Electronic Machines, Shown Vulnerable to Easy Tampering --- Yet Said by State Officials to Be Physically Protected Under New Guidelines --- Now Available for Easy Access to Temp Workers!
Rationalizations from Diebold Company Apologists Appearing Sillier by the Day...
By Brad Friedman on 5/23/2006, 11:48am PT  

So much for those vaunted claims by California's Sec. of State Bruce McPherson and his partners at Diebold, Inc. about increased security surrounding the physical access to electronic voting machines in light of newly revealed vulnerabilities to easy tampering.

A tip received by The BRAD BLOG on Monday reveals that Temp Workers are currently being sought in San Francisco for California's upcoming primary election to "assist in dropping off election voting machines and picking these machines up when voting is complete," as the says.

A classified ad seeking the workers is currently posted on the Internet at Monster.com by Kelly Services. (A screenshot of the complete ad is posted at the end of this article.) The salary offered to temp workers hired for the job --- who will have private unsupervised access to the state's voting machines before and after election day --- is $11.99/hour according to the posting.

A litany of recent studies and independent scientific analyses of electronic voting machines, in California and elsewhere --- and reportedly widely in the mainstream media of late --- have warned that such systems and the data they contain are easily alterable via such physical access.

State and voting machine company officials have now admitted as much, but claim that stringent security procedures ensure that the danger posed by such access can be mitigated.

The ad, however, seeking temp workers for three weeks beginning on May 31, the week prior to California's June 6th primary election, would seem to belie official claims, while serving to underscore the extraordinarily precarious and dangerously vulnerable state of our current electoral system...

Several recent independent analyses of Diebold's electronic voting machines (both optical-scan and touch-screen systems) have revealed that physical access to machines allows a malicious individual to easily alter, or completely replace, all data, voting software and operating system on the machines or their memory cards in a matter of minutes.

In response to one of those recent revelations in Leon County, Florida last December --- when the results of a mock election were completely flipped after a memory card was altered without use of password or any other access to the system --- California's SoS McPherson commissioned his own security analysis [PDF] of the problem by a team from the University of California/Berkeley.

McPherson's own analysis confirmed that "anyone who has access to a memory card...and can tamper it (i.e. modify its contents)...can indeed modify the election results from that machine in a number of ways."

Further, the report went on to reveal, an additional 16 previously-undiscovered flaws, described as "more serious vulnerabilities...that go well beyond [the hack in Leon County]...and yet require no more access to the voting system" than the computer security experts in Leon County had when they conducted the experiment last December.

Incredibly, after receiving the report from his own team of experts, McPherson's office then went ahead and certified those very Diebold machines for California's upcoming elections at the end of a Friday before a holiday weekend.

His answer to the reported problems was increased physical security for the voting machines and their memory cards, which would seem to be antethetical to the notion of giving such unsupervised private access to such machines to $11.99 per hour temp workers found on the Internet.

Diebold, for their part, has answered critics who've become aware of the problems, by suggesting that such security flaws could not be exploited by anyone but Elections Officials who, they argue, can be trusted to never do anything as nefarious as game an election.

"For there to be a problem here," Diebold spokesman David Bear explained to NEWSWEEK this week, "you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software."

He also echoed a similar sentiment in last week's New York Times coverage of these problems. Other company officials, and indeed state elections officials from all over the country, have attempted to offer identical justifications and assurances, clearly as instructed by Diebold.

Bear, however, and those election officials repeating his explanations and assurances nearly verbatim, would seem to be whistling past the graveyard in regard to the vulnerabilities of these machines. The systems are usually accessible only to elections officials while kept in storage by states and counties between elections, but additionally --- and more disturbingingly --- they are frequently kept unguarded in the homes of elections workers on the night prior to Election Day.

As well, neither Diebold nor elections officials would seem to be accounting for the dangers posed by temp workers hired on the Internet to shuttle the machines from place to place in their assurances that only elections insiders could ever carry off such a plot.

While measures, at least in California, were supposedly put in place to ensure that voting machine memory cards --- one of the most immediate and accessible points of vulnerability --- are "sealed" into the machines after they are tested for logic and accuracy just prior to an election, a recent report [PDF] from computer scientist and security specialist Harri Hursti, based on an examination of the Diebold AccuVote TSx (touch-screen) systems in Emery County, UT has revealed that a simple phillips screwdriver can be used to gain access to such systems without ever removing the memory card from its "sealed" position.

"The reality is that the Diebold cases were not designed to be sealed," wrote Jim March from election watchdog organization online posting. "They were designed to be easy to access. This was their decision, one of a number of questionable security-related choices."

It's unclear, from the classifed ad, as to the type of machines to be 'dropped off and picked up' by these temp workers, apparently in San Francisco, but the ad goes on to say that workers "Must be able to lift these election machine [sic] (approximately 40 lbs) with little assistance." Machines said to weigh some 40 pounds would suggest that the machines in question are indeed electronic voting systems.

A screenshot of the complete classified ad, as captured on 5/22/06 from the posting on Monster.com follows...

(Hat tip Beth H.!)

UPDATE 5/26/06: The ad above has now been removed from Monster.com. Details here...