[E-voting] more revelations from the USA

Catherine Ansbro cansbro at eircom.net
Sun Jul 3 23:31:28 IST 2005

There has been so much happening on the US e-voting front that I haven't 
made any attempt to keep ICTE up to date.  Let me try to redress this by 
summarising briefly some of the key points that are coming up:

1) Highly respected computer scientists (in the Bay Area, Georgia and 
North Carolina) who had access to Diebold code apparently knew about the 
massive vulnerabilities of the Diebold optical scanner many months 
before the election and did nothing to alert anyone.  They knew--or 
should have known (because very obvious)--about the vulnerabilities from 
remote access, possibility to easily manipulate the counting computer, 
and the memory card executable--all of which could easily change 
election results on a large scale and not leave a trace.  Yet they said 
/nothing/ prior to the election.

2) Kathy Dopp of Open Voting Consortium (and USCountVotes) has implied 
that the reason these independent computer scientists didn't reveal 
anything about their discoveries was because if they did, they wouldn't 
be able to do any work for election machine vendors in the future.  So 
much for integrity.  It now transpires that OVC is a vendor so there are 
inherent vested interests.  (To me it appears that OVC is trying to 
hijack the good name of "open source" to lend a veneer of 
trustworthiness to the untrustworthy hardware with which the software 
would be used.)  And OVC is a business and they have not indicated what 
kind of license their software would have.  (I.e. it would not really be 
"open" as commonly understood.)

3) Not only did the computer scientists who knew or should have known 
about these blatant vulnerabilities not say anything to anyone before 
the 2 Nov. 2004 election, some appeared to point the finger of suspicion 
in a different direction altogether.  ("Look at the voting on the 
DREs"--not on the tabulating computers or scanners or memory cards where 
the presence of vulnerabilities was openly documented.)

4) BBV finally got 2 computer experts from Finland (!) in order to get a 
reliable, indepent view.  They confirmed that the vulnerabilities were 
extremely obvious from looking at the code.  Harri Hursti was the one 
who did the hack of the actual Florida optical scanners, as confirmed by 
their Director of Elections Ion Sancho.  (See #7 below re: Technical 
Report coming out tomorrow 4 July.)

5) The optical scanners with the huge vulnerabilities were 
certified--even though there is no way code with this degree of 
vulnerability should ever have been approved (and top election officials 
said they /knew/ about these vulnerabilities, but didn't bother telling 
their own election staff who were responsible for the security of the 
elections).  Huge problems with the so-called "certification" process 
are evident.

6) BBV will be releasing the full Technical Report by Harri Hursti (with 
full details of what was done and the implications).  I believe this 
document will also include recommendations such as: immediate recall of 
many Diebold optical scanners; calling for similar inspection of optical 
scanners and memory cards and tabulators by other manufacturers; calling 
for a ban on the use of /any/ electronic voting equipment until all the 
problems with certification, election security, etc. have been sorted out.

7) This BBV Technical Report will be released on Monday 4th of July.  
(Keep your eyes out for this one.  The beginning of the abstract has 
been posted at BBV.)

8) BBV has turned over 400 Diebold documents (left in an unprotected 
dumpster with public access) over to the Securities and Exchange 
Commission; it is likely that there may be grounds for legal action 
against Diebold on several bases (including inaccurate financial 
reporting to various bodies, not reporting all its lobbying expenses, 
not keeping audit documents and records secure, etc.)

9) Diebold has just announced a lower quarterly dividend than previously 
expected, and has also announced that it has discovered an "accounting 
mistake."  Its quarterly statement just released also gives an 
intriguing list of new items that could have a negative impact on its 
share price.

10) These events increase my concern about the Irish e-voting situation 
for several reasons.  They show the folly of putting our democracy in 
the hands of a private company.  They show the folly of putting our 
democracy in the hands of "independent computer experts" (no matter how 
good they are--such as whoever gets hired this month to check the secret 
code on the Irish machines).  They show the need for a far stricter 
approach to the equivalent of "certification" and the need to avoid 
secrecy.  They show that there may be more vulnerabilities lurking in 
our system that we haven't had the opportunity to discover.  (And even 
if they're not there now, they could be there in the future.)

11) The US experience also shows the folly of relying on statistically 
significant "spot-checks" to reveal fraud.  It is too easy to sidestep 
any such regulations.  In the US, this has been done by methods such as 
not having a multiply-documented chain of custody of the ballots between 
the vote and a recount; not doing true "random" checks; ignoring 
procedures spelled out by law (and this happens all the time in Ireland 
in relation to things like waste, water pollution, illegal planning, 
local authorities not enforcing their own planning conditions--so why 
should we expect magical rigour to develop around enforcement of 
election guidelines?); stonewalling by not providing relevant 
information in time to take action on them within legal time limits 
(just like how Joe McCarthy wasn't given the information about the many 
problems in our Irish "pilot" test of the system till well after all the 
relevant electronic records had been destroyed, making any audit of our 
own election impossible). . . And so on.

