New university studies in Connecticut and California join the growing list of academic warnings about the use of Software Driven Devices [SDD] in the casting or counting of votes. What the scholars are telling us, that the computer security experts already knew, is that there is no way to prevent undetectable malicious software code from altering the outcome of an election.

Software can be altered with self-deleting code to provide erroneous vote outcomes on all SDD equipment, without exception. The SDD machines cannot safely be trusted to provide an honest count, none of them.

The touch-screen SDD danger is greatest because there is absolutely no way to verify the outcome. In Sarasota, Florida, 18,000 votes were lost in a 2006 congressional election and no one has yet been able to explain what happened. SDD propagandists blame "ballot design" and voter ignorance but the truth is if the votes were stolen no one will ever know, that is the nature of the SDD threat.

Ballot design is a secondary problem with SDD vote counting. The problematic ballots in recent elections with the hanging chads and dimpled chits, the butterfly ballot, the crowded ballot, etc. are all the result of creating ballots for machines, not people.

Touch-screen SDD voting has supposedly been made more secure by adding a grocery-style paper tape to record the voter's decisions. Unfortunately, the tape only adds additional complexity and another point of software attack. There is no way to determine the votes stored in the SDD memory actually match the tape.

Optical scanners that read paper ballots are supposedly the remedy to the security flaws of the touch-screens. However, these SDD scanners can also be hacked with malicious code. Audits are the solution say the scanner touts. But any audit less than a 100% audit only provides the illusion of security. Ballots not hand counted in an audit are no more trustworthy than the touch-screen results.

The nation's fixation with technology, vendor lobbying, and the huge amounts of money already wasted on SDD purchases create a powerful inertia against fixing the problem. However, voters wanting honest elections have no choice but to advocate a return to hand counts with public observation. Vote in secret, count in public.

Hand counting paper ballots with public observation is the only way to guarantee an honest count. No SDD system in place, now or in the future, can provide such a protection of the vote.

Benefits of hand counting, besides an honest count, include increased citizen involvement. Pay pollworkers to count and keep the expense of elections fueling the local community instead of flushing the money away into the coffers of a SDD vendor.

Hand counting is a simple, low tech, and time-tested solution to the intractable problem of SDD security flaws. Take control of our elections away from private companies, computer consultants and technicians and instead return control to our election officials and citizenry. Paper, pencil, and public observation are needed instead of software code and secrecy.

The November 2008 elections approach with the voting machine industry in a predatory posture seeking more millions for a new generation of SDD danger. Stop this corporate intrusion into our elections. It is time to pull the plug. A simple solution to a serious problem.

Hand count paper ballots in public, now.

Permission granted to reprint.

Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, election law, human nutrition, ethics, and music. In 2004 Richardson was Ralph Nader's national ballot access coordinator.