Who Counts in New Hampshire?
And, are Diebold memory cards forgetful?
Pokey Anderson interviews Dori Smith
Aired January 13, 2008
The Monitor, http://themonitor.wordpress.com
KPFT Radio, Houston
In this interview, Dori Smith of WHUS looks at aspects of voting system security. Both her state of Connecticut and New Hampshire contract with the same vendor, LHS Associates. LHS sells, maintains, and provides memory cards (the electronic equivalent of the ballot box) for the Diebold optical scanners used in these states, as well as in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine.
Below, Dori asks NH Deputy Attorney Jim Kennedy about the practice of switching defective memory cards out of optical scan machines on Election Day, during elections.
NH Deputy Attorney Jim Kennedy: “That's not what's done in the state of New Hampshire. Actually by state and federal law we're required to retain the actual memory card that's used in the election and so to interchange a memory card I think would be odd.”
However, Dori’s interviews with NH election clerks say different.
She also has discovered that failure rates on the Diebold optical scan memory cards approached 1 in 10 in some Florida counties. And, in Connecticut, a professor at University of Connecticut has discovered that a number of the cards have “junk data” on them.
Pokey Anderson: And we're back. My name is Pokey Anderson and my guest tonight is Dori Smith. She's been investigating election systems for over a year from her home in Connecticut and her radio station, WHUS in Stores, Connecticut. Her new article just went up today at BRADBLOG.com and it investigates the New Hampshire primary and problems with voting machines. They used the Diebold AccuVote optical scan in both New Hampshire and Connecticut, and also several other states in New England. Her investigations in the last few years have resulted in an investigation into violations of Connecticut voting regulations, and that is ongoing. And her radio show is called Talk Nation Radio [web site here, scroll down for link to election and voting machine coverage http://talknationradio.com/]. Monitor listeners might like that show because it covers a lot of the same things that we do here at The Monitor, and she's done some work for Pacifica as well. Welcome to the show, Dori.
Dori Smith: Thanks so much.
PA: Dori has also prepared some clips for us that will help us understand what's been going on in New Hampshire. Just to kind of set the stage, I have been upset that the corporate media haven't really talked about several things that have happened including the famous optical scan hack by Harri Hursti in Leon County, Florida where he showed the election official there, that it was rather easy to use a memory card to change an election [watch the hack HERE: http://youtube.com/watch?v=J36Jfkxd1vA]. What kinds of things have you been looking into as to memory cards going in and out of machines on Election Day, Dori?
DS: I want to start by saying that there is a recent study in Florida, too. And what they found there is that the failure rate for the Diebold AccuVote op-scan memory cards are, the failure rate is extremely high [In parts of Florida, the failure rate was nearly 1 in 10; story HERE: http://www.votersunite.org/article.asp?id=7284]. It kind of shocked researchers there at the University of Florida who've been looking into this. But what I found in Connecticut started really in 2006. [LHS Associates say they would change memory cards during election against CT protocols http://talknationradio.com/?p=572006] This is when the state first used these machines in a limited use. And I was rather surprised, you know, the University of Connecticut has a research team that focused on the AccuVote optical scanners and a lot of people in the state thought that these machines were going to be a lot safer because they produced the paper ballots.
PA: Dori, your level is a little bit low. Can you speak up a little?
DS: Sure. The situation with the memory cards is really becoming a problem. It's scandalous, really. The University of Connecticut research team found, when they studied these cards recently, that there was [see interview http://talknationradio.com/?p=113] junk data on the cards. That can be an indication of a lot of things. It can also mean that the cards were hacked. Now this research team, when they first looked into the machines, found that the memory cards were indeed a problem. That, you know, really centered on the memory cards. They notified the Secretary of the State in Connecticut, Susan Bysiewicz, [See interview http://talknationradio.com/?p=58] and she issued a protocol, a security protocol, which really falls under Connecticut's Chapter Nine. This is our law on elections in the state. And so they faxed a new update to protocol to LHS Associates in Methuen, Mass. They're the vendor that provided the machine. And they were also to be at the polls to provide support services. So they had this in hand. And yet they left for the polls with all kinds of backup equipment. Now the new security protocol said not only not to bring memory cards, I mean it really wasn't specific. It said you're not supposed to touch these machines at all. So the idea of putting a memory card or bringing in a backup machine or anything like that, absolutely against that protocol.
PA: Let's remind listeners that the memory card is really the brains of the whole operation and it tells the machine how to count the votes. You know, if candidate A gets votes you're supposed to put it in the candidate A column and if it's done wrong or maliciously it can switch 'em.
DS: Well, and too, I mean the memory card is a fragile item, I've come to understand. When Professor Alex Shvartsman at the University of Connecticut found that this card has vulnerability to fraud, he also found some other problems. And he's looking into that and studying data from Florida and other states, where they're finding that the memory cards failed. They're trying to understand why and what that means. And so I found that Connecticut voting machines, like those in Florida, have a kind of sensitive pin configuration that holds these memory cards in place. And it can wear out over the years. So you might just have in this problem a real technical flaw, and that's not all that surprising with Diebold equipment in general. But in this case it's particularly bad because there was a lot of dependency on the idea that this was a paper ballot, and so people felt like they didn't need to bother to do more in the way of preparation to make sure this vote was going to be secure and accurate. So we have this problem.
