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“Ringing The Alarm Over Voting-Machine Troubles”: The Threat Of A Catastrophic Meltdown In Next Year’s Presidential Election

For those involved in voting rights, concerns about voting machines are hardly new. But a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice rings the alarm in new and noteworthy ways. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported yesterday:

America’s voting machines are reaching the end of their lifespans, and many states appear unwilling to spend the money to replace them, a detailed new report warns. The impasse raises the threat of a catastrophic meltdown in next year’s presidential election.

The report, released Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice, paints an alarming picture. Experts say today’s machines have an expected lifespan of 10 to 20 years – closer to 10. But in most states, a majority of jurisdictions have at least some machines that were bought in 2006 or earlier, while in 11 states – including presidential battlegrounds like Nevada and New Hampshire – every jurisdiction uses such machines. Fourteen states will use some machines that were bought over 15 years ago.

When the subject of voting machines comes up, we generally hear concerns about hacking and the possibility of rigging the technology deliberately to dictate the outcome of elections.

Whether you take those threats seriously or not, the Brennan Center’s research points to a different kind of systemic problem: a 21st-century democracy using outdated and unreliable election technology in ways that may lead to a disaster.

Consider this excerpt from the report:

As systems age, the commercially produced parts that support them, like memory storage devices, printer ribbons, and modems for transmitting election results, go out of production. Several election officials told us they have used eBay to find these parts. Mark Earley, voting systems manager in Leon County, Florida, told us his old voting system used an analog modem that he could only find on eBay. “The biggest problem was finding modems for our old machines. I had to buy a modem model called the Zoom Pocket Modem on eBay because they weren’t available elsewhere.” Earley told us that the Zoom Pocket Modem can transmit data at just kilobytes per second, making it utterly obsolete by today’s standards.

Ken Terry, from Allen County, Ohio, told us that he feels like he is living in a technological time warp. When he ordered “Zip Disks” for his central tabulator, the package included literature that was more than a decade old. “When we purchased new Zip Disks in 2012, they had a coupon in the package that expired in 1999.”

Remember, we’re supposed to be a global superpower, home to a vibrant democracy that serves a beacon of hope to people around the globe.

Of course, if these out-of-date machines are so common, why don’t states simply replace them? Because as MSNBC’s report explained, municipalities simply don’t have the money to buy new ones.

“We heard from more than one election official that what they’re hearing [from state legislatures] is basically, come back to me when there’s a real problem. In other words, come back to me after the catastrophe,” said Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, and the report’s lead author.

“We don’t ask the fire department to wait until the truck breaks down before they can ask for a new vehicle,” Edgardo Cortes, Virginia’s director of elections, told the report’s authors.

This problem won’t simply go away. If policymakers invested half as much energy in election technology as they do in voter-suppression tactics, the electoral system would be vastly better off.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 16, 2015

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Electoral Process, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Disservice To The Electorate”: Chuck Todd Thinks Voting Machine Concerns Are “Conspiracy Garbage”

This morning, NBC News’ top election expert, Chuck Todd, tweeted the following…

@ChuckTodd: The voting machine conspiracies belong in same category as the Trump birther garbage.

Todd was responding, no doubt, to the many folks who have been justifiably concerned of late, since it was discovered that a bunch of Bain Capital investors, led by Mitt Romney’s son Tagg, via a company called H.I.G. Capital (believed to stand for Hart Intercivic Group) took over control of Hart Intercivic, the nation’s third largest voting machine company, in 2011.

The Austin-based Hart company, according to VerifiedVoting.org’s database, supplies electronic voting machines and paper ballot tabulators that will be used to tally votes in the presidential election this year in all or parts of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

I offered my point of view about those concerns earlier this month, explaining that it was not just the private ownership of Hart’s machines by Romney backers which voters should be concerned about, but the private ownership of the similar systems in all 50 states that will once again be used to tabulate the results of this year’s presidential election with little — and very often zero — possibility of oversight by the public or even by election officials.

Todd does an extraordinary disservice to the electorate with such tweets, and I’d be happy to go on his daily MSNBC show any time to explain why, as I have told him via Twitter in response to the above.

