of the Diebold touch-screen voting machines turned their
attention Wednesday from the machines themselves to the
computers that will tally the final vote, saying the outcome
is so easy to manipulate that even a monkey could do it.
And they showed video of a monkey hacking
the system to prove it.
In the minute-long video produced by Black
Box Voting, Baxter the chimp is shown deleting the audit
log that is supposed to keep track of changes in the Diebold
central tabulator, the computer and program that keeps
track of county vote totals.
Black Box Voting founder Bev Harris said
the demonstration shows that the system which will
be used in more than 30 states, including Maryland
is dangerously inadequate when it comes to stopping election
a Diebold spokesman insisted that the system is secure
despite "incessant" criticism from organizations
such as Black Box Voting.
"The fact of the matter is what you
saw was a staged production ... analogous to a magic show,"
said David Bear, the Diebold spokesman.
Even if the system could be hacked, he
said, it could only be done by a person with "unfettered
access to the system." Bear noted that elections
are not just the machines, but also the people who work
the elections (such as 90-year old blue-haired ladies
from the League of Women Voters?).
"Quite honestly it's somewhat insulting
to elections officials and volunteers," he said to
the idea that elections officers would tamper with vote
He cited "multiple levels of redundancy"
that would ensure that "any deviation would immediately
be noticed" and dealt with.
But Black Box Voting on Wednesday demonstrated
two quick ways that "an unscrupulous person with
no computer skills whatsoever" could sabotage vote
totals, according to Associate Director Andy Stephenson.
The entire voting record can be deleted
by choosing "reset the election" on a drop-down
menu, he said, or a hacker can destroy a tabulator's ability
to recognize ballots by un-selecting three checkboxes
on a program control panel.
Once those changes are made, a hacker
could cover his tracks by deleting the audit log, as Baxter
Diebold central tabulators use a program called "GEMS"
that saves vote totals in Microsoft Access, a Windows-based
database program. (Microsoft? Sounds pretty secure
GEMS requires users to enter a password
to access the vote totals, but Harris showed that the
totals can also be opened -- and altered -- with Access,
without ever running GEMS.
Because Access functions are already built
in to the Windows operating system, the totals could be
altered even if a computer did not have Access installed
on it, said Herbert Thompson, a computer security expert
who teaches at the Florida Institute of Technology. He
demonstrated how to change vote totals with a six-line
program in Microsoft notepad, "a simple text editor"
that comes with all copies of Windows.
But Maryland election officials agreed
with Bear that no hacking can happen unless the hacker
is physically at the computer. The central tabulators
are safe from any such outside tampering, said Donna Duncan,
director for the Maryland State Board of Elections election
management division. "We put them in a safe little
corner in the voting areas. I'm sure nobody would go near
them. And we'd see them if they did, unless the little
old ladies from the League of Women Voters didn't have
her glasses," said Duncan. (my humor...--Tony)
State elections officials also said Wednesday
that they are confident they can protect the system from
a decidedly lower-tech threat.
Elections administrator Linda Lamone said
she told Maryland State Police and the Governor's Office
of Homeland Security in a conference call Wednesday that
contingency plans are in place, should a terrorist attack
or weather disaster occur during the election. Or stray
Without going into details, Lamone told
the Election Law Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means
Committee that alternative polling sites have been identified
and the elections board is prepared to handle a recount,
should it be necessary.
"We probably have the most secure
system in the nation," said Lamone, adding that her
office is working with state police to "go over and
above" security measures currently in place.
Lamone, who was dismissed for election
fraud earlier this month as elections administrator before
winning a stay from the state's highest court, said all
of Maryland's voting machines were upgraded this summer
and are on schedule to be used Nov. 2. She said the machines
will also undergo a series of security tests before and
on the day of the election.
She did not discuss the potential for
outright acts of aggression at the polls, something that
worries Nancy Dacek, president of the Montgomery County
Board of Elections.
Dacek said Wednesday that she fears that
critics of the new voting system may try to physically
sabotage the machines. She pointed to a recent incident
in which a poll judge had to be ordered to return a voting
machine that was used for demonstrations at an suburban
As a precaution against such sabotage,
some Montgomery County machines will not be set up until
the morning of the election, rather than the usual night
Republican Delegate Jean Cryor told Lamone
she hopes the state is ready for whatever happens after
"I think votes will be challenged
all over the state," she said.