How to steal votes and cover your tracks: why Diebold’s AccuVote-TS Voting Machine is unsafe for democracy.

September 26, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

Assume you were the president of a company that made a lot of money selling the electronic voting machines used by 10% of U.S. voters.  Assume also that a Princeton professor and two young grad students ran their own security analysis of your voting machines and determined the following:

  • The physical lock of your voting machines can be picked in 10 seconds.
  • Your voting machines can then easily be infected with a computer virus, since they are general-purpose computers running specialized election software.
  • It only takes about one minute to infect one of your machines using a single memory card.
  • The virus can easily be spread among numerous voting machines by innocent users updating the software with a memory card.
  • Virus software can easily make all of the diagnostic and double-checking software in your machines illusory and meaningless, therefore dangerous.
  • The infected machine can be made to spit out (electronically or on paper) any faked election result, regardless of the voting conducted on the machines.
  • Your machine, which is already in use in some jurisdictions, thus has serious design flaws.

If you want to see a video showing how incredibly easy it is to infect a Diebold machine, click here.  Warning: Don’t watch this video just before going to bed.  You’ll be too angry and it will keep you up.

Since many states are relying on your machine for the integrity of upcoming elections, you (as president of Diebold) would doubtless write something like this to the three guys at Princeton:

Dear three Princeton guys:

Thank you so much for bringing the design flaws of the Diebold’s AccuVote-TS Voting Machine to our attention. We at Diebold are shocked and embarrassed to have manufactured such a flawed machine.  We are taking immediate steps to make sure that this machine is redesigned from the ground up.  

We would like to start submitting other models and modifications of our products to you guys at Princeton (and to other disinterested third parties) to make sure that our machines count votes properly.  In the meantime, we are now sending warnings to all government officials to cease using these machines, because paper ballots have far more integrity. 

Our democracy is safer, thanks to your skillful work.

The President of Diebold

The problem is that Diebold, upon learning how dangerous their machines are, did not show any such gratitude.  Instead, check this link to see Diebold’s incredibly petty, vindictive, evasive and ad hominem attack on the Princeton team. 

The bottom line is that Diebold fails to give any assurance that anyone should rely on its machines for accurate election results.  Diebold’s attitude is clearly that of a money-driven bully that truly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the integrity of elections.  How could that be (I ask rhetorically)?

Here’s a few other things to consider.  Check out this 9/26/06 post on bradblog.com (the site feature this quote in its header: “Either every vote is sacred, or democracy is a sham.”- David Cobb, Green Party presidential candidate, 12/2/04):

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced emergency legislation to amend the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) this afternoon to offer funding to states and counties who make ‘contingency paper ballots’ available to voters to be used at the voter’s option instead of electronic voting systems.

The so-called contingency paper ballots are intended to be counted as normal ballots, as opposed to Provisional Ballots which must be vetted first to determine the integrity of the voter’s registration. Provisional ballots are frequently counted only several days after Election Day, and often, not at all. The Senate legislation as filed, however, does not spell out the intended difference between “contingency” and “provisional” ballots specifically.
The BRAD BLOG has learned from a source currently working on similar legislation in the House, said to be filed there shortly, that the House version will include such specific language if possible to ensure such contingency ballots are counted as normal ballots on Election Night. Several Capitol Hill sources have confirmed that such legislation is currently in the works. We hope to have more details on the House version later today.

Note that the Princeton site provides links to other studies also finding that the Diebold machines are unreliable.  Robert F. Kennedy has also weighed in with this article published in Rolling Stone:

In October 2005, the government Accountability Office issued a damning report on electronic voting machines. Citing widespread irregularities and malfunctions, the government’s top watchdog agency concluded that a host of weaknesses with touch-screen and optical-scan technology “could damage the integrity of ballots, votes and voting-system software by allowing unauthorized modifications.” Some electronic systems used passwords that were “easily guessed” or employed identical passwords for numerous systems. Software could be handled and transported with no clear chain of custody, and locks protecting computer hardware were easy to pick. Unsecured memory cards could enable individuals to “vote multiple times, change vote totals and produce false election reports.”

An even more comprehensive report released in June by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank at the New York University School of Law, echoed the GAO’s findings. The report – conducted by a task force of computer scientists and security experts from the government, universities and the private sector – was peer-reviewed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Electronic voting machines widely adopted since 2000, the report concluded, “pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections.” While no instances of hacking have yet been documented, the report identified 120 security threats to three widely used machines – the easiest method of attack being to utilize corrupt software that shifts votes from one candidate to another.

As one immediate need, Kennedy recommends that all electronic machines should produce a paper record “that can be recounted when equipment malfunctions – an omission that practically invites malicious tampering.”

Open voting foundation calls the design flaw of the Diebold machines the worst security flaw we have seen in touch screen voting machines.

Even conservative sites like Insight on the News are indicting the Diebold machines.  Here’s a video of the problems with the machine on FOX.

Just how cozy things are between Diebold and the Republicans?

It is Diebold’s president, heavy-hitting Bush contributor Walden O’Dell, who stated in an Aug. 14 fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans: “I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” O’Dell has since stated that he regrets the wording in the letter: “I can see it now, but I never imagined that people could say that just because you’ve got a political favorite that you might commit this treasonous felony atrocity to change the outcome of an election.”

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Category: Civil Rights, Corruption, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    It's still too easy to hack a voting machine, as evidenced by this article in the NYT.

    Computer scientists from California universities have hacked into three electronic voting systems used in California and elsewhere in the nation and found several ways in which vote totals could potentially be altered, according to reports released yesterday by the state.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/28/us/28vote.html?…

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