UK Prime Time, Channel 4 News, February 23, 2004.

 

Diebold Story Aired

 

Last time it took the US Supreme Court to declare who was to be President: this time American Democracy could be in for a still worse drubbing.

 

Tonight, President Bush has officially launched his campaign to be re-elected to the White house -- with a warning things could get nasty.

 

But it seems that the very machines put in place to make good the failures of the hanging chad system that delivered Bush his questionable victory last time is itself vulnerable to serious abuse this time.

 

Diebold, who make the machines, say the system is secure. But Channel Four News has spoken to hackers who have broken into it using just a basic modem.

 

Our Washington Correspondent Jonathan Rugman has this exclusive report.

 

Itís the choreographed image of American democracy. A nation gearing up to elect the most powerful man in the world.

 

And making it possible - a paperless electronic voting machine made by a corporation called Diebold, feared by politicians and protesters from coast to coast.

 

Senator John Kerry:"We are going to pre-challenge some of these automatic machines, the Diebold machines, where there have already been problems."

 

Over 70 per cent of Americans will vote electronically this year and Diebold based here in Ohio is the market leader, its machines working in 37 of America's 50 states.

 

But with that success has come a maelstrom of controversy - allegations of security lapses, of computer failures, all in a country still scarred by how President Bush won the election last time round.

 

Remember Florida four years ago, Bush and Gore neck and neck and the infamous "hanging chads"? Punch card voting forms proving impossible to read. Forcing a recount which the US Supeme court eventually suspended, handing victory to George Bush with little more than 500 votes. And the president pledging billions to change an antiquated system.

 

Tonight in a Channel 4 News exclusive we reveal what's become of that promise. Experts telling us its now possible to rig an entire election by manipulating the tally.

 

And for the first time a whistleblower claiming Diebold knew about flaws with its voting machines and tried covering them up Solano county California and outside the town hall, a mock funeral for democracy itself. While inside they're witnessing democracy's future.

 

Members of the public given the chance to practise touchscreen voting before the Democratic primary next week. Just slide in your registration card, press on the candidate you want and there it is, an electronic vote on a Diebold machine. Yet the official in charge is floundering in a sea of mistrust.

 

Diebold has supplied over a thousand of these machines to Solano county.

 

Along with 16 other counties in America's biggest state. A place with a big say in who goes to the White House. And next week's Democratic primary here also now entirely dependent on Diebold machines.Yet the county's election supervisor is so unsure whether the machines will work properly that he's refusing to cast his own vote on one.

 

John Silva, Chair, Board of Election Supervisors: "We've had their rep before the Solano county board of supervisorsand he did not answer questions to my satisfaction, did not give me a real comfortable feeling, just that we are going to be here, we are going to run your election, it is going to be great.I would not vote on a Diebold machine, I'd go in and vote on a paper ballot, because I feel that uncomfortable about it."

 

John Silva's worries are shared here at the office of California's Secretary of State. His investigation last year found that in all 17 counties, Diebold's software had not been certified as reliable. So the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor took place on machines which hadn't been fully tested.

 

So was the former bodybuilder's landslide accurately counted? At its headquarters Diebold admits there was a "miscommunication" with California but says the actual result is not in doubt.

 

Mark Radke, Marketing Director, Diebold Election Systems: "In fact our systems have performed very well in past elections as well, there has been no question about that quite honestly .. "

 

Q: "So why has the Secretary of State's office in the state of California told us it wants modifications and extra checks to those machines before March 2nd?"

 

A: "I would have to say the main reason for those statements is what happened previous."

 

While Diebold says it's fixing its testing problems, California's threatening legal sanctions unless what officials call "a crisis of confidence" is averted.

 

But have Diebold voting machines performed as well as the company claims? We went to Atlanta, Georgia to find out. Georgia's the litmuss test for electronic voting with every election here running on Diebold machines since 2002.That year's vote for governor truly historic - with the first Republican ever elected. A surprise defeat for the Democrats, though election officials believe a genuine one.