As Todd has not responded, and to expand upon my response to him, I’d like to ask him these few respectful questions…

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when paper ballot optical-scan tabulators made by Sequoia Voting Systems in Palm Beach County declared incorrect results of three different races last March, including declaring two losing candidates to be the “winners”?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the Canadian firm Dominion Voting, which now owns Sequoia Voting Systems admitted the failure in Palm Beach was caused by a bug in all versions of its central tabulation software which will be used to tabulate the presidential election (and many others) on November 6th this year in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when, despite using Dominion/Sequoia’s recommended “fix,” the same problem occurred yet again in Palm Beach County’s August primary elections, as their Supervisor of Elections recently explained to me on air?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when 16,632 votes were found unaccounted for when those same machines were first used in Palm Beach County back in 2008?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when eight (8) top election officials—including the County Clerk, a Circuit Court Judge and the School Superintendent—in Clay County, KY were sentenced last year to 156 years in federal prison for gaming elections, including changing the votes of voters on ES&S electronic touchscreen voting machines?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the president of Diebold Election Systems, Inc. (by then renamed Premier Election Systems, which is now owned by the Canadian firm Dominion Voting) admitted in 2008 that the company’s GEMS central tabulation software, used in some 34 states, does not tabulate votes correctly and routinely drops thousands of them when they are uploaded to the central server?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when Diebold/Premier’s spokesman admitted to the CA Secretary of State during a 2009 hearing that the supposedly permanent “audit logs” in all versions of its GEMS central tabulation system fail to record the deletion of ballots, after it was discovered that their electronic tabulator had failed to tabulate hundreds of paper ballots in a Humboldt County election (or to even notify system administrators that it had deleted those ballots)?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the CA Secretary of State decertified federally-certified electronic voting and tabulation systems made by Diebold, Sequoia and Hart Intercivic in 2007 after a state-commissioned team of computer science and security experts from the University of California, Livermore National Laboratories and elsewhere “demonstrated that the physical and technological security mechanisms” for all of the state’s electronic voting systems (also used across the rest of the country) “were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of the elections results and of the systems that provide those results” and that their “independent teams of analysts were able to bypass both physical and software security measures in every system tested“?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the 2007 landmark study commissioned by OH’s then-Democratic Secretary of State, found “Ohio’s electronic voting systems have ‘critical security failures’ which could impact the integrity of elections in the Buckeye State” and when she (unsuccessfully) recommended, along with the then-Republican Speaker of the Senate, who is now the state’s Republican Secretary of State, that all touchscreen systems in the state be decertified due to concerns of, as she told The BRAD BLOG, “viruses that can be inserted into [Ohio’s e-voting and tabulation] system through something as simple as a PDA [Personal Digital Assistant] and a magnet and then the cards are passed from machine to machine almost like Typhoid Mary” so that “If there is malicious software, like a virus put into the system, it can not only affect the machines at the polling places, it can affect the tabulation that occurs at the server and it can also affect future elections if it’s not detected”?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the New York Daily News discovered in 2012 that hundreds of paper ballots at just one precinct in the Bronx went uncounted in 2010 during the September primary (failure rate of 70%) and the November general election (failure rate of 54%) on their brand new ES&S DS200 paper ballot optical scanners, which are also used in OH, AZ, MI and elsewhere?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released a warning in 2011 from a “Formal Investigation Report” that those same systems failed to count paper ballots correctly, on the heels of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), OH’s previous finding that 10% of those machines failed during pre-election testing in 2010?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when Oakland County, MI wrote a letter of concern to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), seeking advice in 2008 after finding their ES&S M-100 optical scanners “yielded different results each time” the “same ballots were run through the same machines” during pre-election testing?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when Princeton University discovered in 2006 that they could, in mere seconds, implant a virus into Diebold touchscreen systems used in dozens of states which could then spread itself from machine to machine and result in an entire county’s election being flipped with little chance of detection?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when a computer security expert hacked a memory card on a Diebold paper ballot optical-scan system and flipped the results of a mock election (see the hack and its results as captured in HBO’s Emmy-nominated 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy here) in such a way that only a hand-count of the paper ballots in the election could reveal the true results?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when a CIA cybersecurity expert testified to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in 2009 that e-voting was not secure, “that computerized electoral systems can be manipulated at five stages, from altering voter registration lists to posting results” and that “wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that’s an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to… make bad things happen”?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” that the Vulnerability Assessment Team (which also monitors nuclear facilities) at Argonne National Laboratory (the non-profit research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the Dept. of Energy) released a report earlier this year finding that Diebold’s touchscreen systems and, according to the team’s lead scientist, “pretty much every electronic voting machine” can be hacked with just $10.50 in parts and an 8th grade science education, or just $26 if you want to do it remotely?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when, in Volusia County, FL’s 2000 presidential election, a paper-based optical-scan tabulator made by Global Elections Management Systems (GEMS, thereafter purchased by Diebold to become Diebold Election Systems, Inc.) tallied negative 16,022 votes for Al Gore thanks to a supposed “software flaw” which has never been explained by anyone, and which Leon County (Tallahassee), FL’s Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho—the man so well respected by both major parties that he was placed in charge of the aborted 2000 Presidential Election recount in Florida—believes was a deliberate hack of the electronic tabulation system which is now used in hundreds of counties in dozens of states?

