Posted by: Ticktock | October 27, 2008

The Election Hack Conspiracy

On Sunday’s episode of Meet The Press, Tom Brokaw mentioned to John McCain that Bush predicted in an off-air moment that he would win the election in southeastern ohio.  How did Bush know that he would overcome the polls to win in Ohio?

Time to explore another political conspiracy theory.  Did Bush steal the last two elections??? The past few presidential elections may have been stolen.  I don’t know.  I can’t prove to you that they were stolen, but neither can I prove to you that they were not stolen.  To say that they were definitely stolen would make me a conspiracy theorist, and to say that they were definitely not stolen would make me naive and foolish.  I don’t want to be known as a conspiracy theorist, nor do I want to casually accept that I should trust the system.

So where does that leave me?  Hopefully, somewhere in the middle.  I’m willing to accept that the election may have been stolen, but I’m also adamant that absolute statements should not be made about the issue unless there is solid evidence.  Let’s explore the topic framed in a neutral way that doesn’t make any claims one way or the other.

First, I should start with whether hacking and manipulating voting machines is possible.  Yes, it is.  A hacker can infiltrate voting machines in several ways: a hack can exist on the individual voting machines, the sub-tabulators, the voting cards, and also the master tabulators.  In addition, hackers can manipulate the votes as they are passed in cyber transit between sub and master tabulators by using a MIM attack.  How do I know that they can be hacked?  Any computer is hackable, Diebold machines have been hacked publicly, and hackers admit that they can hack them.  Other than that, I would LOVE to be proven wrong.

Second, I should ask whether there is motive to steal an election.  The answer is obvious, so I think it might good to clarify the question with a follow-up question.  Who has a motive to steal an election?  You have the politician him or herself who wants to win.  You have the political parties that want to stay in power.  You have corporations who are financially invested in a winner.  You have foreign governments that may strongly prefer a certain candidate.  You have private organizations that have their own agenda.  And finally, you have zealots and advocate voters on either side who are passionate for their causes.  On top of all that, you have Diebold itself who is not regulated openly, who doesn’t allow anyone independent to verify the vote machine security, and who, by virtue of human nature, is vulnerable to executives’ political preferences. It only takes one of these groups, all with individual motives, to have enough money to buy the services of a hacker and steal an election.

But where is the evidence that Diebold machines have been hacked?  There is no smoking gun, no hacker who has blown the whistle.  The circumstantial evidence is based on statistical anomalies that can just as easily be attributed to machine failure or statistical chance than it can to fraud.  And yet, the evidence adds up to vulnerabilities in the system that should spur us toward investigation, election reform, possible indictments, and possible prison sentences.  And worse than all that, the circumstantial evidence of voter fraud casts doubt on our democracy.  That being said, let me post some links to certain examples of circumstantial vote fraud.  I encourage you to check them out, examine the validity of the claims, and decide whether the conspiracy theory has merit.

There are far more examples than I can explore, and a great article by my mortal enemy Robert F. Kennedy Jr that everyone should read with their skeptical glasses on.

I also encourage everyone to check out the series of videos on youtube from Stephen Spoonamore, who is a professional “white hat” hack consultant.  He is a republican, who has publicly accused the GOP of rigging the 2000 and 2004 election, and in the video below he predicts that McCain will win the 2008 election with “51.2 percent” by three electoral votes.  Obviously, Spoonamore will be proven right or wrong on election day, but the fundamental complaint that the votes could be hacked will not change.

Do you have an opinion on the subject?  Would you like to correct me?  Feel free to do so in the comments.  I’m just a full-time Dad who writes these posts during nap time.  I welcome corrections from people who may have more knowledge on the topic.  My goal is fairness and accuracy, so please set me straight if I went astray.



  1. I think that as long as elections are closely contested, people on the losing candidate’s side may think that elections are being stolen, whether they are or not. That would just be the human proclivity toward assigning order to randomness. Of course, that doesn’t mean that something sinister did not or could not occur, especially given the well publicized vulnerability of these machines. What we don’t need is absolutism on either side, because that doesn’t help. I hope that this level of skepticism prevails with policy makers.

    Great article!

  2. Though I didn’t finish RFK jr’s article, his take on the exit poll forces me to use Occam’s Razor.

    He says that in 10 of 11 battleground states, the results were diverging from exit polls dramatically. He also states that there are over 13,000 counties responsible for conducting the elections. So we are left with the following situation (and possible false dichotomy): thousands of people in hundreds of counties were able to pull off this conspiracy and keep silent about it, or the statistical modeling used for exit polling in the battleground states was wrong.

