Voting machines hacked in Leon County
Steve Schell
July/August 2005

Black Box Voting, Inc. released a report on July 4, 2005 titled, "Critical Security Issues With Diebold Optical Scan Design." The report details tests done in Leon County, Florida, with the permission of Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho. Alachua County also uses Optical Scan machines.

The report states in its summary, in part: "The findings of this study indicate that the architecture of the Diebold Precinct-Based Optical Scan 1.94w voting system inherently supports the alteration of its basic functionality, and thus the alteration of the produced results each time an election is prepared.

"The fundamental design... includes the optical scan machine, with an embedded system containing firmware, and the removable media (memory card), which should contain only the ballot box, the ballot design and the race definitions, but also contains a living thing - an executable program which acts on the vote data. Changing this executable program on the memory card can change the way the optical scan machine functions and the way the votes are reported. The system won't work without this program on the memory card. Whereas we would expect to see vote data in a sealed, passive environment, this system places votes into an open active environment.

"With this architecture, every time an election is conducted it is necessary to reinstall part of the functionality into the Optical Scan system via memory card, making it possible to introduce program functions (either authorized or unauthorized), either wholesale or in a targeted manner, with no way to verify that the certified or even standard functionality is maintained from one voting machine to the next."

Black Box Voting, Inc. is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)3 organization.

The Leon County test took place on May 2, 2005. Harri Hursti and Dr. Herbert Thompson visited the Elections warehouse for what the report termed a "brief inspection and rudimentary testing" of the systems. Dr. Thompson was able to access the central tabulator and alter the vote totals using a Visual Basic Script program. According to the report, "[t]his attack exploited features inherent in the Windows operating system and its built-in database functionalities and the MS Access-compatible vote database used with [the central tabulator]".

Kathleen Wynne of Black Box Voting said that, "granted the same access as an employee of the Leon County, FL election office, it was possible to enter the computer, alter election results, and exit the system without leaving any physical record of this action."

The report identifies several vulnerabilities that Hursti and Thompson were able to exploit during their testing in Leon County, and also identifies a number of other potential security concerns that they did not attempt to verify for various reasons. The entire report is available at:

A statement on the Leon County Supervisor of Elections website tells of the testing and ends with this: "Based upon the data developed out of this exercise it is the opinion of the Leon County Supervisor of Elections that any effort to limit or remove the manual examination of paper ballots to confirm the correctness of election results is not in the public interest." You can view the entire statement here:

On June 19, 2005, Radio Pacifica affiliate KPFT-FM in Houston interviewed Harry Hursti on the news program, Sunday Monitor. Hursti told host Pokie Roberts, "there is an executable program which is living in the removable media - what we call the memory card - and that memory card really is the modern day ballot box itself. There was no indication in the user manual or documentation that such program is stored there; it was there. And that really means that there's no such thing as an empty ballot box."

All this comes as stories continue to break regarding voting irregularities and the miserable state of affairs in Ohio elections offices. The Columbus Dispatch reported on July 16, that Matt Damschroder, director of the Franklin County, Ohio Board of Elections, claimed that Diebold paid $10,000 in January 2004 to the Franklin County Republican Party in an attempt to sway the the county's decision on voting machines (Franklin County is where people stood in line for hours in the rain trying to vote). Damschroder, a Republican and former chair of the party, also said that the money came from Diebold representative Pat Gallina, who boasted about a $50,000 donation he had written to a political group associated with Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Blackwell is a candidate for governor of Ohio in 2006.

On the same June 19 Sunday Monitor, Roberts spoke with Bob Fitrakis, who, along with Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman, authored "Did George W. Bush steal America's 2004 election?" Fitrakis said, "on 2/27/04 Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who also happened to be the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney reelection committee, announced that there would be, for the 1st time, 2-way transmission of data in real time from the Secretary of State's office and the 88 counties of Ohio. Fitrakis conducted hundreds of interviews-on the record - of people involved in the installation of a central tabulator in Ohio, but many of those interviewed have confidentiality agreements that prohibit them from speaking publicly on the matter. One person, however, did approach Bob and his team through a third party and said that Blackwell's office had an "override and overwrite capacity" on the counties' Boards of Election results. He also said that there were "points of vulnerability" in the system.

Fitrakis and others are still investigating these claims and records from the 2004 elections. He said that the key thing they are trying to do is to get permission to examine the paper ballots. The State of Ohio has been slow to respond to their requests and now there are concerns about the chain of custody of the paper ballots and speculation that false ballots have been since generated in order to appear to conform to the announced results.

According to Fitrakis, the people at the Boards of Elections are not very knowledgeable about these new voting systems and so they are dependent upon the employees of the companies who made and installed these systems - companies such as ES&S and Diebold. So, what Hursti found out in Leon County is a concern because there is an opportunity for fraud within the elections office. This doesn't necessarily point to elections office employees but also to the voting machine company employees who installed the systems. Those employees were granted access to the systems in various Ohio locations during the November elections. An article authored by Fitrakis, Rosenfeld, and Wasserman that appeared on on December 18, 2004 said, "[I]n Lucas County and Hocking County, it was revealed that technicians from the Diebold and Triad companies had inexplicably taken control of voting machines and dismantled them, rendering verifiable recounts impossible." That article appeared shortly after U.S. Representative John Conyers posted an affidavit from Douglas W. Jones, a professor of computer science and a voting technology consultant. In Professor Jones' opinion, the bizarre behavior by the Triad Company, which provides computer software and voting machines in 41 of Ohio's 88 counties, may have tainted the entire recount effort. A Triad employee took apart a computer used in the recounting process and inserted new parts as well as allegedly modifying the software. "As a result, the incident in Hocking County could compromise the statewide recount and undermine the public's trust in the credibility and accuracy of the recount," Jones stated in an affidavit.

The recent allegations regarding payments by Diebold to the Franklin County GOP (in the end Diebold didn't get the bid) is but another thread in the tangled tale of the Ohio voting debacle. Those who have been active in following this still-evolving story might wonder what Andy Stephenson would have said upon hearing of the alleged Diebold payments. Stephenson, who died last week following complications from surgery, spent the last two years of his life working and advocating for paper trail voting. He worked with and for various organizations, including and Vote Trust USA. A couple months before his death, Andy put some of his thoughts on paper, saying, "in case something happens to me, God forbid.I have it down for others in the future." Here is part of what he wrote:

What a ballot is. It is not merely a piece of paper it is is my voice. Each of us should guard it more than we would our most prized or precious possession. That ballot protects our other possessions. Without it you have no say. Over the last couple of years I have been adamant about the need for a voter verified paper ballot. It has been the driving force behind what I have done and will continue to do. To me, my ballot is the most sacred sacrament of the secular religion we call Democracy.

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