Virus in the Voting Machines: Tainted Results in NY-23

Source: Gouverneurtimes.com


Virus in the Voting Machines: Tainted Results in NY-23

Northern NY News
Written by Nathan Barker  
Thursday, 19 November 2009 12:44

GOUVERNEUR, NY - The computerized voting machines used by many voters in the 23rd district had a computer virus - tainting the results, not just from those machines known to have been infected, but casting doubt on the accuracy of counts retrieved from any of the machines.

Cathleen Rogers, the Democratic Elections Commissioner in Hamilton County stated that they discovered a problem with their voting machines the week prior to the election and that the "virus" was fixed by a Technical Support representative from Dominion, the manufacturer.  The Dominion/Sequoia Voting Systems representative "reprogrammed" their machines in time for them to use in the Nov. 3rd Special Election. None of the machines (from the same manufacturer) used in the other counties within the 23rd district were looked at nor were they recertified after the "reprogramming" that occurred in Hamilton County.
ImageCast Scanner
ImageCast Scanner
Republican Commissioner Judith Peck refused to speculate on whether the code that governs the counts could have been tampered with.  She indicated that "as far as I know, the machine in question was not functioning properly and was repaired" by the technician.
 
Commissioners in other counties have stated that they were not made aware of the virus issue in Hamilton County.  In Jefferson County, inspectors from four districts claim that "human error" resulted in their "mistakenly" entering 0 votes for Hoffman in several districts, resulting in Owens leading Jefferson County on election night though the recanvas of the computer counts now show that Hoffman is leading.  Jefferson County has not conducted a manual paper ballot recount. 

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'Whether the erroneous results are computer error, or tampering,
significant doubt now exists with regard to the accuracy of the vote counts from November 3rd . . . A manual paper-ballot recount of the vote could resolve computer vote accuracy questions.'

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In St. Lawrence County, machines in Louisville, Waddington, Claire, and Rossie "broke" early in the voting process on election day.  Republican Commissioner Deborah Pahler said that the machines kept "freezing up... like Windows does all the time," and that they experienced several paper jams as well.  The voted ballots that could not be scanned were placed in an Emergency Lock Box and re-scanned later at the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections.  Election officials in St. Lawrence County were given no advance knowledge of a potential virus in the system.

At least one County official thus far has raised concern that it's possible that ALL of the machines used in the NY-23 election had the 'virus' but only a few malfunctioned as a result.  The counts from any district that used the ImageCast machines are suspect due to "the virus" discovered in Hamilton County, last-minute "reprogramming" by Dominion workers, and security flaws in the systems themselves.  A manual paper-ballot recount of the vote could resolve computer vote accuracy questions.

Frank Hoar, an attorney for the Democratic Party, initially ordered the impound of malfunctioning machines but released the order on Nov. 5th so that Bill Owens could be sworn in to Congress in time to vote on the House Health bill on November 7th.  Pahler said that once the impound order was released they opened the locked ballot box and had the ballots scanned.  Pahler also stated that after they were able to get data from the malfunctioning machines, they did a hand-count of the ballots as well to ensure that the counts matched.  Even though not required to, both commissioners in St. Lawrence County agreed that the manual count was necessary due to the malfunctions

The machines themselves are languishing at the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections until after the election results have been certified to the state on November 28th, 2009.  Pahler indicated that they have not yet been able to examine the machines to determine why they malfunctioned.  A qualified technician would be able to verify the presence of a virus in the computers, but, other than the infected machines, no security precautions were taken to ensure chain of custody on the remaining computerized voting machines utilized in the 23rd district.
 
Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in this election says that he was forced to concede after having been given erroneous election results on Nov. 3rd, in particular from Oswego County.  Oswego County's election night results were off by over 1,000 votes. Hoffman claims that the "chaos" on which Oswego County chairs blame the errors and "inspectors who read numbers incorrectly when phoning in results . . . sounds like a tactic right from the ACORN playbook."

Some County Election officials are stating that the errors, referred to by Hoffman, are standard election-night chaos and not the result of conspiracy or tampering.

Hoffman Considers Legal Challenge

Hoffman is raising funds for a possible legal challenge to the results and requesting that the Boards of Election hand-count every vote.  On Tuesday, he "unconceded" the race.  In light of the current concerns over the accuracy of the machine-counted votes, Hoffman may now have a legitimate reason to contest the election results.

