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Microsoft 811 - Safety For Voting Machine Vendors

“Microsoft 811”


© 2004-06 Rand Careaga/salamander.eps
With Permission

Making the World Safe
For Voting Machine Vendors

Michael Collins
Scoop Independent News
Washington D.C.

At a New Jersey town meeting this July, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) said of his bill, House Resolution 811, “It’s not my bill anymore.”

Why shouldn’t the world be safe for vendors? Microsoft in particular? After all, they pay the bills. Just let them have whatever they want and let the rest of us be thankful we’ve got jobs. This is the prevailing philosophy in Washington, DC, your capitol and the supposed heart of modern democracy.

House Resolution 811 (“The Holt Bill”) is coming up for a vote this week, word has it. The questions are stark. What will our Congress be voting for? Whose interests are represented in the final mark up of this legislation?

Voting in the United States is hardly inspirational. In fact, it’s become down right depressing for both those who follow it closely or those who keep their distance due to the dreadful outcomes in terms of legislative performance.

Let’s look at the close up. But first an acknowledgment. It’s hard arguing with those who say they wouldn’t let us vote if it made a difference because it hasn’t. It’s been eight months since the new Congress was seated and where are we? We’re still hip deep in Iraq and the Senate has done nothing to prevent the president from starting his next project, a military attack on Iran. We have no solutions to universal health insurance. and the rebuilding of New Orleans has been paid for but not begun. What a record! No wonder so many people don’t bother to vote.

For those of us who do vote, what is on the line with H.R. 811, the Holt Bill?

The Vendor Protection Act: Microsoft Uber Alles

A cardinal principal of almost all factions of the election integrity movement has been open computer source code for voting machines. Open source code is defined as, “…source code of software that is available to the general public with relaxed or non-existent intellectual property restrictions.” The basis for computerized voting machine software and methods could be examined by any citizen. As a result, it would be much easier to examine those nail biting elections we have so often or simply check on the integrity of any election, no matter how close. For the technically informed, this is one of the key elements required for transparent and fair elections where computerized voting (e-voting) is in place.

Advocates argue that open source computer code in voting machines will give greater access to understand how the machines operate. Quite simply, open source code will make it easier to assure that the votes cast are those counted. Not only will it be easier to check on any private vendor’s voting machine operations, with open source, this inspection will take place on an even playing field.

That was the original idea behind H.R. 811. The 2003 version of Holt’s bill was very clear. It stated:

No voting system shall at any time contain or use undisclosed software.

The bill, as introduced in 2006 was just as clear:

…source code, object code, executable representation, and ballot programming files [shall be made] available for inspection promptly upon request to any person.

***********

The current version of Holt’s bill up for vote this week backs off of the public right to inspect voting machine software, open source code, in a big way and lets vendors keep secret the software and methods that determine your elections. Let me put it another way, you don’t get to see how the voting machines work that elect the officials who govern you – ever!

***********

Washington to Citizens: Drop Dead

Citizens of the United States of America still believe that the government is a servant, hence the designation public servants for politicians and government officials. The idea wasn’t for them to serve themselves or private interests, like voting machine vendors. They’re supposed to serve us!

Here’s the new Holt Bill language:

an accredited laboratory that inspects voting machines shall hold the technology in escrow (read hold in secret). The laboratory (a private company, likely) can disclose technology and information to another person, if and only if that person or entity is a government agency responsible for voting, a party to litigation over an election or an academic studying elections. H.R. 811

Nancy Tobi of Democracy for New Hampshire wondered how this all happened. The word from Capitol Hill was "take up your concerns with Microsoft and others in the proprietary software industry."

What happened to disclosure of software and methods upon request of any person?

The Washington Two Step

Here we go again. We elect people to make our laws more open and transparent in order to know what is being done by those whose job it is to serve us. What do they do? They take the most fundamental right that we have, voting – electing our representatives – and they make it secret. Sure, a government agency can look at the software that counts the votes, the agency run by the politicians elected by the machines that need inspection. That will do a lot of good won’t it? Oh, and if you have the six or seven figures required to bring a law suit, you might be able to look at source code. Finally, as if to show that they‘re not as anti-intellectual as they seem, the bill says academics can look at the source code and other software and methods. That will do a lot of good, years from now …. maybe.

It’s Official – Voting is Now a Rigged Game Run by the Government

Why not just change the name from elections to voting lotto? Except in this lotto game, the contestants are the very same people who make up the rules, pick the winners, and hand out the cash. It’s all so elegant and logical:

Politicians administer elections that determine whether or not they keep their jobs. They expect us to believe that they’ll catch each other when there’s any cheating going on and that they’ll report it to us right away. But we’re not allowed to see how the game works, how the equipment operates, or who does what behind the scenes.

Can any of you imagine how Mr. Trump would respond to any casino machine vendor who said, “Look buddy, it’s our software, our machine, and our game – mind your own business.” The words are (correct me if I’m wrong), “You’re fired!”

Long term researcher and activist Ellen Theisen of Voters Unite has supported the Holt Bill in its various forms since 2003. This is no longer the case. Theisen outlined her objections to the current Holt Bill clearly on June 11, 2007. I recommend a review of this brief but comprehensive editorial. She pulled her support because the current bill leaves some ballots uncounted; endorses secret vote counting and secret voting software; allows some wireless communication to slip through the cracks; and perpetuates the Election Assistance (sic) Commission, appointed solely by the president.

But I’ve saved the most ironic and outrageous aspect of all of this for last. If you’re still reading, check out these articles by voting issues author Michael Richardson. He did a comprehensive series of articles on the laboratories that will have the honor of holding tight the computer software, source code that determines the outcome of our elections.

Here they are, the laboratories who will store voting source code software; the vote taking and vote counting software that elects our representatives:

  • Banned Lab Certifies Nearly 70% of US voting machine 15 Jan 2007
  • State Elections Directors approved test labs rejected by National Institute of Standards and Testing 19 Jan 2007
  • CIBER Voting Machine Test Lab Failures is 'Old News' Known by Top Election Officials for Years 02 Feb 2007
  • U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chair, Donetta Davidson, Knew About Problems of Voting Machine Test Labs But Kept Quiet 20 Feb 2007
  • This is not quite as outrageous as giving the president the ability to start a war with Iran, but its damn close. Great legislating Congress! We knew you had it in you.

    ENDS

    Disclosure: I’m an advocate for an immediate return to hand counted paper ballots. However, since my view has not prevailed, I’m more than willing to discuss and critique improvements in any system in use.

    Permission to reprint in part or in whole with a link to this article in “Scoop” and attribution of authorship.

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