New tests cast severe doubts about vote machines
Ion Sancho, Leon County's election chief, said tests by two computer experts, completed this week, showed that an insider could surreptitiously change vote results and the number of ballots cast on Diebold's optical-scan machines.
After receiving county commission approval Tuesday, Sancho scrapped Diebold's system for one made by Elections Systems and Software, the same provider used by Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The difference between the systems: Sancho's machines use a fill-in-the-blank paper ballot that allows for after-the-fact manual recounts, while Broward and Miami-Dade use ATM-like touchscreens that leave no paper trail.
''That's kind of scary. If there's no paper trail, you have to rely solely on electronic results. And now we know that they can be manipulated under the right conditions, without a person even leaving a fingerprint,'' said Sancho, who once headed the state's elections supervisors association.
Thompson told The Herald he was ''shocked'' at how easy it was to get in, make the loser the winner and leave without a trace. The machine asked for a user name and password, but didn't require it, he said. That meant it had not just a ''front door, but a back door as big as a garage,'' Thompson said.
From there, Thompson said, he typed five lines of computer code -- and switched 5,000 votes from one candidate to another.
''I am positive an eighth grader could do this,'' Thompson said.
Over the past few months, computer expert Harri Hursti tried to manipulate election results with the memory card inserted into each Diebold voting machine. The card records votes during an election, then at the end of the day is taken to a central location where results are totaled.
Hursti figured out how to hack into the memory card by using an agricultural scanning device easily available on the Internet, said BlackBox founder Bev Harris.
He learned how to hide votes, make losers out of winners and leave no trace, she said.
Sancho said he tried to discuss the problems with Diebold, but met with resistance. On Monday, he did one final test with Hursti at the Leon County supervisor's office, Hursti hacked the memory card to spit out seven ''yes'' votes on an issue and one ''no'' vote.
Then, six ''no'' votes and two ''yes'' votes were cast into the machine the same way voters would. Those results didn't show up in the final tally -- just the ones hacked into the card.
"These were sold as safe systems. They passed tests as safe systems," Sancho said. "But even in the so-called safe system, if you don't follow the paper ballots, there is a way to rig the election. Except it's not a bunch of guys stuffing ballots in a precinct. It's possibly one person acting in secret changing thousands of votes in a second."