 

Dr. Brit Williams, chief electronic voting adviser, State of Georgia: "Nobody who is in any position to know what happened in the State of Georgia has contested the accuracy of that election, the candidates did not contest it, the political analysts did not contest it, the media did not contest it."

 

Yet Channel 4 News has learned there were problems before, during and after Georgia's vote.

 

Rob Behler: "It was an alarm of very great magnitude to me."

 

Rob Behler was a contract engineer employed to check Diebold's machines 3 months before they went live. It's typical in the electronics industry for 3% of new machines not to function properly. Mr Behler believes the Diebold failure rate was nearer 30%.

 

Behler: "These were machines that had already been tested in the warehouse and they were assembled, were ready to ship to the state. For me to check them, and I was applying an update to them, and to find that number of them errored out would mean that on vote day when they set up the machines they would have experienced those errors in the counties, the individual counties."

 

As fast as Mr Behler fixed the problems he says new ones cropped up.

 

Behler: "The same machine would not re-create same mistake two times in a row, it would be different errors."

 

RTR Screen freezes, battery indicator failures. But when he told a state official about the problems, his bosses at Diebold were furious.

 

Behler: "I was blasted, just absolutely hauled on the carpet for airing Diebold's dirty laundry and that I needed to shut my mouth and that if I was talking to anyone again I'd be off the project."

 

Diebold won't comment on this alleged conversation beyond saying Mr. Behler was only there for a few weeks and all glitches fixed with the state's blessing. Yet on election day party officials DID report the same screen freeze problem Mr. Behler had found - though Diebold's marketing director at first denied any such issue.

 

Q: "Do these screens ever freeze in the polling booth?

 

A: "We have had that no problems from that standpoint, no."

 

But later he admitted there had been problems

 

Q: "Let me be clear about this.Were there machines which froze up on the day of the vote in 2002 in Georgia?"

 

Mark Radke, Marketing Director, Diebold Election Systems: "The modification took place to that software before the general election so that it would not have screen freeze up issues."

 

Q: "And why in that case would Republican officials come forward and report that frozen screens affected voters in 20 counties and a hundred votes, and that machines wouldn't record their intentions properly?"

 

A:"Hmmmm.I believe there was a memory issue build up that did occur during that election which affected a few of the machines."

 

Diebold says no votes were lost but the company's reluctance to admit to technical problems is feeding a growing sense of public unease.What's more 67 memory cards from the voting machines - the very cards recording the vote -went missing, though they turned up eventually.

 

So perhaps it's no surprise that state politicians want a new law forcing Diebold to provide a paper receipt of every vote cast -an old-fashioned way of checking the result.In fact 1700 computer scientists from all over the US have signed a petition calling for a paper backup -though Georgia's Democratic primary next Tuesday will happen without one and officials inisist there's no technical need.

 

Dr. Brit Willliams, chief electronic voting adviser, State of Georgia: "I don't think the paper trail is necessary to hold an accurate election.Now if you for political reasons feel a paper trail is desirable to make voters feel warm & fuzzy, I don't have a problem with that."

 

Jonathan Rugman: "The biggest question though is whether security could be compromised during an election and we've found evidence suggesting it has been. On March 5, 2002, voters in California went to the polls to choose candidates for governor.Yet that very afternoon a tally of more than 17,000 votes was downloaded from the central counting computer and then placed on a supposedly secure Diebold website. The timecode showing exactly when the process began. In other words someone apparently had access to part of California's vote several hours before the polls closed."

 

Jim March: "On election day it's a mad scramble for votes; you need to know where to send your trucks to pick up people from the old folks homes, all kinds of scramble for resources. If you know who is winning, which of the races are doing well and which aren't and which are close, then you know where to spend valuable resources on election day."

 

Jim March is the computer consultant who first analysed the file of downloaded votes. He got hold of it through a search on Google. Google even turned up a software programme Diebold used to count the votes.

