World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


Two Voting Products Combine To Steal Your Privacy


It's true: Two voting products are designed to be used together. When combined, these two products do away with the secret ballot. And this is already being used.

Because this secretive process is split between two products, the sales pitch on each product truthfully claims that privacy remains in place. What they DON'T MENTION is that when the products are used together, privacy evaporates.


1. Ballot-marked vote tracker systems (VoteHere and, from reports we have received, Populex)

2. Image-retaining vote counters (Diebold, Hart Intercivic)

Once the bar code containing embedded voter information is on the ballot, the image captured by the vote counter creates a computer file with both votes and voter-tied information.

Persons inside government are in the best position to abuse this feature. In fact, government security experts already have ties to the ballot-marked systems.

Current US Secretary of Defense and former CIA head Robert Gates has been on the advisory board of VoteHere. Former US Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, also a former deputy director of the CIA and a long-time Chairman of the Board at the Carlyle Group is on the advisory board for Populex. Surely, these two men know the implications of tracking votes. The second biggest expenditure for the CIA during the 1980s was influencing foreign elections; as a Director of and Deputy Director of the CIA, surely they are aware of the benefits an unscrupulous individual could gain from producing giant vote databases that tie back to voters.


Step 1: Vote tracking system puts bar code on ballot which embeds a connector to your voter registration system ID. Sales pitch: "This allows voters to find out if their vote went through the system."

Step 2: Ballot counting device automatically takes digital photo of each ballot. These images are stored on the computer in ballot image directories.

Here is a copy of a Diebold high speed central count ballot image directory (zip file; does not contain vote tracker bar codes):

With the vote tracking system, the digital image directories contain BOTH the bar code with your ID embedded AND the votes you cast.

More later on how the ballot tracking systems work, and why their use is about to increase. First, let's explore the dangers of allowing our vote secrecy to be stripped away by government insiders, private vendors, and proprietary trade secrets.


Some citizens think we should do away with the secret ballot. That's a radical idea, and as you'll see below, one that carries the risk of destabilizing the nation. But secret government-owned voter+votes databases are no one's cup of tea, unless you wish to live in a carceral state, which seeks to know everything about its inhabitants while hiding information about itself. Even the most radical reformers don't want this evolutionary step towards a police state.


America didn't always have a secret ballot. Voter privacy laws came about after a frenzy of corruption -- wholesale vote-buying and selling as showcased with the Tammany Hall scandal. - See "Tweed Machine"

That was bad, but now it can be much worse: Computers and the ability to manipulate massive databases put political privacy at significantly greater risk. The data-crunching operations provided by companies like Choicepoint have the capability to provide unprecedented power to databases containing personal information. Choicepoint's biggest client is the US government, and Choicepoint's lobbyist is John Ashcroft.

Today, Black Box Voting asked Choicepoint this question:

"It's indisputable that his [Ashcroft's] firm is lobbying for you, so what is Choicepoint saying he is and isn't doing? "

Choicepoint responded:

"Ashcroft and his firm are not lobbying any member of Congress on our behalf nor are we using them to affect any pending or possible legislation in Congress or any state legislature. We are using his firm solely to develop business leads. Both statements have been true since we began a relationship with the Ashcroft Group and remain true today. This is a business development relationship."

That is not particularly informative, and since the US Congress has exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act, citizens can't even find out what this is all about.

Maybe Choicepoint would never exploit the new vote+voter databases, but instead the files would be slipped to the programmers for Voter Vault, the brawny Republican political database. One of Voter Vault's key contractors, Bruce Boram, has been chastised repeatedly for low-ball political tricks, and is one of the last people Democratic voters would want to view how they voted.

Perhaps it would be some other data mining company, or even some squirrely little custom program on the private laptop of a future Nixonian president. The point is, enabling vote data to be secretly tied to voters and retained in computer directories and/or databases is dangerous.


How long do you think it would take for someone to get the bright idea to check the actual private voting patterns of all political appointees? How about checking on the private votes of military officers? Civil servants? What about an elected official grabbing a sneak a peek at which of his constituents actually voted for him? Redistricting tactics?

Knowing who votes for whom puts winners and losers in unique positions to extract revenge on each other. Those who vote the "wrong" way may be treated unfairly by judges (whether elected or appointed by elected individuals), prosecutors or law enforcement officials who happen to learn how they voted.


Given time, exploits multiply. In the late 1800s when corporations seized the "right" to corporate personhood, no one dreamed they would end up shoveling hundreds of millions into political campaigns to create candidate dependency.

If the vote-tracking programs continue, sooner or later your private votes will be harvested, whether or not anyone is exploiting this opportunity at the moment.

"As much as it extols political freedoms and governmental openness, the United States government has a long and dark history of rounding up troublemakers, suppressing dissent, criminalizing expression, sowing suspicion, and delaying justice." This is a quote from No Greater Threat by C. William Michaels, a book about the rise of the national security state.(1)


It's been done before. In 1950, Congress passed the Internal Security Act, establishing a new federal agency called the "Subversive Activities Control Board." The act was designed to identify and suppress supposedly subversive individuals and organizations.

"The chief weapon of the sea pirates was their capacity to astonish. No one could believe, until it was much too late, just how heartless and greedy they were."-- Kurt Vonnegut*

With the re-authorization of the Patriot Act, very troubling powers exist under current law, with obvious implications for what can happen now that the government can obtain information about how you voted:

According to the ACLU, "Section 215 (known as the 'library records' provision, but which actually applies to 'any tangible thing') does not require any individualized suspicion to get a court order for any record wanted."

