"We can now speak the most majestic words a democracy can offer:
'The people have spoken'..."
First words spoken by
President-elect, George Bush,
November 8, 1988 victory speech
in Houston, Texas, 11:30 PM EST
"Once, during the time when days were darker, I made a promise. Thanks, New Hampshire!"
Same speech, final words.
It was not "the People" of the United States of America who did "the speaking" on that election day, although most of them believed it was, and still believe so.
In fact, the People did not speak at all, and George Bush may have known it or, at least, strongly suspected it.
The voices most of us really heard that day were the voices of computers — strong, loud, authoritative, unquestioned in their electronic finality. The computers counted more than 55 million American votes in 1988 — more than enough to swing election after election across the nation. In that election, a difference of just 535,000 or so votes would have put Dukakis into the White House.
The computers that spoke in November 1988 held in their inner .workings small boxes that contained secret codes that only the sellers of the computers could read. The programs, or "source codes," were regarded as "trade secrets," The sellers of the vote-counting software zealously guarded their programs from the public, from election officials, from everyone — on the dubious grounds that competitors could steal their ideas if the source codes were open to inspection.
You may ask: What "ideas" does it require to count something as simple as ballots?
Can the "ideas" be much more complex than, let's say, a supermarket computerized cash register or an automatic bank teller machine?
The computer voting machines do not have to do anything complicated at all; they simply must be able to register votes for the correct candidate or party or proposal, tabulate them, count them up, and deliver arithmetically correct additions. People with no formal training, even children, used to do it all the time.
So why can't the public know what those secret source codes instruct the computers to do? It only makes common sense that every gear, every mechanism, every nook and cranny of every part of the voting process ought to be in the sunlight, wide open to public view.
How else can the public be reasonably assured that they are participating in an unrigged election where their vote actually means something?
Yet one of the most mysterious, low-profile, covert, shadowy, questionable mechanisms of American democracy is the American vote count.
There is so profound a public despair about keeping the vote system honest that a man with immaculate academic credentials can sound the alarm on Dan Rather's CBS Evening News — charging that America's elections are being compromised by computer felons — and still get only three calls about it.
Dr. Howard Strauss, a Princeton computer sciences professor and a member of a tiny nationwide group of worried citizens who call themselves "Election Watch," says:
"The presidential election of 1992, without too much difficulty and with little chance of the felons getting caught, could be stolen by computers for one candidate or another. The candidate who can win by computer has worked jar enough ahead to rig the election by getting his 'consultants' to write the software that runs thousands of vote-counting computers from coast to coast. There are so many computers that use the same software now that a presidential election can be tampered with- in fact, may already be tampered with. Because of the trade secrecy, nobody can be the wiser."
Computers in voting machines are effectively immune from checking and rechecking. If they are fixed, you cannot know it, and you cannot be at all sure of an honest tally.
In the 1988 Republican primary in New Hampshire, there was no panel of computer experts who worked for the people and thoroughly examined the source codes before and after the voting. It is likely that a notoriously riggable collection of "Shouptronic" computers "preordained" voting results to give George Bush his "Hail Mary" victory in New Hampshire.
Nobody save a small group of computer engineers, like John Sununu, the state's Republican governor, would be the wiser.
If you think back carefully to November 8, 1988, it may strike you that your belief in who won at the polls was not formed as the result of openly voiced "ayes" or "nays" in a public forum.
Nor was your perception of who won or lost based on the honest and visible marks on paper ballots that were checked and rechecked by all concerned parties or their chosen representatives.
The truth, if you recall it clearly, is that you learned about George Bush's astounding victory in New Hampshire from a television program or newspaper, which supposedly learned about it from a computer center into which other computers fed information.
You learned the "predicted outcome" within minutes after the polls in New Hampshire closed, and by and large you believed what you heard because you had no cause, it seemed, to be skeptical or suspicious.
If you had any doubts about how the vote was counted, you probably dismissed them after asking yourself questions like:
1) Why would the computer people lie?
2) How could they lie? There must be public checks and balances.
3) If they lie, how can they get away with it? The losers will surely raise hell.
