Diebold Accuses Critics of Monkey Business in
Latest Vote-Tampering Stunt
By Joseph Bacchus and Stacy Kaper
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004
Critics of the Diebold touch-screen voting machines
turned their attention Wednesday from the machines themselves to the
computers that will tally the final vote, saying the outcome is so easy to
manipulate that even a monkey could do it.
And they showed video of a monkey hacking the system to prove it.
In the minute-long video produced by Black Box Voting, Baxter the chimp
is shown deleting the audit log that is supposed to keep track of changes in
the Diebold central tabulator, the computer and program that keeps track of
county vote totals.
Black Box Voting founder Bev Harris said the demonstration shows that the
system -- which will be used in more than 30 states, including Maryland --
is dangerously inadequate when it comes to stopping election fraud.
But a Diebold spokesman insisted that the system is secure despite
"incessant" criticism from organizations such as Black Box Voting.
"The fact of the matter is what you saw was a staged production . . .
analogous to a magic show," said David Bear, the Diebold spokesman.
Even if the system could be hacked, he said, it could only be done by a
person with "unfettered access to the system." Bear noted that elections are
not just the machines, but also the people who work the elections.
"Quite honestly it's somewhat insulting to elections officials and
volunteers," he said to the idea that elections officers would tamper with
He cited "multiple levels of redundancy" that would ensure that "any
deviation would immediately be noticed" and dealt with.
But Black Box Voting on Wednesday demonstrated two quick ways that "an
unscrupulous person with no computer skills whatsoever" could sabotage vote
totals, according to Associate Director Andy Stephenson.
The entire voting record can be deleted by choosing "reset the election"
on a drop-down menu, he said, or a hacker can destroy a tabulator's ability
to recognize ballots by un-selecting three checkboxes on a program control
Once those changes are made, a hacker could cover his tracks by deleting
the audit log, as Baxter did.
The Diebold central tabulators use a program called "GEMS" that saves
vote totals in Microsoft Access, a Windows-based spreadsheet program. GEMS
requires users to enter a password to access the vote totals, but Davis
showed that the totals can also be opened -- and altered -- with Access,
without ever running GEMS.
Because Access functions are already built in to the Windows operating
system, the totals could be altered even if a computer did not have Access
installed on it, said Herbert Thompson, a computer security expert who
teaches at the Florida Institute of Technology. He demonstrated how to
change vote totals with a six-line program in Microsoft notepad, "a simple
text editor" that comes with all copies of Windows.
But Maryland election officials agreed with Bear that no hacking can
happen unless the hacker is physically at the computer. The central
tabulators are safe from any such outside tampering, said Donna Duncan,
director for the Maryland State Board of Elections election management
State elections officials also said Wednesday that they are confident
they can protect the system from a decidedly lower-tech threat.
Elections administrator Linda Lamone said she told Maryland State Police
and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security in a conference call
Wednesday that contingency plans are in place, should a terrorist attack or
weather disaster occur during the election.
Without going into details, Lamone told the Election Law Subcommittee of
the House Ways and Means Committee that alternative polling sites have been
identified and the elections board is prepared to handle a recount, should
it be necessary.
"We probably have the most secure system in the nation," said Lamone,
adding that her office is working with state police to "go over and above"
security measures currently in place.
Lamone said all the state's voting machines were upgraded this summer and
are on schedule to be used Nov. 2. She said the machines will also undergo a
series of security tests before and on the day of the election.
She did not discuss the potential for outright acts of aggression at the
polls, something that worries Nancy Dacek, president of the Montgomery
County Board of Elections.
Dacek said Wednesday that she fears that critics of the new voting system
may try to physically sabotage the machines. She pointed to a recent
incident in which a poll judge had to be ordered to return a voting machine
that was used for demonstrations at a Takoma Park folk festival.
As a precaution against such sabotage, some Montgomery County machines
will not be set up until the morning of the election, rather than the usual
Delegate Jean Cryor, R-Montgomery, told Lamone she hopes the state is
ready for whatever happens after the election.
"I think votes will be challenged all over the state," she said.
2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of
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