Colorado Lawsuit Filed to Bar E-Voting in November

Suit: Ban computer voting
Attorney fears fraud, says state 'headed for train wreck' in November
Go to original article in Rocky Mountain News

By Ann Imse / Rocky Mountain News / September 15, 2006

(Pictured right) Shauna Ruda, 18, voting in her first election, casts her ballot in the Aug. 8 primary at the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building downtown. Critics say that voting on computer screens is subject to massive fraud, and the Colorado Democratic Party is advising all Democrats to cast absentee paper ballots in the Nov. 7 election.

Voting on computer screens is so vulnerable to massive fraud that Colorado's November election is "headed for a train wreck," says an attorney who is seeking to have the equipment barred at trial next week. An expert would need just 2 minutes to reprogram and distort votes on a Diebold, one of four brands of computerized voting systems attacked in the suit, says attorney Paul Hultin. His firm, Wheeler Trigg Kennedy, has taken on the case pro bono for a group of 13 citizens of various political stripes. And he's not the only one alarmed as details of the case spread this week.

The Colorado Democratic Party on Thursday urged all voters to cast absentee ballots for the November election to avoid potential fraud, after a key state official said in a deposition that he certified the computer voting equipment even though he has no college education in computer science and did little security testing.

But deputy attorney general Maurice Knaizer says Colorado is protected against tampering because state law now requires a printout of each computer ballot. The printout can be reviewed by the voter and is kept at the machine for post-election audits and recounts.

If the electronic and paper tallies don't match, the paper ballot is used, said Knaizer, who is representing Secretary of State Gigi Dennis.
Concerns about the machines raised in the lawsuit prompted calls for reviews from both candidates for secretary of state. State Sen. Ken Gordon, the Democratic candidate who currently is Democratic majority leader in the state Senate, called on Dennis to "immediately hire competent staff and perform an adequate and thorough testing, as the law requires."

Mike Coffman, currently Republican state treasurer, said his first act if elected would be a full review of all voting systems in Colorado. The case goes to trial Wednesday in Denver District Court in front of Judge Lawrence Manzanares.

The four types of computer systems in question are manufactured by Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia and Hart, and are used in some fashion by every county in the state, affecting hundreds of thousands of voters. If they are barred just two months before the election, "it would be impossible, frankly, for a number of these counties to conduct an election in a reasonable and fair manner," Knaizer said.

Large counties could not print ballots by the Oct. 6 deadline and could not efficiently hand-count hundreds of thousands of paper ballots, he said. But Manzanares could simply choose to order Dennis to come up with additional security to prevent tampering, said Andy Efaw, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Threat from hackers, viruses

National computing experts have advised against using computers for voting because they cannot ever be secure, Efaw said.

Just this week, Princeton University researchers experimenting with a Diebold model said that malicious software can modify all records. They said the software can be stored on a memory card and installed by someone in a clerk's office or at the manufacturer's in as little as one minute. They also found that viruses could spread the software to all the machines in a system.

Hultin said instructions for tampering with the Diebold machine have been posted on the Internet. In June, the secretary of state's office warned counties with certain Diebold machines that an earlier experiment installed
distorting code in just two minutes. In a letter, the office advised
election officials to add three seals to the equipment so any tampering
could be detected.

With this in addition to security procedures and post-election audits, "we have minimized this threat," wrote Holly Z. Lowder, director of the elections division.

Gordon and the Democratic Party were alarmed by a deposition in the case released this week, in which the secretary of state's staffer in charge of testing the machines says he did only 15 minutes of security checks.The staffer, John Gardner Jr., also said he had no college training in computer science, causing Gordon and others to question whether he was qualified for the job. Gardner also had been information technology chief for the El Paso County clerk, which runs elections there.

The plaintiff's attorneys say Gardner's security checks on the four systems did not include attempts at hacking. Instead, Gardner merely checked whether the manufacturers included security documentation.

"Of course" Gardner should have tried hacking, Hultin said. "Isn't that the idea of a test?"

Two elections reversed

Meanwhile, there are concerns about another form of voting machine that would be an alternative to the machines under attack in the lawsuit. Last year, two Colorado elections were reversed when recounts in tight races found that an Optech III-P optical scanner misread paper ballots: In Salida, Hugh Young initially lost a city council election to Ron Stowell by three votes. After the recount, he won by three votes.

In Clear Creek County, a school issue passed by six votes, according to the electronic count, and failed by 18 when the paper ballots were counted. The machines had failed to count more than 100 votes.

The secretary of state's office ordered 10 races audited last year where the Optech III-P Eagle was used. It was found to have miscounted ballots where voters skipped some races.

The Optech was decertified and is no longer used in Colorado, said County Clerk Pam Phipps.

Voting machine lawsuit

What could happen? Computerized voting equipment in the November elections statewide could be barred from use, forcing election officials to scramble to come up with alternatives.

Equipment affected: Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia and Hart where voters mark their ballots on a computer screen.

What happens next: Trial set for Wednesday and Thursday, just six weeks before the election.

Plaintiffs' claim: Tampering with software can cause votes to be miscounted or undercounted.

Secretary of state's response: Equipment prints paper record so voters can check their ballots before leaving.

Other responses: State Democratic Party called for voters to cast absentee ballots this fall; Democratic candidate for secretary of state Ken Gordon called for stringent recertification of equipment; Republican candidate for secretary of state Mike Coffman promised to review the equipment if elected.

Contact: imsea @ RockyMountainNews . com or 303-954-5438