Discovery by Election Activists Allows Ordinary Citizens to Expose Election-Rigging

Updated on June 8, 2018
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Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He has published in the Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun.

(Note: Please do not post in full without permission. Excerpt and link. #BallotImages )

Activists at an "Emergency Election Integrity Conference" in California last weekend have reported the existence of a little-known mechanism in nearly half of all US paper ballot vote-counting machines which allows citizens to easily detect election fraud. The discovery comes as the issue of possible "election rigging" takes center stage. At the same time, a court in Arizona is preventing county election officials from destroying what activists say is evidence of election-rigging.

The term "election fraud" is distinct from "voter fraud." The former denotes fraud taking place within official local and state election apparatuses, while voter fraud refers to people who are not qualified to vote attempting to vote in elections, or voters voting multiple times. Although voter fraud is much discussed in the media, conference election experts contended that election fraud is the larger problem.

At the "Take Back the Vote! - Emergency Election Integrity Conference" in Richmond, California on October 8th and 9th, researchers revealed that 40% of paper ballot vote-scanning machines in the US make digital images of the ballots at the same time as they "read" the votes, and then store these images as a single digital file. Activists say that this file can be demanded by the public. Citizens can count the markings on the digital images of all the ballots, to ensure that the machine-count of votes which is announced as the official result matches the true tally from the ballots.

The conference was sparked by a recent report by election experts, including the 100th president of the American Statistical Association, entitled "Democracy Lost: A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Democratic Primaries." The report concludes that there is strong evidence that Bernie Sanders was the actual winner of the 2016 Democratic primary. The report identified voting patterns which the authors said were:

"strongly suggestive of electronic voting machine tampering."

The ease of "hacking" the machine-count of votes marked on paper ballots was demonstrated in the HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy." Called the "Hursti Hack," after the computer expert who conducted the demonstration, it shows how shockingly simple it is to change the results of an election once access to the system is acquired. Access can be gained either through hacking into the networks on which machines are connected, or by inserting a hacked memory card into the machines. It is possible to perform the hack without local election officials, including the registrar or other head local official, even knowing it.

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One of the election activists at the conference, John Brakey of Audit Arizona, is fighting in court to prevent the images of the ballots from the Pima County Democratic primary from being destroyed. Rather than release the ballot images, Pima County has argued in a motion that the images are not part of the public record, and that it has no obligation to preserve the digital files.

After a hotly contested Democratic primary season which resulted in many ongoing lawsuits, many conference participants were surprised to learn of the existence of the digital image files of the ballots.

In order to find out what model of voting machines are used in one's hometown, online tools are available. The non-profit organization VerifiedVoting.org publishes a "Verifier" which tells a voter what kind of machines are in use in any town or municipality. The vote-counting machines which create digital images of the paper ballots are the DS200, the DS850, manufactured by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) and the ImageCast Precinct, made by Dominion Systems. All generate digital ballot images automatically. Together these three models account for about 40% of US precincts. (How to use the "verifier.")

Online tool at VerifiedVoting.org for determining type of system used in US precincts.
Online tool at VerifiedVoting.org for determining type of system used in US precincts. | Source

In questioning local election officials, some activists were told that the image-taking feature was "turned off" and therefore the image file of the ballots was not available. However, the election integrity researchers discovered that the image of a ballot is taken simultaneously as the votes on the ballot are optically counted, and that the machine counts the images for its total, not the paper ballots.

In other words, the imaging feature cannot be "turned off." If an image file does not exist, it can only mean it was deliberately destroyed, said conference presenters.

A description of the DS200 vote-counting machine by the manufacturer confirms the existence of the ballot image file, reading:

"ES&Sā€™ DS200 precinct vote scanner and vote tabulator combines the best attributes of a paper-based ballot system with the flexibility and efficiency of the latest digital-image technology ā€“ taking traditional optical-scan ballot vote tabulation to a new level."

ESS DS200 description from company website.
ESS DS200 description from company website.

The voting machines now in use across the United States were purchased largely by funding from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA,) passed in response to the presidential election debacle of 2000.

Numerous presenters at the Richmond conference scoffed at the notion, now being put forth by the FBI and the Democratic Party, that Russian hackers are the primary threat to US elections.

Citizens who live in towns, counties, or cities which use the imaging machines, say the activists, should call their local head of elections, such as a registrar or commissioner, and request a copy of the image files of the ballots from past and future elections. Brakey of AUDIT ARIZONA, a lead researcher for the conference, said for this report:

"There is no reason it should require a court order or an act of Congress to view those ballot images, they are not harming the paper ballots in any way. And the ballots belong to the people. If they balk, they are hiding something."

As for the other half of US precincts which do not use machines which contain the ballot imaging feature, it would quickly emerge if a particular candidate did markedly better in just these precincts, said Brakey. A candidate doing very well only in precincts where fraud was difficult to detect would have obvious implications.

The Take Back the Vote! conference was organized by the California Election Integrity Coalition, which includes TrustVote.org, the Voting Rights Task Force (VRTF), Rigged Election, Ballots for Bernie, and others.

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