Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Paper They're Printed On 

Via Zemblan patriot T.C.: We told you on Wednesday that the Black Box Voting team had successfully hacked a Diebold optical-scanning machine at a public demonstration in Leon County, Florida. The Tallahassee Democrat today weighed in with further details:
Then, [the Black Box team] 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 . . . .

In Volusia County, her group has found what they think was memory-card tampering during the 2000 election. More than 16,000 votes for Al Gore vanished.

Harris said her research turned up memos - obtained from the elections supervisor's office - that blamed the failure on an extra memory card that showed up, and disappeared, without explanation.

She believes that was an attempt to change the outcome of the election, but one carried out clumsily. The test in Leon County proved it was possible, if done by more experienced computer programmers, she said.

So what does the Department of State say?

[Jenny] Nash, the spokeswoman, said that the Diebold systems were designed to be used in secure settings, and that, by giving the testers direct access to the computers, Sancho had basically allowed them to bypass security.

In other words, not much of a test.

Except that the security experts were given only as much opportunity as any other election worker would have. Less so, considering that Sancho did not provide them with passwords or any other way to actually get into the programming.
The good news: Ion Sancho, the Leon County Supervisor of Elections, is now a convert. As Black Box reported earlier this week, "New Florida regulations will forbid counting paper ballots, even in recounts, except in highly unusual circumstances." Here's what Sancho has to say on his official website:
[T]he potential for internal sabotage does exist. It is imperative that security protocols be developed which limit access to the central voting computer and memory cards in election offices. Limited access, video surveillance, and tight controls on the use and distribution of memory cards, all practices currently in place in the Leon County Election Office, are vital to ensure unauthorized actions do not compromise the integrity of the elections process.

Finally, the ultimate insurance that Leon County’s votes are counted correctly resides in the paper ballots of the voters themselves. If the public or election official has any question over the results of an election, a hand count of the optical paper ballot provides the truth. No internal manipulation of any computer or memory card can alter the votes on these paper ballots.

Based upon the data developed out of this exercise it is the opinion of the Leon County Supervisor of Elections that any effort to limit or remove the manual examination of paper ballots to confirm the correctness of election results is not in the public interest.
How long until we wise up and ditch the machines altogether? An election that can be rigged will be rigged. Paper ballots, hand-counted, on site, with witnesses: that's our mantra from now on.

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