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Review: Hacks, lies and videotape

Election integrity advocate Brad Friedman looks at HBO's Hacking Democracy

By Brad Friedman
November 1, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - I believe in full transparency. So allow me to disclose to you that I didn't come to Hacking Democracy, HBO's new documentary on e-voting in America, with an unbiased perspective on the electronic voting machines that an unprecedented number of Americans will encounter at the polls in next week's general elections.

In fact, I'm one of those who have been labeled "conspiracy theorist" or "technophobe," despite years of experience as a computer programmer. Where do labels like those come from? Well, to quote the film:

"It makes me cry. I'm sorry but it does. ... There are people out there who are giving their lives to make sure our elections are secure. They're being called conspiracy theorists and technophobes. And these vendors are lying and saying that everything's all right and it's not all right."

-- Susan Pynchon, election integrity activist from the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, after serving as an eyewitness to the first known hack of a Diebold optical-scan voting machine, December 2005

eVoting 2006
My name is Brad Friedman, and I run When I began two years ago what has become an odyssey of investigative reporting on e-voting problems, I was completely naive -- clueless about the realities that had already set in for our crumbling democracy. Dozens of whistleblower and scientific reports, more than a handful of hacks, uncountable demonstrable lies by American voting machine vendors and elections officials, and thousands of blog items and articles later, I am anything but unbiased, or naive, or clueless. After viewing Hacking Democracy, I hope that more of the American public will share my horror at what's happening.
Still from Hacking Democracy
Kathleen Wynne and Bev Harris (Image courtesy HBO's documentary, "Hacking Democracy")

If HBO's new documentary gets even a fraction of the eyeballs it deserves, it's hard to see how it could miss having a profound effect on the electoral process. Then again, with the overwhelming evidence already available, it's unimaginable that next week we will actually be heading to polling places nationwide where more than 80% of America's votes will be tabulated by hackable, inaccurate, unreliable electronic voting machines using 100% secret software to record and tabulate our votes.

And yet here we go.

Hacking Democracy is the culmination of three years of work by filmmakers Simon Ardizzone, Robert Carrillo Cohen and Russell Michaels, who have documented some of the most mind-blowing moments in the short, storied and sordid history of American e-voting. Other films I've seen on the subject -- some released, some still in the works, many of them superb, even several of them in which I appear -- tend to rely on talking-head expert explanations or data-crunching facts and figures. Hacking Democracy makes its case by showing rather than telling. It's accessible and, by the time viewers see the worst hack of them all, it's gut-wrenching. It's a real-life detective story, with real bad guys sweating, evading, lying and misleading, only to be busted on camera as snake-oil salesmen.

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