Editor’s Note: This article was prompted by and primarily discusses the 2006 HBO documentary “Hacking Democracy” which is presented in full below. While the film itself is both fascinating and terrifying in it’s own right, I’m including it here as part of a larger series of articles about electoral fraud in America entitled “Wicked Game: the Clandestine Murder of Democracy in America” that we’ll be presenting on this site as quickly as I can finish them.
The principle focus of this series will be the rise of demonstrable election fraud in the United States through the use of machine voting – if you don’t realize precisely how easy it is to fix the results of machine voting, it may be extremely difficult to accept the thoroughly researched and verified evidence presented in the series. Although released in 2006 and containing damning evidence, Hacking Democracy has by and large received nowhere near the amount of attention its contents should generate in a supposedly free and democratic society – this is real, it happened and very little has been done to fix the problems with machine voting presented in this documentary. It is in my opinion, absolutely vital for anyone who intends to vote in any election in America to watch this documentary.
Finally, although I have embedded a cleaner copy of the video from Youtube for ease of viewing at the moment, I am in fact in possession of another digital recording of the documentary – which I will upload if Youtube removes the one I’ve linked to. Just give me a shout on Twitter if the video isn’t working and I’ll upload my (admittedly lower quality) copy:
“Computers count around eighty percent of America’s votes.”
The words emanated from the screen like a visceral assault on my subconscious, firing synapses across the now heaving landscape of my mind – did he seriously just say eighty percent of the goddamn votes cast in America are counted electronically? I paused the video and quickly started googling variations on the phrase “what percentage of American votes are counted by machine,” only to discover that nobody actually seemed to know anymore – or if they did, they weren’t saying. Finally, in a tiny note under a photographic historical study of “the Machinery of Voting” on the Smithsonian website, I found the number I was looking for when I read that “hand-marked paper ballots not counted by machines are used in 1.5 percent of the United States today.”
Of course, the fact that more than ninety-eight percent of the votes in the United States are now counted electronically is really only a problem if it’s both possible to somehow rig the machines and simultaneously prevent people from knowing their vote has been stolen by computer – which is where the rest of Hacking Democracy really starts to bend your fucking mind as it meticulously exposes the exact process by which the 2000 and 2004 US Presidential Elections were almost assuredly rigged and indeed any election involving voting machines can still be stolen today. That is not in any fucking way hyperbole my friends – machines that count backwards, collusion, secret proprietary software that nobody is allowed to inspect, bribery, falsified records, destruction of evidence, failure to adequately test machine security, system hacking, insecure programming code; this story literally has it all, including clear evidence of violations of both electoral law and civil liberties by election officials in the United States!
Hacking Democracy opens with a simple, but terrifying question – “how do you know if the vote is counted correctly and if you don’t know, what have you got?” According to citizen activist and founder of BlackBoxVoting.org Bev Harris, the answer to that question is deception, obfuscation and an easily rigged electoral process; bold claims perhaps, but Harris has both the paper trail and the electronic evidence to prove it. Did a grandmother from Seattle really discover the biggest scandal in the history of American politics because a manufacturer left the code that controls its voting machines unguarded on the internet? You fucking betcha Sparky and that’s just the beginning of a story so goddamn twisted you’d be laughed out of every office in Hollywood if you tried to sell the script before Harris and HBO teamed up to show the world Hacking Democracy.
In the interests of brevity and because I know that no matter how much I beg and plead, many of the people reading this article simply will not watch an embedded Youtube video, I’ve broken down what I consider the most important revelations in Hacking Democracy in chronological order and point form below. This list should by no means be considered exhaustive, but I’m trying to help the largest number of people truly grasp how important, and horrifying, this documentary actually is.
- during the 2000 Presidential election, a voting machine in Volusia County, Florida was observed counting votes for Democratic candidate Al Gore backwards; resulting in a count of negative sixteen thousand some odd votes from that machine alone – in a county with only 585 registered voters.
