By John Gideon on 7/30/2006, 8:07pm PT  

Guest Blogged by John Gideon

Today the Arizona Daily Star printed their awaited opinion piece that has three members of the county government responding to questions that were compiled by the paper's staff from their readers' responses to the paper's ill-researched editorial of earlier in the week.

Responding to the Letter To The Editor comments and questions were County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who allowed the county to spend over a million dollars to buy new Diebold TSx machines. Also responding are Elections Director Brad Nelson and John H. Moffatt, of the county's Office of Strategic Technology Planning. Both are proponents of the Diebold TSx. And, by the way the questions/concerns were answered, both seem willing to do nearly anything to ensure Diebold gets the Pima Co. taxpayers' money...

A couple of the questions compiled by the Daily Star and their response and comments from activists in Arizona or from yours truly follow: [See the article for all of the questions and make up your mind about the county's responses]

Who was involved in the evaluation and what are their credentials? What were the protocols and objectives of the tests? Has Pima County consulted with an independent computer security specialist to examine the operations of the Diebold touchscreen machines? Has or will Pima County allow an independent examination of the Diebold machines by a credentialed computer security expert or analyst?

County staff: Prior to the sale of any election equipment to a jurisdiction in Arizona, the vendor must have submitted and passed national certification testing. This national certification is performed by independent testing authorities that review election systems to ensure that the systems meet the standards set by the federal government and required by law in the state of Arizona.

After receiving national certification, the equipment must then meet Arizona certification standards prior to approval of its use in the state. This state-level certification is performed by a three-member committee appointed by the Arizona secretary of state: a member of the engineering college at one of the universities, a member of the State Bar and one person familiar with the voting process in the state. This committee investigates and tests the various types of election equipment that may be used in Arizona. The committee submits its recommendation to the secretary of state, who makes the final adoption of the types of election equipment certified for use in the state.

At the local level, a logic and accuracy test is publicly conducted prior to each election to test the accuracy of all the election-related hardware and software. These local logic and accuracy tests are performed by state-certified election officers.

This test is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 3, for early-voting equipment. The public is invited to view this test; call 740-4280 for a location and time to attend.

In short, all election equipment used in Pima County has been tested and approved by three separate and independent entities prior to use in an election.

Comment To The County's Comment: This response fails entirely to answer the question presented. It does not disclose any security test protocol conducted by Pima County, who conducted it, whether the county is accredited to perform such test or whether the individual conducting the test was credentialed to perform the test. It does not disclose whether an independent testing authority was consulted, or whether one will be permitted to examine the machines. It appears to rely entirely on federal testing standards, which have been called into question in several recent reports. The response also misleads the reader into thinking the federal certification process looks at security issues. It does not. Proof of that is that 'interpreted code' is banned by the standards yet the test labs passed the systems anyway.

One of the security risks involved with the Diebold is the "on and off" switch. Turn it off and the data is erased. Leave it on and there is considerable access to the machines. How is the physical security of data and equipment ensured?

County staff: Cycling the power on either the touch screen (AccuVote-TSX) or optical scan (AccuVote-OS) does not affect the data storage or the security of the system. Data storage is done on non-volatile memory. Cycling the power on the unit when it is in the Election Mode resumes the ballot casting process. Votes are not lost. The machines are password-protected as well as having access ports and memory-card ports sealed with tamper-evident seals so physical access to machines is blocked or detected if access does occur.

Comment To The County's Comment:The question presented was actually about the power button being located next to the memory card slot. Brad Nelson has decided that drilling a hole in the equipment to gain access to the power button will allow the memory card slot to be secured and still allow access to the on/off button. In effect the county is now thinking of drilling a hole in all 409 Direct Recording Electronic voting machines they have purchased. Warranty? Aparently there is none or the county just doesn't care.

The recommendation memo included mention of the new state law which mandates that 2 percent of the precincts in each county will be selected at random and the ballots in three races will be hand-counted. However, this measure might not be in place in time for the primary election, because the U.S. Justice Department must first approve the measure and the election guidelines to be adopted by the Secretary of State's Office. The new guidelines might not be approved for the primary or the general election. Will this law be a practical safeguard for this upcoming election?

County staff: Pima County will notify the U.S. Department of Justice of our plan to perform the vote verification sampling in accordance with Arizona law. Assuming we are not prohibited from implementing the process by the Department of Justice, we will conduct the vote verification audit required by recently passed Arizona law.

Comment to the County's Comment: Secretary of State Jan Brewer will not permit Pima County to do this absent USDOJ clearance. Of course, voter verified paper audit trail printer jams or printers running out of paper keep the subject machines out of any potential audits because vvpat are lost and the number of paper ballots will be less than the number of electronic ballots. Also not stated is that one of the accessibility features of the Diebold TSx is that the basic machine can be removed from the frame and put on a wheelchair voter's lap. However, there is no extension cord to the printer so the vvpat printer is disabled. Lost ballot equals lack of ability to audit that machine.

The county also claims that the TSx machines will only be available for use by voters with disabilities. Of course only a small portion of the voters with disabilities can use these machines anyway. It is hard to believe that the county will spend well over a million dollars and then only let voters with disabilities use the machines. That is especially true when they start realizing that they spent that money and only a handful of voters are using the machines.