Teresa Heinz Kerry - Hacking the "Mother Machine"?

by Thom Hartmann


"Two brothers own 80 percent of the [voting] machines used in the United States," Teresa Heinz Kerry told a group of Seattle guests at a March 7, 2005 lunch for Representative Adam Smith, according to reporter Joel Connelly in an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Connelly noted Heinz Kerry added that it is "very easy to hack into the mother machines."

The two brothers Mrs. Kerry is referencing are, according to voting machine expert (and founder of www.BanVotingMachines.org) Lynn Landes, in an article for the Online Journal, Bob Urosevich, president of Diebold Election Systems, and Todd Urosevich, who was vice president for customer support of Chuck Hagel's old company, now known as ES&S.

Presumably the "mother machines" Teresa was talking about are the "central tabulator" computers, like the Windows-based Diebold central tabulator PC that Howard Dean hacked into and untraceably changed an election on - in 90 seconds - live on the "Topic A With Tina Brown" CNBC TV show late last year.

As Dean noted while hacking the Diebold machine on national television, "In 1998, only 7% of all U.S. counties used electronic voting machines." But, Dean noted of the 2004 race, "in the next presidential election, roughly 1 in 3 of us will use one."

Dean added:

"But critics have found all sorts of flaws with these machines, from software security concerns, to the complete lack of a paper trail to verify votes. These machines cannot be recounted.

"In Riverside County, California, an incumbent mysteriously pulled ahead after the voting machine company employees stopped the tally to tinker with the machines.

"In Iowa [graphic shows 'Allamakee County, Iowa'], machines in one precinct returned 4 million votes-- when only 300 actual voters turned out.

"In San Diego, election officials reportedly turned to teenagers to reboot their malfunctioning machines.

"And in Florida, a computer crash erased the records from Miami-Dade's first widespread use of touchscreen voting machines-- all data from the 2002 gubernatorial primary is gone.

"There are two problems. One, there's no paper trail which means you can't verify your vote, and it can't be recounted. The other potentially serious problem: tampering and rigging of elections. We asked Diebold, one of the companies that makes these machines, and Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood to appear on this program. They both turned us down."

Democratic concern about electronic voting machines has floated around for several years, particularly since voting rights activist Bev Harris (of www.blackboxvoting.org) reported that she was Googling around the internet and stumbled across an FTP backdoor on Diebold's website that, just after the 2002 election, contained a folder titled "Rob Georgia." (Cleland's 2002 loss in Georgia helped hand control of the Senate back to the Republicans, who had lost it when Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the party to become an independent.)

In Georgia and Florida, where paper had been totally replaced by touch-screen machines in many to most precincts during 2001 and 2002, the 2002 election produced some of the nation's most startling precursors to the alarming shift from an "exit poll win" for Kerry to the "voting-machine win" for Bush in 2004.

USA Today reported on Nov. 3, 2002, "In Georgia, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows Democratic Sen. Max Cleland with a 49%-to-44% lead over Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss." Cox News Service, based in Atlanta, reported just after the election (Nov. 7) that, "Pollsters may have goofed" because "Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland by a margin of 53 to 46 percent. The Hotline, a political news service, recalled a series of polls Wednesday showing that Chambliss had been ahead in none of them."

Just as amazing was the 2002 Georgia governor's race. "Similarly," the Zogby polling organization reported on Nov. 7, "no polls predicted the upset victory in Georgia of Republican Sonny Perdue over incumbent Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. Perdue won by a margin of 52 to 45 percent. The most recent Mason Dixon Poll had shown Barnes ahead 48 to 39 percent last month with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points."

Almost all of the votes in Georgia were recorded on the new touch-screen computerized voting machines, which produced no paper trail whatsoever. Similarly, as the San Jose Mercury News reported in a Jan. 23, 2003 editorial titled "Gee Whiz, Voter Fraud?" "In one Florida precinct last November, votes that were intended for the Democratic candidate for governor ended up for Gov. Jeb Bush, because of a misaligned touchscreen. How many votes were miscast before the mistake was found will never be known, because there was no paper audit." ("Misaligned" touchscreens also caused 18 known machines in Dallas to register Republican votes when Democratic screen-buttons were pushed in 2002: it's unknown how many others weren't noticed.)

Maybe it's true that the citizens of Georgia simply decided that incumbent Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a wildly popular war veteran, was, as Republican TV ads suggested, too unpatriotic to remain in the Senate, even though his Republican challenger, Saxby Chambliss, had sat out the Vietnam war with a medical deferment.

Maybe, in the final two days of the race, those voters who'd pledged themselves to Georgia's popular incumbent Governor Roy Barnes suddenly and inexplicably decided to switch to Republican challenger Sonny Perdue.

Maybe George W. and Jeb Bush, Alabama's new Republican governor Bob Riley, and a small but congressionally decisive handful of other long-shot Republican candidates around the country really did win those states where conventional wisdom and straw polls showed them losing in the last few election cycles, but computer controlled voting or ballot-reading machines showed them winning.

Perhaps, after a half-century of fine-tuning exit polling to such a science that it's now used to verify if elections are clean in Third World countries, it really did suddenly become inaccurate in the United States in the past few years and just won't work here anymore. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the sudden rise of inaccurate exit polls happened around the same time corporate-programmed, computer-controlled, modem-capable voting machines began recording and tabulating ballots.