- an investigation into the error suggested it may have been caused by a second memory card loaded onto the computer, although the second card was never recovered and thus the exact cause of the error could never be proven in a legal sense.
- that same investigation however also revealed that it was virtually impossible for Gore’s negative votes to have been the result of mechanical failure as only votes in the Presidential race were affected; a fact that lead some engineers involved to suggest the “error” might have been caused by an attempt to tamper with the results of the election.
- the software controlling voting machines in America, regardless of manufacturer, is a trade secret; making it punishable by federal and state law to examine how it functions – even by the officials who purchase the machines.
- an internet search of the words “Voting Machine” and “glitch” reveals (to this day) numerous examples of electronic tabulation mistakes during American elections by those machines.
- during a 1996 election in New Orleans, Republican candidate Susan Bernecker was allowed to record her inspection of the touchscreen voting machines used during her loss to Nick Giambelluca; who further documentation reveals was the nephew of the election supervisor, Tony Giambelluca. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried folks.
- the resulting, horrifying video shows Bernecker clearly pressing the button on the screen beside her own name, only to have the machine register a vote for Nick Giambelluca instead. In the film, Bernecker suggests that she examined roughly fifteen machines at that time but other sources have suggested it was twelve machines and that roughly one third of those examined actually functioned properly – regardless, either result represents a morally unconscionable violation of the democratic process.
- counties in America run elections and buy voting machines of which there are two major types – touchscreen and optical scan machines.
- votes are stored on the computer’s memory card (this WILL come up again later) which are purportedly sealed in a tamper resistant bag before being loaded onto a central tabulating computer – which does the actual work of adding up the votes and determining a winner.
- there is no way for voters (or even officials) to observe or check the tabulation of these votes, a situation Stanford Professor of Computer Science, David Dill equates to telling a man hiding behind a curtain your vote and trusting him to properly records the results of the election; a process he rightfully points out most people would consider obviously untrustworthy.
- Dill also notes that if even one person involved in the machine voting process were able to place malicious code inside the tabulation software, it would be possible to change the results of potentially hundreds of thousands of votes.
- even the certification labs that examine the voting machines themselves are required to keep the process they used to guarantee the accuracy of the machines a secret.
- on January 23rd, 2003, Bev Harris discovered an older, unsecured version of the Diebold Election Systems page full of software files, user manuals and in some cases even passwords for the voting machines manufactured and sold by the company at that time.
- taken together, the files (which Harris immediately downloaded) formed the GEMS operating system that actually controlled how the Diebold Machines recorded and tabulated votes; machines which were at the time recording roughly 40% of the votes in the United States – although Diebold has since sold it’s voting machine division, at least in part because of the scrutiny surrounding Bev’s discoveries.
- Harris shared the code with information security expert Avi Rubin and three colleagues at John Hopkins University who discovered that there were such “significant and wide-reaching security vulnerabilities” that you could hack into it without significant knowledge of how the system actually worked.
- after purchasing a $55 million electronic voting system from Diebold, the state of Maryland asked computer consulting firm Raba Technologies to test the security of the machines; horrifyingly, the company reported that they were able to crack into the voting machines “in around ten seconds.”
- Harris further reveals that whistleblowers in either the certification industry or government have mailed her reports on two separate machine voting systems from different companies examined by the independent testing authority, Ciber Inc. Shockingly, both reports reveal that a penetration analysis of the voting system’s security was not performed, despite both being officially certified for use by Ciber in the reports!
- with the help of Andy Stephenson, at the time a candidate for Secretary of State in Washington, Bev traveled to Ciber’s offices in Huntsville, Alabama and secretly filmed the two of them interrogating the company’s irritated, dissembling test chief Shawn Southworth in real time. After first denying that he even reviewed the machines, Southworth eventually admits that the process relies heavily on the manufacturing companies themselves to properly test the security of the systems before repeatedly hiding behind FEC standards and implying that it’s just his job to write reports.
