Same vulnerable systems set for use in 24 states this November...
By Brad Friedman on 8/28/2012, 12:42pm PT  

Apparently, they never learn. Or they just don't care.

It's Primary Election day in Alaska today, with voters heading to the polls to cast mostly paper ballots for U.S. House of Representative candidates, state House and Senate candidates and two ballot measures (one concerning property taxes and another concerning new Alaska Coastal Management Program standards for the review of projects in coastal areas.)

While turnout is expected to be low, at least the Diebold optical-scan machines are fully rested and ready to go after their lengthy "sleepovers" at poll workers' houses in the days prior to today's elections! Yes, the state of Alaska still sends their incredibly vulnerable Diebold optical-scan systems home with poll workers days before the election, where they can do whatever they like with them, so they can bring them to the polls on the morning of Election Day.

For example, here's a photo of one of those machines that will be in use today, as obtained from an Alaskan source over the weekend by The BRAD BLOG. The machine appears as if it has received a full going over at the workshop of one of the poll workers who enjoyed the time spent with their machine during the several days of "sleepover" over the past week...

Alaska, like some 24 states across the country, still uses the exact same system which was used to flip an entire mock election in Leon County, FL in such a way that only a manual hand-count of the paper ballots would have revealed that the results had been reversed after the machine's memory card was accessed and manipulated by a computer security expert. The haunting event was revealed in the climactic final scene of HBO's Emmy-nominated 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy. [The full scene is also embedded below.]

The photo above from an Alaskan poll worker is the same system seen being hacked in Leon County, FL in the HBO film. The only difference is that Diebold removed their name from many machines afterward, given the hit their company took when their then CEO promised to deliver the state of Ohio to George W. Bush in a Republican fund raising letter before the 2004 election.

Of course, there are "tamper-evident" security seals placed over some of the most vulnerable parts of the optical-scan systems, and those could never be defeated without leaving visual clues behind, right?

Well, funny thing. In Alaska, when a security seal is discovered broken on their tabulation computers --- if they are discovered broken --- poll workers are instructed to simply replace it with another one and start the voting, as both several poll workers, as well as an Alaska election official (who has now been fired) confirmed with The BRAD BLOG. Several seals, the now former Alaska election official told us when she still had a job, are provided to poll workers to make replacing broken seals very simple, as seen in this next photo...

So why would Election Officials in the Last Frontier instruct poll workers to simply replace broken seals before the election, which would seem to defeat the entire point of using "tamper-evident" seals in the first place? It's a good question, especially when these machines --- which will be used once again in more than 1,000 jurisdictions in all or parts of 24 different states during this November's Presidential Election --- have been shown by many many official studies over the last decade to be incredibly vulnerable to nearly undetectable manipulation.

It's a question that Election Integrity advocates in Alaska were asking, loudly, after a disastrous April 3rd municipal election in Anchorage --- carried out on the very same machines --- returned inexplicable results in at least one of the hotly-contested initiatives on the ballot. In that contest, after a conservative polling group showed a 50% to 41% (9 point) advantage for an LGBT anti-discrimination measure on the ballot just days before the election, the measure, Prop 5, ended up losing, according to the unverified Diebold optical-scan system results on Election Night, 42% to 58% (a full 25-point swing from the pre-election polls taken just days before the election.)

At the same time, in the same election, the incumbent Republican Mayor who opposed the measure, saw his final results almost exactly the same as the predictions from the very same conservative poll [PDF].

After the election, local Election Integrity began asking a lot of good questions. Among them, they wondered why Anchorage's Deputy Municipal Clerk --- a former employee and very close friend of the Mayor's --- had instructed poll workers to simply replace any broken security seals they found on the tabulation computers on the morning of the Election.

As detailed at the time by The Mudflats blog in Anchorage, poll worker Wendy Isbell told the Anchorage Assembly, during post-election hearings on the debacle, that the Deputy Municipal Clerk had told poll workers during training that "if the seal over the memory card was broken when they picked up the Accuvote machine they should not be concerned. The seals break all the time."

At the time, that Deputy Municipal Clerk, Jacqueline Duke, confirmed to The BRAD BLOG that she had, indeed, instructed poll workers to do that, telling us that we "can get as 'conspiracy theory' as you want" about such things, but there was no need to worry.

"They come sealed in the Accuvote cases and often times in transit they bust off because they're the flimsiest pieces of plastic ever," Duke told us during a very tense phone conversation. Sometimes that leads poll workers to "freak out," she said.

Anchorage's Election Commissioner Gwen Mathew agreed, testifying to the Assembly after the April 3rd election that "Those are amazing machines --- utterly amazing."

"It is impossible for them to go haywire," she misinformed the law makers. "They are highly accurate. I think that I could almost say that they're totally accurate. I've never found a discrepancy."

Both Duke and Mathew confirmed to The BRAD BLOG that they had never bothered to watch the HBO documentary.

