Interviews by Bruce David and Dan Kapelovitz
Right-Wing Corporations Are Programming and Manning
Our Nationís New Touch-Screen Voting Machines, Tallying
Election Results With No Federal Supervision. Worse, the
Software They Use Is Disturbingly Tamper-Prone, and the
Lack of a Paper Trail Makes Recounts Nearly Impossible. In
a Three-Part Exposť, Award-Winning Investigative Journalist
Greg Palast, Actor Peter Coyote and Author Bev Harris
Explain Why the Fix Is Probably Already in for 2004.
GREG PALAST Ė Fixing the Fixed Voting Machines
Investigative reporter Greg Palast sets the record straight
on computerized voting machines.
In addition to being the author of the excellent best-seller
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, award-winning
investigative journalist Greg Palast also hosts the
BBC-produced exposť of the Bush family, Bush Family
Fortunes, which has aired in countries all over the
worldóexcept, coincidentally, in America, where the Bush
family happens to rule. In the documentary, Palast
uncovered many of the details that proved the theft of the
2000 Presidential election and exposed disturbing
connections between the Bushes and the Bin Ladens.
Currently, Palast is working with Martin Luther King III to
bring attention to the fact that our democracy is being
hijacked via computerized voting machines.
Hustler: Is the fix in on the 2004 election?
PALAST: You may have already voted in 2004; they just
havenít told you how. Last year, our President signed a law,
with little fanfare, called the Help America Vote Act. As soon
as the Bush family tells us that theyíre gonna help us vote, I
say, "Look out." Sure enough, go into the details of it, and it
has that old Florida swamp smell. Iíve been working with
Martin Luther King III, and heís calling this the Floridation of
the nation. This law is going to provide $3.9 billion of your
tax money to computerize the voting systems of America.
Weíre going to have computer screens in the voting booths.
The administration has put to death any plan that would
allow you to have some type of backup paper ballot or
receipt. Which is pretty strange when you think about it. You
get a Slurpee from a 7-Eleven; you get a receipt. You vote for
President of the United States, and you get no record to
prove exactly how you voted.
Hustler: So youíre saying the Bush Administration is trying to
thwart ballot-machine paper trails behind the scenes?
PALAST: Absolutely. The whole law is being handled behind
the scenes. No one even knows what the heck is in this Act.
Iíve actually read every word of it. My staff has gone through it
pretty carefully, which is quite different than any politician Iíve
run into so far. The preamble sounds really
goodómotherhood and apple pie: "It was just terrible that
legal voters were not allowed to vote in Florida, and we donít
want a repeat of the Florida debacle." What theyíve done is
packaged Florida and imposed it on every other state.
Hustler: Why should we be suspicious of these computer
PALAST: If youíve ever had a Windows document, you sure
as heck know itís about as reliable as any other computer
system. Except with this one you have more at stake: Whoís
going to run this planet? We just had an election in Texas in
which three Republicans won with exactly 18,181 votes.
Hustler: All three won with the exact same number of votes?
PALAST: The Republican elections officials thought that was
quite an interesting coincidence. These were done on
iVotronics machines, but the Democratic officials were
actually able to go back and reset the machine to re-tally the
votes and, lo and behold, suddenly the Democrats won. So
if you think that this is a tamper-proof system, Iíve got a
bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
Hustler: Who owns and manufactures these machines?
PALAST: iVotronics is owned by a company called ES&S
[Election Systems and Software], founded by Senator Chuck
Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska. Hagel
became senator after Nebraska installed his voting
machine. It was quite extraordinary, because you ended up
with a Republican candidate winning in black districts in
Nebraska. So obviously Chuck took his voting machine out
for a test spin and did quite well.
Hustler: He owns part of this company?
PALAST: Heís out of it now, but he founded it.
Hustler: What about Diebold?
PALAST: Diebold is another Republican-connected
company. Hereís the problem with privatizing democracy:
Every single elections expert Iíve spoken to on this planet
said there is nothing close to a paper ballot for safety,
because you can count it in public and you can see how
people voted. But thereís a second aspect to this little
computer game that I donít want to leave out, because no
oneís watching this one. That is, in Florida, the key to the
theft of the White House was the removal of tens of
thousands of voters from the voter rolls before the elections.
They were purged on the grounds that they were felons. In
fact, 97% of the people on that list were innocent of any
crime except voting while black. The Florida Republicans
did that by using a computer program to purge the files of
people they considered suspects. Youíd think they would
avoid that system, but in fact the Help America Vote Act is
going to require that, by the 2004 election, every state imitate
the Florida system of computerizing, centralizing and
purging their voter rolls. So weíre going to take the fix that
Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris engineered, and weíre
going to run that across the country, and weíre going to have
50 Katherine Harrises with their fingers on the registration
Hustler: Recently Walden OíDell, the CEO of Diebold voting
machines, promised to deliver votes to Bush.