That doesn't mean it's constitutional. And the use of certain kinds of data-mining programs by certain departments is now supposed to require reports to Congress, though it's unclear to any of us whether anyone is following the rules, or even how we would find out if they weren't.

"The information sharing permitted by Title II of the Patriot Act is quite wide ranging. Definitions are broadly defined, and the investigation could involve almost anything. No court order is needed for information sharing. The Act does not specify a limit to the use made of this information by other government officials. The Act does not limit information sharing to more than one official from more than one agency. Information can be "shared" by one to many. There is no limitation of the type of "official" use to be made of shared information. This opens the door to extensive and secretive sharing …" (1)


Is this combination vote-tracking/digital imaging system already being used?

Yes. In San Juan County, Washington the VoteHere ballot tracking system is being used with Hart Intercivic vote-counting scanners (capture digital images of the ballots). Bar codes on the ballot - VoteHere ballot tracker:

Citizens to the rescue:

Tim White and Alan Rosato, two extraordinary San Juan County citizens, along with the help of the Green Party of San Juan County, have filed a lawsuit contending that the use of the ballot tracking program is illegal. You will find much more information here:


Yes. The ballot images are stored in directories, which can then be run through a program like Hursti's Votoscope to convert the pictures into data tables.

Black Box Voting obtained the ballot image files from the Diebold high speed scanner, another voting machine that produces ballot images. (As you may recall, we used to think this was a cool feature.)

In a project sponsored by Black Box Voting, Finnish computer programmer Harri Hursti created a working version of the "Votoscope", which he proved can quickly process hundreds of thousands of ballot images, converting them to a database.

Only one step remains: To add the bar code conversion feature into the data program. Both the vendor and various government entities are in a position to do this. Not only that, but under the mushy provisions of the Patriot Act, it's probably legal for certain divisions of the government to do this, even if it is not for a "security" reason.

Vendors will tell you that the bar code containing your identifier is encrypted. Who cares? The only question that remains is what subset of individuals have the key!


1. The Holt Bill (HR 811) attempts to create permanent voting system authority for White House appointees. This unwise move will be the subject of another article, but the application to ballot tracking is simply this: White House appointees, under the Holt Bill, get regulatory power over the mechanics of voting systems. At whatever time, a small handful of politically chosen individuals can decide for American voters, "Hey, this ballot tracking concept is very good, let's require it for everybody."

It is not inaccurate to characterize the proposed permanent funding for White House appointee-led regulatory power over election systems as "a clear and present danger" which, if carried out, will destabilize our great country.

2. Bills have been submitted both in the U.S. Congress and in many states to increase mail-in voting, which already openly uses ballot-marked vote tracking. Some of the bills even try to require ballot tracking, perhaps not realizing that ballot-tracking systems can optionally put a voter-tied code on both the mail-in envelope and the ballot itself.

A ballot vote-tracking system was recently used by the United Aerospace and Machinists union in a union election. Who knows how many other places this is being used.

And it sounds so warm and fuzzy: "You get to check that your vote was counted."

Unfortunately, so can others, and they can do a whole lot more than that.

(1) C. William Michaels, in a book on the rise of the national security state, No Greater Threat

* Thanks to the many voting rights advocates who have helped so very much in developing effective communications frames for elections issues – Pokey Anderson, whose “Sea Pirates” quote I borrowed, and the many others who have been contributing such pithy phrases as “The United States of Amnesia” and others via working groups and listservs.

# # # # #

The work Black Box Voting is doing is supported solely by citizen donations. To support our work:

Or, mail to:
Black Box Voting
330 SW 43rd St Suite K
PMB 547
Renton WA 98055

* From now through April 30, every donation of $45 or more will receive a copy of the HBO special documentary DVD, "Hacking Democracy" -

* * * * *

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


UN: Bachelet Alarmed By Number Of Palestinian Children Killed In Latest Escalation

UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet today expressed alarm at the high number of Palestinians, including children, killed and injured in the occupied Palestinian territory this year, including in intense hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza last weekend... More>>

Save The Children: One Year Under Taliban Rule, Girls Are More Isolated, Hungry, Sad: New Report
One year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, an economic crisis, crippling drought and new restrictions have shattered girls’ lives, excluding them from society and leaving them hungry...

Palestinian Ministry of Health: Developments In The Health Situation During The Israeli Aggression On The Cities & Governorates Of The Gaza Strip
For the second day in a row, the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip continues by targeting overcrowded residential areas and neighborhoods, as the death toll rose to 13 citizens, including a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman... More>>

Somalia: ‘We Cannot Wait For Famine To Be Declared; We Must Act Now’
Rising acute food insecurity in Somalia has caused more than 900,000 people to flee their homes in search of humanitarian assistance since January last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned... More>>

UN: American West Faces Water And Power Shortages Due To Climate Crisis
Two of the largest reservoirs in the United States are at dangerously low levels due to the climate crisis and overconsumption of water, which could affect water and electricity supply for millions in six western states and Mexico, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned on Tuesday... More>>

Singapore: UN Experts Call For Immediate Moratorium On Executions For Drug Offences

UN experts* today condemned the execution of Nazeri Bin Lajim, a 64-year-old Malay Singaporean national convicted of drug offenses and urged the Government of Singapore to halt plans to execute individuals on death row for drug related charges... More>>