harris said. "If you have remote communication into the system at all, that gives you access without physical access and that's very dangerous."
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