PALAST: The CEO of Diebold, who has become one of
Bushís big donors, promised at a fund-raiser to help deliver
the vote to Bush in Ohio. I hope that it gives someone pause
about using his machines, but apparently not.
Hustler: Donít the Democrats see this as their own doom?
PALAST: I spoke with Terry McAuliffe, the head of the
Democratic Party. Heís overwhelmed. He says that they
donít have the money or research ability to uncover whatís
going on. But thereís a second sinister little side to this: All
politics is local, and this is going to give one heck of a lot of
power to Democratic secretaries of state. We have one
political party in America; itís called the party of the
incumbents. This is one way for incumbents of both parties
to lock themselves into position. In the state of Illinois, the
Democrats are thrilled to have control over the voter
registration in Chicago. The Republicans are letting the
Democrats drive the getaway car in this voter heist.
Hustler: So itís not being overly alarmist to say that the fix is
in for 2004, and that Bush will be President again?
PALAST: Iím not saying Bush has locked up the vote; Iím
just saying that if he loses it, the winnerís going to have to
win a lot more than 50%. You can steal some of the votes
some of the time, but you canít steal all the votes all the
Hustler: What can the average American citizen do about
PALAST: Thereís a petition campaign being run by Martin
Luther King III to undo this lynching by laptop. Itís black
voters who are going to be targeted; we know that from
Florida. We have a petition at www.GregPalast.com. Fifty
thousand people have already electronically signed it. It will
be sent to Mr. Ashcroft, and then it will be used by
congressmen who still have the balls to fight this thing.
Every computer expert in the country is saying that to
Gatesify our system is just bonkers. [New Jersey
Congressman] Rush Holt has at least said, "Letís do the
most basic thing, which is to have a receipt printed out [on]
which you can see how you supposedly voted, and you can
put that in a separate lock box so that we could test and tally
the paper ballots against the computer ballots as an
absolute necessity." Heís talking about requiring the testing
of these machines. Believe it or not, there is no testing of
these machines. Thatís really dangerous stuff. Thereís no
open source code.
Hustler: The machine manufacturers donít show the code
because they say itís proprietary, like the secret ingredients
PALAST: One of the horrible things about this business is
that we donít know when elections have been stolen. You
know if youíve been mugged on the street, but with these
mystery machines, we donít know. Go to Las Vegas, and the
machines are tested by the government and locked up, have
special keys and are tamperproof. Here we get shaken up
about a slot machine in Vegas, but we have no such legal
protections guaranteed to us with the voting machines.
Democracy is not a game.
PETER COYOTE vs. VOTE FRAUD
Peter Coyote has appeared in more than 70 films,
including E.T. and Erin Brokovich. What most moviegoers
donít know is that ever since the 1960s, when he was a
founding member of the Diggers (an anarchist group that
provided food, housing and medical aid to the runaways
who fled to San Francisco during the Summer of Love),
Coyote has been involved in politics. He was the chairman
of the California State Arts Council for three years, and is
currently a board member of the Baykeepers, an
environmental organization dedicated to preserving the San
Francisco Bay. Coyote also narrates a commercial, written
by Greg Palast and produced by StandUpNow.org, about
election fraud. The actor/activist sat down with Americaís
Magazine to share his research on the frighteningly
tamper-friendly computer voting machines.
Hustler: How did you become involved with the
COYOTE: Iím an out-of-work actor; I have a lot of time on my
hands. After 9/11, I started reading about 15 newspapers a
day, mostly [those of] our allies overseas. I started an e-mail
newsletterósending these articles around to peopleóthat
[circulated] to about a thousand people. Some of them were
newspaper and TV men. After about a year and a half, the
list got too unwieldy. I passed it on to somebody, but I
to concentrate on the issue of voter fraud. Because I had
this e-mail list, people started sending me things, and I
heard about these two recent elections. There was Max
Clelandís November 2002 election in Georgia, where a
Vietnam War hero, an amputee and a favorite in his district,
was suddenly and mysteriously overthrown in a surprise
election. Even the FEC [Federal Election Commission] has
called that election fraud. But they canít figure out how it was
done, because the computerized voting machines are
private, and the software is proprietary; so companies do
not have to show their software to people. Most people donít
know that thereís no federal agency that supervises the
software of voting machines.
