A washingtonpost.com article: Activists Show Alleged Vote Machine Flaws

From: Arthur Keller <arthur_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Thu Sep 23 2004 - 14:33:46 CDT

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  Activists Show Alleged Vote Machine Flaws

  By Erica Werner

   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."

  Programmer Jeremiah Akin, of Riverside, Calif.,
showed what he said was a flaw in software by
Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems
Inc., that would allow a hacker to switch votes
by people voting in Spanish or another foreign
language.

  Spokesmen for Diebold and Sequoia strongly denied the claims.

  "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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2004 The Washington Post Company

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Received on Thu Sep 30 23:17:08 2004

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