Because you, and most of us, dismiss the possibility that the American vote is routinely stolen, distorted or otherwise monkeyed with by corrupt computer wizards, you resist questioning further and dismiss as crackpots or fanatics those who do.
Yet, not long ago, Robert Flaherty, the president of News Election Services (NES), the private company that compiles voting results and feeds them to the major media, was asked to make it clear how the NES system works.
As usual when asked about how NES counts and disseminates the vote, he replied:
"This is not a proper area of inquiry."
Can it be that the methods used to accept, tally and broadcast the results of the American vote are improper areas for questioning?
"Yes," says Mr. Flaherty, "that is a proprietary matter not open to the public."
We will describe the operations of the secretive NES later on, although it is noteworthy here to mention that this corporation, which fanatically guards its people and processes from the public view, is a consortium of the three major television networks: ABC, NBC and CBS, plus the Associated Press wire service, CNN, the New YorkTimes, the Washington Post and other news-gathering organizations.
These "First Amendment" institutions each raise the cry of "impropriety" and "improper inquiry" when asked about their unspoken role in the American vote count.
Actually, the major news organizations foster the illusion that the American press competes to get the correct vote count to the public, and they imply by omission that "ballots" are counted in the traditional, accountable ways that once fostered confidence and a sense of fairness in the hearts and minds of the American voter.
However the American voter has grown steadily more apathetic in both presidential and off-year elections, with sometimes less than 25 percent of those eligible taking the opportunity to cast a ballot The press blames this on the politicians and the public itself, but the public may be aware, if only vaguely that in some unfathomable way their vote counts for little or nothing.
There have been too many odd coincidences and peculiar results over the past quarter century, and the decline in voter participation in national elections over the past two decades is directly proportional to the rise of computerized voting.
The People are naive about computer voting and somewhat less than entirely computer literate. They do intuit, however, that it is a mistake to put much faith in the integrity of computerized voting systems. Except in matters spiritual, intelligent people tend not to place much faith in what they cannot see. They could see paper ballots marked and placed into a slot in ballot boxes, and except for certain infamous precincts in Chicago, people generally trusted the American voting process. They could see it, touch it, and their vote left a paper trail that could be followed if there was a need for verification. That can no longer be said.
The instant after a voter chooses his or her ballot selection on a computer, the electronic impulse that is triggered either records that vote or it does not. Either way, the computer program immediately erases all record of the transaction except for the result, which is subject to an infinite variety of switching, column jumping, multiplication, division, subtraction, addition and erasure.
All these operations take place in the electronic universe within the computer and are entirely under the direction of the program or "source code" It is impossible to go back to the original event, like you can with a paper ballot, and start over again in case fraud is suspected. With computer voting the results are virtually final, and, in all cases, hatched in the electronic dark. No human eye can watch or protect your vote once it is cast in a computer voting machine.
People who mistrust the voting process cannot, in the traditional American way, accept the defeat of their candidates gracefully and work loyally with the winners. Instead, more and more American voters are feeling "had," "scammed," "hoodwinked" by the voting system. Trust has almost departed. There is the nagging, unproven, yet pervasive feeling that the "experts," the "spin doctors," the "covert operators" and the "private interests" have put their technicians and consultants in absolute control of the national vote count, and that in any selected situation these computer wizards can and will program the vote as their masters wish.
All over the United States of America there are people who listen to the facts about computer voting and then tell horror stories of candidates, who didn't have a prayer before election day, then slip into office by an uncheckable computer vote. Most common is the story of the computer that "breaks down" when one candidate is securely in the lead, and after the computer is "fixed," the losing candidate pulls ahead and wins. The evil feelings left behind by such shenanigans are festering across America.
Among the wickedest recent examples of possible computerized vote fraud, of the sort that has disillusioned millions of Americans, is the 1988 New Hampshire primary that saved George Bush from getting knocked out of the race to the White House.
Was the New Hampshire Primary scenario a modern classic in computerized vote manipulation? Here is the gist of it.
