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E-Vote Protest Gains Momentum

by Kim Zetter Sunday, Nov. 02, 2003 at 4:12 AM

Swarthmore College students embroiled in a legal battle against voting-machine maker Diebold Election Systems have received a groundswell of support from universities and colleges nationwide.

E-Vote Protest Gains Momentum  By Kim Zetter

Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,61002,00.html

02:00 AM Oct. 29, 2003 PT

Swarthmore College students embroiled in a legal battle against voting-machine maker Diebold Election Systems have received a groundswell of support from universities and colleges nationwide.

Students at Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Duke University, the University of California at Berkeley and at least 10 other campuses have joined the fight for public access to internal memos obtained from a Diebold server in March.

The memos suggest the company knew about security problems with its voting machines long before it sold the machines to various states, including California, Georgia and, most recently, Maryland. The memos have popped up on numerous websites since August, despite attempts by Diebold to force ISPs and webmasters to remove them from the Internet.

Last week, Swarthmore students launched a civil disobedience campaign against Diebold after the company sent a student and the college's ISP a cease-and-desist letter demanding they remove the memos, which the student had posted online. Diebold cited copyright violations under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.

The Swarthmore campaign aims to keep one step ahead of Diebold's cease-and-desist letters by moving the memos and links to the memos from one computer and one website to another.

Although Swarthmore administrators ordered students to take down the memos, Dean Robert Gross said he supported the students' actions.

"I'm very proud of our students," he said. "I think their cause is a good one and their initiative is admirable." However, he said the school was legally obligated to comply with Diebold's demands.

"As I understand it, if they don't take them down voluntarily then our obligation is to cut off their Internet access," he said.

Gross encouraged the students to respond to Diebold with a counter notification. Under the DMCA, anyone who receives a cease-and-desist letter claiming copyright infringement can send a letter explaining why his or her use of a work in question does not qualify as a copyright infringement.

"A counter-notification would be more successful if there were, in fact, a good faith effort to comply with the law," said Gross.

But students were angered by the school's decision to take down sites that linked to sites posting the memos, in addition to actual sites that posted the memos.

"This isn't them being neutral. This is them actively working to suppress this information. Our feeling is that they're going beyond their legal obligations," said Ivan Boothe, of Why War?, one of the student groups that began the memo campaign at Swarthmore.

However, Gross said that the cease-and-desist letter specified taking down links to the memos, and school lawyers felt they had to comply. Speaking at a meeting last week with 50 students, staff and faculty, Gross told them that the school, as an institution, "can't get out in front in this fight against Diebold."

Gross said he received more than 700 e-mails from people supporting the students and that in 24 hours he went from being "a hero to a goat."

"Before the meeting I received about 400 e-mails thanking me for supporting the students," he said. "Then on Thursday and Friday after the meeting I received another 300 or so calling me names for not supporting the students. How quickly they turned!" he said, laughing.

He said he has received a crash course in copyright law, but added that the copyright issue was not the main concern.

"My concern and I think the concern of the students is to focus attention on electoral fraud. The copyright stuff is a sideshow," he said. "If what the memos suggest is true, this makes hanging chads look like state-of-the-art (election technology)."

Boothe said his group had received supportive e-mails from lawyers and professors from various schools, as well as Swarthmore alumni. He is encouraging more students and schools to post links to the sites that contain the memos.

"I've yet to hear a negative reaction from any student at Swarthmore, whether this should be public information and whether it should be out there," he said.

Boothe's group is part of a growing nationwide campaign for greater scrutiny of electronic voting machines.

Participants in the campaign want to ensure that the machines dispense a voter-verifiable receipt at the polls. Voters would verify their vote on the receipt, then deposit it into a secure ballot box. The receipts could be used in the event of a recount. Only three voting machines on the market offer a voter receipt; Diebold is not one of them.

Members of a group in Maryland called the Campaign for Verifiable Voting is calling on officials in their state to amend its contract with Diebold to require machines recently purchased by the state to offer a voter-verifiable receipt.

"We want integrity in our election process," said Robert Ferraro, director of the Maryland campaign. "If you're going to use these machines then the only way to verify is with a voter-verified paper trail. How can the electorate trust an election if you don't have the ability to do a recount?"

Activists also want voting-machine manufacturers to open their voting systems to public scrutiny.

Since the companies are privately held, they are allowed to keep their software proprietary and closed to the public.

"The public should know how these machines work and be able to do independent analysis on them every step of the way," Boothe said. "A lot of us are still uncomfortable with private companies running something so basic to democracy."

Toward that end, activists are trying to drum up support for a bill written by Congressman Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) that would force voting machine makers nationwide to provide voter receipts and make the source code for voting machines open to the public.

The Holt bill, introduced in May, amends the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which allocated funds for states to upgrade their voting machines and processes in the wake of the voting problems in Florida during the 2000 presidential campaign.

David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University, has launched a grassroots campaign to gather support for the bill through his website, VoterVerified.org. The site keeps a tally of how Congressional representatives have been responding to the issue when contacted.

The bill has 50 cosponsors attached to it, but all of them are Democrats.

Holt said that Republicans are avoiding the bill because they view it as "payback for Florida."

"It got in the heads of some of the leadership that this is a partisan bill. And evidently word has gone out that Republicans should not co-sponsor it," he said.

Holt said that House members understand the need for voter verification when he discusses it with him, but some are reluctant to reopen a discussion of HAVA.

"The committee dreads any issue with opening the bill because it will lead to a number of other contentious fights," he said.

He added, "But it's really a matter of good practice if you want to have a democratic process that citizens have confidence in the voting process."

Holt said his bill would help calm growing fears about the lack of security for electronic voting systems now being adopted nationwide.

"We need to take whatever steps we can to restore the trust of people in their system of self-government," he said. "That's the bottom line."

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