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Why Smoke Was Coming out of My Ears

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Why Smoke Was Coming out of my Ears
or My Reaction to The Princeton Center's Nine- Minute Video
Joan Brunwasser, Voting Integrity Editor, OpEdNews

Last week, I wrote an article/review on electronic voting and DeLozier/Karp's new book Hacked! My piece ended with the breaking news of Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy Report on the Diebold machines. That report, "Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine," is the jumping off point for today's OpEd piece.

After reading numerous articles about the implications of the Princeton team's discoveries, this morning, I finally watched the video of their hack and the simulated vote. It affected me in the same visceral way that "Invisible Ballots: A Temptation for Electronic Vote Fraud" did a little over a year ago. It's a good thing this doesn't happen to me that frequently. I felt like steam was coming out of my ears and it wasn't because I'm a "woman of a certain age", although I am. As in "Invisible Ballots", the tone is far from hysterical. In a matter-of-fact way, the narrator takes us through the hack of a Diebold Accu-Vote-TS. This voting machine is widely used across the country by millions of American voters. Maryland and Georgia are long-time Diebold customers. They have suffered through a number of election cycles, most recently, the meltdown in Maryland's primary last week. In fact, The Accu-Vote-TS and its newer cousin, the Accu-Vote-TSx, account for almost 10% of registered voters nationwide. And, lest Diebold-less states feel complacent, we know that machines offered by other vendors are no better. ES&S has just revealed that they had a serious break-in three years ago in Minnesota. Valuable personal data was stolen and we're just hearing about it now. The vendor did not notify any election officials although this seems to be a significant breach of security for Minnesota's elections. Needless to say, ES&S made no attempt to inform individuals affected by the theft.

The Princeton Center video covers a lot of ground in nine minutes. The malicious software which has infected the Diebold Accu-Vote-TS is so crafty that it knows when the machine is being merely tested and when the election is 'for real'. Remember when you were little and used to play hide and seek? You'd wait impatiently to be discovered, anticipating the moment you could jump out and shout triumphantly "ta-da!" Well, this little virus plays hide and seek with a small but critical twist: it hides, coming out only when the coast is clear and never reveals itself at all. After the virus infects the innards of the voting machine so that the incorrect results all agree (on the paper receipt as well as the memory card), it ingeniously self-destructs so that no evidence remains of its fraudulent activity. Yet fraud has surely taken place, as the video clearly shows.

The virus can spread from machine to machine via the memory card, which acts as a carrier. In this way, the fraudster can maximize his reach. And lest you think that the vendor has taken major steps to keep the bad guys out, think again. Prof. Ed Felten, one of the Princeton Three, just posted an article entitled "'Hotel minibar' keys open Diebold voting machines". The odds are quite good that you have one of these very keys in your junk drawer at home. A member of their team did.
"A little research revealed that the exact same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment, jukeboxes, and hotel minibars. It's a standard part, and like most standard parts it's easily purchased on the Internet. We bought several keys from an office furniture key shop - they open the voting machine too. We ordered another key on eBay from a jukebox supply shop. The keys can be purchased from many online merchants.

Using such a standard key doesn't provide much security, but it does allow Diebold to assert that their design uses a lock and key. Experts will recognize the same problem in Diebold's use of encryption - they can say they use encryption, but they use it in a way that neutralizes its security benefits."

But, let's say that you're one of the upstanding few without a junk drawer and you don't have a minibar, jukebox or office furniture either (or any of the other items this same exact key has opened for the last fifteen years). Not to worry. The team was able to pick the Diebold lock in ten seconds. This is not a typo. Not an hour, or forty minutes or even ten minutes. Ten seconds. If you're still unmoved, you're made of stronger stuff than I am. A mere ten seconds separates voting integrity from a free-for-all. It takes my breath away.

So, let's put everything on the table and see what we've got. We've got machines that regularly break down, freeze, don't record the votes properly, or don't boot up at all, and whose printers jam, as numerous municipalities can attest. We've got malicious software that is no more than a memory card away. One memory card can infect other machines in a daisy chain effect, wreaking havoc in far flung counties across the nation. The virus avoids detection and only activates at the time of the actual election, allowing testers to claim that everything worked properly during the trial run. The virus erases itself without a trace after making sure that all concrete records back up the fraudulent vote tally. You can gain access to the innards of the machine with a key that is as ubiquitous as a paper clip (although if you don't happen to have the key with you, you could probably use that paper clip).

Then, we have the report of the computer scientists who formed the task force commissioned by California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. They claimed that not only were the machines inaccurate and vulnerable to hacking but that hacks could implant viruses that could affect future elections as well. Read Susan Pynchon's excellent article "The Truth About Diebold" about the task force's findings. As Pynchon, of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, points out, her own state's report on electronic voting didn't stop with criticism of Diebold. It addressed "all voting systems deployed" there: netting Sequoia and ES&S as well.