Now, in New Hampshire for many years they've used the AccuVote optical scanners. And my initial calls up there were surprisingly similar to the calls I made here. A handful of calls, but most of the time they're finding problems. And very often that centers on either a memory card failure or a situation where something has happened to make the machine fail. And so you find that the vendor, LHS Associates, arrives on the scene and they're going to fix this problem. Most of the time when I find those kinds of problems and I check with officials, the officials don't know what's happened. [CT SOTS says she would ‘beg to differ’ that they would change memory cards http://talknationradio.com/?p=58] And they're surprised. And they also tend to say, 'That wasn't how it was supposed to be done.'
Now, I just found that to be the case in my initial study of New Hampshire where, again, I just made a handful of calls initially. And, you know, five calls, four problems. So we really have to start looking into the failure rate of the memory cards, the security of the machines and, of course, when you have any problem on Election Day, that means you have a much greater vulnerability to fraud. And so I've seen a lot of articles about New Hampshire, and the initial articles basically pooh-poohed the idea that the machines could be a problem or have been hacked. Because of the paper ballot and because they are the optical scanners. This is a mistake. These machines are just as vulnerable to fraud, tampering and also just really technical failure as any other Diebold machine. They may be a little bit more secure if you're going to do a recount of every paper ballot.
PA: Well, and if you have chain of custody control of those paper ballots from the time the election closes until the recount, which we don't really have. If there's insider fraud, that can be a big problem. Well, let's listen to what you found out when you talked to election officials in New Hampshire. And bear in mind, for people who just tuned in, that LHS Associates is a little-known group, a private company that oversees the counting and training and so on of the elections for 80% of the vote in New Hampshire. So let's go ahead and listen.
Clips of Dori Smith’s interviews with NH election officials:
DS: Paul Bergeron said a memory card failed in Manchester just prior to the election. He burned a new one with assistance from LHS.
Paul Bergeron: We noticed that one of the memory cards wasn't operating properly. It was asking for formatting codes instead of asking or prompting us if we wanted to test the ballots. And so I contacted LHS and I had a spare memory card as well, and we also had already loaded the program onto our laptop so I was able to burn a new card based on their instructions over the telephone. And then I tested the new card and it worked fine.
DS: Hanover, New Hampshire Town Clerk Betsy McLane called the LHS help desk to come out to fix a part in a machine that had just been in for repairs.
Betsy McLane: Our town clerk had the keys to the machine and this person was telling him what to do, open the back of the machine. And it ended up that when the machine was in their shop for repair there was a cable that wasn't completely put together. And so it was something that should have been done as part of the repair that wasn't, and so he, as an LHS employee, was able to see that very quickly and make the connection. So we actually opened the machine. He looked underneath and said, ‘Well, let me -- that needs to be connected,’ reached into the machine and connected it while he was being observed.
DS: Linda Hartson is Town Clerk of Exeter, New Hampshire and she, too, had a problem with the deflector part which LHS came out to fix during the election.
Linda Hartson: We have had a simple little piece that needed to be replaced and they were able to drive up here. The company's an hour away from us. So they were able to come up and fix it. We were probably down a machine for an hour or two. There was a part inside the mechanism, when you insert the ballot there's a--have you ever seen the inside of one of the machines?
DS: Not the inside, no.
LH: Okay, well, when you put the ballot in there's a deflector. It's a piece of molded plastic. And when you put the ballot through the machine it goes down in the back through a slot. And if there's a write-in, it just automatically kicks it over to another bin. And there was a little piece that broke and caused it to just stop, so they were able to come and fix that deflector for us. That's a very important piece, but [small chuckle].
DS: It is because it helps tell you whether or not a vote has been written in?
LH: Yes. Otherwise at the end of the night we have a bin with, you know, the machine still will count the write-ins, the report that comes out at night still will say you've got so many write-ins but you now, instead of having a separate department where you can get those write-ins out of, you have take all of the ballots and go through them all to find them. And it tells you how many write-ins there were.
DS: I asked Linda Hartson if she would allow LHS to come and bring her a memory card and to make a replacement during the election. This is what she said.
LH: If they bring you another one? You would just put it in. There's no problem.
DS: And it wouldn't be a problem if that happened during the election?
LH: Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Because you could run the report off the machine and just put in the new memory card and it would just keep on going.
LH: That's my understanding.
DS: Trish Pooch [sp?], a clerk in Manchester, New Hampshire, had a memory card fail in Ward 3 during the election. In that case she burned a new card with assistance from LHS. I asked her if LHS could bring a spare card mid-election in the event her back-up had failed.
Trish Pooch: What happened was it failed and we erred on the side of caution. Instead of just trying to see if it was the machine or the card we decided to get a new machine and a new card, and the election after that ran very smoothly, no problems whatsoever.