- on July 11th, 2004, Harris joined fellow activist Kathleen Wynn in a legal dumpster diving investigation on the trash of Diebold’s offices in McKinney, Texas. During that investigation, the two uncover an accounts receivable ledger that shows Diebold was at one point owed $1,257.85 by the 8th District Republican committee – a purely political body that does not run elections and would have no legitimate need to purchase voting machines.
- at the time, multiple members of Diebold’s board of directions and executives inside the company were donors or fundraisers for the Republican Party. CEO Walden O’Dell for example, penned a cryptic and ominous GOP fundraising letter in 2003 that mysteriously promised to “deliver the votes of Ohio” to Republican presidential candidate George Bush in the 2004 election.
- at the same time in 2003, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley discovered that one of the counties in the state had been running uncertified software on it’s voting machines during a local election. Kelly ordered an audit of all the voting machines in the state and to his shock and outrage, found that none of the machines were still using certified software. Kelly further notes that the manufactures of the machines would later acknowledge that they were aware it was illegal to modified the software without seeking prior approval and simply did it anyways in flagrant violation of California law.
- Kelly ordered a further, more thorough investigation of both the voting machines and Diebold itself, forcing executives from the company to testify before committee in the spring of 2004 where they were caught blatantly lying about changes made to fix/update the software after the discovery of multiple flaws – a crime exposed by a lack of updates to their own fucking GEMS release notes!
- despite being caught lying to the committee red-handed, Deibold’s executives continued to deny any wrongdoing whatsoever. The Secretary of State however, had seen enough – Shelly decertified and banned Diebold touchscreen voting machines in California while simultaneously petitioning the state Attorney General to pursue criminal and civil action against the company. Although the state eventually declined to press criminal charges, Diebold reluctantly paid California $2.6 million to settle the civil case out of court.
- Harris then recruited computer security expert Hugh Thompson to help determined not only how easy it was to hack into the GEMS software, but also how simple it was to change votes inside the system without leaving any record of the change behind. Like everyone else who examined the GEMS program, Thompson was frightened by precisely how easy it was to change the final results of an election with no evidence whatsoever that anything was amiss. To demonstrate the ease and effectiveness of the hack, Harris appeared on television with (then) Governor Howard Dean in August of 2004 and showed the viewing audience how someone with access to the program itself could change the results of an election in less than ninety seconds without leaving a trace of evidence behind.
- in direct contradiction with Harris’s now very public evidence, both voting machine manufactures and politicians in the US denied that there was anything wrong with machine voting leading into the 2004 Presidential Election – a claim that in retrospect seems pretty goddamn laughable in light of how election night played out in reality.
- A representative of one voter’s right’s organization reports logged over 200,000 calls on election night to report seriously malfunctioning machines or inhumanely long wait times to vote due to broken/malfunctioning machines. As the film plays recorded call after recorded call, a clear pattern of poor machine distribution also emerges – wealthier suburbs have plenty of well functioning machines, while poorer neighborhoods that would likely produce votes for Democratic candidates appear purposely under-served; effectively preventing many low income and/or minority voters from actually casting a vote in the election.
- as the election unfolds on screen, viewers are pointedly reminded that exit polls on election night caused the media to initially call several key states (and eventually the election itself) for Democratic runner-up, John Kerry – keep this in mind because it will most certainly come up again later in the film.
- Harris however does not watch the election, instead choosing to spend the evening filing over 3,000 individual Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the activity logs for every voting machine used in the 2004 contest, while openly acknowledging to the camera that the results of the election will be announced and certified long before those requests could be granted.
- the film then flashes to portions of Kerry’s election night concession speech, where he adopts a conciliatory tone and announces his inexplicable refusal to legally contest the vote count – despite assembling a vast team of lawyers and promising to challenge the results of the election beforehand. More damning still however, is an interview with Ohio election attorney Cliff Arnebeck who claims that Kerry himself told a room full of party members and lawyers that he had clear evidence of what could only be considered election fraud; specifically that throughout New Mexico, Bush had managed to win every single demographic of voters whose selection had been counted by optical reader machines – a virtual goddamn impossibility and a clear sign of fraud to anyone who knows even the slightest fucking thing about how people actually vote in an election.