Tell me, please, if you can: what other ingredients for disaster do you need to convince you that there is something very wrong here?

Oh, I almost forgot Clint Curtis. He's the guy who's running against Congressman Tom Feeney in Florida. The same Tom Feeney who was, in 2000, the incoming speaker of the Florida House and one-time running mate of Jeb Bush. The same Tom Feeney who asked Clint Curtis to create a "vote-rigging software prototype" while Curtis was employed at Yang Enterprises, Inc. Clint Curtis testified about this before the House Judiciary Committee in December, 2004 What once might have sounded outlandish and farfetched is actually no different from what the Princeton Center's report revealed last week. Only, we're two years and almost four billion of our tax dollars further along. You tell me: what exactly have we gained with HAVA? The chief sponsor (Congressman Ney of Ohio) recently pled guilty to federal corruption charges. Our elections have been hijacked by a small number of highly partisan vendors who have wrested democracy out of the hands of the people and hidden it behind stifling layers of vendors, technicians, election officials and lobbyists. Is this acceptable to you? If not, you'd better start "making noise" and plenty of it, as Brad "BradBlog" Friedman calls it.

In case you weren't following the June CA-50 primary to replace jailed former Congressman and Viet Nam War hero "Duke" Cunningham: Multiple reports and warnings have been issued about the Diebold machines California uses: Accu-Vote OS (Optical Scan) and Accu-Vote-TSx, cousin of the TS. Nevertheless, the San Diego County Registrar, Mikel Haas, let poll workers take these same machines home for up to twelve days before the primary. The voting machines sat in people's cars, basements or garages unattended for almost two weeks. And before the votes were all counted, and before the election was certified, the 'winner' was declared and whisked to Washington where he was sworn in by Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House. A subsequent lawsuit was thrown out by the judge on the grounds that the matter was not in his jurisdiction anymore. In other words, the hijacking of that election by Congress removed the election from state authority, citizen oversight and the many voters who participated in the election and were disenfranchised, before, during and afterwards. If you think that doesn't have scary implications for the many disputed races ahead in November, you are just not paying attention. "Democracy Denied: San Diego Judge Dismisses Busby/Bilbray Election Contest On Jurisdictional Grounds!"

So. What to do? Let's lay out some of the options.
" Educate yourself. Go online and read the Daily Voting News of VoteTrustUSA, BradBlog, OpEdNews. Spread the word. Make voting integrity a priority. Get mad and get busy. Let your anger fuel your activism.
" Contact your elected officials, both local and congressional.
" Write your local papers and circulate articles and material via the internet or by hand or word of mouth, the old fashioned way. Make a lot of noise.
" Support the Vote Count Protection Project. Their independent exit poll is an exciting, new and valuable tool. In selected precincts, they will interview a representative sample of voters to determine their choices of candidates. The raw data, precinct by precinct, will be posted on the website below. This transparency will allow statisticians of every political stripe to perform independent analyses. Note that media-sponsored exit polls, such as the 2004 US Presidential exit poll, do not make their raw data available in this way. A pilot version of the Transparent Exit Poll will be up and running in November 2006; we hope to be in full swing by 2008, independently measuring the votes in the 2008 Presidential election. Jump aboard. Find out how you can help. They welcome all donations:
" Sign up to run a parallel election. It takes only ten people and $100 to run an election for 500 people. Pick a precinct. You can download a manual here:
" Bring a video camera to your precinct on election day to monitor the proceedings. What you capture can prove invaluable later as evidence in litigation. Contact the folks at about what you can do.
" Start exploring the virtues of a system of paper ballots, "hand counted in public view, with vote totals posted at the precinct level." (Hacked! By DeLozier and Karp) It may not be elegant or perfect but it surely instills more confidence than what we have right now.
" Support local voting activists and organizations that work to protect free, fair and transparent elections. Don't make a few do all the heavy lifting for everyone.
" Sign up to be an election judge or poll worker
" Vote. No matter what, it's still important.

Other films to watch on the subject:
" Help America Vote on Paper: A documentary on the dangers to democracy posed by privately owned voting machines, and what citizens, officials and activists are doing about it. All in 18 minutes.

" "Caught on Tape: The Fix Is In": From the press release: A new online video about America's flawed voting process by freelance journalist Lynn Landes, producer of In this 13-minute video Landes strongly urges all political candidates to not concede their races until they or their supporters have verified election results through the collection of voter affidavits or signed statements in some or all precincts. She calls these efforts, "Parallel Elections".

" "Invisible Ballots: A Temptation for Electronic Vote Fraud" the DVD includes both 50-minute and 90-minute versions. This documentary raises questions about election fraud, electronic voting
 machines, Diebold, election rigging, accuracy and tampering. I still have hundreds to give away; this DVD was released in April 2004 but it still has a lot of relevance today. Interviews with Bev Harris, David Dill, Lynn Landes, Avi Rubin, Rep. Rush Holt and more. Contact me at for a copy.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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