Of further note, the models of ImageCast machines used in the districts have a slot through which the paper ballot is deposited into a secure holding tank underneath the machine after the ballot is scanned by the machine.  The problem is that the slot is readily accessible to the voter (or poll worker) to stuff manually.  10 voted ballots could be deposited in the slot for every one voter... and if the electronic count was compromised, the "paper backup" would be useless.

The ImageCast machines have one more significant and scary flaw: USB ports.  USB ports allow various devices to be attached to a computer in order to input information, connect a device, add wireless network capability and so on.  Wireless network devices and USB storage devices can (and are) made small enough to fit into a regular wristwatch or bracelet.

Through either type of device, software hacks or remote control of the voting machine could be implemented or a virus introduced.  Since standard count audits are only done on 3% of the machines unless there is a malfunction, a functional hack or software change could adjust election counts with the County or State Boards of Election none the wiser.
 

Paper Ballots Have Not Been Counted

The paper ballots have not been counted by the County Boards of Elections except in the 4 districts where the known computer malfunctions occurred.  The remaining districts performed a mandatory 3% spot check of the computer results but have not manually counted the remainder of the paper ballots and do not intend to.

The paper ballots themselves are another issue of concern to many voters.  Unlike the traditional pull-lever voting machine that tallies its votes mechanically, the ballots used by the scanning system exist as a voted ballot after the fact.  New York State law currently has no provision for those ballots to remain in public view to assure voters that they have not been tampered with.

Privacy concerns exist in many districts as well.  State guidelines say that the voter is supposed to be issued a privacy sleeve to cover the ballot so that no one may see the voted ballot and thus how a voter voted.  The state also suggests a large booth that allows the voter to fill out the ballot in privacy but many voters complained that the district they voted in offered no privacy sleeve and that the area they were supposed to complete the ballot in was not private.

Erik Dunk, a Jefferson County resident, voted in Henderson, NY.  He said that the process was very nervewracking and that his voted ballot was not only in plain view after he completed it but that the workers took the ballot from him and fed it into the ImageCast machine themselves -- removing what little privacy remained in the voting process and casting even more doubt on the security of the process.

Despite continued assurances from the manufacturer that the system is unhackable, reliable, easy to use, private, and secure,  a stream of lawsuits, allegations of voter fraud, and machine failures against Sequoia from other congressional districts continue to contradict their statements.

The manufacturer of the machines, Dominion/Sequoia Voting Systems, is the same company that Dan Rather accused of causing over 50,000 votes to go uncounted in the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida due to intentional oversight.  Rather's report claimed that Sequoia was well aware of the issues but proceeded into the election utilizing an inferior product and told election workers and technicians to "ignore the problems."

New York election officials are in a corner.  While there is significant evidence of malfunction with the new voting machines that were in use in the 23rd District and the accuracy of the recorded votes, the State had no choice but to use them.  A Federal Court order demanded that New York have the machines in place and use them or be found in violation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 which requires that all polling locations have handicapped-accessible voting machines with a variety of options available so that anyone may use the machine to vote.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 November 2009 14:16  
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READER COMMENTS


New York is trying to force all counties to abandon lever machines and use the new computerized Dominion ImageCast vote counting systems. Lever machines, however, cannot be infected by a virus, as these new machines were. Any potential tampering with the mechanical lever machines can only affect machines one by one, and will be more visible to the naked eye, with less need for expertise.

Unlike these new software-driven systems, lever machines are not subject to last minute reprogramming (or not?) of concealed software; they do not have USB ports, which can be used to introduce new software or download information, they do not have different software running in different locations, and they do not sacrifice voters' political privacy by making them mark ballots in public view.

Furthermore, the new software-driven systems cannot be certified as accurate by election commissioners (as required by law), because they neither have the expertise to examine the software running at the time of the election, nor permission to do so (because the system is a proprietary trade secret and the contract they sign prohibits them from even looking inside the machine, threatening breach of contract and voiding of the warranty).

Can you imagine restrictions with the lever machines that would prohibit election officials from examining them at all?

New Yorkers are being forced to transition into a more concealed, higher risk, and less democratic election system.

-- Bev Harris
Founder - BlackBoxVoting.org
A national nonpartisan nonprofit elections watchdog organization