Rolling Stone has a provocative article speculating that Diebold may have stolen the 2002 election in Georgia for Republican candidates. According to one Diebold employee, the company secretly installed software patches on machines in Democratic areas of the state in the months before the 2002 election:
Diebold insists that the patch was installed “with the approval and oversight of the state.” But after the election, the Georgia secretary of state’s office submitted a “punch list” to Bob Urosevich of “issues and concerns related to the statewide voting system that we would like Diebold to address.” One of the items referenced was” Application/Implication of ’0808′ Patch.” The state was seeking confirmation that the patch did not require that the system “be recertified at national and state level” as well as “verifiable analysis of overall impact of patch to the voting system.” In a separate letter, Secretary Cox asked Urosevich about Diebold’s use of substitute memory cards and defective equipment as well as widespread problems that caused machines to freeze up and improperly record votes. The state threatened to delay further payments to Diebold until “these punch list items will be corrected and completed.”
Diebold’s response has not been made public – but its machines remain in place for Georgia’s election this fall. Hood says it was “common knowledge” within the company that Diebold also illegally installed uncertified software in machines used in the 2004 presidential primaries – a charge the company denies. Disturbed to see the promise of electronic machines subverted by private companies, Hood left the election consulting business and became a whistle-blower. “What I saw,” he says, “was basically a corporate takeover of our voting system.”
I’m inclined to be skeptical of claims like this. Hood doesn’t have any proof that the patch in question was malicious. In all likelihood, there’s a benign explanation. We’re a big enough country that we would expect a handful of suspicious-sounding events purely by coincidence.
Conspiracies are very hard to keep secret. To load an illicit patch onto several hundred machines would require the complicity of at least one (and probably more) programmers and the silence of dozens of election workers. Moreover, the repercussions if Diebold were caught fixing elections would be truly catastrophic for both the company and the GOP. It would also almost certainly involve jail time for those who participated in the plot. Hence, it seems unlikely that anyone would be so reckless.
But the more important point is that we can’t be sure. We don’t know what was in that patch and we probably never will. It’s possible that the 2002 elections in Georgia were stolen. And that’s simply not acceptable. The burden of proof isn’t on voters to prove the election system is corrupt. The burden of proof is on election officials to prove to voters that it’s not. Computerized voting machines make it extremely difficult to meet that burden, and I think we’d be better off without them.