DEV Community

loading...
Cover image for Cracking Voter Fraud (2002)

Cracking Voter Fraud (2002)

Dominick Bruno
A life long learner, I enjoy challenging tasks that push the limits of my knowledge and skill sets. I am particularly motivated by projects that promote the commonweal of society.
・6 min read

This is from 2600 issue 19:4 (Winter 2002). I wrote it under an old, old handle I used to use when I sent news to Parse Hack/Phreak. I edited out the email address mentioned in the article as I no longer use it and made some other notes for clarification.

I'm releasing it here despite its age for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that outside of a pastebin here and there, it has not been properly rendered from ink to pixel. The secondary reason is that I am strongly considering revisiting this article utilizing more modern technologies, changes in regulations, and address inefficiencies in the original process. The last major reason is that given the hullaballoo over voter fraud in the United States, all sorts of counter-productive or irrelevant measures are being discussed, while actual methods concerned individuals could utilize to combat it are left unused.

Unknown to me until months after the article was published, I had the honor to discover that this essay was presented to a Board meeting of the NJ ACLU during a debate about online privacy.

Cracking Voter Fraud with MS Access and Internet Databases (or how to bust a corrupt machine)

Some NY 2600 readers may have seen the recent 3 minute report on ABC's Eyewitness News (10/25/02) on the discovery of suspected fraudulent voters in New Brunswick, NJ. Since I've been a long time 2600 fan, and played a major part in the investigation, I figured I'd outline how we did it. After speaking with the people at the local Board of Elections, and realizing how easy it is to commit voter fraud, I also felt it may be of use to others in general. Oh, and if you saw the special, there's a brief shot of my back while I'm at the computer wearing a H2K shirt ;-)

The technique outlined here was developed by the New Brunswick United Antifraud Division, headed by attorney Flavio L. Komuves. I was lead investigator in charge of isolating possible cases of voter fraud, and was ably assisted a number of Rutgers University student interns.

I should preface this with the disclaimer that the resources and procedures I am outlining are legally available in NJ, and there is no need to obtain any information illegally. Check with your local authorities for your area. Also, a new law regarding voting was recently signed and certain new provisions will take effect in the 2006 elections. Always take any information you gather to a reputable lawyer and get advice before releasing it publicly - voter fraud is a serious charge and falsely accusing someone (even unintentionally) could probably result in charges against you! Also keep in mind, any information we determined via this method of database searching was later verified by actual field visits to the properties in question.

It's actually rather similar to profiling a system. The first step was to gather all the information possible about your target. Your first stop should be your county Board of Elections. You will have to fill out certain forms - being part of a political organization helps out here, as they reserve the right to ask why you are requesting the information. There are two databases that they maintain that you will need to request on CD-ROM: the current Active Voter Registration database ("walking list") and the current Actual Voter Database ("voting history"). There will probably be a fee involved - excessive fees for preparation and other "costs" is yet another way the government restricts your access to information (while insisting on greater access to YOUR information). I believe it should come to approximately $60 for both CD-ROMs and it may take a week or so for them to prepare.

2020 note: services such as NationBuilder offer aggregated voter data, which has it's own set of concerns.

Second stop is your local Municipal Clerk's office. Here you request a listing of all paid city employees ("Municipal Employee List"), specifying the following information: salary, whether or not he or she is a city resident, years of service, job title, and of course name. They must release this information to any city resident as it is considered public information (your tax money pays their salary). Again, they may charge you for costs. In our instance, the City Clerk's office tried throwing us off by refusing to provide us with a CD-ROM version, and instead provided us with a printout of the database. Luckily, volunteers created an Access database and entered the information into it within a day or so. You may also request a listing of all rental properties (and landlord owners) from your city's Rent-Leveling Board or similar body.

OK, so now you have your base documents. You've gathered your information. Now to poke for weaknesses. What next? Well, first look at the Active Voter Registration and sort it by birthday. Any 172 year olds still registered? Probably not. If so, check their names on the Actual Voter Database. In our investigation, we immediately noticed an enormous number of people born on 01/01/1901. According to the Board of Elections, this is their standard procedure for dealing with illegible entries and/or people who registered to vote before NJ required birthdate to be added to the Voter Registration form. Sorry, strike 2. Next, run a query to isolate everyone from like age 99 and up. If you feel there's an overabundance, check the names against the Social Security Death Index. Don't get too excited if you find matches though - Americans have the funny habit of naming their kids after themselves. Go to Property Tax Records and make sure it isn't their son or grandson (in one instance we originally thought for sure was voter fraud, there was a son named after his father, who inherited the house his parents had lived in, and then married a woman with the same first name as his mother - eew, creepy!!). Be thorough, but don't waste too much time on this - we had a team spend over a month on this and turned up only a handful of "possibles". It might also be helpful to have someone working with you who has access to credit card histories/databases, but I'm not sure if that is legal or how useful it would be in this instance.

That takes care of the infamous "dead vote". The next "weakness" to probe is the Municipal Employee List. Hopefully, you know your town pretty well, because how effective your work here will be will be in direct proportion to how well you know your town. The first test is to query all non-city resident employees and run their names on both the Active Voter Registration & Actual Voter databases. Note down any instances, but keep in mind that the individual MAY have lived in town at one time, and showing up on the Active Registration Database isn't a crime in and of itself - voting (i.e. being on the Actual Voter Database) is. Follow this up by running a query with all employees making over, say $65,000/year. Run their names on both the voter databases and pay attention to what their registration address is. You may discover some rather well-off individuals living in really shady neighborhoods.

In our investigation, we caught the city's Chief of Operations for Urban Renewal voting out of the same run-down apartment, in an impoverished high-crime area, as a small immigrant family. On investigation of the Property Tax Records, we discovered he lived in a nice home a few towns away! Most of our results came from this method.

If you managed to get a copy of the landlord listings, be sure to check all those names thoroughly, as well. A common form of voter fraud is for landlords to register at a property they are renting out. A good portion of our leads were also generated this way by checking landlords we knew had broken the rent-control laws.

The last method we used that had results was to start running names of business owners who operated in town. Much like the landlords, some unscrupulous business owners will register to vote at their place of business.

Well, that's basically it in a nutshell. Hopefully, this short article was informative and useful, as well as a contribution showing that 2600 readers are often more concerned about protecting and maintaining the democratic process than the politicians who scapegoat us as evil hackers. For questions or comments, email [2020 note: email redacted] with "2600" in the subject line.

Many of the people involved are now working with the Community Empowerment Project.

Discussion (0)