I could go on and on, obviously, but I won’t. You’re welcome. There are some 10 years worth of articles at The BRAD BLOG that folks can peruse to determine the facts underscoring my concerns and those of the others who have legitimately expressed them to you, Chuck Todd, about private, unaccountable corporations—owned by associates of Mitt Romney or by anybody else—having so much unoverseeable control of our once-public electoral system.

But, to misinform your 272,035 Twitter followers, not to mention your millions of viewers on television, that concerns about oft-failed, easily-manipulated electronic voting and tabulation systems are little more than “conspiracies” which “belong in the same category as the Trump birther garbage” is an extraordinary disservice to your readers, your viewers and the U.S. electorate as a whole.

They deserve a much better understanding of our electoral system from someone such as yourself, who is relied upon by so many as an expert in these matters.

Again, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these concerns with you on your Daily Rundown show on MSNBC any time.

If, in fact, you are correct, that these concerns are little more than “conspiracy garbage,” you will do the electorate a great service by having me on, and putting me in my place once and for all by explaining why.

If these concerns are not “conspiracy garbage,” as I would argue, you would instead do the electorate a great service by helping the electorate understand why they are not, and what voters may be able to do at this point to help minimize the possibility of their votes not being counted accurately or transparently, or even at all, this November 6th.

Either way, the electorate will end up being much better informed before this year’s presidential election, which after all is, as I’m sure we can both agree, the most important core function of your job—and mine—as journalists.

 

By: Brad Friedman, The National Memo, October 22, 2012

 

 

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Binding Family Ties”: Romney Family Investment Ties To Voting Machine Company That Could Decide The Election

It’s 3:00 a.m. on November 7, 2012.

With the painfully close presidential election now down to who wins the battleground state of Ohio, no network dares to call the race and risk repeating the mistakes of 2000 when a few networks jumped the gun on picking a winner.

As the magic boards used by the networks go ‘up close and personal’ on every county in the Buckeye State, word begins to circulate that there might be a snafu with some electronic voting machines in a number of Cincinnati based precincts. There have already been complaints that broken machines were not being quickly replaced in precincts that tend to lean Democratic and now, word is coming in that there may be some software issues.

The network political departments get busy and, in short order, discover that the machines used in Hamilton County, Ohio—the county home of Cincinnati— are supplied by Hart Intercivic, a national provider of voting systems in use in a wide variety of counties scattered throughout the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Colorado and Ohio.

A quick Internet search reveals that there may be reason for concern.

A test conducted in 2007 by the Ohio Secretary of State revealed that five of the electronic voting systems the state was looking to use in the upcoming 2008 presidential election had failed badly, each easily susceptible to chicanery that could alter the results of an election.

As reported in the New York Times, “At polling stations, teams working on the study were able to pick locks to access memory cards and use hand-held devices to plug false vote counts into machines. At boards of election, they were able to introduce malignant software into servers.”

We learn that one of the companies whose machines had failed was none other than Hart Intercivic.

With television time to fill and no ability to declare a winner so that the long night’s broadcast can be brought to a close, the staffs keep digging for relevant information to keep the attention of their viewers—and that is when it gets very real.

It turns out that Hart Intercivic is owned, in large part, by H.I.G. Capital—a large investment fund with billions of dollars under management—that was founded by a fellow named Tony Tamer. While it is unclear just how much H.I.G. owns of Hart Intercivic, we do learn that H.I.G. employees hold at least two of the five Hart Intercivic board seats.

A little more digging turns up a few tidbits of data that soon become ‘the story’.

Tony Tamer, H.I.G.’s founder, turns out to be a major bundler for the Mitt Romney campaign, along with three other directors of H.I.G. who are also big-time money raisers for Romney.

