Guest Blogged By Michael Richardson
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is the author of the lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court against Election Systems & Software (ES&S) alleging fraud and breach of contract. Herrera charges that ES&S intentionally sold uncertified machines to the city and is seeking to recover $300,000 in damages.
The city lawsuit closely follows another lawsuit against ES&S earlier in the week by Secretary of State Debra Bowen. The state lawsuit seeks nearly $15 million in damages for the sale of uncertified machines in a number of counties.
Mark Coggins is the author of RUNOFF, the fourth novel in a series, about gritty private detective and professional smartass, August Riordan, who is hired to solve a rigged city election. In a special author's note, Coggins explains the characters are "complete figments of my imagination." Coggins also notes that the scenario in the book could not occur in San Francisco because of a law change in 2003.
"Residents of San Francisco will know--and perhaps now appreciate that the city does not use touch screen voting machines. They should also be aware that San Francisco is one of the few American cities to adopt ranked choice voting, which eliminates the need for runoffs. This was done after the 2003 mayoral election, but in my fictional version of the city runoffs are still possible, and, as it happens, very useful to the plot."
Riordan gets hired by the "Dragon Lady" of Chinatown to crack the case of the rigged voting machine. Before the detective is done investigating, the plot twists and turns leaving dead bodies all over the place. The first murder is nobody less than the city election director himself, killed in his basement elections division office at City Hall.
Seeking out technical assistance, the sleuth visits Professor Ballou at Stanford University, an echo of real life Stanford computer science professor, e-voting activist and expert, VerifiedVoting.org founder David Dill, who is thanked by the author in the book's acknowledgements.
Ballou gives Riordan the short course on voting machine security. "A touch-screen voting machine is just a computer --- a specialized kind of computer, but a computer nonetheless. Erroneous outcomes could happen for a variety of reasons, including software and hardware errors, procedural errors, security holes or hacks installed into the voting machines."
The modern day fictional noir detective, straight out the proud and gritty Sam Spade tradition, probes the fictional professor more about vote machine rigging, as the fiction ends and the facts begin. Riordan asks Ballou about ways to hack a voting machine.
"I'm afraid there are many, many different ways, but I'll try to focus on a few of the most likely. First, starting at the polling place, when the memory is removed from the computer, a corrupt pollworker could alter the results for the precinct before turning them in. It's much easier than ballot box stuffing because you only need to change one number and there is no need to steal or forge ballots."
But there is more, as the Professor's ominous instruction to Riordan is at least as terrifying in reality as it is under the guise of fiction...