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A stake through heart of e-voting

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Message Paul Jacobs

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Oh, how the mighty have fallen ... suspiciously silent.

Three Riverside County supervisors used to arrogantly monopolize the public comment portion of their meetings to counter election-integrity advocates questioning the county's $30 million boondoggle on computerized voting.

Perhaps supervisors Bob Buster, Jeff Stone and John Tavaglione have finally grasped the meaning of the Brown Act, as they have kept their retaliatory comments in check. They are as quiet as vampires while nails are being driven into the black-box coffin of computerized elections all around them. The sunlight exposing the inner workings of California voting systems has driven a stake through the heart of the arguments used to defend the privatized election equipment.

On July 27, Secretary of State Debra Bowen released the first three reports of the top-to-bottom review of voting systems used in the state. The Sequoia machines used in this county appear to be worse than Diebold in providing easy access to manipulate the software that runs our democracy.

Diebold machines can reportedly be opened with a hotel mini-bar key, but the lock on Sequoia machines can be bypassed with an ordinary screwdriver. Plastic panels and seals used by Sequoia are easily penetrated using common office supplies, according to the "red team" report.

The red team found proprietary programming made the software much easier to hack and once inside, they found pathways providing unfathomable opportunities to manipulate election data in countless ways. The voting software included sophisticated commands allowing a rogue operator to change the protective counter and serial number on any given machine.

A residual Trojan horse program can easily be inserted onto any of the thousands of memory cartridges and infect the whole system. The hidden program can be triggered to activate at any time through various means, including casting a ballot in a specific, unusual pattern.

Even the paper trail can be manipulated. Observers have noted that few people check the voting machine printout, but a machine rigged to switch votes can avoid detection by an amazing bit of nefarious programming. If a voter notices that the printout is different than how they voted, the hack allows the voter to recast the ballot, recording it and the next several ballots accurately.

Then the program reverts to switching votes. In an election, the glitches would probably be discounted as voter error or a finicky touch screen.

Every Sequoia component tested was found to be vulnerable to manipulation according to the red team report. The findings on Sequoia were so damning, I'm willing to predict that as you read this, Riverside County is the not-so-proud owner of 3,700 decertified Sequoia Edge II voting machines. Bowen's office was to have announced any actions her office may take on Friday, after my column deadline. If I am wrong, may I be whipped with 1,000 paper ballots.

As the going is getting tough, our supervisors are going on hiatus for the month. This is no time to run and hide. It is imperative that the supervisors call an emergency meeting to implement whatever corrective measures are mandated by the state in time for the February 2008 primary election.

Instead of trying to save face, the supervisors need to step up and save our democracy.

Paul Jacobs of Temecula is a regular columnist for The Californian. E-mail:

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Paul has worked in health care for the past 30 years and writes a weekly column for a local newspaper in California. He is involved in local civics, a member of Citizens for Democracy, Temecula Valley and active in the election integrity movement. (more...)
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