DS: Now, in the event that LHS was called in, do they have permission to like put in, I don't know, make an adjustment or put in a different memory card or something like that? Help you out?
TP: Normally if we have to call LHS in, it means that -- we have a couple spares -- it means we've gone through our spares and we need spares. Or we, they will have to take it apart. Now we seal our machines, both where the memory card is but we also seal the machines over the screws where they would have to open the AccuVote machine. So if that is the case then member from our office will be present, we will break the seals, allow them to fix whatever the problem may be inside the machine, whether it's a reader or a chip, and then we will reseal the machine. Somebody from our office is with them at all times.
DS: Has that ever happened, to your knowledge?
TP: Yes it has.
TP: Just recently we just had a new reader put into one of our machines.
DS: Okay, so, during what time did the problem come up?
TP: During the testing of the ballots.
DS: Okay, so during the testing of the ballots for, for this primary on Tuesday?
TP: Yes, that's correct.
DS: And so they put in a different chip?
TP: Yes, and a reader.
DS: What is a chip?
TP: I'm not sure what chip it is. It's a chip that will, I think accepts the codes and everything like that. So they, again, err on the side of caution. Where it looked like it was a reader problem they decided to be safe and replaced both. Because they didn't want us having any problems.
DS: I tried to get New Hampshire's Deputy Attorney General to verify that LHS could, in fact, come and make mid-election repairs, specifically memory card replacements. Deputy Attorney General Jim Kennedy:
NH Deputy Attorney Jim Kennedy: That's not what's done in the state of New Hampshire. Actually by state and federal law we're required to retain the actual memory card that's used in the election and so to interchange a memory card I think would be odd.
DS: I mean, to replace it so that the machine could be used.
JK: Right. And I don't know of any circumstance that that's occurred here.
[end of clips]
PA: So there we have discussions with New Hampshire election clerks, interviewed by Dori Smith, who we're talking to. Dori is host of a weekly show in Connecticut, Talk Nation Radio, and she was kind enough to do those clips for us. So, it sounds like the election officials are really trying hard but they can't see inside those boxes and they don't know what's going on.
DS: You know, there's a lot of tension around elections. And so, for these clerks and clerks of the election there's a lot of pressure from the media, from candidates and from voters. And they just kind of want things to work smoothly. And so if there's a fixer who can come in and make the machine work again, I mean it's just like being in a law office. If you can't make those documents, if you can't print, you want that printer repairman there right on the button. And that's the way it is with the voting machines. And the problem is, that once you start making mid-election repairs you've opened the door to fraud. And you've also opened the door to all kinds of irregularities and uncertainties. So really, in Connecticut, voting rights groups and specifically TrueVote Connecticut, has been quite concerned about this. And their computer scientist, he's the president of that group, has said really with all kinds of certainty that these machines are vulnerable to fraud and you're going to get irregular results if you make mid-election repairs. And he's gone through these protocols the state has with a fine-tooth comb. And so right now, Connecticut remains vulnerable. When we vote for our primary election coming up next week we're going to really be in trouble unless people at the polls have learned to say, you know, ‘If this isn't machine isn't working, let's just go to the paper ballot.’
PA: Well, you know, I would argue at this point -- having looked at this now for four or five years -- that these machines aren't working, period. And that they can't work and that computer scientists tell us really, without some sort of paper that you can check 'em with, you can't trust 'em. Because of bugs, because of possible intrusions, because of insider fraud, any number of things. You know, they can sit around in a few hours and think up hundreds of ways to intrude or put malicious code in these things or, you know, just not be able to find the bugs. So, rather than put new fixes on the old fixes, of course I think that paper ballots counted by human beings in public in the voting place is the way to go. But, well, we'll see what happens. We have time for just a quick final word, Dori. I knew it would go fast.
DS: I would say, go to your polls for all elections. Ask questions. Get to know your pollworkers. And as far as LHS Associates, we're one vendor in this state. Look into the background of the vendor in your state.
PA: Okay. Thank you very much. And for more information, again, go to our website, or you can find Dori's show at TalkNationRadio.org. We've been listening to Dori Smith. You can also find her recent blog at BRADBLOG.com [http://www.bradblog.com/?p=5553]. You can find statistics on the New Hampshire primary at ElectionDefenseAlliance.org [http://www.electiondefensealliance.org/new_hampshire_2008_primary_analysis].
Mark Bebawi: And our website that Pokey mentioned is TheMonitor.Wordpress.com, and in fact it's already updated. You can grab shows going back for the last two months or you can grab tonight's show. This is KPFT Houston. [end]
Over the past five years, Pokey Anderson has interviewed dozens of computer experts, attorneys, journalists, election officials and citizens involved in election issues around the country. Her recent research on the vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines can be found at "Peering Through Chinks in the Armor of High-Tech Elections," http://www.votersunite.org/info/PeeringThruChinks.pdf. Her radio show, The Monitor, airs Sunday evenings at 6 pm Central, at www.kpft.org.