Hustler: What was the other election that drew your
COYOTE: The one in Nebraska. Chuck Hagel defied all
straw polls, all voter polls, all everything, and suddenly won
his U.S. Senate election in a kind of surprise ballot. It turns
out that he [had previously] owned the voting-machine
company. It was the major Republican upset in the
November elections. When Hagel ran against Democrat
Charlie Matulka in 2002, he won with 83% of the vote. That
represents the biggest political victory in the history of
Nebraska. So 80% of those votes were counted by
computer-controlled voting machines, put in place by his
company, built by that company, programmed by that
Hustler: How do the computers change the votes?
COYOTE: It only takes about 30 lines of code to write a
voting program. Itís not a real big deal. You can run a voting
machine that will look like itís verifying your name and your
address, and at the end of the day, youíre voting for Osama
bin Laden. You can program some of these machines by
modem. In any case, theyíre turned over to these
corporations, and the corporations tell you who won the
election. The last election-law revision basically ended exit
polls and paper ballots; so thereís going to be no way to go
back, as there was in Florida, and count the vote. What
amazed me is how asleep at the switch the Democrats and
the American people are on this issue. Itís just
counterintuitive to think that the software that governs a
national political election is the private property of a
corporation. You donít know how itís created. You donít
know what it does, and the only reason they need to write
200,000 lines of code is basically to hide what it is theyíre
Hustler: Have you had any success getting the word out?
COYOTE: I had breakfast the other day with
[Congresswoman] Nancy Pelosi and [Senator] Barbara
Boxer, and they didnít seem to understand that there was no
federal supervision of the voting machines. They asked me
for the information, which I forwarded to them. I find that
scary as shit.
BEV HARRIS Ė Black Box Voting
A mild-mannered publicist turns into a fearless political
During the 2000 Presidential election, a veteransí group
hired Bev Harrisís public relations firm to post copies of
George W. Bushís embarrassing military record on the
Internet. On the Thursday before election day, the firm
distributed a press release directing people to the online
documents. Within 30 minutes, the Web site was hacked
and completely disabled. Troubled by this incident, Harris
began an investigative journey, which led her to unsettling
information on who was in control of the voting machines
and how easily these machines could be manipulated.
Since then, Harris has dedicated her life to exposing the
dangers of computerized, corporate-owned voting
machines. Her book, Black Box Voting (Plan Nine
Publishing), details her findings.
Hustler: What evidence do you have that at least some of the
2002 elections were fixed?
HARRIS: We have approximately 85 cases. For example, in
Scurry County, Texas, during this last election, it was
actually the election workers themselves who didnít think
that the results sounded right. They still had a paper trail in
that case, and they took it upon themselves to look at that.
They discovered that it had given the election to a
Republican, and actually it was a Democrat who won, and
he won by a landslide.
Hustler: Can you give us other examples of problematic
HARRIS: In Alabama, in 2002, the Democratic governor
won, and the polls closed. The observers went home, and
in the morning, lo and behold, 6,300 votes had changed,
and they handed the election to the Republican challenger.
Nobody to this day has explained what happened to those
6,300 votes. What weíre talking about is doing a proper
audit. The key to auditing is simple: You want to compare
two independent sources of data, and they should match.
The key word is independent. The paper ballot that the voter
verifies is one source; the machine tally is another source.
What theyíve done is taken away one source, the paper
ballot, making the system impossible to audit. Even the
machines that still have paper ballots nowadays canít be
audited because many states have passed laws that
prohibit us from comparing the paper ballot to the machine
Hustler: Do these "glitches" always favor Republicans?
HARRIS: Not always, but it seems to trend that way.
Hustler: How does the vote-rigging work?
HARRIS: I would look first toward the remote
communication attack pointóthe modems, the wireless
capabilities. If you can get through with modems or wireless
communications, you donít need physical access to the
system, and that gives you access to do just about anything.
The next thing you look at are what kinds of back doors are
programmed into the software. With the Diebold system, for
example, a back door is available using a Microsoft Access
database. I have a written communication from one of the
head programmers in which he describes doing end runs
around the voting system using the back door theyíve had in
the system for ten years.
Hustler: Do you have any proof that elections are purposely
HARRIS: We do have evidence that the mechanisms are in
place to do that. For example, it is possible to program a
touch-screen machine so that you push the option for one
candidate, and it registers for the other. Thereís actually
many examples where voters reported just that. In both
Florida and Texas, that happened a lot, but they would
always blame that on a screen calibration error.
Hustler: Tell us about the two largest voting machine
HARRIS: ES&S [Election Systems and Software] was
originally formed by two brothers: Todd and Bob Urosevich.
Todd Urosevich still works for ES&S in Omaha. Bob
Urosevich spun off and started Global Election Systems,
which was acquired in January 2002 by Diebold. Before that,
only manufactured ATMs, safe-deposit boxes and so forth.
