Dec. 15, 2005
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Tests show some Diebold voting machines used in Florida and elsewhere around the nation can be hacked by election office insiders to change results, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho charged Thursday.
Sancho said the tests on optical machines that scan paper ballots, conducted for his office and a monitoring group, also indicated they can be manipulated without leaving any evidence of tampering.
"This is not supposed to be possible," Sancho said. "We did it."
Diebold spokesman David Bear discounted the tests as unrealistic because they bypassed normal security procedures.
"If I gave you the keys to my house and I turned off the alarm and told you when I wasn't going to be home, I don't doubt you can get into my house," Bear said. "But is that going to have any effect on the election? Absolutely not."
The Ohio-based company has been criticized for its connections to President Bush, whose brother, Jeb Bush, is Florida's governor.
Florida Acting Secretary of State David Mann said he couldn't comment on specifics because his department wasn't invited to participate in the testing but that he was confident in the state's process of certifying voting machines.
Sancho, however, said the tests show the certification process is flawed and that the Department of State refused to act when initial tests earlier this year showed the machines' memory cards could be hacked.
He was unable then, however, to test if altered results on the cards could be uploaded into his mainframe computer because he was afraid it might be contaminated. He said he performed the upload this week only after county commissioners approved his request to buy a new optical scan system from another company.
The hacked results transferred into the mainframe although Diebold had contended its software would prevent that, Sancho said.
Mann said he would like to discuss the tests with Sancho but it was up to the supervisor to ask for state involvement as decisions on what systems to use rest with supervisors.
Sancho said he would bypass the Department of State and seek changes in the certification process by taking his results to the Florida Legislature.
Mann also noted, and Sancho acknowledged, all attempts to hack into the system from the outside failed.
Bear said the tests were unrealistic because polling places and vote-counting centers are filled with observers, including representatives of both major political parties, who are watching for such tampering. Sancho said the system could be hacked by an elections staffer or technician beforehand to produce faulty results.
The tests involved optical-scan machines that use paper ballots voters mark with pencils. The ballots are fed into scanners that record the results onto the memory cards, which are then tabulated by a central computer. Some critics prefer the machines because any discrepancies can by recounting the paper ballots.
Most of the debate over voting machines in Florida has focused on touch-screen computer systems because the state doesn't require that they also spit out paper records that can be counted by hand if needed.
That makes Sancho's tests somewhat ironic, Bear said.
"Now we're not trusting paper," he said. "Somebody could also steal the pencil and then you couldn't mark the ballot."
Paper ballots are examined only during a recount triggered when results are very close, Sancho said. He said they would never come into play if an election thief made sure the difference was larger.
One test was conducted for Sancho's office and the nonprofit election-monitoring group BlackBoxVoting.org by Herbert Thompson, a computer-science professor and strategist at Security Innovation, which tests software for companies such as Google and Microsoft. Another test was done by Finnish computer expert Harri Hursti.
After BlackBox and Sancho announced the results in May, Diebold's senior lawyer, Michael Lindroos, sent a letter to Sancho that questioned the results and called the test "a very foolish and irresponsible act" that may have violated licensing agreements.
In 2003, Diebold's then-CEO Walden W. O'Dell invited people to a fundraiser for President Bush with a letter stating he planned to help "Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president." Ohio turned out to be the state that clinched Bush's re-election in 2004.
The company since has prohibited top executives from making political contributions.
Diebold supplies optical-scan voting systems to 29 Florida counties and touch-screen machines to one.
© 2005 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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