Dec. 13, 2005: Harri Hursti performs devastating hack in Leon County Florida
with Diebold optical scan system, proving he could control votes by manipulating
a credit-card-sized memory card..
Jan. 3, 2006: Information received pointing to similar vulnerabilities in the
and Sequoia "Optech" optical scan machines.
In an exclusive interview by BBV investigator Jim March with Dr. Douglas Jones,
University of Iowa associate professor and a former voting machine examiner
for the state of Iowa, it was learned that one of the most widely-used voting
machines over the last 15 years may suffer from design flaws broadly similar
to Diebold's version 1.94 and 1.96 optical scan system.
obtain reprogramming devices, in ways that could enable Hursti-style hacking.
The second problem is that Sequoia and ES&S have been able to force their
way into intimate access to the mechanics of democracy. The electronic ballot
controls were maintained exclusively by the vendors at the vendor's headquarters
rather than by county election staff.
Diebold took over total control of elections in counties that allowed it. ES&S
Sequoia didn't give them a choice because of the system's design. This
removed county officials from their proper oversight role.
Two of the four major voting machine companies have been using an identical
machine, the Optech, originally produced by Business Records Corp (BRC).
BRC was the largest voting machine company in America when ES&S purchased
it in 1997. The SEC objected on anti-trust grounds, and in the resulting
allowed ES&S to purchase BRC, splitting the Optech scanners up between ES&S
(service contracts for existing machines) and Sequoia Voting Systems (sales of
Although now being phased out, Optechs have been used for 15 years without a
peep from the federal testing labs, and without the public ever being told of
vulnerabilities, nor of the vendors extraordinary level of control over local
According to Dr. Jones, the Optech machines are precinct optical scanners
originally developed in the late 1980s. They reflect the technology of that
They are broadly similar to the Global/Diebold optical scanners designed around
the same time: These voting machines store votes on removable electronic memory
devices and print out an "end of day ticker tape" on paper similar to a cash
register tape, providing a precinct total of votes for each candidate and issue.
The Optech machines don't use a credit card-sized memory card rather, they
use a memory pack about the size of a pack of cigarettes.
This cigarette pack-sized device plugs into the body of the scanner with a
proprietary connection. The memory pack provides three things:
- A chip ("ROM" memory) which is difficult to modify outside of a factory and
contains the programming for the machine ("firmware")
- An "EPROM" chip which is easier to modify (more on that to follow) containing
the ballot layout and precinct information
- Battery-powered memory chips to hold the vote totals
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