Activist: E-voting to be a 'train wreck'

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Mon Jul 05 2004 - 21:38:39 CDT

I had some input on this although Rachel didn't quote me. She did quote
Doug Jones, who seems to often come up with just the right words.

Alan D.

**************
By RACHEL KONRAD
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Ambushing registrars and tracking down executives at
their homes and offices, a literary publicist has uncovered conflicts of
interests and security flaws inside the companies that make electronic
ballot machines.

Searching the Web and poring over newspaper clippings, Bev Harris has
unearthed obscure arrest records, ties to conservative political groups and
other embarrassing secrets of senior executives at voting companies.

Her conclusion: there will be so many problems with the more than 100,000
paperless voting terminals to be used in the November presidential election
that the fiasco will dwarf Florida's hanging chad debacle of 2000.

"We have a train wreck that's definitely going to happen," Harris said. "We
have conflict of interest, we've taken the checks and balances away, and we
know the votes are already being miscounted fairly frequently. This is going
to be huge."

Harris, 52, didn't set out to become a muckraking voting technology expert.

Accustomed to working with manuscripts and authors in suburban Seattle, she
preferred doting on her new grandchild to debating politics. She still
doesn't vote regularly.

But when Harris was idly surfing the Web during a lunch break two years ago,
she became obsessed with an issue essential to democracy, quickly becoming
the unlikely center of a movement to ensure integrity in the nation's voting
systems.

Critics say Harris, author of "Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the
21st Century," is a fear-mongering grandstander and a presumptuous
conspiracy theorist. The prime target of one investigation - voting
equipment maker Diebold Inc. - says her antics undermine democracy.

"We must not frighten voters or inadvertently provide any type of
disincentive to voting," Diebold spokesman David Bear wrote in an e-mail
when asked to respond to Harris' claims that the company's software is
riggable and insecure. "While security is an important issue ...
improvements can and will be made."

Others question the motives behind her obsessive investigations of
politicians and executives at big voting equipment companies such as
Diebold, Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. and Election Systems & Services Inc.

"She bases her whole theory on a continuous string of untruths," said Lou
Ann Linehan, chief of staff for Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. In the 1990s,
Hagel headed voting equipment company American Information Systems Inc.,
which later became ES&S. Hagel maintains investments between $1 million and
$6 million in McCarthy Group Inc., a private bank with a large stake in
ES&S.

Harris, who dubs Hagel "poster boy for conflict of interest," says the
Republican did not disclose the extent of his American Information Systems
involvement and questions whether a former executive of a company whose
machines count votes in precincts nationwide should run for public office.
Hagel's staff insist that his former career doesn't affect his political
life.

"I don't know if it's sloppy research or she doesn't care," Linehan said. "I
don't spend a lot of time worrying about it because it's all so ridiculous."

Criticism, as well as legal threats from ES&S, Diebold and other companies,
has enervated Harris, whose blond hair turned completely gray last year. But
legions of fans - from New Zealand bloggers to respected computer
scientists - encourage her.

Exploiting the power of the Internet, Harris has created a Web site that
documents hundreds of local, county and state elections that have been
botched or contested because of flaws with voting software.

She details an incestuous web of voting company executives, politicians and
election officials - people who are often related or have worked for each
other.

Her style is brash. She drives her Toyota Corolla and rental cars thousands
of miles to ambush registrars in counties where election results didn't
match exit polls.

Frustrated that few mainstream journalists have publicized her exploits,
Harris once left voice mail for Washington Post star Bob Woodward. When he
didn't call back, she trashed him in a Web forum called "Media Whores
Online."

"It took me a while to recognize that despite her over-the-top personal
style, she was doing valuable sleuthing," said Douglas Jones, associate
professor of computer science at the University of Iowa and a member of
Iowa's Board of Examiners for e-voting. "But her style, which tends to be a
bit alarmist and tends to appeal to conspiracy theorists, may be necessary
to get the attention of the people who need to pay attention."

Harris, who in the 1990s freelanced as an investigator for companies that
suspected employees of embezzling, dismisses conspiracies. She blames a lack
of federal oversight, and human nature for voting problems such as those in
the November 2002 election, when Bernalillo County, N.M.'s turnout was
48,000 - but only 36,000 votes were tallied on Sequoia touchscreens.

"I never looked at this as a computer problem or even a conspiracy," said
Harris. "I always looked at it as an auditing problem, the exact equivalent
of taking away canceled checks, invoices and receipts. You take away
oversight - someone will steal. I guarantee it."

Harris' obsession with e-voting began during a lunch break in autumn 2002.
On the Web, she stumbled upon an article called "Elections in America -
Assume Crooks are in Control," by freelance journalist Lynn Landes.

Harris began wondering how easy it would be to change electronic ballots to
rig an election without a trace.

By trial and error, she tracked down people who work at voting companies by
trolling on online job boards, high school reunion sites and other Internet
haunts. She collected e-mail addresses and phone numbers for eight dozen
programmers. Some boasted they could easily insert malicious code, alter or
delete ballots and "flip" an election.

Harris wondered how easily these people could be bribed.

"I figured that if a middle-aged woman like me who has never done a `covert
op' in her life, working on the Internet, could find the people who program
our voting machines, then certainly the bad guys must know who they are,"
she wrote in her roughly edited book, which reads the way Harris talks -
full of enthusiasm, gall and expressions such as "oookay" and "right,"
dripping with sarcasm.

She took a loan from her father to self-publish her book. When critics said
she was fear-mongering for money, she posted chapters free online. She says
the book has cost her and her second husband, who works at Boeing Co., about
$50,000, and they've made almost nothing from it.

In January 2003, Harris did a Google search for Vancouver, B.C.-based Global
Election Systems Inc., the software company Diebold acquired in 2002. On the
search engine's 15th page of hits was a link to proprietary code, which
Harris burned on seven CDs and stashed in a safe-deposit box. She didn't
sleep for 44 hours while downloading 40,000 files.

Blogs began buzzing about secret voting software without password
protection. Eventually, computer scientists at Johns Hopkins and Rice
universities analyzed the code.

Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns
Hopkins, concluded that any clever 15-year-old could rig the system and vote
multiple times. Alarmingly, "1111" was Diebold's default password
identification number for microchip-embedded "smartcards" that voting
administrators used.

Diebold issued a 27-page rebuttal, insisting the code was out of date and
not used in more than 30,000 machines nationwide. But the study hit a nerve
among computer scientists, who lended legitimacy to a ragtag movement.

"I worry that sometimes her arguments sound farfetched, and I have been told
on more than one occasion that she is hurting the credibility of all of us
with her wild theories," Rubin said. "On balance, though, I am grateful for
the work that she does. We each have our own style."

Harris hopes more secretaries of state reach the conclusion of California's
Kevin Shelley, who this year banned some Diebold machines and required
counties to have a paper record of ballots.

"I would consider this last year a year of crisis," said Harris, who last
year struggled to meet mortgage and heat payments. "I didn't want to get
involved in this. I just don't understand how anyone could discover this
stuff and live with themselves if they didn't say anything about it."

---
On the Net:
http://www.blackboxvoting.org
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Received on Sat Jul 31 23:17:14 2004

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