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Can vote machine be hacked?

A county official says he's proved insiders can alter results in an optical scan system. A Diebold spokesman scoffs.

Associated Press
Published December 16, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Tests show some Diebold voting machines used in Florida can be hacked by election office insiders to change results, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho charged Thursday.

Sancho said tests on the optical machines that scan paper ballots indicated they can be manipulated without leaving any evidence of tampering.

"This is not supposed to be possible. We did it," Sancho said.

Diebold spokesman David Bear discounted the tests as unrealistic because they bypassed normal security procedures.

"If I gave you the keys to my house and I turned off the alarm and told you when I wasn't going to be home, I don't doubt you can get into my house," Bear said.

Florida acting Secretary of State David Mann said his department wasn't invited to participate in the testing but he was confident in the state's process of certifying voting machines.

Sancho, however, said the tests show the certification process is flawed, and he said the State Department refused to act when tests earlier this year showed the machines' memory cards could be hacked.

He avoided trying then to test if altered results on the cards could be uploaded into his mainframe computer because he was afraid it might be contaminated. He said he performed the upload this week only after county commissioners approved his request to buy a new optical scan system from another company.

The hacked results transferred into the mainframe, although Diebold had contended its software would prevent that, Sancho said.

Mann noted, and Sancho acknowledged, that all attempts to hack into the system from the outside failed.

Bear said the tests were unrealistic because polling places and vote-counting centers are filled with observers, including representatives of both major political parties, who are watching for tampering. Sancho said the system could be hacked by an elections staffer or technician beforehand to produce faulty results.

The tests involved optical scan machines that use paper ballots voters mark with pencils. The ballots are fed into scanners that record the results onto the memory cards, which are then tabulated by a central computer. Some critics prefer the machines because any discrepancies can be resolved by recounting the paper ballots.

Most of the debate over voting machines in Florida has focused on touch screen computer systems, because the state doesn't require that they also spit out paper records.

Diebold supplies optical scan voting systems to 29 Florida counties and touch screen machines to one.

[Last modified December 16, 2005, 00:53:08]

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