Did Diebold Steal the 2002 Georgia Elections?

by on October 2, 2006 · 10 comments

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.

  • David McElroy

    I don’t like Diebold’s machines or the company’s conduct in some matters surrounding their use, but it’s completely irresponsible to invent a conspiracy to steal an election — when there isn’t any proof that it happened (or even specific reason for thinking so). I was a newspaper reporter long enough to realize that there are plenty of possible ways for officials to steal elections, but I didn’t write a story after each election laying out a scenario by which it MIGHT have happened.

    If somebody has proof that election tampering went on, let’s see it. Until then, it is much more responsible and reasonable to assume that there was some form of bureaucratic incompetence going on with either the company or election officials when the “0808 patch” was used. On the larger point, of course, it shows how desperately we need a paper trail, because conspiracy theorists are going to become more and more numerous if we keep heading down the road we’re on.

    As much as I dislike the current machines, though, I loathe irresponsible journalism just as much. Rolling Stone could have done a much better public service by doing a non-partisan report about why the machines are problematic. Inventing the story (or amplifying the one already spread by lefty nutjobs) just makes it easier for the righty nutjobs to think the machines are a great idea.

    David

  • James Gattuso

    Interesting, a conspiracy theory FROM a Kennedy. Put me down as skeptical. As is this from the NRO blog:

    The Kennedy-is-Spacey Center
    [John Hood 09/22 09:41 AM]

    In a lengthy new piece for Rolling Stone, Robert Kennedy, Jr. is warning that the 2006 election may be hacked by the dastardly minions of a pro-Bush conspiracy, as may already have happened in Ohio and Florida in 2004. Ken Blackwell is implicated. And Kennedy quotes a former Diebold contractor, Chris Hood (no relation), as suggesting that Saxby Chambliss’ win over Max Cleland in the 2002 Georgia Senate race may have been stolen with help from the company. “You do not have to believe in conspiracy theories to fear for the integrity of our electoral system: The right to vote is simply too important – and too hard won – to be surrendered without a fight,” Kennedy writes. “It is time for Americans to reclaim our democracy from private interests.”

    Actually, you do have to believe in conspiracy theories to, uh, believe this conspiracy theory. As for the integrity of the electoral system, I’ll take concerns more seriously when voiced by those willing to take basic precautionary steps such as requiring proof of identity at polling places. The standard should be at least as high as required to rent a car or check out Curious George books from the public library.

    http://sixers.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NDI2OWQ1YTg0ZTMzNTZiNzJlNjIzMjYyNjNjYjU5Y2I=

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    David, in case I wasn’t clear, I agree. This probably has a benign explanation, and it’s not helpful to turn it into a partisan issue. But we need an electoral system that inspires everyone’s confidence, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans. The system we’ve got now doesn’t do that.

  • David McElroy

    I don’t like Diebold’s machines or the company’s conduct in some matters surrounding their use, but it’s completely irresponsible to invent a conspiracy to steal an election — when there isn’t any proof that it happened (or even specific reason for thinking so). I was a newspaper reporter long enough to realize that there are plenty of possible ways for officials to steal elections, but I didn’t write a story after each election laying out a scenario by which it MIGHT have happened.

    If somebody has proof that election tampering went on, let’s see it. Until then, it is much more responsible and reasonable to assume that there was some form of bureaucratic incompetence going on with either the company or election officials when the “0808 patch” was used. On the larger point, of course, it shows how desperately we need a paper trail, because conspiracy theorists are going to become more and more numerous if we keep heading down the road we’re on.

    As much as I dislike the current machines, though, I loathe irresponsible journalism just as much. Rolling Stone could have done a much better public service by doing a non-partisan report about why the machines are problematic. Inventing the story (or amplifying the one already spread by lefty nutjobs) just makes it easier for the righty nutjobs to think the machines are a great idea.

    David

  • James Gattuso

    Interesting, a conspiracy theory FROM a Kennedy. Put me down as skeptical. As is this from the NRO blog:

    The Kennedy-is-Spacey Center
    [John Hood 09/22 09:41 AM]

    In a lengthy new piece for Rolling Stone, Robert Kennedy, Jr. is warning that the 2006 election may be hacked by the dastardly minions of a pro-Bush conspiracy, as may already have happened in Ohio and Florida in 2004. Ken Blackwell is implicated. And Kennedy quotes a former Diebold contractor, Chris Hood (no relation), as suggesting that Saxby Chambliss’ win over Max Cleland in the 2002 Georgia Senate race may have been stolen with help from the company. “You do not have to believe in conspiracy theories to fear for the integrity of our electoral system: The right to vote is simply too important – and too hard won – to be surrendered without a fight,” Kennedy writes. “It is time for Americans to reclaim our democracy from private interests.”

    Actually, you do have to believe in conspiracy theories to, uh, believe this conspiracy theory. As for the integrity of the electoral system, I’ll take concerns more seriously when voiced by those willing to take basic precautionary steps such as requiring proof of identity at polling places. The standard should be at least as high as required to rent a car or check out Curious George books from the public library.

    http://sixers.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NDI2OW

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    David, in case I wasn’t clear, I agree. This probably has a benign explanation, and it’s not helpful to turn it into a partisan issue. But we need an electoral system that inspires everyone’s confidence, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans. The system we’ve got now doesn’t do that.

  • David McElroy

    Tim, I’m sorry that I wasn’t clear enough in my comment. I don’t have a beef with your post and I didn’t think you were endorsing the conspiracy theory. I’m just appalled at Rolling Stone’s reporting.

    David

  • David McElroy

    Tim, I’m sorry that I wasn’t clear enough in my comment. I don’t have a beef with your post and I didn’t think you were endorsing the conspiracy theory. I’m just appalled at Rolling Stone’s reporting.

    David

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