    When talking about conspiracies, the first question to ask is “How many people had to keep their mouths shut?” The higher that number, the lower the probability of a conspiracy.

  3. I distrust people who are too certain in their predictions. That said, to say that McCain wins by having someone on his side pull the election out from under Obama means that Team Obama is ignorant of that possibility. It implies that a flawless campaign is mortally flawed and that seems inconsistent with what I have seen over 2 years.

    I basically agree with Mr. Helton, when you lose it is easier to believe that you were cheated rather than your friends and neighbors don’t like you or don’t agree with you politics. Life is tough and this country is right of center, no question as lame as that sounds. People in Kansas believe that George Bush was good for them and they have to live with that.

  4. I see what you’re saying Blake, but the hack can be done by one person at Diebold for all we know. Even in the individual states, it would only take one person in each state to hack the master tabulator (or the info while it’s in transit).

    As I understand it, the exit polling held up near perfectly in states that did not have computerized ballots. Also, the exit polling has been extremely reliable in foreign countries and previous pre-computer elections.

    Looking at Occam’s Razor, I would think that the answer with the simplest explanation may in fact be vote rigging. For instance, in the 2004 vote in Georgia the expected results were completely reversed from the actual results. Such a statistical anomaly seems impossible. In that Georgia election, a last minute data patch was placed on the equipment making the conspiracy more likely.

    Clearly, I’m not willing to dismiss this conspiracy because it seems possible. You do make a good point, though, that somebody surely would have blown the whistle. Even the worst political stooge would surely feel guilty about robbing America of democracy. Or maybe not. this conspiracy is messing with my mind.

  5. Hacking the Diebold machines in 10 states would require a concerted effort of probably more than 10 people. That we are unsure of exactly how it could be done, and by how many, leaves us purely in the realm of speculation. (Plus, knowing a few hackers, I know they have a tendency to want to be recognized for what they’ve done.)

    Another indication is that RFK Jr states it was a new statistical model designed for that election. That it worked in other states could mean that those states were more predictable in general, and the surprise came in the states where outcomes could not be predicted in advance. These all lead me to think there was no conspiracy.

    That being said, however, I can see how this would be an easy conspiracy to believe (especially because, I think, you live in Ohio). Florida in 2000, the recent court case in Ohio, and what has just been uncovered in Virginia, all are evidence of a willingness to win in ways that are, let’s say, untraditional.

    Is it possible? Probably. But the evidence just isn’t there to support it.

  6. Since there is no record of any Diebold machine ever being hacked to alter the outcome of elections since the history of their use, what evidence would indicate that it has occurred. I see none. I suspect there are many opportunities for polling to be incorrect than there are opportunities for computers to be hacked and elections altered without any indication that it has occurred other than a surprising loss.

  7. How would we know if it was hacked or if it wasn’t? The fact that it could be hacked with little effort makes me uncomfortable with the system regardless of whether there actually has been a rigged election or not.

    I would feel much more comfortable if Diebold’s hack security was monitored and protected by inter-agency government organizations like NSA and FBI.

  8. […] Security: Each stage of the voting process should have appropriate protections in place to prevent false registration, vote stealing, voter intimidation, vote fraud, hacking, and simple communication and calculation errors that might impact the election outcome.  There are parties that might be interested in influencing the outcome of a high-stakes national election such as a US presidential election, and some of those parties would stoop to any of the above-listed tactics to gain that influence. […]

  9. Regarding:

    “How would we know if it was hacked or if it wasn’t?”

    Software technologies exist today (I know, my company is the leader in this field) that can increase the effort required for successful tampering by multiple orders of magnitude. This technology is used in DoD environments to protect weapon systems against “nation-state” levels of reverse engineering and/or tampering, and is (in part) available now for commercial usage, and is rapidly being adopted by new e-voting system product design teams. The techniques used include:

    – multiple levels of code obfuscation using a wide variety of techniques that create substantially increased complexity for both software reverse engineering tools, and for human analysis, due to the extremely “non-standard” code structure that results.

    – injection of active “guards” in the software that operate to dynamic defend, detect and react to attempts to tamper and/or debug, including as examples checksumming operations, dynamic “on the fly” code decryption/re-encryption, dummy code deployment, randomization of execution, multiple randomized anti-debug techniques, etc.

    – utilization of a network of guards such that guards are monitoring both the original code and each other

    – layering of guard networks with code obfuscation

    The end result when deployed well is not impervious to tampering…but the level of effort has been demonstrated to be extreme, relative to “unprotected” application software.

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