During the process of building support for turning my novel Cassandra, Chanting into a movie (working title Ballot Holes), several have asked me why I published Cassandra anonymously in 2008. In Cassandra, I imagined foreign powers infiltrating voting machine companies to steal a presidential election…not because they care who won, but because they know this is the clearest shot at undermining American democracy.
In Greek mythology, as I detail in the book, Cassandra was the Trojan beauty with the gift of prophecy. She was eventually cursed by Apollo to make certain that her prophesies would fall only on deaf ears. (More about the novel, Cassandra, below. Read The BRAD BLOG's 2008 review by Ellen Theisen here.)
The decision to publish near-future prophecy anonymously was not hard at the time. As an insider at a voting machine company and someone who is critical of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), I didn't want the challenges with respect to EAC certification to become more difficult. The EAC creates the rules by which electronic voting and tabulation systems must comply in order to be used in states which require federally certified machines. In some cases, the rules are onerous and do not result in better voting systems. At the time, I was an executive and major shareholder in the Populex Corporation. We had developed a voting system that allowed voters to use a computer to mark a paper ballot, to then be tabulated by an optical-scan system, or even by hand. (Similar so-called "Ballot Marking Devices" or BMDs are currently in development in places like Los Angeles County in California.)
Complying with the EAC rules (and they change them from time to time) is a very expensive proposition. A book about the dangers posed by our then current (and, mostly still-in-use) electronic voting systems, many of which had previously received EAC approval, might have been seen as a slight to the EAC. Although our company had received EAC approval, it was best not to do anything that they might consider tweaking them...
The EAC was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) --- A misnomer if ever there was one. HAVA was passed in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election in which chads were hanging and many argued that votes could not be tallied accurately.
So, America didn't need help voting…America needed help counting! And America still needs help making voting less vulnerable with tallies more overseeable by the public.
HAVA created committees of knowledgeable experts to create Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (my emphasis). Trouble is, among these experts were those who had vested interests in extant voting system technology, including many officials who worked for the private vendors hoping to receive certification from the EAC. Over and over and over again the independent experts urged the EAC to require, at the very least, an auditable paper trail…what has come to be known in the lingo as a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail or the tongue-twisting acronym VVPAT. Computer system experts said time and time again that a VVPAT would not solve all paths to hacking, but it might help to deter at least some of them. I'm still astounded that EAC did not insist that an auditable paper trail --- seemingly, the most minimal requirement --- did not get put into the federal standards. I cannot find a rational explanation.
The plot in Cassandra imagines throwing an election via the computer code in both hand-marked paper ballot scanners and in touch-screen machines. Because the hacked computer code never uses a party or candidate name, the hack goes undetected by the fictionalized "Federal Bureau of Elections".
In real life, after experts left the EAC's commissions in frustration and documentaries were made (see Dorothy Fadiman's Stealing America Vote by Vote or HBO's Hacking Democracy or David Earnhardt's Uncounted or Patty Sharaf's Murder, Spies and Voting Lies), papers written (among them, Stanford Professor David Dill and Johns Hopkins Professor Aviel Rubin write in Scientific American, and former ACM president Barbara Simons and others give speeches), I decided to write a fictionalized version of how elections could be hacked and what would happen as a result. I mean, if American wouldn't listen to the facts, maybe some fiction could get the blood boiling.
The book idea caught on, but Cassandra is still chanting, and officials are still not listening. So, now we are trying to make a movie based on the book…to reach an even larger audience. You can help…please see our Kickstarter page for the Ballot Holes movie here...
Sandy Morganstein received a BS in Physics from MIT and an MS in Astrophysics from the University of Chicago. He holds more than 35 US patents, mostly in telecommunications. His most famous invention is the "Automated Attendant" ("If you know your party's extension, dial it anytime during this recording..."). Other patented inventions include methods and apparatus for voting systems with voter-verifiable paper trails. Follow him on Twitter here: @BallotHolesMovi