Why Is the GOP Changing Voting Machine Software Right Before the Election?S

Just last month, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State okayed the installation of software updates to electronic voting machines. Nobody is entirely sure what the patches do. But they're located in perhaps the election's most crucial state. This is worrying.

As Salon's Brad Friedman states in his thorough rundown of the patch, there's no reason to assume that there's a vote-changing conspiracy afoot. But let's get one thing straight: if we're going to use digital voting machines, their software shouldn't be changed without proper evaluation, approval, and transparency. Ever. And there's been none of that.

The patch is designed to alter the way vote reports are generated, allegedly making them easier (and faster) to count on election night—votes are spit out into an unencrypted text file, and is then, Friedman explains, "sent by the county, via some unspecified means, to the secretary of state for import into its Election Night Reporting System, which is subsequently made available on the Web, where it will be viewed by the media and the rest of the world as the "results" of that day's election in Ohio."

Again, nothing wrong with this, if it'd been subject to evaluation and rigorous testing over the course of, say, several months. Or a year. Or many years. There are few things as important to a modern democracy as making sure its voting software isn't ruining its elections. Ohio's Secretary of State, Jon Husted, who approved the software update, says the process has been transparent, and that "The [updated] reporting system and the counting system are not connected in any actual way." But, Friedman counters, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical:

The "transparency" of a system that counts votes in secret and features a secretly installed piece of software that skirted normal certification procedures aside, [a challenging] affidavit disputes Husted's explanation about the separation between the reporting and counting systems.

"Their custom application … would have full contact with the central tabulator database on both a read and write basis, while running on the same computer as where the ‘master vote records' (the central tabulator database - the ‘crown jewels' of the whole process) are stored," he says.

But it's too late now. The software is installed. And if the results from Ohio are disputed, expect this to come under heavy scrutiny—the kind of scrutiny it deserved months ago. [Salon]