Duke also confirmed that she instructs pollworkers that if they "open the case and can obviously tell the broken seal was from transport, you do not have to be worried. There are more in your supplies."

Duke, who was in charge of training, the distribution of paper ballots and much more for the April election, was ultimately fired by the Anchorage Assembly, who certified the questionable results anyway. Duke's boss, Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein was also forced to resign in the aftermath.

Anchorage Election Commissioner Gwen Mathew, amazingly, still has her job.

Prior to today's statewide Primary, several poll workers have confirmed to The BRAD BLOG that state election officials offered the same instructions during training --- to simply replace any broken seals --- as given during the training for this Spring's disastrous municipal election.

History of Alaskan Election Debacles

As we detailed at length after the April election disaster in Anchorage, Alaska has a long history of questionable election results, courtesy of their Diebold election systems and a very Diebold-friendly administration. The Mudflats summarized just a few of the state's recent, known failures:

After the 2004 election, the Division of Elections posted the vote totals out on their website. They posted both a "statewide summary," and the breakdown of the House district votes. But when vote totals of individual districts were added up, the total didn't match the statewide summary total. Here are a couple examples:

  • George Bush received 190,889 votes according to the statewide summary. But, if you added up all the House district votes, he received 292,268 - a difference of 101,379 votes.
  • Lisa Murkowski  received 226,992 votes according to the statewide summary, but only 149,446 if you added up all the House district votes - a difference of 77,546 votes.
  • Precincts across Alaska were reporting voter turnout exceeding 200%.

The fight by the Democratic Party to audit those 2004 results led to a multi-year court battle in which the state initially claimed the Diebold results database was the proprietary proprietary of Diebold; then that releasing the data would pose a "security risk", according to the Homeland Security Office of Lisa Murkowski's father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski; and then, finally, that they would release the data to the Democrats, but only after informing them that they'd have to pay the cost of Diebold "manipulating the data" (an actual quote from the state's letter) before it could be released.

History of Diebold Op-Scan Vulnerability

In the state of California, where a review of the Diebold Accuvote op-scan system was commissioned by the Sec. of State after the shocking hack in Leon County, FL, as seen in the HBO documentary, a team of world-class computer scientists and security experts at the University of California at Berkley confirmed the vulnerability discovered in Florida, along with 16 "more serious vulnerabilities...that go well beyond" the Leon County hack. The shocking vulnerabilities were regarded by election integrity experts at the time as "a major national security issue."

The findings of the post-Leon County Security Analysis in California [PDF], commissioned by the state's then Republican Sec. of State, revealed, among other things:

Memory card attacks are a real threat. We determined that anyone who has access to a memory card of the [Diebold Accuvote op-scan], and can tamper it (i.e. modify its contents), and can have the modified cards used in a voting machine during an election, can indeed modify the election results from that machine in a number of ways. The fact that the the results are incorrect cannot be detected except by a recount of the original paper ballots.

The analysis went on to warn that the hacker "was indeed able to change the election results by doing nothing more than modifying the contents of a memory card."

"It would be safest if [the Diebold Accuvote] is not widely used until these bugs are fixed [they never were] and until a modification is made to ensure that the...attack is eliminated." The scientists wrote that "strong procedural safeguards should be implemented that prevent anyone from gaining unsupervised or undocumented access to a memory card, and these procedures should be maintained for the life of all cards. ... Any breach of control over a card should require that its contents be zeroed (in the presence of two people) before it is used again."

"There would be no way to know that any of these attacks occurred; the canvass procedure would not detect any anomalies, and would just produce incorrect results. The only way to detect and correct the problem would be by recount of the original paper ballots," they found.

Nonetheless, Anchorage's then Deputy Municipal Clerk Duke told us that "We don't talk to them [poll workers] about conspiracy theories or about how Diebold machines were hacked."

She insisted the vulnerable memory cards were not accessible during the election, so no "voters" could possibly access them on the day of the election.

"No one has access to the memory cards," she explained. "Only the Municipal Board staff, the Testing Board and then, theoretically, they are locked after that."

Yes, theoretically, other than all of those people and hundreds of poll workers who take the machines home with them for days at a time, "no one has access to the memory cards."

She then confirmed that the Accuvotes are sent home for days before the election with poll workers, who have largely unfettered access to the machines and their memory cards, as seen in the photos above, before transporting them to the polls on Election Day.

None of the paper ballots in Alaska's elections, as in most elections across the country, are checked by any human beings afterward to assure that the Diebold Accuvote systems have tallied them correctly.

The very same oft-failed, easily-manipulated Diebold systems will be used once again to tally paper ballots for the 2012 Presidential Election in all or parts of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

And they will be deployed to polling places, in many of those states, after lengthy unsecured "voting machine sleepovers" (a phrase this blog is credited with coining) at poll workers' houses, as they were in Alaska over the past week.

But why worry? (See below for just one of the reasons.)

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The startling Diebold Accuvote hack in Leon County, FL as captured on film in HBO's Emmy-nominated 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy:

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