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Secrets, Secrets Everywhere and all the Board did Shrink (with apologies to Samuel Coleridge)

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Secrets, Secrets Everywhere and all the Boards did Shrink...
(With apologies to Samuel Coleridge)

by Mary Howe Kiraly

It seems like months ago that secrets began to tumble from the Boards of Election in Maryland, and land simultaneously in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, and then onto the national consciousness. So much has happened. But it has been less than two weeks since the first of three curious secrets appeared.

On October 20, 2006, it was reported that a former Maryland State Legislator had received three discs, delivered anonymously, that purportedly contained secret Diebold source code. A letter, accompanying the discs, disparaged the Maryland Elections Administrator. Her office claimed that the discs were not theirs. Diebold Corporation claimed that they had not produced the discs. Labels on the discs made it appear that they had come from testing laboratories; but Wyle and Ciber claimed that they were not missing any discs. A Diebold spokesperson quickly put out a statement that said that we should rest assured because the source code on the discs was protected by secret encryption.

The Washington Post reported that it had given copies of the discs to Avi Rubin to examine; but admonished him not to make further copies- or to attempt to uncover the secrets protected by passwords. The encryption was so secret that Mr. Rubin apparently never found it on the disc he examined. Diebold issued a statement saying that the FBI had been notified and was examining the chain of custody of the discs. This investigation was so secret that the Baltimore office of the FBI claimed to know nothing about it.

Then in what appears to be a secret code, the Administrator was reported to have said that the State Board "is unaware of any allegations of the falsification of additions or deletions to the system." It sounds as if the true outcome of the November 7 election in Maryland may, indeed, be a secret. Especially since one of the discs contained the secret source code for the GEMS central tabulator. The most serious concern was reported to be the fear that someone, learning of the source code, might be able to find the secret vulnerabilities in the Diebold system (hidden from the testing labs); and put a secret virus into the system that would manipulate the- always secret -true election outcome.

Quite incidentally, at the same time, the Post reported that the Office of Legislative Audits was investigating the fact that contractors' bills were being paid by the State Board of Elections without adequate paper documentation. What "techno-phobes" the folks at the Post must be to think that we require paper audit trails in this enlightened Computer Age. Of course, the bills may also have been secret. And on another note, it appears that the Office of Legislative Audits is also concerned that adequate security has not been taken to protect access to the Board's statewide registration data base, or to protect its computer network, and website.

Trick or Treat! They must have thought that they could scare us with that one. Those of us in the know, however, know that the Board was much too busy working to protect the infra red data access port, and the double boot capacity (with its two separate memories), and the memory card ports that can be circumvented with hotel mini bar "keys"- on the thousands of Maryland voting machines... to be worried about who might be sneaking around the registration database, or the computer network, or the website. I will let you in on a secret: none of these minor vulnerabilities should concern us because Maryland is heavily invested in miles of specially numbered sealing tapes and tiny locks with special keys for the memory card ports.

At this time, there are no reports that anyone is investigating the secret data on the memory cards that go into those ports; or the secret encryption on the Voter Access Cards.

Then on October 26, Marylanders had their eyes jolted fully open over the morning cup of double mocha latte, when they learned that October Surprise Number Two was unfolding. In 2004, Maryland voters in four counties, including two of its largest, had voted on machines with faulty motherboards. Uhh Ohhh...someone had been keeping this secret from Maryland voters as voters continued to write checks to Diebold Corporation, now totaling at least $106 million. For that they got, among other things, 16,000 voting machines, of which 4700 voting machines, from the initial delivery, had a "flawed" component in a significant number of the motherboards. Those machines produced enough screen freezes during the 2004 Presidential Election that some of us actually witnessed the quick-moving young men, with their small black bags, entering voting stations to put things in proper order.

These technicians were not about to be caught with their black bags down a second time. So in 2005, they either sneaked back into Maryland and secretly replaced the faulty motherboards- or sneaked them off to Ohio for replacement. As one report stated, "Diebold officials have been discreet in discussing the replacement of the system boards..." The process had been so discreet, in fact, that it has been discovered that the motherboard replacement was referred to, in the minutes of the July 2005 State Board of Elections Meeting, as a "technology refresh." This is surely another example of secret computer-speak and not an effort to hide a flaw in Maryland's seamless statewide implementation of paperless touchscreen voting.

It is a wonder that this second secret was ever discovered at all. Because the Diebold executive, who had been queried about what Diebold's engineers were up to, suggested that his querying subordinates might want to delete his emails. They were, evidently, secret.

So as not to be caught napping when intrigue is afoot in the State Board of Elections' offices, I have begun attending the monthly Board meetings in Annapolis. So have a significant number of Diebold executives who are easy to recognize by the deference paid to them as they move about the room. I had nearly nodded off at the meeting on October 30, under the soothing tones of the many congratulatory messages being passed to the truly hard working civil servants at the local Boards. I remember hearing that Maryland had never been more prepared to conduct an election. A Diebold executive explained how the demand for 1.6 million printed paper ballots, under Diebold's management, had been completed just in the nick of time. There was a ripple in the room's atmosphere when a Member of the Board commented that "there is no doubt going to be some problems down the line," as people try to get absentee ballots returned in time.

Then the Chairman of the appointed Board made the fatal mistake of turning to the cluster of newspeople and concerned citizens, like myself, and asking if anyone had a question of the three Diebold executives who had just been testifying. To my surprise, a man sitting very near to me, quickly jumped up and said that he would like to know about the SECRET SAIC REPORT that had been prepared for the State of Maryland in 2003.
Suddenly, we were eyewitnesses to the unfolding of State Board of Elections October Surprise Number Three.

This man said that, in his professional capacity, he worked to develop secure transaction structures for major financial institutions- and that he had just rushed from a flight from Europe to attend the Board Meeting. Mr X claimed that there were significant differences between the secret full report from SAIC (nearly 250 pages)- that had found many flaws and vulnerabilities in the AccuVote TS system- and the publicly available 38-page report that mentioned none of them. This poor man had been avoiding becoming involved in the election technology controversy; but he could no longer stand on the sidelines after having been presented with the full SAIC report, to review. (note: So many of us have found ourselves in that same position when exposed to the prevalence of election secrets. In seems somehow... so disturbingly undemocratic.) Because of the "extraordinary degree of difference" between the two documents, Mr. X would have had the voting system shut down for fraud if it has been his responsibility!

I probably don't need to tell you that there followed a quick conclusion to the October Board Meeting when further questions were raised and the Chairman replied that those needed to be addressed in a Closed Session (which no one seemed in a hurry to convene). Mr. X stood his ground and told all who were interested (and there were a few) that he had been told that the redacted version of the Report had been done by Diebold. The CIO for the Board began saying frequently that the Report should not be discussed. Where upon, I believe that I heard Mr. X say that he had sent a copy of the secret report, which he continued to hold in a folder in his hand, to the FBI. One can only hope that this is one secret that has made its way to the Baltimore Office of the FBI.
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Mary Kiraly is a voting activist in Maryland.

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