The Bush campaign of 1988, as historians have since recollected it, was filled with CIA-type disinformation operations and deceptions of the sort that America used in Viet Nam, Chile and the Soviet Union. Since George Bush was one of the most admired CIA directors in the history of the organization, this was not so surprising.
Yet George Bush stood to lose the Republican Party nomination if he was beaten by Sen. Robert Dole in the snows of New Hampshire. He had suffered a terrible political wound when Dole won big by a show of hands in an unriggable Iowa caucus. Bush came to New Hampshire with all the earmarks of a loser whom the press had come to identify as a "wimp."
Political observers were downbeat in their observations of Bush's chances in the face of Dole's Iowa momentum. Virtually every television and newspaper poll had Bush losing by up to eight points just hours before the balloting.
Desperate times require desperate measures. Perhaps that's what it required for "steps to be taken," and phone calls to be made. Then came a widely reported promise made by Bush to his campaign manager, Gov. Sununu. It happens that Sununu's computer engineering skills approach "genius" on the tests. If Sununu could "deliver" New Hampshire, and Bush didn't care how and didn't want to know how — then Sununu would become his chief of staff in the White House.
When election day was over the following headline appeared in the Washington Post:
NEW HAMPSHIRE CONFOUNDED MOST POLLSTERS
Voters Were a Step Ahead of Tracking Measurements
By Lloyd Grove
Washington Post Staff Writer
For Vice President Bush and his supporters, Tuesday's 9-percentage-point victory over Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) in New Hampshire was a delightful surprise; for Andrew Kohut, it was a horror story.
Kohut is president of the Gallup poll, whose final New Hampshire survey was wrong by 17 points: it had put Dole ahead by 8; Bush won by 9. "I was dismayed," Kohut acknowledged yesterday.
This New Hampshire primary was perhaps the most polled primary election in American history, and in the end, the Republican voters in the state confounded the predictions of nearly every published survey of voter opinion.
Gallup's glaring error and the miscalls of other polling organizations once again raise questions about the accuracy of polls, their use by the media and the impact they have on voters' choices and the public perception of elections. In New Hampshire this year, news organizations' use of "tracking polls" to try to follow the movement of public opinion night after night came to dominate news accounts of the campaigning and the thinking of the campaigns themselves.
Tracking polls usually survey a relatively small number of voters every night: 150 to 400 in each party, in the case of The Post-ABC poll. The results are averaged over several days. See POLLS, A11, Col. 1
Had the terms of Bush's "promise" to Sununu been met?
Whatever magic Sununu was able to conjure up during those final hours preceding the overnight resurrection of the Bush campaign, it worked.
There are those who believe that such a wild reversal of form would have been subject to an immediate inquiry by the stewards if it had happened in the Kentucky Derby. Any horseplayer would have nodded sagely, put a finger up to his eye, pulled down the lower lid, and signaled: "Fix."
Yet in New Hampshire, there was some wonderment expressed in the press, and little more. There was no rechecking of the computerized voting machines, no inquiry into the path of the vote from the voting machines to the central tallying place, no public scrutiny of the mechanisms of the mighty peculiar vote that saved George Bush's career and leapfrogged the relatively obscure Sununu into the White House.
Nothing was said in the press about the secretly programmed computer chips inside the "Shouptronic" Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines in Manchester, the state's largest city.
These 200-pound systems were so easily tampered with that the integrity of the results they gave — and George Bush was the beneficiary of their tallies — will forever be in doubt. Consider these points:
1. The "Shouptronic" was purchased directly from a company whose owner, Ransom Shoup, had been twice convicted of vote fraud in Philadelphia.
2. It bristled with telephone lines that made it possible for instructions from the outside to be telephoned into the machine without anyone's dear knowledge.
3. It completely lacked an "audit trail," an independent record that could be checked in case the machine "broke down" or its results were challenged.
4. Roy G. Saltman, of the federal Institute for Computer Sciences and Technology, called the Shouptronic "much more risky" than any other computerized tabulation system because "You are fundamentally required to accept the logical operation of the machine, there is no way to do an independent check."
