[link to index of press clippings]

River Cities' Reader

Vote “Weighting” Option Calls Election Integrity Into Question

Nov 9, 2016
Todd McGreevy

How meaningful is the media-fueled binary battle between the deplorables and the corruptibles when the very election systems used to count the votes are susceptible to manipulation and fraud? It’s a topic very few wish to engage with. For, if true, all the spent energy and resources and the lost or frayed friendships over such a contentious national election would be for naught.

Scott County has used the Global Election Management System (GEMS) for dozens of elections. ...

In May, BlackBoxVoting.org, a venerable and credible election-watchdog organzation (RCReader.com/y/voting2), began publishing a series of essays “Fraction Magic: The Decimalization of Votes” (RCReader.com/y/voting3).

The essays, along with a poorly produced video, allege that GEMS has the capability built right in the software to manipulate valid election results by modifying the counting of a single vote or ballot to be a fraction of a whole vote, using decimals. And that a predetermined percentage of all ballots cast, for a candidate or issue, can be realized through allocation of such fractional values. Most alarming, this can all be done invisibly, and still show integers as results. According to the essay, GEMS is used statewide in seven states and in select counties in 20 states.

Days after the statewide election in 2014, I visited with Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz ... In 2014, Moritz stated that public testing revealed vote-allocation issues with the new memory chipsets, and they had to be shipped to a Canadian vendor for reprogramming days before Election Day.

The evidence of third-party programing of the chipsets being used in Scott County election equipment is indisputable. This alone should give alert citizens pause. And it points to how a GEMS fractional-counting scheme could be inserted into a local election system.

On October 26, I e-mailed Moritz and auditor-office Operations Manager Roland Caldwell a link to the “Fraction Magic” essays and requested a meeting ... As of press time November 8, there was no response.

The auditor’s office is also currently reviewing proposals from three vendors, ... In August, ES&S (owner of GEMS), Dominion, and Unisyn reps all made presentations to a small group of county staff and citizens. In that group was Douglas W. Jones, a University of Iowa computer-science professor. In addition to being the author of the book Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count? (BrokenBallots.com), Jones was a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Technical Guidelines Development Committee. He’s published numerous commentaries and analysis on election equipment, software, and processes (RCReader.com/y/voting4).

Jones reviewed BlackboxVoting.org’s “Fraction Magic” essays and the companion video “Detailed Vote Rigging Demonstration” (RCReader.com/y/voting5). The 25-minute video shows a Tennessee computer programmer, Bennie Smith, demonstrating how GEMS can fix an election using fractional- or decimal-valued votes and go undetected. BlackBoxVoting.org founder Bev Harris (featured in the Emmy-nominated HBO film Hacking Democracy) provided Smith nearly 40,000 voting-machine files from 2003, and Smith wrote a program using these files as the test subjects and produced a system that can alter results, without transparency, in seconds.

Here are Jones’ comments on the essays and video:

“GEMS and all the other voting-system vendors’ election-management systems contain a huge number of optional features that can be toggled on and off in each jurisdiction. Generally, a state will approve a voting system for use in that state if, in principle, it can be configured to follow the law of that state. It then falls to local election officials to figure out how to set the zoo of option toggles for the machine to conform to the law.

“The kinds of things you can toggle include ballot rotation, abandoned ballot rules, and straight-party voting. In this context, weighted voting is just another option that needs to be turned off in public elections in the United States.

“For over a decade, I’ve suggested to vendors that all of the ‘toggles’ for turning on and off the various options on voting machines be put into a single file, and that file be approved by the state election authorities and then required to be used in elections in that state.

“But, of course, there’s a question: Why does any voting system sold in the U.S. offer the option of weighted ballots? I don’t know for sure, but I can think of several reasons:

“• Weighted voting has been seriously proposed for use in public elections in the U.S. In 2004, there was a proposal in California called ‘Training Wheels for Citizenship’ that would have given 14-year-olds a quarter-vote, and 16-year-olds a half-vote.

“• GEMS is not used only in public elections. Many county election offices have let universities, unions, or other organizations (who may have fractional-voting schemes) vote on their machines.

“• GEMS is not used only in U.S. elections. The developers certainly wanted to sell their equipment globally. Some other countries may have fractional-voting schemes.

“I am not as alarmed by the presence of a ‘toggle’ allowing fractional vote-counting as I am by the fact that it is silent. If fractions are enabled, I’d expect all the output of the machine to expose this – for example, by putting decimal points after the vote counts and showing you the fractions.

“Doing fractions silently, so that the numbers merely add strangely, seems to be a very strange design decision that flies in the face of election transparency and auditability.

“The video spends too much time flooding the screen with little windows I don’t understand while hinting at some serious allegations that it doesn’t really explain.

“But the recommendations at the end, ‘What You Can Do,’ are correct. All of the computation that goes into computing the grand total in an election ought to be transparent, and people ought to be able to check the results. The advice about photographing precinct tapes, reconciling them with county results, and reconciling the county results with race-wide results is exactly right.

“The ‘Fraction Magic’ allegation – that there is a ‘fix this election’ password that lets you, after the fact, adjust the weights of votes by precinct or by county in order to get the same total of votes cast while changing who won – is fascinating. But the video does not really lay out its cards clearly enough that I can see what it is talking about.

“Bev’s allegation has truthiness on its side, but her blast of windows flickering across the screen without explanation doesn’t convert truthiness to truth. Part of it is her sensibility in filmmaking. It’s an advertisement or a call to action, not a careful investigative report. I want to see a proper report. But if anyone asks, her prescription is right. Transparent vote accounting is essential.”

The “Fraction Magic” essays show screenshots of how the Microsoft Access software feature inside GEMS allows the toggling of the field attributes for a data record to choose integers or floating point values, represented by “int” or “double” (RCReader.com/y/voting6). I asked Jones specifically: “Do you find that the tool referenced to permanently remove all decimals, while still maintaining fractional math, does exist in GEMS?”

His answer: “I can’t say that I have any findings, but from watching the video, my impression is that the default behavior of GEMS is to round the ‘double’ values to the nearest integer, hiding the fact that it uses ‘double’ values internally. Not having examined the code myself, I’d lay odds that it always uses ‘double’ to represent votes internally. That is, fractions are always potentially present.

“My guess about the history of this is that it dates back to using ‘int’ back in the era of 16-bit microprocessors, when type ‘int’ was limited to values under 32,000 or so. On those machines, 32767+1 gives -32768. The easy and dumb way around this is to move from type ‘int’ to type ‘double.’ In that case, 32767.0+1 gives 32768.0. Problem solved (but vulnerability created).”

We should all be demanding that county auditors do an actual audit. ...