The Secretary of State of New Hampshire has announced that they will do a statewide recount. Finally a state is taking sane steps to reassure its people that they in fact participated in a valid election and putting the controversy to rest. It’s about time. A lot of people have been shouted down as conspiracy nuts because they suspected otherwise. I am puzzled and a bit angry that it is controversial for progressives to insist on anything less than mandatory recounts of paper ballots for at least a random selection of districts in EVERY election. The burden is on the state to prove that the election results are correct, yet I read person after person insisting that we should be quiet. It is absurd to think that the burden of proof rests on the citizens.
Jon Stokes (Hannibal), co-founder of arstechnica.com, has a nice article up about the NH election. In it he takes on several around the blogosphere for their mistatements and misunderstandings about the issues involved.
First there is Josh Marshall’s post titled “Enough”:
Now, before you write in, I too think that electronic voting machines with no paper trail are a big problem because they’re too insecure and they make confirmatory recounts impossible. But the possibility or danger of tampering is not a license to assume it or imagine it – in the absence of any evidence – any time the vote doesn’t go how we’d like.
Jon correctly takes a jab at Josh position as typical and a complete misapprehension of what is at stake. Elections are not criminal courts and the burden of proof is not on the citizenry to prove that the election was corrupt or not. If we are actually a democracy then the burden of proof is on the state to prove that the election correctly registers the votes of its citizens. Josh points to a front page post by Dhinmi at DailyKos as better explaining the issue and rejects the issue as “simply absurd”.
Except it isn’t and the DailyKos diary also completely misses the mark. To quote Jon’s article at Arstechnica:
First, it is a huge mistake to assume (like this DKos poster) that the optical scan machines used in NH are somehow more secure than the much – maligned touchscreen machines, which didn’t seem to be that widely used in the primary. Optical scanners can actually be less secure than touchscreens, because they’re just as easy to tamper with (sometimes more so) as the touchscreens, but there’s typically only one per precinct – an attacker therefore has a single point of failure to manipulate. The fact that optical scanners leave a paper record is totally irrelevant if a random audit of the results is not mandatory by law after every election.
He goes on to liken a paper trail without a post election audit to be like “buying a security system for your house and then not turning it on.”
Remember the Ohio debacle in 2004? Here’s the Secretary of State’s statement and report on Project EVEREST that looked into it. In it they conclude that Ohio’s optical scanners (ES&S M100) can be hacked by simply flipping and unprotected write-protect switch on the scanners CF card, either accidentally or on purpose. Jon has another good article on the report. To further quote the report about other methods of hacking the scanners:
To put it in every-day terms, the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote count could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet and a personal digital assistant.
I can only assume that people really have not thought through what is at stake nor the technical issues, or they simply misunderstand it all. To somehow conflate this with Ron Paul’s minions or associate those who mistrust the system with conspiracy nuts, is in itself nuts.