Commentary: A Corrupt Track Record By KARLA BEAN

Tuesday September 06, 2005

Regardless of the performance of Diebold’s electronic voting machines, we are putting our whole election system in jeopardy by placing it into the hands of private corporations who refuse to allow anyone to analyze the programming code unless they sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

When Ion Sancho, the registrar of Leon County in Florida, invited Black Box Voting to examine his Diebold optical scan voting system, computer expert Harri Hursti found an executable program written into the code of each memory card. There is no justifiable reason to have such a program on these cards, except to facilitate manipulation of the vote count, and the voting system won’t work unless it is present. Harri Hursti was able to manipulate the vote count using this program in three different ways without leaving any trace of evidence behind. The votes can be switched and still equal the number of votes casts. The paper audit tape will agree with the changed vote totals and show no evidence of the program run. To see Hursti’s technical report, go to www.blackboxvoting.org/BBVreport.pdf. 

To receive federal certification, electronic voting machine vendors use labs they hire themselves. These labs merely test that components of the system will operate in the way they say they will; there is no security testing done on these machines. 

There are countless reported incidents, such as what occurred in the Alameda 2004 primary, where Diebold technicians applied “patches” at the last minute to their touchscreen machines before the election without having them certified or examined. Poll workers saw unfamiliar Windows screens, frozen screens, strange error messages and login boxes—none of which they’d been trained to expect. A report released by Diebold showed 186 of 763 voter-card encoders failed because of hardware or software problems or both, but they offered no explanation of how and why they delivered faulty voting equipment to Alameda and San Diego counties—its two largest West Coast customers—on the eve of the 2004 presidential primary. 

After the Oct. 7 recall election, when Diebold’s vote-tabulating software wrongly awarded 9,000 Democratic absentee votes to a Southern California Socialist, Diebold decided its computer was overwhelmed and replaced it. 

In San Diego County, Diebold’s software misreported almost 3,000 votes. In the worst case, it switched 2,747 Democratic presidential primary votes for U.S. Sen. John Kerry to U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, who had dropped out of the race. In the recent San Diego mayoral race, Diebold technicians were observed actually replacing the central tabulation machines with unknown devices to count the votes. Was it a remarkable happenstance that the percentages of votes per candidate stayed even throughout the night as the precinct results were fed into the tabulators? 

Former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertified Diebold after he found they had fraudulently delivered machines running uncertified versions of software to California counties. He also mandated paper trails for machines by 2006, but current Secretary of State McPherson says he doubts these paper ballot copies could be used in a recount, the only way to verify an election. 

So please forgive us, Mr. Byrd, if we have skepticism and disdain for Diebold and other electronic voting machine vendors, but it based on your company’s past history of deception, contract breaches, questionable contributions, insecure practices and use of executable programs on your memory cards that facilitate vote manipulation, illegal application of uncertified “patches” on the machines that count our votes, and the countless incidents of miscounted, uncounted and switched votes and voter disenfranchisements that seem to accompany your machines. 

Until we go back to hand-counted paper ballots, we will never truly be able to trust the results of our elections. 


Karla Bean is a Richmond resident.