Tuesday, February 21, 2006

California Tumbles Into the Sea 

Just last week, Maryland's Republican governor Robert Ehrlich announced that he had "lost confidence" in the state's ability to conduct fair elections using the paperless, insecure and eminently hackable voting machines manufactured by Diebold. Out in California, however, the new Secretary of State, Schwarzenegger appointee Bruce McPherson, has unilaterally decided that Diebold is plenty good enough for his purposes -- which include keeping the busty-but-still-unpopular Governator in office for another term starting in 2006. Our astute colleague Brad Friedman of BradBlog has the dirt:
It also still remains unexplained why McPherson didn't wait to hear back from the federal "Independent Testing Authority" (ITA) -- which isn't actually independent, as it's created and funded by the Voting Machine Company's themselves -- to whom McPherson had sent back the Diebold memory cards after the Leon County hack test revealed their machines employed hackable "interpreted code" which is expressly banned by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) guidelines for software used in electronic voting machines.

Back in December, McPherson's office sent a
letter to Diebold explaining that they would not re-certify Diebold in California until the ITA completed their re-examination of the code in light of the hack test discovery:
We require this additional review before proceeding with further consideration of your application for certification in California. Once we have received a report from the federal ITA adequately analyzing this source code, in addition to the technical and operational specifications relating to the memory card and interpreter, we will expeditiously proceed with our comprehensive review of your application.
Apparently, the SoS's office was just kidding.They went ahead and re-certified Diebold out here last week without waiting to hear back. They announced their decision late on Friday, at the start of the long holiday weekend and in apparent defiance of state election law and McPherson's own "10 Strict Standards" [PDF] which include "State certification testing does not begin until the federal qualification testing is successfully completed."

Apparently, he was just kidding about that as well.

With all of that in mind, readers of this blog would be remiss if they failed to take the
actions described in Eskow's link to Skippy. Five phone-calls and/or emails this week are all that may be needed to finally see representatives from these unpatriotic Voting Machine firms subpeonaed and forced to answer questions -- under oath -- in a public hearing before elected officials concerning their secret software, shitty machines and under-the-table efforts to work around state and federal election laws. Hit that link, and call the five members of the California legislature's Rules Committee now!By the way, McPherson himself also refused to show up at that hearing and refused to send a representative from his office to boot.It should also be noted that Diebold is not the only bad player here. Add ES&S, Hart-Intercivic, Sequoia and several others to the list of cowardly unAmerican firms who recently refused the invitation to show up to testify before the California State Senate's Election Committee last week. All of those companies, apparently, believe it's none of our damned business how they count the votes (or not) in our American democracy.

Take action.
UPDATE (via our eminent colleague Skippy the Bush Kangaroo): Sweet baby Jesus in a pickle jar! It's one thing to certify a machine that might, under certain circumstances, be susceptible to fraud. It's another to certify a machine so transparently built for fraud that it might as well flip a virtual bird at any rube who thinks he's casting a legitimate vote on it. BradBlog again:
On that note, here's the little item we've been meaning to point out. It's a photograph from the side of a Diebold AccuVote TSx touch-screen voting machine [right].

Now we have no idea what that "IrDA" port is meant to be used for with a touch-screen voting machine, but we do know that the IrDA (Infrared Data Association) is an Infrared port used for wireless connection between two devices. We used to have one on the back of our notebook and desktop computers which we used to keep the two systems synched up via wireless data transfers over that Infrared port.

A few election watchdog groups, including some members of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who works with the federal authorities on these matters, have issued warnings about the IrDA port and protocols on voting machines. However, little -- if anything -- seems to have been done to mitigate the rather obvious security threat posed, as far as we can tell . . . .

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) -- who works with the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to develop and recommend guidelines for electronic voting machines -- issued a
similar warning [PDF] about the Infrared ports on voting machines in a report which warned "The use of short range optical wireless," like infrared, "particularly on Election Day should not be allowed."

As mentioned, since touch-screen machines have been stored at poll workers' houses and other unsecured locations prior to Election Day, and since data can be transferred to the machines and their memory cards via Infrared -- even without removing the cards or breaking their protective seals -- the IrDA ports would seem to be a tremendous concern . . . .

The undated report -- from the EAC's own standards body, NIST -- then goes on to describe how simple and readily available IrDA software drivers are to obtain for use with UNIX and most Windows Operating Systems, including Windows CE. As well, it points out that such software could add executable code to the machines on, or prior to, Election Day and could then delete itself after the code has completed its main purpose.
In other words, Diebold touchscreens are so darned secure that anyone with a notebook running Windows, or for that matter a PDA running Windows CE, could theoretically change election results -- remotely and undetectably.

We will give Mr. Schwarzenegger's appointee the benefit of the doubt for a week or so, until the hazards of Diebold technology are thoroughly publicized. If, after that, he still refuses to overturn the recertification order, well, shoot; we will have no choice but to assume he is part of a criminal conspiracy to game the 2006 elections.

Do your bit here and here.

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