Indeed, as fate would have it, two of those directors—Douglas Berman and Brian Schwartz— were actually in attendance at the now infamous “47 percent” fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida.

With that news, voters everywhere start to get this queasy feeling in the pits of their stomach.

But wait—if you’re feeling a bit ill now, you’ll want to get the anti-acids ready to go because it’s about to get really strange.

To everyone’s amazement, we learn that two members of the Hart Intercivic board of directors, Neil Tuch and Jeff Bohl, have made direct contributions to the Romney campaign. This, despite the fact that they represent 40 percent of the full board of directors of a company whose independent, disinterested and studiously non-partisan status in any election taking place on their voting machines would seemingly be a ‘no brainer’.

To Mr. Bohl’s credit, after giving a total of $4,000 to “Romney For President”, it must have occurred to him that it might not look so good for a board member of a company whose voting machines are to be a part of the presidential election to be playing favorites—so he gave $250 to Barack Obama to sort of balance the scales.

Mr. Tuch? Not so much.

Interestingly, Mr. Bohl lists himself as an investor at H.I.G. Capital for his Romney contributions but his far smaller donation to Obama was done as “Jeff Bohl, self-employed innkeeper”.

And finally, we learn that H.I.G. is the 11th largest of all the contributors to the Romney effort.

Did I say “finally”? My bad…because there is, indeed, more.

Can you guess who is reported to have a financial relationship with H.I.G. Capital?

Numerous media sources, including Truthout, are reporting that Solamere Capital—the investment firm run by Mitt Romney’s son, Tagg, and the home of money put into the closely held firm by Tagg’s uncle Scott, mother Anne and, of course, the dad who might just be the next President of the United States—depending upon how the vote count turns out, in our little tale, in the State of Ohio—have shared business interests with H.I.G. either directly or via Solamere Advisors which is owned, in part, by Solamere Capital, including a reported investment in H.I.G. by either Solamere Capital or Solamere Advisors.

Lee Fang, in his piece for The Nation exploring the government related activities of various companies in which Solamere has an interest writes-

“Meanwhile, HIG Capital—one of the largest Solamere partners, with nearly $10 billion of equity capital—owns a number of other firms that are closely monitoring the federal government. ”

While the Cincinnati scenario is —at this point—fiction, the rest of this story is all too true, including the part where the voting machines to be used in Hamilton County will be those provided by Hart Intercivic.

And while I am not suggesting conspiracies or that anyone would get involved in any foul play here, most particularly the GOP candidate for President, how is it possible that so many people could exercise so much bad judgment?

The sanctity of voting in America is supposed to be one of our most important virtues. So concerned are we with a ‘clean’ process that James O’Keefe has made a career entrapping, video taping and destroying those sympathetic to Democratic Party candidates and causes who cross the line when it comes to the voting process. And that’s just fine. If Mr. O’Keefe can legitimately expose someone engaging in voter fraud, he most certainly should call them out.

So, why would these individuals who serve on the board of directors of Hart Intercivic go out of their way to make a contribution to any political candidate given the critical importance of their company remaining above reproach when it comes to the political process? And why would those who run the company that owns Hart Intercivic be giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to a political candidate? And why would a political candidate and his family have a financial relationship with a company that owns a chunk of the voting machine company that will be counting the actual votes given to that political candidate or his opponent?

Keith Olbermann was suspended from his job at MSNBC for donating a couple hundred bucks to a local candidate that was a friend of his. Why? Because his employer required that journalists at the network stay free of having given such contributions to any candidate for all the obvious reasons.

Is it really too much to ask that those who control the voting machines that record and count the votes of our elections be held to at least the same standard?

Hopefully, everything will go swimmingly in Cincinnati on Election Day. And, if it doesn’t, it will no doubt be the result of honest error.

Yet, because of this uncomfortable chain of ownership, we now find ourselves with one more headache among the many headaches that accompany the important work of choosing an American president and believing that the process was a fair one—particularly when such an election comes down to a very few votes as may well be the case on Election Day, 2012.

Really, guys. You couldn’t find anything else to invest in? You couldn’t donate all those hundreds of thousands to charity rather than put it into political contributions so that your fellow countrymen would have no reason to ever doubt or question the results of so important an election—or any election for that matter, even if it’s the choice of a county dogcatcher?

I truly wonder sometimes just what these allegedly smart people have inside their heads—or, more importantly, their hearts.

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, October 20, 2012

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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