BlackBoxVoting.org finds voting scan machines hackable
By Matthew Cardinale
Journal Guest Writer
Jun 7, 2005, 14:02
Two new and
startling discoveries announced by Bev Harris and BlackBoxVoting.org indicate that
Diebold Optical Scan Machines are vulnerable to, and designed for, hacking that
would modify the results of an election.
screen voting machines have received the most attention, she asserts, optical
scanning machines pose as much cause for concern based on recent findings.
In an interview for
the progressive news community, Bev Harris, 53, explains in detail the recent
Harris asserts that
her technical experts found, in research conducted publicly on Leon County,
Florida, elections machines, that both the individual machines (which produce
the poll tapes) as well as the central tabulator were hackable.
really the most important thing," Harris said. "Yes we can hack the
poll tapes [and the central tabulator]. But what we've learned is there is a
'built-in' [on the individual machines] that provides the mechanism to hack any
election on the poll tapes in the Diebold Optical Scan System."
something that should be looked at in a congressional Investigation,"
not an accident," Harris said, "because you can look back through the
source code to see that [Diebold] went through some programming contortions to
keep this thing there. It had to have been
expensive for them,
"When we saw
the way they designed it [the �built-in']," Harris explained, "Harri
[Hursti, computer expert] said, 'We have the Holy Grail.' The elections people
are very concerned."
Hursti is said to
have confirmed that the built-in hacking program �lived' in the memory card of
the "ballot box" on individual election machines, according to
Harris. "What this means is that the program operates on the votes. You
can change what's on there; it's just a disk," Harris said.
"So when the
optical scan machine asks it to count the votes, instead of using its own
program to count the vote, it asks the ballot box how it should count, and that
is what's so bizarre," Harris explained.
Ion Sancho, the
Leon County Supervisor of Elections, reportedly allowed Harris and her experts
to conduct a number of testing and auditing operations on their Diebold
Scanning Equipment in recent months.
"Mr. Sancho is
famous for his integrity and openness," Harris said. "We wanted to get
a county with an optical scan system so we could prove once and for all if
A series of
demonstrations were held on February 14, May 2, and May 26, in the Leon County
Elections Offices, she said.
Representatives Corinne Brown (D-FL) and Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) on hand, Dr.
Herbert Thompson, a professor of Computer Science, took less than five minutes
to "hack" a central tabulator in the second public audit on May 2,
officials] loaded up an actual election. Elections are saved as a file. And
[Dr. Thompson] went in and had his way with it," Harris said.
time they'd put in additional security measures, unbeknownst to us, and he got
in even faster," Harris said. "And [Rep.] Corrine Brown said, can you
make it so it changes, say one in every five votes? And [Dr. Thompson] was
like, no problem! And she said, it is a problem!"
It was after
discovering problems with the central tabulator, that the BlackBoxVoting Team
turned their attention to the individual scanning machines.
Calls to the
offices of Rep. McKinney and Rep. Brown were not immediately returned Friday
procedure with optical scan machines has three elements, Harris explains.
First, there are the Scantron-like ballots which are locked in a box. Second,
there are the polling tapes, or receipts, that come out of each voting machine,
which give results for each machine. And third, there is the central tabulator,
or one machine that complies the all results and prints.
check the [latter] two and call it good," Harris said.
"Now how hard
is it to make false results by �taking out' the two so that they'd match? If
you can manipulate the poll tape and the central tabulation system, that will
be all she wrote for most elections," Harris said.
was, can you [hack the machines] in a way that wouldn't be detected. And the
answer we found is yes, absolutely."
"We proved it
by going down there," she said. On May 26, "we made bogus memory
cards. We put them on the machines. And the cards told the voting machines how
to come out. It proved the memory card was controlling the machine and not the
other way around," Harris said.
"We used real
election results from Leon County. We simply re-wrote the program on the card,
and we manipulated the recording of the voting. It would flip 'em, it would do
different things, and the results came out wrong," she said.
like, oh, paper ballots, we can check them if we need to, but that's not a true
statement. That's the big distraction." Harris cites a number of cases
where recounts of the actual ballots were not allowed by state officials.
interested a long time in Diebold Optical Scanning Systems. Because a lot of
times you go where the silence is, the thing that everybody isn't talking
about. There was an orchestrated rush towards anti-touch-screen, but what's
going on with optical scans, which have been in use for a decade?"
been changes in the law, erosions state after state, that it's becoming
difficult to check paper ballots against the optical scan total," Harris
program is written in ABO basic, a new language written by Diebold. "They
made up their own computer language!" Harris said. "Which is a
flat-out violation of all FEC standards. It's completely against federal law
not to use standard language."
What's more, Harris
said, "These machines have been tested and certified at least a decade,
each time a new version comes out. What is their excuse for passing this?
There's no way they could've missed it, and there's no way they could say it's
"There is a
team that does field work that is doing a documentary," Harris said.
footage of when we found poll tapes in a downtown elections office
garbage," she said, referring to a somewhat unrelated public records
request incident last fall. "There were actually two times when we found
poll tapes in a garbage, and we got the other one [at a warehouse] on tape ourselves,"
(see www.votergate.tv) is being edited in
England by Russell Michael and Robert Parillo Cohen, Harris said. "They've
[covered] tremendous stuff that's been happening all over, including some elections
"It's the use
of machines in the counting process I object to. What is needed is hand
counting," she said.
to a very important point," Harris said. "We need to now get the
complete set of memory cards used in 2004 and have them looked at by the right
experts. We need cooperative counties with some anomalies and Diebold scanners.
Someone needs to examine those memory cards to see if they were misused in
2004," she said.
"I'd like to
see cards from King County, Washington; Volusia County and Duval Counties,
Florida; Du Page County, Illinois; and San Joaquin County, California. They're
required to keep them for 22 months."
BlackBoxVoting.org is said to be
creating a technical report for release in mid to late June.
BlackBoxVoting.org is still pursuing
litigation with Riverside County, California, and King County, Washington,
Harris said. Harris recently won $70,000 from Diebold-related litigation in
California and also won a recent case in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Public records from
requests made after the November 2004 election are planned to be made available
on Blackboxvoting.org in coming
"We'll also be
announcing a Diebold related action next week that should spread through the
Internet like wildfire," she said.
Matthew Cardinale is a graduate student,
advocate, and freelance writer at UC Irvine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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