October 31, 2010 – Episode 185

Episode 185:

This week’s regular episode of  The Cyberjungle  is 1 hour and 17 minutes long. You can hear it by clicking on the flash player below, or you can go to the listening options page and browse for other ways to hear the show.

To listen to Episode 185 via the flash player:

Our Take on This Week’s News

We abandoned our format today for a discussion of electronic voting irregularities, based on news coverage  coming out of Nevada and North Carolina.  We were rankled when  Nevada  election officials  proclaimed it “technologically impossible” that voter’s electronic ballot was “premarked” for Harry Reid when she inserted it into the machine.  According to the voter, several people she knows experienced the same thing.

Did it happen? We don’t know, but we don’t want to hear our election officials telling voters or the press that such fraud is impossible.  Not only is electronic data manipulation always possible, but voting machine flaws have been demonstrated repeatedly.  And those demonstrations don’t even contemplate polling place procedures, reliance on volunteer poll workers, huge amounts of money involved in high-stakes races, and the long planning period that would be possible between elections.

What’s impossible is putting your faith in people who don’t acknowledge that electronic fraud can occur.  It would be far more comforting to me as a voter to hear them acknowledge that fraud is an ever-present concern, and then tell us some (not all) of the measures they take to prevent it.

“There’s no evidence,” they said, which is what the folks in charge say after most data breaches.  “There’s no evidence anyone was harmed” is a phrase you will find in almost every data breach news story where anyone from management is quoted.

The election officials went beyond that, blaming the problem on sloppy voters touching sensitive screens.   This explanation does nothing to calm the emotional voter who believes something has gone haywire with his or her vote.  And voter fear and frustration does not foster trust in government.

So we decided to develop an evidence preservation guide for the average voter. That way, if something odd happens, there will be evidence, which will be of great help in figuring out what went wrong, or at least provide a more comforting explanation than “it’s impossible.”

Remain skeptical when you vote, but don’t be paranoid. Most votes, most of the time, are counted and recorded accurately.

Ten Steps: A Forensic Approach to Touch Screen Voting:

1) Planning ahead before going to the polls is important. “Plan the dive, and dive the plan” as the saying goes.

2) If your cell phone has a camera:  Calibrate the time/date on your phone.  Just about every cell phone or smart phone has a setting to calibrate the phone’s time with the carrier. This will give you a fairly accurate time stamp.  If your cell phone does not have a camera, or you don’t own a cell phone, bring a camera and a watch (with the correct time) with you to the polls.  Bring a pen a paper with you to the polls, or know how to use the note or email feature of your cell phone/ smartphone.

3) When you are about to start voting, don’t touch the electronic voting machine screen with anything other than the pointer/eraser you are give. “Fat fingering” the screen is common. If you observe any irregularities before, during, or after you register your votes, take a picture of the screen(s). Note the time you took the photos.

4) Locate the serial number on the voting machine and write it down (it might be on the front, or the back of the machine, but each machine has a unique control number).

5) Find the transaction number or your voter number, if you have gone far enough to generate one. Write that number down.

6) Explain the problem to a poll worker.  Most poll workers will be helpful, but voters should never assume that poll-workers are the final authority on fraud and machine malfunctions. Some poll workers may repeat the misinformation that mal-programmed machines are “impossible.”

7) If it is determined that a machine failure has occurred, ask to vote on another machine. Make sure that vote occurs smoothly.

8) If you don’t get satisfaction from the poll worker, talk to the poll manager. If you don’t get satisfaction at that level, ask if there are any observers present from the political parties or the secretary of state’s office. Keep your documentation of what happened.

9) If nobody on site can give you satisfaction, take the information you have recorded, and call or go to the election office at your county government complex.  If you do not get satisfaction at the county level, contact the secretary of state’s office for your state.

10) Only after you have gone through these steps, and no satisfactory explanation has resulted, should you alert the media. If you have exhausted the steps above, a good reporter will want a copy of your information, and a BRIEF description of what happened.

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