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Posted: November 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Trust but verify

I don't have much tolerance for rude behavior myself, so it is humiliating to have to beg your indulgence while I ask this rude question. Why in the world do we Georgians trust that our votes are being counted accurately? Because we are too polite to question authority.

Beginning with the 2002 general election, Georgia implemented a statewide uniform voting system. The idea was to replace four disparate systems in use across the state with a single electronic voting system. From an efficiency standpoint it had some merit.

The problem is that the system selected under the leadership of then Secretary of State Cathy Cox (D) has been found in many other states and verified by numerous scientific investigations, to be vulnerable to tampering that can result in fabricated and fraudulent vote counts that are undetectable. Check it out for yourself on the internet. The system is called Diebold AccuVote-TS. You can even see a video produced by Princeton researchers who show how to jimmy the system in less than 60 seconds.

The supreme irony is that then CEO of Diebold, Robert Urosevich, is reported to have personally applied a "patch, " i.e. reprogrammed the voting machines, in the two most-heavily Democratic counties in the state - Fulton and DeKalb - possibly contributing to, if not outright causing the unexpected and unlikely upset of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes and U.S. Senator Max Cleland. If Urosevich did rig the election, at least he did not have the bad form to bite the hand that fed him: Cox was re-elected. Call me a nut, but first do the research for yourself.

Diebold, the company and their voting-related products, has come under scrutiny for being particularly cavalier and deficient in the area of protecting the integrity of the votes that are actually cast; so much so that they had to rename the company Premier Election Solutions in 2007. They may share culpability for this sorry state of affairs, but it is we who are ultimately responsible.

The truth is that no computer system or device is completely immune to hacking. Anything that can be engineered can be re-engineered. Another truth is that Diebold did not invent election fraud. Rigging elections is a time-honored tradition. Now it can be done more covertly, with greater efficiency and on a grander scale. Some would call this progress.

The voting machines in use today in Georgia are Diebold R6 and Diebold TSX, supposed upgrades from the models purchased in 2002. Diebold says they are more secure, but they also insisted the earlier version was secure. Even if you are inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, remember the first truth in the preceding paragraph.

In adopting an electronic voting system that has no verifiable back-up for each individual vote, we Georgians have forfeited our right to demand honest elections. There is no way to even conduct a re-count in the event an electronic voting machine is known to have been tampered with. In the absence of a hard-copy ballot or printout, there is no possible way to recount the actual votes. All you have is the corrupted data on the violated machine, and each machine can represent hundreds of votes.

To her credit, Secretary of State Cox did initiate an attempt to resolve this shortcoming in 2006. It was called the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) pilot. This test of a paper-trail system was performed in one precinct each in three counties during the actual 2006 general election. The counties were Bibb, Camden and Cobb.

Cox ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006, and did not stand for re-election as secretary of state. Therefore, her successor Republican Karen Handel supervised the evaluation of the pilot project. Her report, issued in April 2007, concluded that the cost of an actual post-election audit was too high, the pilot audit verified that the machines counted votes accurately, and the resulting paper records were too voluminous to store. Besides, the report noted, Georgians already had a high degree of confidence in the accuracy and reliability of electronic voting machines.

We're too polite, it seems, to demand a system of verification of the accuracy of electronic vote counts. Yet our state legislature has been preoccupied for years with the notion that some ineligible voter might cast a ballot. Feigned concern for the integrity of the process, with no discernible concern for the integrity of the outcome is lacking in...integrity.

It is in the interest of all Georgia voters and all political parties to support a requirement of a paper trail for electronic voting machines, as no party has an exclusive on the potential for conducting mischief. That is one man's opinion.

By the way, none of this is meant to cast doubt on the integrity of Chairman Hugh Steele or any of the other fine folks down at the Newton County Board of Elections and Registration. They do a fine job, as anyone in Newton County who has taken the time to vote already knows.

Chris Jueschke is a Newton County goat farmer. Email chrisjueschke@comcast.net

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