Black Box Voting by Bev Harris with David Allen.
I’m not sure where to start with this one, except to say I felt a twinge of pointlessness when I cast my vote this morning on a Diebold touchscreen voting machine.
Ms. Harris paints a very bleak picture; some of it is making mountains out of molehills, but by and large she has done some important investigative reporting regarding the potential for chicanery in our modern voting system. Her central point, that we need a voting system that can be independently verified without specialized computer knowledge (basically, a paper version of the ballot as backup), is absolutely correct.
On a personally disturbing note, one chapter deals with the questionable ownership of voting machine companies. In particular, Peter Kiewit Sons, Inc., an Omaha company, is intricately involved with the voting machine company ES&S, and has a history of shady dealings with it’s large contracting services (highways and such things). The name Kiewit rang a bell with me, and when they mentioned Omaha, I remembered: Berkshire Hathaway world headquarters is at 1440 Kiewit Plaza, Omaha, NE. That made sense, though, as Kiewit is a major builder in Omaha.
But a few days later, I was flipping through a compilation of Warren Buffett’s Letters to Shareholders where he mentions a new director coming onto the board: Walter Scott, Jr., of Peter Kiewit Sons. The description of Scott on the Berk site is Chairman of Level 3 Communications, a successor to certain businesses of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. which is engaged in telecommunications and computer outsourcing.
More likely this gives credibility to Scott rather than detract from Berkshire, but I’m keeping my eyes open on this one.
The other personal connection has to do with the Georgia election a few years back which gets a lot of focus of the book. Ms. Harris details the sloppiness in upgrading and patching machine code at the last minute, without oversight or certification. I remembered that at the time of that election, I was in an improv group known as BRIC Comedy. One of the founders, Eric, also worked as a IT technician, and apparently he had the voter machine gig because he was called away from workshop on election night to deal with machines that were purportedly breaking down everywhere, much like what was described by Ms. Harris in her book.
An interesting epilogue that I discovered when surfing the web for more info on all this is that Bev Harris and David Allen split idealogically in 2004 as to how to fight this fight. One of them has BlackBoxVoting.org, the other BlackBoxVoting.com. Bev reportedly rewrote another edition of Black Box Voting to diminish the reporting of David Allen’s contributions. (David Allen published the first round of books, including the one I have thanks to , through his company Plan 9 Publishing).
Perhaps she was angry with him because, at least in the version I was reading, Pages 213-226 were missing, demonstrating that Plan 9 Publishing has much of the same production values as Plan 9 from Outer Space.