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Accessing the Votes (UPDATED)
Author: BobR    Date: 2011-04-08 10:50:09

The drama of the common worker -vs- the Republican governor in Wisconsin took a peculiar twist yesterday. The outcome of the battle will likely be decided in the state Supreme Court, and that court has a seat that needs to be filled. After what seemed to be a very close race for that seat, the clerk for a predominantly Republican district announced that she entered - but forgot to save - the votes for her district. The new votes suddenly gave the Republican incumbent (he used to be Speaker of the Assembly) a 7500 vote edge, enough to prevent a runoff. Let's take a look at a few details related to this situation.

As reported by the AP, "Waukesha County Clerk kathy Nickolaus said more than 14,000 votes weren't reported to The Associated Press on Tuesday due to 'human error'". The correction to the error just happened to benefit Justice David Prosser. As the AP reports:
Nickolaus previously worked for a GOP caucus that was under the control of Justice David Prosser, who was speaker of the Assembly at the time and who now stands to benefit from the clerk's error.

But wait - there's more!
Nickolaus was given immunity from prosecution in a 2002 criminal investigation into illegal activity by members of the Republican Assembly caucus where she worked as a data analyst and computer specialist.

(bold-face mine...)

Why is that last part significant? It doesn't say it in the linked article, but I heard Ms. Nickolaus say it on the news last night. She said the missing votes were in an "Access" database.

The techies out there who haven't heard about this gaping security hole in our voting systems are the ones with their jaws hanging open in horrified disbelief. For the non-techies, allow me to explain...

For those of you with a Windows machine, click on your program menu, then find Microsoft Office, and look at the programs available there. You have Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and - oh yes - Access. This is a very simple, very basic database tool that nearly anyone can use. The data files are self-contained and portable (they're the files with the "MDB" extension). It's simple enough to copy one to a "jump drive" and copy it from one place to another. The security on these DBs are a joke.

The kicker? This the database that is used by most of the touchscreen voting machines out there. Your vote is as secure and mutable and portable as an Excel spreadsheet.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize how simple it would be for a data analyst and computer specialist with a partisan leaning and a checkered past to open an Access DB on his/her desktop and tweak a couple numbers.

Did this happen? It's likely impossible to find out. It certainly would be interesting to check the timestamp on the file, but that's not definitive proof... and that's the crux of the problem. It's true that electronic voting machines make the process easier, it makes tallying faster, and - one would hope - makes the number crunching less prone to human error.

Unfortunately, with back door access as wide as a thruway tunnel, it also makes vote rigging much easier to do and much harder to trace, especially when it's implemented in such a brazenly easy-to-hack way. People argue over whether the 1st amendment or the 2nd or some other is more important. I say the most important right a person has is their right to vote. It is their most powerful voice in a democracy.

That our voices could be silenced so easily without us even realizing it is a travesty. THIS is not a partisan issue. This MUST change. Count every vote and let the chips fall where they may.

UPDATE (09:55 AM): Ms. Nickolaus is a kathy-nickolaus&hl=en TARGET="_blank">little more techno-savvy than is being reported, and the people in WI are likely experiencing deja vu, and with the same precinct

65 comments (Latest Comment: 04/09/2011 00:40:22 by trojanrabbit)
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