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'Hacking' Casts Doubts on Electronic Voting
Published on Wednesday, November 1, 2006 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
'Hacking' Casts Doubts on Electronic Voting
by Monica Haynes

Visions of hanging chads are still dancing in the heads of voters who saw the 2000 presidential election nightmare as a wake-up call to the fallibility of the voting process.

Many states, prompted by the federal Help America Vote Act and its pot of $3.9 billion for upgrading election equipment, moved to electronic voting machines.

Allegheny County spent $11.9 million on iVotronic machines by Election Systems & Software.

The HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy," which debuts tomorrow night, shows that despite the use of electronic voting machines, America's voting system is still vulnerable.

The documentary focuses on Bev Harris, a Seattle author and grandmother, whose research into electronic voting machines led to everything from Dumpster diving at Diebold Corp. -- one of the leading electronic voting machine manufacturers -- to tussling over discarded election result slips.

While many folks focused on the hanging chads in Florida, no one seemed to pay as much attention to the fact that an electronic voting machine in Volusia County, Fla., recorded minus 16,022 votes for Al Gore, according to the documentary.

"If you look at that election and, to some extent, 2004, we were really caught flatfooted," Harris said. "We would just cast our vote and go home."

The question is will that vote count when it's cast, and will it end up with the candidate the voter selected?

Diebold Corp.'s machines counted 40 percent of the votes nationwide in the 2000 election. But Harris learns with the help of computer security expert Dr. Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins University that Diebold's election software is not secure and can be easily tampered with.

It's a claim the company's officials deny repeatedly in the documentary as they make their sales pitch to various election officials. The documentary shows officials in Florida agreeing to purchase Diebold election systems even when activists give them reports indicating the system can be hacked.

"What I've found out in the field is there is a tremendous variation between whether local officials follow the rules," she said. "In a surprising number of cases, they're not following the rules."

The documentary shows Harris confronting employees at a warehouse in Volusia County who were tossing out certified election results even though, according to Harris, they must be kept. She actually wrestled the garbage bag away from one of the employees.

In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where officials were undertaking a public recount, it appeared a private recount had taken place beforehand. The documentary points out that later two of the officials were indicted on election fraud charges.

Ohio was the turnkey state in the 2004 presidential election. A limited number of voting machines in heavily populated polling places resulted in some voters waiting up to seven hours in the rain to vote and prompted charges of voting impropriety.

In Maryland, Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. has urged a return to paper ballots because he lacks confidence in his state's electronic system. In August, voter advocates in Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to stop the use of paperless electronic voting machines. The machines are used in 58 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Arizona, Colorado and California.

Throughout the documentary, viewers are introduced to activists across the country and politicians in both parties who want to ensure that the elections are handled properly.

Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for Leon County, Fla., allowed Harris and her fellow activists to conduct a mock election to test the electronic machines that his county uses.

Computer security expert Harri Hursti takes a memory card used in the county's electronic voting machines and alters it. When Harris and a group of other activists "vote" on a yes or no question, the results are shocking.

If it had been a real election, Sancho said he would have certified the results because he would have no way of knowing that they were incorrect.

One female activist who participated in the mock vote is so disheartened that she cries.

While Harris realizes that the documentary may be discouraging initially, she hopes it galvanizes voters to be more engaged in their government.

"Democracy is a contact sport," she said. "You can't sit home and watch TV and hope everything takes care of itself."

Copyright © PG Publishing Co., Inc.


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