FACT CHECK: Gouverneur Times vs. NYS Board of Elections


Northern NY News

Written by Nathan Barker  

Monday, 23 November 2009 05:50




Editor's Note: This FACT CHECK is a companion article to "Ghost in the Machine"


      “Virus” or “Source Code Bug”?


Dominion ImageCast Voting MachineJohn Conklin, Communications Director for the New York State Board of Elections issued a statement Friday evening alleging that the article published by The Gouverneur Times last Thursday was factually incorrect.


The Gouverneur Times quoted Hamilton County Elections Commissioner Cathleen Rogers who stated that "there was a virus" in the Dominion ImageCast voting machines used by the county.  She further stated that a technician from Dominion "fixed" the machine just days prior to the election.


Conklin claims that "There was no virus in the voting machines on Election Day in the 23rd District or anywhere else," and says that Ms. Rogers "mischaracterized the issue in question."


FACT CHECK: The Gouverneur Times did not make any allegations regarding the possibility of a virus.  The article quoted a county employee who made the allegations.  Whether or not there was a virus has not been determined.  Since a technician from the manufacturer applied software changes to the machine at that time, determination of the presence or absence of a virus at the time the statement was made would have to be determined by a computer forensic specialist.  The state has failed to provide any information as to whether this was done or not.


      Is the Dominion ImageCast Immune from Viruses?


The Watertown Daily Times claims to have "debunked" the possibility of a virus with the statement that "the Dominion ImageCast scanners in question run the Linux operating system, which is nearly immune to viruses due to its inherent ability to lock out programs that lack explicit permission to run, unlike the highly vulnerable Windows operating system."


FACT CHECK:  Computers running the Linux operating system are every bit as vulnerable to a virus as a Windows computer.  Windows and Mac OS have used a nearly identical permissions architecture to Linux for almost 10 years now.


      Did the State Board of Elections Apply “Corrective Action” to Software Problems on ImageScan Machines In Compliance With NY State Law?


John Conklin stated "The State Board has already acknowledged there was a software problem identified during our mandatory pre-election testing regimen prior to Election Day... and the corrective action was applied successfully in those areas.


FACT CHECK: The corrective action applied was, according to the manufacturer, "the insertion of a line of code," into the source code of the machines.  Pursuant to State Election Law 7-202.2, "When any change is made in the operation or material of any feature or component of any machine or system which has been approved pursuant to the provisions of this section, such machine or system must be submitted for such re-examination and reapproval pursuant to the provisions of subdivision one of this section"


Subdivision one of that section states that "The state board of elections shall cause the machine or system to be examined and a report of the examination to be made and filed in the office of the state board. Such examination shall include a determination as to whether the machine or system meets the requirements of section 7-202 of this title and a thorough review and testing of any electronic or computerized features of the machine or system.... Any form of voting machine or system not so approved, cannot be used at any election."


These machines were not re-examined by an independent lab as required under state election law and therefore, under the same section of law, could not be used during the election... but they were.


      Is the USB Port on the ImageCast Scanner Sealed So as to Prohibit External Transmission or Reception of Data?


In a somewhat garbled statement, John Conklin made with regard to the vulnerability of the USB ports on the machines, he said that ", there is a single USB port on the ImageCast scanner. Pursuant to state Election Law 7-202(t) the port does not permit any "functionality potentially capable of externally transmitting or receiving data via the internet, via radio waves or via other wireless means." The port is sealed, is not accessible and has no capability for any exchange of information.


FACT CHECK:  This is an incorrect and misleading statement.  The actual State Election Law 7-202(t) states that the machine "not include any device or functionality potentially capable of externally transmitting or receiving data via the internet or via radio waves or via other wireless means."  This means that the machine itself is not allowed to have internal wireless capability.  The very crucial distinction here is that, contrary to John Conklin's statement, this clause does not in any way govern the capabilities of an external device attached to the USB port to send or receive data, wirelessly or not.


      Was John Conklin correct in stating that "The [ImageCast]scanners do not operate like personal computers."


