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What Have We Learned About Elections Lately?

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Originally blogged at We Do Not Consent:

CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen made a dramatic late-night announcement on Friday, August 3, presenting her certification decisions for the state's voting systems. Bowen completely decertified InkaVote, sold by ES&S and formerly used only in Los Angeles, because the source code was not submitted for review. All other equipment was decertified and recertified with new conditions for use, based in part on the reports (lower on same page as above link) of Bowen's Red Teams of computer security experts (see my summaries of the Diebold and Hart Intercivic reports). Some of these terms are vague or confusing, and I'll cover that in a bit.

What is clear to me is that the public is becoming more aware and more concerned about our election conditions. I have observed more people than ever having open discussions about Diebold, Bowen, and hand-counting paper ballots. More than a few people contacted me by e-mail in the past week to ask how to get involved. The increased interest in election integrity feels palpable to me.

While plentiful, Humboldt media coverage has been mixed, at best, while at other times presenting an alternate reality. On July 28, The Times-Standard gave us a headline of "Local election systems may be vulnerable to hackers" above a lede that makes clear local election systems ARE vulnerable to hackers. Today, a T-S headline read, "County election system fares well in review" - despite the Red Team reports of countless exploits found in our Diebold optical scanners.

Hank Sims had a little more on the ball in last week's Town Dandy column in the Journal: "...the hackers basically made mincemeat of the machines, demonstrating a variety of ways to skew the vote...The Red Team also verified that the optical scanning machines found at our precincts could be easily jimmied and rendered inoperative."

Having checked out the amazing calculator tool (.xls) I wrote about last week, Sims went on to address the feasibility of the Voter Confidence Committee's campaign for hand-counted paper ballots:
Berman's suggestion: Ditch the machines and go to a pure hand-count of all votes cast. Initial twiddling with the numbers suggests that it wouldn't be all that time-consuming or costly -- and wouldn't you rather wait a few days and spend a little more for a trustworthy count?
I have no objection to being called "obsessive" when the same article makes my case this well. The new issue of the Journal is out but not yet online. Sims again writes about elections, referring to Bowen's "weekend massacre." The problems this will cause Humboldt are "relatively minor," says Sims, contrasting with the newly machine-less LA. True that.

However, I believe Sims understates things when saying that shoring up security for the GEMS central tabulator will merely mean "our elections office will have to change up procedure a bit." I leave it to the reader to re-trace my many prior references to the dangers of GEMS. Here I shall only point to the words from another of the reports provided to Bowen in her Top To Bottom Review (TTBR). This is from the Executive Summary of the Source Code Review of the Diebold Voting System:
Vulnerability to malicious insiders
The Diebold system lacks adequate controls to ensure that county workers with access to the GEMS central election management system do not exceed their authority. Anyone with access to a county's GEMS server could tamper with ballot definitions or election results and could also introduce malicious software into the GEMS server itself or into the county's voting machines.

Although we present several previously unpublished vulnerabilities, many of the weaknesses that we describe were first identified in previous studies of the Diebold system (e. g., [26], [17], [18], [19], [33], [23], and [14]). Our report confirms that many of the most serious flaws that these studies uncovered have not been fixed in the versions of the software that we studied.

Since many of the vulnerabilities in the Diebold system result from deep architectural flaws, fixing individual defects piecemeal without addressing their underlying causes is unlikely to render the system secure. Systems that are architecturally unsound tend to exhibit "weakness-in-depth"-even as known flaws in them are fixed, new ones tend to be discovered. In this sense, the Diebold software is fragile.

Due to these shortcomings, the security of elections conducted with the Diebold system depends almost entirely on the effectiveness of election procedures. Improvements to existing procedures may mitigate some threats in part, but others would be difficult, if not impossible, to remedy procedurally. Consequently, we conclude that the safest way to repair the Diebold system is to reengineer it so that it is secure by design.
It doesn't get any more devastating than that. All the preening of Humboldt Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich is plainly phoney, and the media pandering to her is reprehensible. Sims gets a pass for his support of HCPB, but here is more bad journalism from the T-S ("E-voting order may have little impact here"), and without Rebecca S. Bender it seems the Eureka Reporter has gone mute on this subject, save a great letter to the editor submitted by VCC members Ruth Hoke and George Hurlburt.

What is happening is that Crnich and other Registrars throughout the state are in a highly defensive posture. Being forced to give up all their equipment would mean maximum uncertainty and the greatest amount of work. Instead, in fine CYA fashion, we see continued apologies for secret vote counting machines. You don't have to look all that closely to see the similarities in the rhetoric of Registrars and machine vendors such as Diebold. It is unconscionable that the results of Bowen's TTBR would make anyone more inclined to support "electronic voting machines." We're past the time of being surprised by such things, including the media's facilitation role. It is time we use these points against them. Ready for the first great example?

As Sims points out in his new column, Bowen has banned the use of modems for transmitting precinct results to the central tabulator. The VCC report addresses the risks of modems and obviously calls for their banishment as they are unnecessary with hand-counting. The beauty of what Sims says:
"The machines will have to be physically delivered back to Elections HQ before the counting commences, which means that we will no longer have election night results."
Of course, one of the most common blusters we hear against HCPB is that it will take too long. We are now very close to having definitive proof that HCPB will be faster. The VCC continues to call upon Crnich to help us narrow down the range of estimates plugged into the calculator tool (.xls) for forecasting manpower needs and costs of hand-counting 100% of the paper ballots. And now, thanks to Sims, I believe we should hereby permanently lay to rest the canard of immediate election results being prioritized over accuracy.

* * *

Now, regarding Bowen's conditional certification of Diebold, the way she has this posted online, I'm unable to copy and paste text directly out of the document. So, here I'll just re-type brief references and encourage you to read the full document for yourself.

Page 2

"voting systems analyzed were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of the election results...contain serious design flaws...which attackers could exploit to affect election outcomes...Diebold software contains vulnerabilities that could allow an attacker to install malicious software on voting machines and on the election management system, which could cause votes to be recorded incorrectly or to be miscounted, possibly altering election results...due to these shortcomings some threats would be difficult, if not impossible, to remedy with election procedures...with access only to the Windows operating system on the Diebold GEMS election management server supplied by Diebold and without requiring access to Diebold source code [Red Team members] were able to access the Diebold voting system server software and to corrupt the election management system database, which could result in manipulated voter totals or the inability to read election results, rendering an election impossible to complete electronically."

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Dave Berman, C.Ht. has extensive training and experience in Hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Life Coaching. He is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, Ivy League graduate (B.S. in Communication from Cornell University), and a (more...)

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