The Looming Threats to Voting Rights: Online Voting and the US Intelligence Community

It is becoming more likely that Americans will one day cast their votes in national elections with just the click of a mouse. What the American public doesn’t know is that sitting at the controls of Internet voting technology is a group of private corporations whose board members and CEOs once worked for the US intelligence community, according to several voting-rights activists and computer security experts.

Bev Harris runs, which is described as “America’s Election Watchdog Group”. Harris has been keeping a close eye on electronic voting machines since 2004 when the technology was utilized en masse, and has shifted her focus to Internet voting – a reality that’s “thundering down the road right now,” she says.

In 2009, Hawaii turned to online voting for local elections. A serious push to vote with iPads is ongoing in Oregon, and in California a state bill is seeking to implement an Internet voting pilot project.

“There really is an intense interest in getting Internet voting installed in the US and this is completely ridiculous,” says Harris. “Because what people don’t understand is that anything that goes over the Internet is completely and ultimately under the control of who’s running the server.”

Internet voting, believes Harris, attacks the very foundation of the Constitution.

“When we go to Internet voting, Democracy is over,” she says. “The public has to stay in control, and if the public is not authenticating the vote every step of the way, we lose self-governance.”

The threat of Internet voting fraud, adds Harris, is further amplified when you mull over who is “strongly behind” this intense push to vote online: the US Intelligence and defense community. “I hate to discuss this sometimes because it makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist,” she says, “but there is no denying you have these national security types with their fingers in these companies.”

For instance, the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who is also an ex-CIA chief) once sat on the board of VoteHere, which lobbied hard for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the 2002 law that put electronic voting and online voting on steroids, says Harris. Another major supporter of HAVA was one of America’s mega-defense contractors, General Electric, Harris told Toward Freedom.

In addition, current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel once held part ownership of Election Systems and Software (ES&S), now the largest e-voting machine company in the US. Hagel hid his ownership during his 1996 and 2002 election victories for Senator of Nebraska, cictories the Washington Post referred to as “stunning upsets.”  What no one knew at the time was that Election Systems and Software (ES&S) counted the votes for both elections.

More recently, ES&S entered into a partnership with Scytl, an e-voting company based in Spain which is currently researching “mobile phone voting apps” so Americans can vote from cell phones. Other Scytl e-voting ventures include the purchase of SOE software. The company’s software is currently installed on e-voting machines across 19 US states.

Gerry Bello, a computer security expert from Ohio, says it is absurd to think a foreign company is being outsourced to help count US elections, but trying to figure out who actually owns Scytl and who funded the company’s start-up is just as disconcerting.

In a recent article about Scytl for the Ohio-based Free Press, Bello wrote that Scytl is “a company that is based in Barcelona, owned by one British and two Spanish private banks, one of which has an office in New York, has a subsidiary in Tampa, but otherwise exists alternately in a private residence in suburban Virginia or in a desk drawer in Baltimore’s inner harbor.”

Bello discovered Scytl’s start-up was partially-funded by the European venture capital firm Nauta Capital, whose head of American operations is Dominic Endicott. Endicott used to work for the American defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, majority-owned by the Carlyle Group, a global asset management firm with close ties to the Bush family.

Booz Allen Hamilton is notorious for developing spyware programs such as TrailBlazer and PioneeGroundbreaks used by the National Security Agency to monitor US citizens, says Bello.

What’s more, Scytl has a sister company, Carrier IQ, which was also financed by Nauta Capital. Bello says Carrier IQ and its software, which was pre-installed on tens-of-millions of cell phones, was chastised by computer security experts as being too much like “spyware.”

“Carrier IQ’s software is a key-stroke logger,” says Bello, “it logs every key stroke that you put in and transmits it. Scytl has the technology that will allow you to vote over the phone. And their sister company (Carrier IQ) offers spyware for your phone. This is a conflict of interest.”

Harris of reasons that the motive behind the US intelligence community’s desire to force feed the world Internet voting is because, “if necessary, there needs to be the ability to control overseas elections for security issues.”

With that in mind, says Bello, the entire globe should give online voting the cold shoulder and universally adopt what countries such as France do: vote with paper ballots.

“You write the vote on a piece of paper, you put the piece of paper in an envelope, you put the envelope in a glass glass box,” says Bello, “then at the end of the day, you drop the box in the middle of a table and you count the vote in front of everybody. Simple, secure and verifiable.”

John Lasker is a journalist from Columbus, Ohio