Special Report: Black Box Voting Attempts to Penetrate The Leon County Florida Optical Scan Voting System.
In January of this year Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho was contacted by representatives of Black Box Voting .org, a non-partisan elections advocacy group, to see if their computer experts could successfully circumvent the security of the Leon County voting system. Supervisor Sancho agreed to this proposal and in three separate attempts over a four month period, computer experts Dr. Herbert Thompson and Harri Hursti visited the Leon County Elections Office in their efforts to penetrate the county voting tabulation equipment and alter election data.
The tests focused on two areas: outside or external hacks, specifically examining the modem and any lines going to the vote tabulation computer, and simulated inside or internal penetrations. The results were clear. No outside hack was accomplished. This was not the case however when the hacker was physically present at the vote tabulation computer terminal.
Granted the same access as an employee of our office, it was possible enter the computer, alter election results, and exit the system without leaving any physical record of this action. It was also demonstrated that false information or instructions could be placed on a memory card (the device used to program the individual voting machines and record the voter?s votes) and create false results or election reports.
What conclusions can be drawn from this exercise? First, the optical scan voting system was resistant to external penetration, including using the modems which transmit election results from the precincts to the central vote accumulator. Outside hacking is seen as one of the greatest potential threats to undermining citizen confidence in the election process. The Leon County Supervisor of Elections was tremendously relieved that such penetration was not accomplished.
Secondly, the potential for internal sabotage does exist. It is imperative that security protocols be developed which limit access to the central voting computer and memory cards in election offices. Limited access, video surveillance, and tight controls on the use and distribution of memory cards, all practices currently in place in the Leon County Election Office, are vital to ensure unauthorized actions do not compromise the integrity of the elections process.
Finally, the ultimate insurance that Leon County?s votes are counted correctly resides in the paper ballots of the voters themselves. If the public or election official has any question over the results of an election, a hand count of the optical paper ballot provides the truth. No internal manipulation of any computer or memory card can alter the votes on these paper ballots.
Based upon the data developed out of this exercise it is the opinion of the Leon County Supervisor of Election of Leon County that any effort to limit or remove the manual examination of paper ballots to confirm the correctness of election results is not in the public interest.