- Kerry’s concession puts the burden of investigating the election back into the hands of citizen organizations like Black Box Voting and Bev’s team hits the road again armed with court orders allowing them to examine the original printed readouts from each machine used back in Volusia County, Florida. Despite the order however, county Supervisor of elections Deanie Lowe provides Harris with a new, unsigned readout clearly labeled as having been printed twelve days after the election and tries to give her team the runaround, before reluctantly telling her the actual original readouts are stored in a warehouse off site. What happens next is quite literally one of the most disturbing, non-violent encounters I have ever seen on video and frankly, if I hadn’t seen the fucking footage myself, I highly doubt I would have believed it had even occurred.
- armed with a news team camera crew, Harris, Stephenson and Wynne pull up to find county employees hastily throwing out garbage bags full of records behind the Volusia Election Supervisor’s warehouse in a clear effort to prevent the team from comparing the authentic poll tapes to the official election results. When Harris leaps out of the car and attempts to stop this, the video shifts from wild to objectively fucking disturbing almost immediately.
- first, the diminutive grandmother is forced to physically wrestle a trash bag full of documents away from one much larger worker who immediately demands someone inside phone a supervisor and the Sheriff’s department, to which Harris replies by calling the news cameras over to more closely record their interaction. Then, while Harris is scrambling to reveal and protect the valuable contents of the bag, a second employee attempts to outright lie to her about the documents she’s recovering – declaring them samples despite Bev directly pointing out that the sheets not only have recorded votes on them, but they’re precisely the records Harris has a court order to obtain.
- the real show however, starts when a determined and triumphant Harris finally wards off the second employee, only to be confronted by a third worker who decides to adopt a different tactic. First, he flat out tells her that she “didn’t get that poll tape from inside that trash bag,” despite the fact that she clearly did and got the evidence on film to boot. When Harris disputes his bizarre claim, he then asks her to “let him see” the tapes she’s recovered, clearly implying that he can identify their veracity as voting poll records. Attempting to appear undeterred by Bev’s incredulous refusal, the man then tries to transparently shame Harris into giving up her search before accusing her of trying to profit from her investigation. Although I have tried my best to avoid editorializing on the contents of Hacking Democracy, I’d like to take a moment here to discuss the overall behavior of the three county elections warehouse employees we see on film during this portion of the documentary – specifically, I’d like to point out that despite their false bravado and feigned indignation, I have never in my entire life see three people more desperately attempting to hide fear, guilt and outright panic on camera. In my opinion, which you can take or leave if you like, all three of the employees knew precisely what they were doing when they threw the records away and exactly why they were doing it. Furthermore, I honestly think the only thing keeping them from physically taking the records away from Harris was the rolling camera shining in their clearly goddamn guilty faces – the terror and frustration was that evident on both their features and in their vocal communications; many of which displayed the rising volume of liars openly caught in the act of deception.
- at this point, as Wynne shows off the signed, original poll tapes, the narrator reminds us that the tapes must be kept for at least 22 months under federal law, making their disposal only a few weeks after the election an actual crime. The county board of course declined to investigate the incident, despite the rolling cameras and Harris’s clear testimony that the poll tapes had illegally be placed out for disposal.
- Harris then decides to compare the original, signed poll tapes to the reprinted tapes the county gave them and discovers that they contain major discrepancies which are again reviewed with the county officials – including one tape with a discrepancy of over three hundred votes in favor of the eventual winner, Republican George Bush. At the exact same time, two other voting rights activists intercept another entire load of records the county tried to throw away while the Black Box Voting team was in the goddamn office calling out their criminality! The second load of records even contained one of the polling tapes Harris had been unable to locate until then. I repeat, while the BBV team was literally inside the fucking office telling Deanie Lowe that county employees were illegally trashing poll tapes, the elections board actually tried to throw away more poll tapes right in front of them!