A year later, in June of 1989, Robert J. Naegele, who had investigated all computerized voting systems for New York State, warned: "The DRE (which the Shouptronic was) is still at least a year and possibly two away from what I would consider a marketable product. The hardware problems are relatively minor, but the software problems are conceptual and really major".
A source close to Gov. Sununu insists that Sununu knew from his perspective as a politician, and his expertise as a computer engineer, that the Shouptronic was prime for tampering.
How could such an offense against the United States electoral process have been carried out under the gaze of professionals from the nation's TV networks, newspapers and wire services?
There are lawyers who will argue that the party primary election is essentially an intra-party matter over which "outsiders" have no legal rights. That, in fact, if a political party wants to rig its elections, it can do so without violation of federal, state or local laws.
As long as men and women in charge of the vote count are on the take, or can be persuaded that tampering is "good for the party," that one candidate should win no matter what the vote count is — then wholesale vote rigging throughout America can be accomplished quite easily. It is a sick and vicious way to operate within the two-party system, and there is reason to believe that it is epidemic on a national scale.
The concept is clear, simple and it works. Computerized voting gives the power of selection, without fear of discovery, to whomever controls the computer.
Of course, there are problems about getting control of more and more computers, and that problem has been brilliantly solved with the help, and in some cases the unwitting collaboration, of the major news-gathering organizations.
Over the past generation, when television news became an unstoppable force in America's political life, competition grew between the major networks to be "first" with the voting results — proving they had better reporters, better contacts, better organizations than the opposition.
At first, the race to call the winners was sportsmanlike and played much like print journalism played "scoops." Then, almost imperceptibly, the networks' urge to "give the public timely results" crossed over the line into territory more sinister.
The early position taken by network spokesmen was that slow vote counts increased the likelihood of vote fraud, and besides, the American people had a "right" to know as soon as possible how their candidates fared.
You may ask: Why all the rush?
In a fair election, how does the passage of a reasonable amount of time, less than a day or two, say, negatively affect the outcome of the election or the people's perception of it? In the early days of the nation it required months to find out who was elected president, since the electoral college met in January to cast their votes.
Clearly, democracy can survive without immediate election results.
Yet the media's clamor for speed went on, encouraged by inventors who had early knowledge of computers and knew how to use them to accelerate the processes of ordinary life. It became possible, with fast counters developed by International Business Machine Corporation, to use punch cards, with rows of small, rectangular holes, as ballots. These old cards could be counted at the rate of thousands per minute by an IBM sorting machine hooked up with a photoelectric cell and a computerized tabulator. It seemed like progress at the time. Vote counting got a lot faster in a big hurry.
But after several years, IBM realized that the Vote-amatic voting machine, the patents on which IBM had bought from its inventor, T. K. Harris, was actually a Pandora's box. IBM, following several disturbing public relations problems brought about by both incompetent and malicious "mishaps" during elections, took its name off the product. IBM eventually sold its rights in the company after IBM's president, Thomas Watson, read an article that implied he might be trying to install IBM voting machines in enough precincts to win him the first electronically rigged election for President of the United States. Watson had no ambitions to become a U.S. president and was mortified that his computers would be implicated in antidemocratic functions.
With the crusty, impeccable IBM out of the business, the scramble to produce new, improved, less scrupulous voting hardware and software began in earnest. Entrepreneurs made fortunes peddling the early computerized counters to towns and cities across America. They sold the machines as the "patriotic," "progressive" thing to do for American voters.
Newspaper and broadcast media seldom bothered to look into the voting machine industry and, in fact, took advantage of the speed the new machines offered in counting. The press did not investigate the accuracy, or lack of it, of the final tallies.
All of the computerized machines, from the earliest versions on, were peculiarly susceptible to vote fraud despite the ingenuous claims made by the manufacturers. The issue of "speed" in counting actually meant little or nothing to the voting public, except as it was staged as a competition by the press. Yes, the computers offered speed on the one hand, but on the other hand they all, without exception, did their operations in the electronic dark where ordinary citizens, who had previously taken the responsibility for a fair and accurate vote, could never venture.
