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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Did a Computer Virus Screw-up NY-23 Voting Machines?

There are new suspicions about the veracity of the election results in NY's 23rd Congressional District. After the election, a recanvassing of the 11-county district had Owens’ lead narrowing to 3,026 votes over Hoffman, 66,698 to 63,672, with about 10,000 absentee ballots to be counted according to the latest unofficial results from the state Board of Elections. In Hoffman's stronghold, Oswego County, where the conservative was reported to lead by only 500 votes with 93 percent of the vote counted election night, inspectors found Hoffman actually won by 1,748 votes -- 12,748 to 11,000.

There is new bad news for those hoping for a fair election, according to the Northern NY News  many of the computerized voting machines were infected with a computer virus that may have tainted the results of the election.
The computerized voting machines used by many voters in the 23rd district had a computer virus - tainting the results, not just from those machines known to have been infected, but casting doubt on the accuracy of counts retrieved from any of the machines.

Cathleen Rogers, the Democratic Elections Commissioner in Hamilton County stated that they discovered a problem with their voting machines the week prior to the election and that the "virus" was fixed by a Technical Support representative from Dominion, the manufacturer. The Dominion/Sequoia Voting Systems representative "reprogrammed" their machines in time for them to use in the Nov. 3rd Special Election. None of the machines (from the same manufacturer) used in the other counties within the 23rd district were looked at nor were they recertified after the "reprogramming" that occurred in Hamilton County.

.....Commissioners in other counties have stated that they were not made aware of the virus issue in Hamilton County. In Jefferson County, inspectors from four districts claim that "human error" resulted in their "mistakenly" entering 0 votes for Hoffman in several districts, resulting in Owens leading Jefferson County on election night though the recanvas of the computer counts now show that Hoffman is leading. Jefferson County has not conducted a manual paper ballot recount.
In St. Lawrence County, machines in Louisville, Waddington, Claire, and Rossie "broke" early in the voting process on election day. Republican Commissioner Deborah Pahler said that the machines kept "freezing up... like Windows does all the time," and that they experienced several paper jams as well. The voted ballots that could not be scanned were placed in an Emergency Lock Box and re-scanned later at the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections. Election officials in St. Lawrence County were given no advance knowledge of a potential virus in the system.

Now here is the scary part:
At least one County official thus far has raised concern that it's possible that ALL of the machines used in the NY-23 election had the 'virus' but only a few malfunctioned as a result. The counts from any district that used the ImageCast machines are suspect due to "the virus" discovered in Hamilton County, last-minute "reprogramming" by Dominion workers, and security flaws in the systems themselves. A manual paper-ballot recount of the vote could resolve computer vote accuracy questions.

Now there is no way to tell if some of the voting machines were tampered with AFTER the election. Any recount would also be suspect.
The machines themselves are languishing at the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections until after the election results have been certified to the state on November 28th, 2009. Pahler indicated that they have not yet been able to examine the machines to determine why they malfunctioned. A qualified technician would be able to verify the presence of a virus in the computers, but, other than the infected machines, no security precautions were taken to ensure chain of custody on the remaining computerized voting machines utilized in the 23rd district.
Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in this election says that he was forced to concede after having been given erroneous election results on Nov. 3rd, in particular from Oswego County. Oswego County's election night results were off by over 1,000 votes. Hoffman claims that the "chaos" on which Oswego County chairs blame the errors and "inspectors who read numbers incorrectly when phoning in results... sounds like a tactic right from the ACORN playbook."

To be honest, this sounds more like an example of that old adage, "To Err is Human, but to Really Screw Things up you need a computer. Whether the strange results are computer error, or the underhanded work of the President's favorite community organizers, the counted results from from the election are extremely suspect.
Hoffman is raising funds for a possible legal challenge to the results and requesting that the Boards of Election hand-count every vote. On Tuesday, he "unconceded" the race [only hours after a high campaign source told me that he was not going to unconcede]. In light of the current concerns over the accuracy of the machine-counted votes, Hoffman may now have a legitimate reason to contest the election results.

Of further note, the models of ImageCast machines used in the districts have a slot through which the paper ballot is deposited into a secure holding tank underneath the machine after the ballot is scanned by the machine. The problem is that the slot is readily accessible to the voter (or poll worker) to stuff manually. 10 voted ballots could be deposited in the slot for every one voter... and if the electronic count was compromised, the "paper backup" would be useless.

The ImageCast machines have one more significant and scary flaw: USB ports. USB ports allow various devices to be attached to a computer in order to input information, connect a device, add wireless network capability and so on. Wireless network devices and USB storage devices can (and are) made small enough to fit into a regular wristwatch or bracelet.

Through either type of device, software hacks or remote control of the voting machine could be implemented or a virus introduced. Since standard count audits are only done on 3% of the machines unless there is a malfunction, a functional hack or software change could adjust election counts with the County or State Boards of Election none the wiser.

Put it all together it means...grab your popcorn, the most interesting race of the 2009 elections is about to get much more interesting.

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