- unfortunately, because the Black Box Voting team was ultimately unable to recover roughly one third of the records from the 2004 election, they were unable to force federal authorities to step in and investigate the results. The narrator notes that while Harris had indeed proven that the process was shrouded in an abnormal, anti-Democratic level of secrecy, they didn’t have the necessary smoking gun to prove without a doubt that voting tabulation machines had illegally altered the results of the 2004 Presidential election.
- here, the documentary shifts back to Ohio and begins to chronicle Green Party candidate David Cobb’s quest to force a recount for the increasingly fishy-looking 2004 Ohio presidential vote and we see the BBV travel back to Cuyahoga County to observe the process first hand in December of 2004.
- inside the county election offices, Wynn records the recount process for posterity and it’s clear that something is wrong almost immediately. First, the narrator reveals that before you can order a recount under Ohio law, you must first count a minuscule randomly selected 3% sample of the ballots; the county is then only required to do a full recount if that sample doesn’t match the computer results – keep this in mind, it’ll become incredibly important in a few moments. Then, the observers begin to report that the ballots appear to be clumped together and pre-sorted by candidate; a fact which strongly suggests that the 3% sample is not in fact random! The camera continues to roll as Gwen Gillingham, the deputy director of the county elections office ominously tells the camera that “the recount is just for the public to see” and that “everything is going very well.”
- the narrator reveals that after the recount was completed, the county prosecutor would charge that staff had counted a large number of precincts in secret, before the public had ever been given a chance to observe the process; holding back any ballots that didn’t match the official total and only allowing the public to examine a pre-sorted sample that was neither random, or fucking legal. Multiple officials are caught on camera repeatedly declaring that the sample was random, while simultaneously admitting they themselves were in charge of selecting this “random” sample with no way to verify that the sample was indeed random, in place.
- David Cobb then tells the camera that in his opinion the recount itself was a “complete charade” and a bit of “political theater” designed to ensure that there was never an official recount of the 97% of Ohio votes left over after the sample recount.
- the entire process was so obviously crooked in fact, that congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Senator Barbara Boxer joined forces to lodge an official complaint when the results of the Ohio vote were read into the record on the House floor; an act that unsurprisingly prompted extreme criticism from a Republican majority government dependent on the almost certainly fraudulent Ohio result to maintain power. Unfortunately, that same GOP majority ultimately made the objection largely symbolic and the Ohio results were eventually certified by congress all the same.
- in 2005, the BBV team gets the breakthrough it finally needs when Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Ion Sancho, invited them to test the integrity of his county’s Diebold optical scan machine voting system. Finally granted unfettered access to the machine, Bev Harris invites along computer security and hacking expert Harri Hursti to see if there is indeed a way to “hack” the voting machines and fix an election.
- as the people involved in the experiment gather in his office, Sancho tells the camera that one of the things Diebold had promised him is that the vote tabulation system can’t be accessed without leaving a record of the crime behind. This is almost immediately disproven completely when Hugh Thompson easily alters the results of a local schoolboard election without knowing the administrator password and without leaving a goddamn trace of the alteration either.
- Hursti however, focuses not on the central accumulation computer but on the memory cards that store the votes themselves and, after a few days of examining one of the Diebold cards with a simple reader purchased off the internet, he discovers a stunningly incriminating piece of evidence – despite Diebold’s adamant protestations otherwise, the memory cards themselves contain executable code! Hursti points out that this is not only unnecessary and illogical, but it also exposes what is supposed to be the most secure part of the system to electronic penetration by hackers.
- despite Hursti’s report, Deibold sent letters to election officials around the country denying that there was any executable code on the memory cards and forcing Harris, Hursti and other activists to reassemble in Tallahassee, Florida with Sancho to prove once and for all that Hursti was right, and get the results of the experiment on film. Before doing so however, Harris traveled back to Cuyahoga County to videotape Diebold engineers declaring that vote totals literally cannot be changed with prior access to just a memory card.
