Hacking Democracy (2006)





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The documentary Hacking Democracy looks at the controversial topic of computer voting. In addition to analyzing how computer-assisted voting has been problematic in some elections, the filmmakers follow activist Bev Harris as she attempts to make Diebold, a company that creates the voting machines, accountable for errors.
Documentary , Special Interest , Television
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Public Interest Pictures

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Audience Reviews for Hacking Democracy


I am too computer-literate to know if this documentary succeeds in encouraging people less so to care about this important topic, but I hope so.

Jason Graff
Jason Graff

This film ignores political parties and ideology about who should be in charge and who has the "answers" in favor of backing up one more step to ask the question: Is the method in which we vote secure and accurate? The answer is both easy (no it isn't) and complicated (neither of the two major parties are going to change it). Depending on how much you care about how your country is run, this documentary will scare the shit out of you.

Aaron & Justin
Aaron & Justin

The box for this movie declares that, if you're already worried about the efficacy and reliability (okay, it doesn't use those words) of voting machines, this will scare you. Which, yeah, true. But is bragging on the box that it's preaching to the choir really going to draw that many people in? Isn't it equally valid to say, "This movie provides valuable information that you should know about before you make up your mind"? How about trying to convince those who don't already agree with you? Isn't that a valuable thing to do in such an important argument? It seems to be what the film is actually trying to do, and I think it makes some pretty persuasive arguments, more on which anon. I think it's valuable watching for anyone who thinks the will of the electorate is important, which ought to be everybody. It isn't, of course. There is a growing trend in the US toward electronic voting machines. The question this movie raises is how reliable those machines are. Now, I've never trusted them on principle; I like the actual paper ballot that leaves an actual paper trail. However, it turns out that my instincts about them are correct. Whether it's faulty design, faulty software, or outright hacking, it seems that the machines have this pesky tendency of recording votes for one candidate as being for another one. Indeed, there have been incidences of [i]negative[/i] tallies. The film shows how easy it is to hack the system and that most of the documentation that would show the accuracy of the machine is actually thrown out, literally, in some locations. Of course, Diebold, which makes the machines, claims that the film is full of faulty information and that one of the hacks actually demonstrated in the movie is "a complete sham." However, scientists at UC Berkeley, in a report conducted for the California Secretary of State, showed that the hack can, in fact, be done without much difficulty. It is at bare minimum worrisome. Showing that it can be done is not, as I have stated repeatedly in other places, evidence that it has been done. This is true. However, since the company refuses to acknowledge that the problem exists, it seems logical to assume that they're not really putting out any effort to fix it. At bare minimum, it's disingenuous of them. At bare minimum, they do not have a full awareness of their own product. Even if we're only looking at the bare minimum, that should be enough to prevent trust of the system. Investigators Bev Harris and Kathleen Wynne obviously encounter much resistance in their search. They have papers which allow them to search election results in Volusia County, Florida. Elections officials try to prevent them from performing their search, and the women find the paper strips which document the machine's results in the trash the day after the election. (Ordinances require that the strips be kept for a minimum of 22 months.) They are told that the strips they find are blank, but of course they are not. And it's not just in Volusia County, either; they find irregularities with the systems in other places around the US. Their "dumpster diving" outside certification sites brings up alarming information. I'm certainly not trying to say that there are no flaws in the system of paper ballots. Ye Gods, I remember the 2000 election--though apparently, some of the problems there came from voting machines that were recording negative tallies for Al Gore, so tehre's that. However, the electronic system seems to me to be almost fatally flawed. It's too easy to alter the software. The machines have to be treated properly in order to work, and if enough machines go down in certain places, that can effectively disenfranchise entire precincts. True, there have been incidents of not having enough paper ballots, but it doesn't take a trained technician to fix that problem--and you don't have to worry about how much you trust that technician.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

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