Web site offers to 'fix' elections -- for a price

As Nov. 7 looms, the satire (satire, right?) gets sharper

"Winning is everything."

That's the mantra of Election Partners Ltd., whose slick Fixavote.com Web site offers such services as "real-time voter correction," and "enhanced retrospective tallying." The site features attractive stock-photography models and inspirational New Age music.

"Using state of the art technology, we overcome the challenges of competition and ensure election results for our clients," the Web site states.

But according to electronic-voting experts the site is most likely satire.

The company's 800 number was answered by a man identifying himself as Darius Parker, who claimed to be a consultant, and then president of the company. He refused to say whether or not the Web site is satire, but said that he had been contacted by representatives of about 30 political campaigns to date. "They're asking me the details of a specific geographic location and what I can do to enhance the election for them," he said.

Parker declined to elaborate on exactly what kind of services he is offering. "If you're not an employee or a representative of a campaign, there's really not much I can tell you," he said.

The fixavote.com domain is registered by Domains by Proxy Inc., a Godaddy Inc. affiliate that can be used to conceal the name of the company or person who owns the Web site. Parker said he registered the domain about 45 days ago. Godaddy executives were not immediately available to comment.

With elections that may shift the balance of power in Congress less than two weeks away, the Web site seems designed to draw attention to the security concerns plaguing electronic voting.

Concerns have been mounting as the election nears. Last week, an anonymous source mailed copies of source code for Diebold Election Systems Inc.'s voting machines to a Mayland e-voting critic. And a month earlier, researchers at Princeton University disclosed that they had created vote-altering code that could be installed on Diebold hardware in less than a minute.

Ed Felten, a professor of computer science and one of the authors of the Princeton study, said that fixavote.com "looks like satire to me. These services couldn't be provided lawfully."

However, what fixavote.com claims to offer may be technically feasible, he added. "If somebody were willing to break the law, it's within the realm of possibility."

Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer science professor who has examined Diebold's source code, agreed that such offerings "might be possible," but said that he also believes the site is satire.

"I suppose it depends on whether they know something about the way the machines were programmed that I don't know," he said via e-mail. "The fact that it's impossible to know whether such a thing is possible is really the big problem."

The company, which also does business under the name Election Consultants, certainly seems confident.

"Election Consultants is so confident in our ability to secure a desirable outcome for your next election, that we guarantee complete satisfaction," the Web site says. "If any individual precinct covered by our services fails to deliver promised results, then all fees will be waived."

Then the fine print: "Guarantee does not include precincts that use non-electronic voting equipment."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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