- before the actual test, Sancho reappears on screen and confides into the camera that he believes that someone tried to commit election fraud and steal votes in nearby Volusia when Al Gore somehow finished with negative 16,000 votes – a truly stunning public statement when you consider his reputation and long service as an election supervisor in Florida.
- Hursti then explains that by modifying the executable code (that Diebold said isn’t supposed there, remember) inside the memory card, he’s created a program that adds to the desired candidate’s totals and removes votes from the opponent incrementally – producing a completely organic-looking voting record that would match the total number of votes cast exactly when the memory card is plugged into the central tabulating machine, as normal.
- using a ballot with only one question, Sancho gathers together an additional four volunteers and sequesters Harri, who’s also voting in the poll, far away from the optical reader in another room as everyone carefully marks their ballots. For the purposes of the experiment, it is decided that the original true vote will be 6 against 2, nay. Hursti then confirms that he’s only touched the memory card on camera and casts his ballot.
- after Sancho inserts the card, he turns on the optical reader and confirms that the zero total tape says there are no existing votes stored in the memory before carefully inserting each ballot one at a time. Once all the ballots are scanned, he then tells the machine to tabulate the votes and print out a result – gasps of shock, vindication and horror in the room are audible when the machine spits out a results of 7-1 yes with no regard whatsoever to their actual votes. The moment is a dramatic one, as one of the activists who’s been fighting to expose the fraud for years actually breaks down into tears at the obvious and horrifying implications of what we’ve just seen.
- the team then checks the vote totals from their experiment against the master totals recorded in the GEMS system, only to discover that the results on the card are indeed recorded by the master accumulator as legitimate with absolutely no record of the hack available anywhere inside the system itself – literally, an untraceable crime.
- follow the same scrip as before, Diebold denied that the hack represented a real security threat, but scientists at the University of California, Berkley later not only confirmed that Hursti’s hack worked, but also uncovered another sixteen serious security vulnerabilities in Diebold’s touchscreen voting systems as well!
- Hacking Democracy closes on an ominous note, revealing that despite the hearing and Hursti’s hack, Republican officials in Cuyahoga County, Ohio decided to buy the Diebold voting system under consideration anyways at a cost of $22 million and the death of transparent democracy in the Midwestern state.
The numerous, outrageous and sometimes downright infuriating revelations in Hacking Democracy all seem to have a frustrating habit of leading to even more questions themselves – I know this because watching the film was one of the initial steps I took on a path that lead me to discover the frightening scope of election fraud in the United States. As I slowly broke through the wall of indifference, denial and outright lies used to obscure the answers to these questions, I discovered the even more objectively terrifying evidence of mass election fraud we’ll be covering in our series “Wicked Game: the Clandestine Murder of Democracy in America.”
Sitting down to write about what I’d found, I realized that the only way explain why I knew that US democracy over at least the past twenty-five years was truly and completely a goddamn sham – was to take everyone back to the very beginning of the whole crooked ordeal and show the evidence necessary to prove that machine voting simply cannot be trusted. Over the next little while, as we delve deeper into the overwhelming proof that the 2016 Democratic Primary has been rigged and indeed, it’s entirely possible that every goddamn election in America at all levels of government since roughly 1988 has been rigged too, it will be important to constantly keep in mind the evidence against the accuracy and security of machine voting presented in this documentary. Although it would be very easy to assume that this film forced significant changes on the electronic voting process in America, a current examination of the issues will reveal that this is not true and that very little at all has actually been done to correct the process since this film was made.
Over the next little while, we’ll be taking a look at incriminating results during the 2016 Democratic Primary, the true value of exit polling, the objectively ridiculous denial of said polling by mainstream media in America, the numerous ways election results are fudged to give the appearance of accuracy, direct evidence of fraud in multiple 2016 primary contests and a bunch of math that confirms elections in the United States have been crooked for a very, very long time. Those of you who’d like a rough, albeit incomplete preview however can check out this TwitLonger post or visit Richard Charnin’s website to get an idea of where we’ll be headed next in the series – please check back soon for part 1 of “Wicked Game.”
- Nina Illingworth