These two companies essentially have two brothers
involved in top management. But it doesnít appear that
Diebold really folded in Global Election Systems. I bring this
up because people canít believe that Diebold would be so
stupid as to do what Iím going to tell you they did. Diebold
keeps the code to their machines really secret; not even a
citizensí group is allowed to audit what is in that program.
Itís considered proprietary. However, they were parking their
files on a publicly available Web site that anybody could
access without a password, and it was findable through
[search engine] Google. It begs the question of why, if itís so
secret that even the public canít scrutinize it, do they stick it
on a site that any hacker can find?
Hustler: Did anybody go to that site and get that?
HARRIS: I downloaded the complete set of election files
and put it in a safe-deposit box. Since then Iíve found out itís
been downloaded by people all over the world, including
some of Dieboldís competitors.
Hustler: So people are presumably going to look at this
code and see what it says?
HARRIS: Right. There were 40,000 files. They were of the
most sensitive type you could possibly get. They included
the hardware and software specifications for both the
touch-screen and the optical-scan machines, the
construction drawings, the protocols for testing, actual
testing procedures and testing results. It had actual election
files, actual ballot configurations, the entire source-code
tree. It had interesting file namesólike one file name we
noticed right away was called "Rob Georgia."
Hustler: What does "Rob Georgia" signify?
HARRIS: We thought, Is Rob a name or a verb? Inside the
Rob Georgia file were a set of three folders. In one of the
folders, it said, "Place these files in the GEMS Folder.Ē Now,
GEMS is the vote-counting program itself. GEMS stands for
Global Election Management Systems. A vote-counting
program has to go through certification, and you are not
allowed to just make changes to this thing after the fact. You
have to certify it and use exactly the version that was
certified. So itís sort of a concern when you see "place these
files in the GEMS Folder."
Hustler: That was done after the program was certified?
HARRIS: Yes. In fact, they changed the program at least five
times after certification. Georgia changed the program on all
22,000 machines shortly before the election, and nobody
ever looked at what was on the new program.
Hustler: How do you know that?
HARRIS: We interviewed Rob, whom the file was named for.
Rob was a technician who handled intake for the voting
machines in the state of Georgia. Rob explained to us that
they have van loads of people driving around the state,
slapping program changes on the machines. He said, after
what he witnessed, he has absolutely no faith in the
machines counting his votes correctly. He was told to put
program changes on the machines by Diebold.
Hustler: Who won the Georgia election?
HARRIS: There were several upsets. They all benefited the
Republicans, and they were huge upsets. There was a
senator that was considered an absolute shoo-in. His
name is Max Cleland. Heís a war veteran whoís a triple
amputee. He was defeated by Saxby Chambliss. Cleland
was favored to win with 56%, and he actually lost by 11%.
They also elected Sonny Perdue, the first Republican
governor in 135 years. African-American candidates ended
up doing poorly with their own constituents.
Hustler: There was no uproar about it in the papers?
HARRIS: I think people were just stunned. In our current
news environment, not enough coverage is being given to
this issue. You guys are an exception, but many reporters
just take the voting machinesí PR sheet and use that to
rebut things instead of going to check. I think we could
parade a rigged voting machine out there and documents
that prove it, and most news outlets would not cover it. The
next step needs to be the courts and a Congressional
COMMERCIALS WITH A CONSCIENCE
Video producer and activist Jacalyn Kane is creating a
series of commercials aimed at counteracting the recent
rightward turn America has taken. Kaneís most recent spot,
which addresses voter fraud, was written by Greg Palast
and narrated by actor Peter Coyote. "I started to realize that
this country was being hijacked by this administration and
that our democracy, our freedom of speech, our civil
liberties, and even our right to vote were being jeopardized,"
says Kane. "I also realized that the media was being
bought, owned and operated by the right wing, and, pretty
systematically, they were doing away with any opinions that
didnít agree with this administration. So from that, I came up
with the concept that we would create our own commercials
and actually buy the media to express our opinions. Thatís
where this series of commercials with a conscience came
The first spot, "Voice of the People," served as an antidote to
the deluge of hawkish messages presented by the
mainstream media. The commercial, which ran locally in
Los Angeles on CNN, A&E and VH1, featured Americans
from diverse backgrounds, including musician Michelle
Shocked, stating their cases for peace, civil liberties and
dissentís vital role in a democracy. The commercial was
meant to show that you can love this country and be patriotic
without necessarily being in favor of perpetual war.
The third commercial will tackle free-speech issues. Each
commercial features the Web site
of Kaneís organization (StandUpNow.org), where visitors
can obtain more information.