Archive for September 5th, 2006

Pull the Plug by Avriel Rubin

September 5, 2006

So, the Chavistas say, we have the safest electronic voting system in the world, sure, ask the experts, they don’t believe such an animal exists:

Pull the Plug by Avriel Rubin in Forbes

I am a computer scientist. I own seven
Macintosh computers, one Windows machine and a Palm Treo 700p with a
GPS unit, and I chose my car (Infiniti M35x) because it had the most
gadgets of any vehicle in its class. My 7-year-old daughter uses
e-mail. So why am I advocating the use of 17th-century technology for
voting in the 21st century–as one of my critics puts it?

The 2000 debacle in Florida spurred a rush to
computerize voting. In 2002 Congress passed the Help America Vote Act,
which handed out $2.6 billion to spend on voting machines. Most of that
cash was used to acquire Direct Recording Electronic voting machines.

Yet while computers are very proficient at
counting, displaying choices and producing records, we should not rely
on computers alone to count votes in public elections. The people who
program them make mistakes, and, safeguards aside, they are more
vulnerable to manipulation than most people realize. Even an event as
common as a power glitch could cause a hard disk to fail or a magnetic
card that holds votes to permanently lose its data. The only remedy
then: Ask voters to come back to the polls. In a 2003 election in Boone
County, Ind., DREs recorded 144,000 votes in one precinct populated
with fewer than 6,000 registered voters. Though election officials
caught the error, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where such mistakes
would go undetected until after a victor has been declared.

Consider one simple mode of attack that has already proved effective on a widely used DRE, the Accuvote made by Diebold.
It’s called overwriting the boot loader, the software that runs first
when the machine is booted up. The boot loader controls which operating
system loads, so it is the most security-critical piece of the machine.
In overwriting it an attacker can, for example, make the machine count
every fifth Republican vote as a Democratic vote, swap the vote outcome
at the end of the election or produce a completely fabricated result.
To stage this attack, a night janitor at the polling place would need
only a few seconds’ worth of access to the computer’s memory card slot.

Further, an attacker can modify what’s known
as the ballot definition file on the memory card. The outcome: Votes
for two candidates for a particular office are swapped. This attack
works by programming the software to recognize the precinct number
where the machine is situated. If the attack code limits its execution
to precincts that are statistically close but still favor a particular
party, it goes unnoticed.

One might argue that one way to prevent this
attack is to randomize the precinct numbers inside the software. But
that’s an argument made in hindsight. If the defense against the attack
is not built into the voting system, the attack will work, and there
are virtually limitless ways to attack a system. And let’s not count on
hiring 24-hour security guards to protect voting machines.

DREs have a transparency problem: You can’t
easily discover if they’ve been tinkered with. It’s one thing to
suspect that officials have miscounted hanging chads but something else
entirely for people to wonder whether a corrupt programmer working
behind the scenes has rigged a computer to help his side.

My ideal system isn’t entirely Luddite. It
physically separates the candidate selection process from vote casting.
Voters make their selections on a touchscreen machine, but the machine
does not tabulate votes. It simply prints out paper ballots with the
voters’ choices marked. The voters review the paper ballots to make
sure the votes have been properly recorded. Then the votes are counted;
one way is by running them through an optical scanner. After the polls
close, some number of precincts are chosen at random, and the ballots
are hand counted and compared with the optical scan totals to make sure
they are accurate. The beauty of this system is that it leaves a
tangible audit trail. Even the designer of the system cannot cheat if
the voters check the printed ballots and if the optical scanners are
audited.

Aviel Rubin, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University and author of Brave New Ballot: The Battle To Safeguard Democracy In The Age Of Electronic Voting.

Who is afraid of Zulia state?

September 5, 2006

Chavez’ triumphal (??) return to Zulia state has been moved from the open air and smallish Maracaibo bullfighting arena, to the closed in, roofed and even smaller Palace of Events which barely holds 2,500 people.

Things that make you go umpf!

Mexican and Venezuelan elections:, Similarities are not even coincidental

September 5, 2006


I find it
somewhat funny and ironic how both Chavistas and opposition politicians seem to
avoid and skirt any discussion of what has happened in Mexico ever since the
Presidential election two moths ago, which culminated today with the ruling by
the Electoral Court that Felipe Calderon had won.

This blog
is about Venezuela
and I avoid talking about issues that do not focus on my country, but I think
it is a little bit silly for our politicians to avoid the topic.

Chavistas
avoid it, because they do not want the same principles applied to them. When Lopez
Obrador demands a recount of all the ballots, this goes to the crux of the oppositions
arguments for counting all of the ballots in Venezuela, which Chavistas have refused
to do over and over, despite the fact that it would have cleared up many
uncertainties, as well as making people more confident on the voting system.

The
opposition has also avoided the subject, apparently because they do not sympathize
with Lopez Obrador, who is asking for the recounting of all the votes. Thus their
silence.

I found
both positions incredibly superficial and stupid There are very few
coincidences in the two cases and few similarities, to wit:

1)     
The
Electoral Court
in Mexico was appointed when
PRI was dominant in Mexico
ten years ago and it can hardly be called partisan for the party that
essentially forced PRI out of the electoral picture in Mexico.

2)     
All
decisions by the Court were unanimous, in contrast with the fact that all difficult
CNE decisions during the recall petition, recall referendum and subsequent
elections were decided by either a 3-2 vote, prior to the current CNE and
4-1 since the new one with four clearly pro-Chavez members was appointed.

3)     
Perhaps
the most important point, all votes were actually counted in the Mexican
election at least once, something that has never been done in Venezuela since
the new voting machines were acquired. Lopez Obrador is asking that all votes
be recounted, whether they are under question or not. (Under a Supreme Court
ruling in Mexico,
a complete recount implies the election is invalid and a new one needs to be
held)

4)     
The
Electoral Court
recounted all tallies with both parties having copies of them, something that
has not happened in Venezuela
since the 2000 Presidential election, so that it has been impossible to even check
that the sum of the tallies is correct

5)     
The
Electoral Court
in Mexico
recounted 9% of the ballots, which were all of the cases that were submitted to
it in which there were charges of errors, evidence of fraud or specific
evidence that there may be a problem. Close to a quarter million votes were
disqualified in this recount.

Thus, the
suggestion that there is any similarity between what happens in Venezuela and what has happened in Mexico is
purely coincidental, just a full counting of the votes would have made a huge
difference socially and politically in the Venezuelan recall vote and recent
elections. Thus, our politicians on both sides should be more honest and be capable of  studying, discussing and understanding these issues. We need it to survive as a Nation.

Fascism and intolerance are routine for the revolution

September 5, 2006

And speaking of fascism and intolerance we begin where we left off last night as Rosales’ rally in Vargas state was blocked today by pro-Chavez groups, who stormed the rally throwing empty bottles and stones at the participants. The anti-riot police allowed the agression to continue without intervention.

Fascism, intolerance and disrespect for the rights of others are the daily hallmarks of Chavismo.

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