Most Americans did not realize that such an anti-democratic virus had infected their vote. Most do not realize it today. If you ask your friends to describe how their vote (if they cast a vote) is counted, they are unlikely to get much further than the polling booth and the rudimentary requirements to operate the machine. Beyond that they are probably ignorant. Most people expect that the Democrat and Republican poll watchers will watch out for their interests, and if not them, the Board of Elections or some federal elections commission will keep the fraud down to manageable proportions.
Naturally, in the vacuum of ethics and in the depths of ignorance about computerized voting, the opportunists arrived on the scene. It was already clear that IBM considered the business too dirty to mess with. Yet salesmen had placed the machines, along with service contracts and consulting fees, in thousands of America's precincts.
All over the nation the local election boards were taking delivery of Trojan horses that could be programmed to bide their time and then, when the proper moment came, to mistabulate election results on command. Computer experts with even the most vestigial imaginations figured out dozens of ways to compromise a vote, many of them so elegant that getting caught was almost impossible.
During a little-publicized court trial in West Virginia, it was revealed that there were ways to stop the computers during a count, while everyone watched. Simply fiddle with a few switches, turn the computer back on again, and thereby alter the entire vote, or parts of it. If anyone asked questions, the fixers could make any number of plausible excuses. Mostly all they had to say was "just checking that everything's running okay," and that was satisfactory.
With voting machines attached to telephone lines it was possible to meddle with the actual vote from a telephone miles away. Getting caught was not possible. "Deniability" and "untrackability" were built into the secret source codes that animated the machines.
It was possible to rig elections electronically in separate communities across the country, but until 1964 it was not considered possible to rig a national election. Then, in August 1964, News Election Service was created.
Perhaps the most important piece of history uncovered during theVotescam probe is a potently candid study of the U.S. electoral system conducted in 1980 by the CIA-linked Air Command and Staff College in cooperation with the University of New Mexico. It establishes the TV corporate networks' interest in NES. The study was commissioned by the CIA and published in the International Journal of Public Administration that was distributed to selected government agencies. We discovered a copy in the Library of Congress.
It is safe to say that almost nobody in America is aware of the activities of NES on election night. The on-air scripts of each TV network during the years since the founding of NES have seldom, if ever, mentioned its existence. The silence smacks of collusion among press "competitors" to keep NES away from public scrutiny A portion of the study read:
"The United States government has no elections office and does not attempt to administer congressional elections. The responsibility for the administration of elections and certification of winners in the United States national election rests with a consortium of private entities, including 111,000 members of the national League of Women Voters. The formal structure of election administration in the United States is not capable of providing the major TV networks with timely results of the presidential and congressional elections. In the case of counting actual ballots on national election night, public officials have abdicated responsibility of aggregation of election night vote totals to a private organization, News Election Service of New York (NES). NES is a wholly-owned subsidiary joint-venture of national television networks ABC, CBS and NBC and the press wire-services AP and UPI. This private organization performs without a contract: without supervision by public officials. It makes decisions concerning its duties according to its own criteria. The question and accountability of News Election Service has not arisen in the nation's press because the responsibility NES now has in counting the nation's votes was assumed gradually over a lengthy period without ever being evaluated as an item on the public agenda. (Underlined for emphasis. Ed.)
This privately owned vote counting cartel (NES) uses the vast membership of the network-subsidized League of Women Voters as field personnel whose exclusive job is to phone in unofficial vote totals to NES on election night. NES also operates a "master computer" in New York City, located on 34th Street. (Because the League of Women Voters has about it a perfume of volunteerism and do-goodism, the fact that it is actually a political club with a political agenda and a hungry treasury is shrouded by the false myth that it is a reliable election-day watchdog.)
The NES mainframe computer has the capability, via telephone lines, of "talking" back and forth with county and state government mainframes. During the important 60-day certification period after an election, the counts in the county and state mainframes can still be manipulated by outsiders to conform to earlier TV "projections."
Without this capability of using the NES mainframe to "balance the books " between initial network projections of Bush as "winner" and the final official totals published two months later, Bush may have lost the election to Dukakis.
It is the prescription for the covert stealing of America.