 

Jim March: "I'm going to show you how easy it is to beat the password on that programme".

 

Using a widely available Microsoft product, Mr. March showed us how he could break into this tally within 30 seconds.

 

Jim March, computer consultant: "There's no password required to get in, you can tamper with the audit trail, you can tamper with votes, you can do anything you want with this programme, it's wide open to unlimited rape as long as a standard copy of Microsoft Access is around. This is the single biggest problem with the Diebold product."

 

Diebold says it was an unfortunate mistake that its election software was found on the internet. But that Mr. March would NOT be able to change a real live vote.

 

Mark Radke, Marketing Director, Diebold: "First of all he would not be able to get into election central. Secondly, he would not be able to have access to that room where that server is located.Number 3 he would have to have the appropriate password to get into it, which is NOT locked into the software and also at the same time he would have a number of election officials walking around him basically saying, 'who is this person, why is he in our offices?'"

 

But scientists in Maryland are not so dismissive of Jim March's claims. In fact they back him up. Maryland's spent 50 million dollars on these Diebold machines - the front line in next week's primary and in November - and last month commissioned scientists to test Diebold's security. Their key finding? You can dial into Diebold's vote tallying computer using a simple modem.

 

Professor William Arbaugh, University of Maryland: "The servers, the machines which actually tally the votes for all the precincts, are sitting on a modem which is waiting for people to call in and if you were able to determine that phone number which we think is easy, you could connect to that machine, get complete control over it and basically do anything you wanted to that machine.Change votes, change the software, anything that your hearts desire you can do."

 

And that wasn't all. Professor Arbaugh's team picked locks on the actual voting stations in seconds. Locks which protect the machines' memory of votes cast.There is a backup memory but the Maryland study is the most worrying evidence yet that results can be interfered with - either via a modem or in the polling booth itself.

 

As a result Maryland, like California, now demanding a raft of extra security. Covering each machine lock with plastic tape which changes colour if tampered with. While Diebold insists any problem found in the lab couldn't happen in real life Professor Arbaugh disagrees.

 

Professor William Arbaugh, University of Maryland: "Yeah, are there some things that we were able to do that we're not going to be able to do in real life? Sure. But I think there's also a lot of things we did that you could most certainly do in a real election."

 

America has a watchdog for its voting systems.DeForest Soaries appointed by the President himself. Yet despite problems in Maryland, in Georgia, in California, Mr. Soaries began work just 6 weeks ago, one year later than planned. In makeshift offices, with 4 staff and no secretary.

 

DeForest Soaries, Chairman, U.S. Election Assistance Commission: "We have no email, we had no business cards, we had no stationery."

 

Q: "Have you evaluated electronic voting in the places where it is most prevalent. Georgia? California?"

 

A: "Yes, we are evaluating electronic voting right now. We are talking to experts, pulling together our new technical standards guidelines committee."

 

Q: "But too late to stop the primaries happening now from happening electronically?"

 

A: "Right."

 

Q: "And too late to stop the electronic voting systems from being used in November without proper evaluation by you?"

 

A: "I wouldn't agree, we do have time to have integrity, because we do have time to focus on the hotspots."

 

But Mr. Soaries adds that it's not his job to investigate individual companies like Diebold, which is grappling with a major image problem. Made worse because its chief executive has raised a hundred thousand dollars for George Bush and pledged to "do all he can to deliver the president the vote."Something this voting company has lived to regret.

 

Mark Radke, Marketing Director, Diebold Election Systems: "That quotation which appeared in a letter is something he regrets.It's a situation where his personal preference has come over into his business practice and he regrets that ever happening."

 

You'd think this country would do all it could to banish memories of Florida 4 years ago. Yet if the race for the White House is as close this time as it was last - and the polls suggest it will be - then America could be heading for another fiasco - such is the mistrust in the very machinery supposed to keep democracy afloat.

 

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