June 04, 2005

A disturbing ballot security story.

It comes from Leon County, Florida, where the election supervisor wanted to make sure that the county's optical-scan balloting system was secure. The Diebold system used in the county is used in over 800 other jurisdictions across the country, including some of the counties where there were allegations of fraud during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

[Elections Supervisor Ion] Sancho figured Leon County's security could withstand just about any sort of probing and wanted to prove it.

He went to one of the most skeptical - and vocal - watchdogs of election procedures. Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, had experience with voting machines across the country.

She recruited two computer-security experts and made the trip to Tallahassee from her home in Washington state three times between February and late May.

Leon County is one of 30 counties in Florida that use Diebold optical scanners. Voters darken bubbles on a sheet of paper, sort of like filling in the answers on the SAT, and the scanners read them and add up the numbers.

So the task was simple. Get in, tamper with vote numbers, and get out clean.

They made their first attempts from outside the building. No success.

Then, they sat down at the vote-counting computers, the sort of access to the machines an employee might have. For the crackers, security protocols were no problem, passwords unnecessary.

They simply went around them.

After that, the security experts accomplished two things that should not have been possible.

They made 65,000 votes disappear simply by changing the real memory card - which stores the numbers - for one that had been altered.

And, while the software is supposed to create a record whenever someone makes changes to data stored in the system, it showed no evidence they'd managed to access and change information.

When they were done, they printed the poll tapes. Those are paper records, like cash register tape, that show the official numbers on the memory cards.

Two tapes, with different results. And the only way to tell the fake one?

At the bottom, it read, "Is this real? Or is it Memorex?"

"That was troubling," Sancho said.

Black Box Voting goes further, saying that the fact that the Diebold machines are subject to tampering is clear evidence of an elections system that is vulnerable to corruption. The group has put a report of its findings onto the web; it can be viewed here.

Predictably, the Florida officials in charge of overseeing elections see things somewhat differently:

"Information on a blog site is not viable or credible," said Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for the Department of State.

Via Tallahassee Democrat.

Posted by Magpie at June 4, 2005 02:10 PM | Elections | Technorati links |

But, why isn't Mr. Sancho doing anything about it?

(I couldn't find the story at the Tallahassee Democrat link because I have just read this now, even though it's only a day after you posted.)

I mean, he's the Election Supervisor, isn't he? Doesn't he get any say in the matter? He's supposed to be supervising and he supervised and found the machines to be ... broken. So, doesn't he file a report and then it's not "information on a blog site" anymore. Then it's the Election Supervisor saying there is a problem.

Unless he did do all those things and the Department of State is covering it up. I wonder why they would try to cover up such an egregious danger to the voting system?

I hate when people say "never attribute to malice what could be attributed to ignorance" exactly because of stuff like this. I can *only* see malice here.

Malice that along with other information uncovered shows that Florida's electoral system is rigged from the very top down. These people are criminals. Yet, they are getting away with murder. Literally.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Bev Harris is a heroine. No doubt about it. She has been working on these issues for ... half a decade? Is that possible? How long must this go on before there is any justice?

Can I make a citizen's arrest?

Jeb Bush, you have the right to remain silent...



Posted by: Hanna at June 5, 2005 09:58 AM

This is proof positive that real reform is necessary. Not getting a receipt fro m an ATM, but honest-to-goodness voter-verified PAPER ballots, collected in clear plexiglass boxes and hand-counted in PUBLIC by randomly selected citizen volunteers.

We also need national standards that ensure neutrality and non-bias on the part of election officials. It's also time to make election day a holiday. Why not vote on Veterans' Day?

It's clear that as long as the system is corrupt, or vulnerable to corruption, democracy as we know it is dead and gone. We need to make common sense election reform our number one priority before it's too late--if it isn't already.

Posted by: Drew fromCT at June 5, 2005 12:13 PM

And just remember this: the only reason anyone would oppose providing an audit trail on these machines is if they have something to hide.

It may be too late already, folks. There's enough empirical evidence indicating that Ohio was hacked in the last election.

Posted by: Jim Palmer at June 6, 2005 10:47 AM