hacking democracy

I just watched the coolest documentary, Hacking Democracy, which tells the story nicely of Black Box Voting. It’s a great movie, and I highly recommend watching it. I thought that I was watching the news closely on the insanity of the computerized election voting drama, but I had no idea that the citizens group had done so much and found so much damning evidence.

It’s amazing all the stuff they find out, a lot of it through dumpster diving, and a large part through a very small few election officials where are actually willing to look into the situation. What’s really interesting is how much nobody wants to really look into the flaws. They are stonewalled at every turn in their investigations, and when they do find tampering, the county or state doesn’t pursue the matter diligently … or they do, with equally flimsy policy that can’t be scrutinized.

One thing I didn’t like much about the film is they didn’t dive into the technical aspects of it very much. From an experienced programmer’s point of view, my opinion is that the system is flawed from the start because of at least one very basic fact — Diebold’s software uses Microsoft Access to store the results. Anyone who has used any type of databases know that Access is designed for nothing more than hobby use, and should never be used in any kind of production environment where data integrity or security is in any amount necessary. That alone just blows me away.

There was a very cool test that they ran near the end of the film, and they covered the explanation quite well on how it worked. They found a hacker to modify the software on one of the electronic cards used to store the votes, to throw off the vote that was going to be tallied using that card. Then, the investigators and some election officials actually did a mock vote right there to test the system, and sure enough, by just hacking the card itself, the vote was completely skewed in a different direction.

The film asks a lot of great questions. Why is it that the vendors are deciding how the voting process should work? How are these things verified for accuracy? Why isn’t the entire process made more public, since it is a matter of public interest? And my favorite one addressed very early was, why is the software secret, so that not even election officials can know what is in there? At the beginning they showed the state of California’s technical advisor, who said that even he hadn’t been able to see the software.

As far as documentaries go, I thought this one was really well done.  It was clean, concise, and had a lot of evidence backing up what they were doing.  They didn’t have any wild crazy-eyed conspiracy theories, instead just providing facts and asking rhetorical questions.

There’s just a lot of great stuff in this movie, you have to see it for yourself. It’s unbelievable how screwed up the system is. There’s a lot more screenshots I’d like to throw up as well, but just watch it for yourself. Good stuff.

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