FACT CHECK: This is only partially true and again, very misleading.  It would be more accurate to say that they function nearly identically to a web server.  It is a component system using standard computer industry architecture, code, parts, and operating system.  Since personal computers manufactured in the last 5-10 years function nearly identically in most respects to a server, this is very misleading.


The primary security feature behind the use of the ImageCast systems is that they retain the original paper ballot that was marked by the voter.  Sufficient chain of custody would thus ensure that in the event of a question as to the accuracy of the computer-tabulated results, the ballots exist in a form that allows them to be hand-counted.


The ImageCast systems used were untested and uncertified and contrary to election law, the source code was altered days prior to the election.  The State has confirmed that the paper ballots have been secured and chain of custody is intact but that they have only counted them in the few districts where the ImageCast systems malfunctioned during the election.  The paper ballots have not been counted in those districts where the source code was modified.


      Can the ImageCast Ballot Box Be Stuffed Manually with more than 1 ballot per voter by unscrupulous individuals?


FACT CHECK: When they arrived in New York State, the ImageCast machines had one more fatal flaw.  The ballot boxes could be stuffed manually by unscrupulous individuals.  Attorney Andi Novack of the Election Transparency Coalition of New York recorded a video last year showing how someone could easily insert extra ballots into the ballot box {insert video code here}.


The New York State Board of Elections indicates in their statement that the machines in use on Election Day had been retrofitted to block access to the opening used in the video.  The Gouverneur Times had attempted to contact the NYS BOE for 4 days prior to the publication of the article for clarification of this issue, among other.  John Conklin refused to return our phone calls requesting clarification of these issues.


      Is John Conklin's statement that “the new optical scan voting systems guarantee we have ballots as marked by voters ensuring that every vote is counted” factually correct?


FACT CHECK: Dominion/Sequoia and the NYS Board of Elections Beta tested uncertified hardware and software during an actual election.  They are using the election counts generated by these machines and not counting the paper ballots to ensure the accuracy of the process.


Conklin stated that "the new optical scan voting systems guarantee we have ballots as marked by voters ensuring that every vote is counted."  This would be true if the counties were actually counting those paper ballots.  Given that the machines are uncertified, were malfunctioning, had last-minute code changes, and that allegations of tampering were made by one of the candidates, one would think they'd find that to be a necessary step to ensure the accuracy of the election.


Last Updated on Monday, 23 November 2009 08:18





Excellent -- and all too rare -- follow up on the industry lines. Listen, those of us who have been researching these issues for years hear inaccurate spin from the e-voting industry so often we've started to call it the hamster wheel.


Even if we didn't see companies lying on videotape, repeatedly; even if the voting machines actually consistently worked; even if the technobabble dished out by the pro-evoting bunch was accurate, it still doesn't work, and here's why:


Neither the public nor the election officials can actually examine the code that was running, at that moment, on any given machine. Neither the public nor the election officials has any way of knowing what the technician actually did.


Neither the public nor the election officials knows if the machines counted the ballots correctly, unless the ballots are all hand counted (in which case, why do we need those computers, again?...)


Neither the public nor the election officials knows what is actually inside the machine -- regardless of whether the regulations say "no wireless communications devices." When my organization, Black Box Voting, went to Utah at the request of an election official and actually opened up a touchscreen voting machine, it had at least TWO built-in empty ports hidden inside to hold wireless transmission devices. TECHNICALLY, the machine didn't have wireless in it. But in fact, anyone with access could stick a wireless communications device into either of the built-in slots. And why were those unused slots in there anyway? Neither the public nor election officials are allowed to crack open that case, so no one knows what's operating inside any given machine.


You go round and round the hamster wheel, until you realize:


CONCEALMENT is the issue.


You can't conceal the counting process from the public. The minute you allow concealed counting, you cease to have public elections.


"Security" arguments take you on a never-ending whirl on the hamster wheel. Freedom of Information and fundamental right to know arguments, however, will give you traction.


These guys just don't want to discuss the issue of concealing the counting process from the public. In fact, try this: Challenge them to a debate on the constitutionality of concealing the counting from the public.


Watch them run.


Bev Harris - Founder,

A national nonpartisan nonprofit elections watchdog organization


Government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. We insist on remaining informed so that we may retain control over the instruments of government we have created.