CBS New York reports that there were a variety of voting irregularities in election offices across the state of New York, the majority of which were caused by problems with electronic voting machines:
There were major problems at the polls on primary day in New York and itâ€™s all connected to the debut of the stateâ€™s new electronic voting machines.
New York City spent $160 million on new voting machines, but the roll out was embarrassing.
Some polling places opened as much as four hours late and thousands may have been unable to cast ballots, reports CBS 2â€™s Marcia Kramer.
â€œThat is a royal screw-up and itâ€™s completely unacceptable,â€ Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Sources told CBS 2 that the list of problems was astonishing, including: broken machines, missing machines, missing emergency ballots and workers totally unprepared to assist voters and resolve technical glitches.
We should come to expect these types of problems going forward, because this isn’t the first time issues with electronic voting machines have been detected.
Possibility of manipulation by voting officials overseeing elections:
In the Aug. 5, 2010 Shelby County Tennessee election, multiple vote databases were in use at various times throughout the election, each recording different and sometimes conflicting actions by election administrators. Additionally, according to reports, multiple “sets of books” were created and used in Shelby County. To understand just how dangerous it is for Shelby County to use multiple and different databases for the same election, you only need to learn one key concept: The computer doesn’t care what a name is; it looks for a number. By inverting, adding or deleting any one of several different database numbers, you alter results. There are many different places where election definition numbers can produce an altered result in the GEMS database. A simple “search and replace” edit will adjust candidate ID numbers for any specific voting machine or polling place, or for selected batches of early votes (which can disperse a large vote change into many small adjustments since early vote uploads mix precincts within the same batch). (Source)
Easy access by anyone with a lock-pick set:
At the request of the State of Maryland RABA Technologies completed a report in January of 2004 reviewing security measures for Diebold voting machines: “Maryland has ordered approximately 16,000 AccuVote-TS terminals, each equipped with two locking bays and supplied with two keys accounting for 32,000 locks and keys. Surprisingly, each lock is identical and can be opened by any one of the 32,000 keys. Furthermore, team members [of RABA’s security assessment team] were able to have duplicates made at local hardware stores. It is a reasonable scenario to assume that a working key is available to an attacker. To make matters worse, using a commonly available lock pick set, one team member picked the lock in approximately 10 seconds. Individuals with no experience were able to pick the lock in approximately 1 minute.” (source
Leaving the keys with poll workers:
Serious security issues came to light after problems in San Diego County’s 2004 elections: “The county seems dismissive of the complaints from the few voters who were able to report them, and is stating there were no security issues and no count discrepancies. Yet security issues were widespread. In spite of the vulnerability of Diebold’s electronic voting system, the registrar sent computerized voting machines, cards, keys and card encoders to be stored in poll workers’ homes before the election, secured only by easily removed stickers and flimsy plastic zip-ties. In one precinct observed by SAVE-Democracy’s poll watchers, these security stickers had never even been placed over the memory card ports — where votes are stored — as they should have been. Poll workers were given extra zip-ties to hold the machines and key-card pouches closed. These were not inventoried and apparently were not even inspected, so no one knows if machines were tampered with.” (source)
There are hundreds of examples of security issues stemming from the use of electronic machines. Though the hanging-chad saga of the 2000 Presidential election shows that problems also exist within the traditional voting tabulation system of using a paper and pencil, at least with this system it is possible to pull a paper trail for every vote cast. With electronic machines, the results data are not only stored only on digital media, but can be accessed, manipulated and tweaked by anyone with password access. If the above examples are any guide, it shouldn’t be very difficult to obtain that password information if you’re a would-be hacker looking to make a few “minor” changes.
Contrast the security measures taken with voting machines to the security provided for the President’s “Nuclear Football.” For those unfamiliar with the President’s “Nuclear Football” (a.k.a. “The Button”), it is essentially a brief case that goes everywhere the President goes:
The “Nuclear Football,” otherwise known as the President’s Emergency Satchel, is a black-colored leather briefcase always near the President of the United States. It contains a secure SATCOM radio and handset, the daily nuclear launch codes known as the “Gold Codes,” and the President’s Decision Bookâ€”the “nuclear playbook” that the President would rely on should a decision to use nuclear weapons be made. The National Security Agency updates the Gold Codes daily. The Football is carried by the Emergency War Officer at all times. This person is a commissioned officer in the U.S. military, pay-grade O-4 or above, who has undergone the nation’s most rigorous background check (Yankee White). The “Black Book” is said to contain 75 pages of options, to be used against four primary groups: Russian nuclear forces; conventional military forces; military and political leadership and economic/industrial targets. (source)
Most would argue that the nature of the nuclear football, and the fact that it can be used to pretty much annihilate the world, requires a bit of additional security compared to a Diebold voting machine. We agree, security should probably be a bit more stringent.
But the idea that voting machine security remains open to data manipulation from all sorts of potential threats including county officials and poll workers with opposing political views, as well as hackers from foreign countries with an interest in placing certain political candidates in higher level offices in U.S. elections, should sound blaring alarms.
Once our voting systems are compromised, it’s akin to handing over the nuclear football to those who would do us harm. After all, no matter how much security the nuclear football has around it, if the security around the voting systems that elect Congressional representatives with war powers and the person with the finger on the button is lax, then the threat to Americans’ safety, security and individual freedoms couldn’t be an clearer.