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USA Coup: Investigates Voting Machines

Scoop Link: Hacking democracy?

Computerized vote-counting machines are sweeping the country. But they can be hacked -- and right now there's no way to be sure they haven't been.
By Farhad Manjoo

Feb. 20, 2003 | During the past five months, Bev Harris has e-mailed to news organizations a series of reports that detail alarming problems in the high-tech voting machinery currently sweeping its way through American democracy. But almost no one is paying attention.

Harris is a literary publicist and writer whose investigations into the secret world of voting equipment firms have led some to call her the Erin Brockovich of elections. Harris has discovered, for example, that Diebold, the company that supplied touch-screen voting machines to Georgia during the 2002 election, made its system's sensitive software files available on a public Internet site.

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Harris hasn't been alone in making such discoveries. A small group of writers, technologists and activists is working hard to convince elections officials all over the country that their rush to upgrade aging punch-card machines with seemingly more reliable touch-screen systems is dangerous. But so far neither the general public nor elections officials appear too worried.
It's not hard to see why: If you look at some of the conspiracy theory rhetoric on the Web spawned by the work of Harris and others, it becomes all too easy to dismiss the whole campaign as sour grapes. There is no smoking-gun evidence to support the conclusion that Hagel's landslide Senate victory in 2002 benefited from voter fraud. The same is true for several unexpected Republican victories in Georgia last year -- during which the entire state used touch-screen machines for the first time.

But Harris herself is no conspiracy nut. Her facts check out. Nor is she an ideologue. Her stories on voting machines are based not on her politics but on serious, in-depth investigative reporting.

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