Does Your Vote Really Count?

The following guest column about election systems integrity was published in the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper on December 13, 2005.

In November, you and I voted using an electronic voting system that, according to many election reform advocates, runs questionable software made by a company with a questionable reputation. This past Election Day, did your vote really count? We all know about the nationwide discrepancies and uncertainties surrounding voting processes in the last presidential election. Since then, has anything changed?

The answer is no, according to election reform advocates, such as the Voter Confidence Committee of Humboldt County (VCC). Reform advocates like the VCC believe that our elections are held under conditions that ensure inconclusive outcomes. These conditions are the result of Humboldt’s ballot tabulation software called GEMS, manufactured by Diebold Systems. The Diebold GEMS ballot counting software contains trade-secret (”proprietary”) programming kept private from election officials and the public at large. While nobody but GEMS programmers can explain precisely how the software works, it is known that GEMS operates on Microsoft’s Access platform that has been proven unsecure by industry experts.

In July 2003, one of the first organizations to scrutinize and expose the first GEMS defect was the non-profit group Black Box Voting. In August 2004, founder Bev Harris taught Vermont Gov. Howard Dean how to hack the Diebold GEMS central tabulator on CNBC television (see it on the Black Box website). In September 2004, Dr. Herbert Thompson demonstrated using a Trojan horse-like script to hack the GEMS central tabulator. At the same time, Black Box Voting videotaped a chimpanzee hacking the GEMS audit log.

So, with government-verified facts like this, how are voters like you and I supposed to believe in the official results announced each election day? Do we put blind faith in our existing voting technology, go on about our daily lives and hope for the best in a so-called “democracy” with unverifiably elected leaders? Or, shall we care enough about ensuring the foundations of our democracy, by looking deeper into our broken voting system, asking our officials to ensure conclusive election outcomes, and working to establish an accountable government that genuinely represents us?

To learn more about Diebold and GEMS software, other voting technology discrepancies and possible solutions, please visit: , , or

Rene Agredano is an active member of the Redwood Technology Consortium and an election reform advocate.

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