By Warren Stewart on 10/10/2006, 9:05am PT  

Guest Blogged by Warren Stewart of and cross-posted here.

"A perception of legitimacy is more important than legitimacy itself."
-- from the movie "Man of the Year".

Unless you’ve spent the last week on a secluded desert island, you’ve probably caught some of the Hollywood pre-release hype about "Man of the Year", which will hit theatres nationwide on October 13. The premise of the movie is that a comedian, Tom Dobbs (played by Robin Williams), who has made a career of skewering politicians, runs a Pat Paulsen-style campaign for president. Sure enough, he wins.

Or does he?

It turns out that his election was the result of a computer voting error. "Delacroy Voting Systems" has sold the nation on their new electronic voting system and one of their employees discovers that the system has a 'glitch' that gave the election to the clown. The company, who couldn't care less who wins the election and is only concerned about the effect the revelation might have on the company's stock, plots to destroy the employee's credibility.

It all sounds chillingly familiar, doesn't it?...

The movie is fiction but the potential that election results could be manipulated by insiders with access to computerized voting or affected by software errors is reality. Ballot programming errors affected the results in nine races in a Republican primary election in Iowa last June. Primary elections have been questioned in Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, and numerous other states across the country based on machine malfunctions and irregularities in vote tabulation. In many of these cases, like the one in Iowa, it was possible to recover the will of the voters because there was an independent means of verifying the accuracy of the electronic tallies through paper ballots. In others, there was no such safety net.

No doubt, the voting industry's talking points will show up indirectly in the words of reviewers and talking heads, who will point out how such a scenario is pure fiction and could never happen. We will be assured that real life voting systems are rigorously tested to stringent standards, even though those standards have been written with the vendors interests in mind and what passes as "testing" is paid for by the vendors and hidden from any public oversight. And of course that testing has resulted in the certification and implementation of the very systems that have been demonstrated to have severe security vulnerabilities and proven to be unreliable and prone to malfunction in actual elections. As in the movie, the credibility of those who question the merit of casting and counting votes on electronic voting machines in the real world - a "scary minority" as described in a recent Congressional hearing - will continue to be challenged.

Hopefully, this blockbuster film will raise general awareness of the grave threat that trusting secret software to count votes is a fundamental threat to our democracy and that "scary majority" will demand the use of transparent, verifiable voting systems - before life imitates art.