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When all else fails, hack the election

Considering the current drain-circling of GOP fortunes, it’s probably a good time to ask this again — what about Diebold? This Congress have nothing to run on, the administration is a failure, and they are dealing with a sex predator scandal of epic proportions that simply won’t go away, so you have to wonder whether the desperate denials, backstabbing, and flat out lying by House leadership will matter at all when people go to the polls where Diebold equipment is in place.

People may, in key races, vote to toss the bums out, but is the fix already in? Robert Kennedy revisits the monkey business of Diebold in his Rolling Stone article, Will The Next Election Be Hacked? Kennedy has already documented the “foul-ups” and monkey business of the GOP and Ken Blackwell to keep more than 350,000 voters in the Buckeye State from being about to vote — or have their 2004 votes counted in Was the 2004 Election Stolen? my post (here).

In the “Hacked” article, it’s pretty clear that the barn door has been left wide open in too many states, and Diebold’s criminal behavior has gone unchecked. Your vote may not count.

Chris Hood remembers the day in August 2002 that he began to question what was really going on in Georgia. An African-American whose parents fought for voting rights in the South during the 1960s, Hood was proud to be working as a consultant for Diebold Election Systems, helping the company promote its new electronic voting machines. During the presidential election two years earlier, more than 94,000 paper ballots had gone uncounted in Georgia – almost double the national average – and Secretary of State Cathy Cox was under pressure to make sure every vote was recorded properly.

Diebold was shortly awarded a $54 million contract to provide Georgia with 19,000 touch-screen voting devices — and only five months to fulfill the order. Kennedy looks at the series of decisions that made it easy to compromise the system. It’s unbelievable.

Chris Hood explains how the limited time window to ready the equipment resulted in Secretary of State Cathy Cox signing away oversight of the process.

There was only one way, he adds, that the job could be done in time – if “the vendor had control over the entire environment.” That is precisely what happened. In late July, to speed deployment of the new machines, Cox quietly signed an agreement with Diebold that effectively privatized Georgia’s entire electoral system. The company was authorized to put together ballots, program machines and train poll workers across the state – all without any official supervision. “We ran the election,” says Hood. “We had 356 people that Diebold brought into the state. Diebold opened and closed the polls and tabulated the votes. Diebold convinced Cox that it would be best if the company ran everything due to the time constraints, and in the interest of a trouble-free election, she let us do it.”

Then, one muggy day in mid-August, Hood was surprised to see the president of Diebold’s election unit, Bob Urosevich, arrive in Georgia from his headquarters in Texas. With the primaries looming, Urosevich was personally distributing a “patch,” a little piece of software designed to correct glitches in the computer program. “We were told that it was intended to fix the clock in the system, which it didn’t do,” Hood says. “The curious thing is the very swift, covert way this was done.”

Georgia law mandates that any change made in voting machines be certified by the state. But thanks to Cox’s agreement with Diebold, the company was essentially allowed to certify itself. “It was an unauthorized patch, and they were trying to keep it secret from the state,” Hood told me. “We were told not to talk to county personnel about it. I received instructions directly from Urosevich. It was very unusual that a president of the company would give an order like that and be involved at that level.”

According to Hood, Diebold employees altered software in some 5,000 machines in DeKalb and Fulton counties – the state’s largest Democratic strongholds. To avoid detection, Hood and others on his team entered warehouses early in the morning. “We went in at 7:30 a.m. and were out by 11,” Hood says. “There was a universal key to unlock the machines, and it’s easy to get access. The machines in the warehouses were unlocked. We had control of everything. The state gave us the keys to the castle, so to speak, and they stayed out of our way.” Hood personally patched fifty-six machines and witnessed the patch being applied to more than 1,200 others.

I think you get the idea here. Our elected and appointed officials, in charge of protecting your vote, for the sake of expediency (and clearly with either a political motive or no technical aptitute to make a sane judgment call), let the Diebold the inmate, run the asylum.

Kennedy’s article is a long must-read. And he’s not the only one concerned about this. Last month I posted about election officials who are getting “cold feet” about these touch-screen black box systems.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who dealt with touch-screen debacles in 2004, is going back to a paper ballot.

We became one of the laughing stock states in the country because we had these technological machines that were not working, that in several counties were defective, were slow, were unreliable, and I basically said to myself I’m not going to go through this again. And I just think that the paper ballot system, as untechnical as it seems, is the most verifiable way we can assure Americans that they’re voting and their vote is counting.

The ballots that will be used are electronically scanned and counted.

You’ve been warned:

“It would have been very easy for any one of us to take a contaminated card out of our pocket, put it into the system, and download some malicious code that would then end up in the server, impacting every other vote that went in, before and after,” says Hood. “We had absolute control of the tabulations. We could have fixed the election if we wanted. We had access, and that’s all you need. I can honestly say that every election I saw with Diebold in charge was compromised – if not in the count, at least in the security.”

…”With electronic machines, you can commit wholesale fraud with a single alteration of software,” says Avi Rubin, a computer-science professor at Johns Hopkins who has received $7.5 million from the National Science Foundation to study electronic voting. “There are a million little tricks when you build software that allow you to do whatever you want. If you know the precinct demographics, the machine can be programmed to recognize its precinct and strategically flip votes in elections that are several years in the future. No one will ever know it happened.”

As always, if you want hard news on all things related to vote-rigging, the place to surf is The Brad Blog.

Hat tip, mykull.

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UPDATE: check out the lovely Litbrit at The Last Duchess, who points to American Blackout, which covers on voting irregularities/disenfranchisement in the Cynthia McKinney race.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding