Sunday, September 26, 2004

Activists show alleged vote machine flaws

By Erica Werner, Associated Press, September 22, 2004


WASHINGTON -- Activists and computer programmers Wednesday demonstrated what they said were flaws with electronic voting machines that could allow hackers to change vote outcomes Nov. 2. They recommended new procedures for states and counties to put in place before Election Day.

Voting machine manufacturers, however, denied their machines could be tampered with and dismissed the demonstration as scare tactics. The head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission said at least some of the proposed changes were unrealistic.

Bev Harris, an outspoken critic of electronic voting and author of "Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century," led the National Press Club demonstration that included a film of a chimpanzee hacking an election.

Using a laptop computer, she demonstrated what she said were easy hacks to software by Ohio-based Diebold Inc., which is used in central tabulators that will count votes Nov. 2 in some 1,000 counties. Harris contended that hackers could easily change vote totals by entering the database through a backdoor method. She also claimed hackers could enter the standard way after obtaining passwords, then manipulate vote totals and cover their tracks.

"It's astonishingly easy to get in," she said. "There's no security whatsoever."


"What you witnessed was a staged event to convey something that isn't possible," said Diebold spokesman David Bear. "The fact of the matter is touchscreens have been around for many, many years, they've conducted hundreds of elections, and there's never been a single factual problem with touchscreens."

"It's so amazing to see people use fear tactics this close to a major election on issues that are so remote and unlikely," said Sequoia spokesman Alfie Charles. "They still haven't explained to people how these attackers would be able to walk into a county voting system, get the password and start reprogramming elections."

Harris offered several suggestions for eliminating potential problems with electronic systems.

Up to 50 million voters will use touchscreen machines in November; even more will have their votes tabulated electronically by central vote tabulators.

Harris said that poll workers should print out vote totals on the precinct level. Those could then be checked against the county total. She also recommended that jurisdictions with touchscreen machines allow voters to vote by absentee ballot on Election Day, and that precincts not relay vote totals to counties via modems, which could be vulnerable to hackers.

Another activist at the event, National Ballot Integrity Project co-founder Joan Krawitz, said that all races for federal offices should be done on paper ballots Nov. 2 - even if that means voters going back to the most primitive system of checking off someone's name on a slip of paper.

DeForest B. Soaries, chairman of the new U.S. Election Assistance Commission, said the idea of all federal races being conducted on paper was "a farce," and that it was irresponsible to recommend absentee ballots nationwide given that each state has their own system.

But, he said, "No one in their right mind would disagree that there are vulnerabilities."

His commission has recommended a list of security procedures, and he said there will be improvements Nov. 2 over past elections, including election administrators working harder to keep track of who has access to voting equipment.

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