12) Apparent "planting" or "playing with" people/organisations within 
the voting/election reform movement in the US, stirring up divisions, 
planting misinformation, having supposed allies being later revealed to 
be back-stabbing from within--real ugliness.  This is hardball on a 
level it is rarely seen--only done when seriously major vested interests 
are threatened.  It is not nice to see this up close.   (E.g., 
"trolls"--they have been identified as three specific people--possibly 
paid because of persistence of attack--posting using false names on 
numerous e-groups, making slanderous comments and causing disruption, 
damage to reputations, distraction, trying to destroy reputations of 
principals and family members, and time-wasting--on a scale that does 
damage not just to individuals but to the whole election reform movement.)

13) The vulnerabilities and solutions are not at all as they first 
appeared.  VVAT is NOT a solution in and of itself--in fact, it could 
seriously mislead people into believing that it is a solution.

14) All this leaves me with a strong desire to keep all the electronics 
out of our Irish system.  The only thing I could contemplate would be a 
device that would assist the voter to mark their ballot using uniform 
printed numbers.  In this way it would reduce the confusion of trying to 
interpret someone's handwriting, and I don't mind something that would 
reduce unintentionally spoiled votes.  With what I know now, however, 
even a ballot printer feels like the beginning of a slippery slope.  I 
strongly oppose ANY use of an electronic device to count these 
ballots--even for a "quick unofficial initial count".  That would be to 
let the devil in through the back door. 

I will close by adding an excerpt from just one of many recent posts on 
BBV.  The original poster is in normal font; Bev Harris's replies are in 
red italics.  I picked out this one because of her comments about 
independent computer experts, which I thought some of you many find of 


Excerpt from a post on a thread about Open Source here:

I guess that I'm an idealist and that probably explains my cynicism.
The idealist in me says that we can have both a well designed electronic 
system along with a paper trail and that ultimately the two would be 
more powerful than if they stood alone. I think that the more redundancy 
there is, the more oppurtunity for discovery, the more likely it will be 
that we have the kind of elections that we deserve.
The problem is human nature. As Bev. has pointed out, the devil is in 
the details. But, it really doesn't matter what kind of voting system we 
have if dishonest people are in control and count the votes.

/Bev here... You see, Trent, I disagree with you here. Let us take that 
same statement and apply it to people who work in a bank. "If dishonest 
people count the money..." -- yes, it does matter very much what system 
is used. The system should expect that dishonest people have access. For 
that very reason, you make sure that no single bank employee can access 
the safe deposit room. It usually requires two humans, plus a logged 
keycard, and there are also video cameras. The "honest employee" concept 
is just a perimeter defense. All good systems should have several 
layers, and the perimeter is just one./

One thing that needs to happen is to force the computer science 
community to the front. Have the independent scientests that have no 
connection to the politicians or the voting machines be the ones who 
advise us.

/No no no. The current "independent" scientists totally misled the 
public and allowed a presidential election to be conducted on systems 
that they certainly knew had tremendous security flaws. While they kept 
the media and the public's eyes on touch-screens and watching people 
vote (instead of watching the counting of the vote) they mentioned not a 
word about central tabulator, remote access, or memory card 
vulnerabilities. The "independent" computer scientists got us into this 
mess in the first place. After all, the "independent" testing 
authorities actually certified these crappy systems. I think we have 
been let down by the "independent" computer scientists, and by that I 
include those who are well known and supposedly on our side. We regular 
citizens demand to be able to sit at the front of the bus now./

As I have said many times before, we have the technology to do the 
simple math of vote counting, we need to find the will of the people to 
demand that it is done right, with transparency. A system that is 
redundant and secure and as difficult as possible to game. I believe 
that is done in layers.

/We were told by computer scientists that the current systems are 
redundant and that optical scan systems are transparent, and we are now 
being told that spot checks will protect us. Insanity is doing the same 
thing over and over and expecting a different result. It is time to 
change our thinking, away from TRUST in computer scientists. Ordinary 
citizens must be in control of their own voting system, and that means 
they must be able to do a meaningful inspection without having a degree 
in computer science./

At the same time, if these voting machine companies won't operate in 
good faith and transparently and design good machines with a paper 
ballot backup, then we should chuck it all and count by hand paper ballots.

/It is clear that these voting companies do not operate in good faith 
and transparently. Just yesterday, when the state of Mississippi chose 
to buy Diebold, the Diebold rep answered a question about hackability by 
saying it had never been proven. I can assure you that the Diebold sales 
reps know all about the Leon County hack. This is not good faith, it is 
false claims./
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