As the Washington Post noted in a January 20, 2005 article by Richard Morin and Claudia Deane ("Report Acknowledges Inaccuracies in 2004 Exit Polls"):

"But 'there were 26 states in which the estimates produced by the exit poll data overstated the vote for John Kerry....' said Joe Lenski of Edison Media Research and Warren Mitofsky of Mitofsky International.

"Throughout election night, the national exit poll showed the Massachusetts senator leading President Bush by 51 percent to 48 percent. But when all the votes were counted, it was Bush who won by slightly less than three percentage points."

Mitofsky and Edison's work also showed that Ohio was one of the states where the discrepancies between the official tabulation and the exit polls were most noticeable. The Washington Post noted: "At the request of the media sponsors, Mitofsky and Lenski are continuing to examine exit polling in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two critical battleground states where the poll results were off."

When four attorneys in Ohio sued that state to discover details of how voting was conducted in that state, they report they were slapped with a massive and expensive lawsuit engineered by the State of Ohio's Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell (also co-chair of the Ohio Bush For President campaign) and Ohio Attorney General, Republican Jim Petro. The Ohio lawyer/activists have launched a legal defense fund (information available at http://freepress.org/store.php#donate) to help them fight both for an exposť of Ohio irregularities and to defend themselves against this attack by the Republican officials who control the voting systems in that state.

Oddly, though, as statistics experts Steven Freeman and Josh Mittledorf noted in an article for In These Times, analyzing the data provided by exit polling companies Mitofsky and Edison, "only in precincts that used old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots did the official count and the exit polls fall within the normal sampling margin of error." In those places where computers were used to count the vote, oddly the exit polls showed Kerry winning but the voting machines had Bush winning.

Mitofsky/Edison tried to explain this away with their "shy Republican" theory, suggesting that they'd hired young pollsters and older Republican voters were less willing to talk with them. Noted Freeman and Mittledorf:

"But in fact, the data suggest that Bush voters were slightly more likely to complete the survey: 56 percent of voters completed the survey in the Bush strongholds, while 53 percent cooperated in Kerry strongholds."

Thus, say these two university experts: "The exit polls themselves are a strong indicator of a corrupted election."

This analysis comes just as Bev Harris' organization www.blackboxvoting.org provided testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, as reported on their website:

"In mid-February, Black Box Voting, together with computer experts and videographers, under the supervision of appropriate officials, proved that a real Diebold system can be hacked.

"This was not theoretical or a 'potential' vulnerability. Votes were hacked on a real system in a real location using the actual setup used on Election Day, Nov. 2, 2004.

"In October, Black Box Voting published an article on this Web site about remote access into the Diebold system. After examining the Diebold software and related internal e-mails, local security professionals were able to demonstrate a hack into a simulated system.

"In February, we were allowed to try various hacking techniques into a real election system. To our surprise, the method used in our October simulation did not work.

"However, another method did work. The hack that did work was unsophisticated enough that many high school students would be able to achieve it. This hack altered the election by 100,000 votes, leaving no trace at all in the central tabulator program. It did not appear in any audit log. The hack could have been executed in the November 2004 election by just one person.

"This hack stunned the officials who were observing the test. It calls into question the results of as many as 40 million votes in 30 states. We are awaiting the response of the House Judiciary Committee to this new development for their investigation.

"In another real-world example, Black Box Voting obtained the actual files used in the Nov. 2 election in a specific county. In this situation, the local officials did not know how to run their Diebold system, so a Diebold tech ran the election in that county. Election officials remembered the Diebold tech's first name, but not his last name.

"The Diebold tech had gone home after the election, and no one in the county was able to access their own voting system, leading to some consternation because they could not provide our public records request.

"Because local officials could not access their logs, we were given permission to sit down and copy files. (We have since found that this is not an isolated problem -- many local officials are painfully unfamiliar with their own voting systems.)

"Local officials did not know their password, so Bev Harris asked if they would like her to hack the password. They said 'yes' (!)

"Later, to our even greater surprise, Bev Harris found that the password set by the Diebold tech on this real election file, used in the Nov. 2004 election was ... drum roll please ... the diabolically clever password: 'diebold.' (This took only two tries to guess.)"

So what to do? Here's a five-step process that Americans interested in clean elections - regardless of party affiliation - could start immediately, so it'll in place in time for the 2006 elections.

If you think this isn't viable, it is. It's already been done, in Ukraine, Belarus, the former Soviet state of Georgia, and Serbia. In three of those four elections, this very strategy succeeded in getting "official" vote tabulations changed and elections reversed. And, irony of ironies, it was largely funded by the United States.

One would think that the United States Congress would be working for greater transparency in our elections. And, indeed, Congressman Rush Holt and Senator Hillary Clinton have introduced bills into the House and Senate that would call for that. But, inexplicably, Republicans in the House and Senate have blocked them from coming to a vote.

At the same time, computer programmer Clinton Curtis charged, in a sworn affidavit before a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee investigation in Ohio, that Republican Congressman Tom Feeney of Florida participated in hiring Curtis to write "undetectable" (when compiled) voting-machine-rigging software. Republicans in the House have also blocked efforts to investigate this and other charges made during hearing held in Ohio by Congressman John Conyers.

In Ukraine, an entrenched political machine dedicated to single-party rule laughed off the possibility that exit polls, colored scarves, a catchy slogan, and spray-painted logos could force a change in a national election. As Peter Finn reported in The Washington Post on November 22, 2004:

"The [Russian-supported and "officially" winning] Yanukovych campaign said the exit polls, which were funded by the United States and other Western countries, and the demonstration were a calculated effort to preempt the official result....

"'These polls don't work,' said Gennady Korzh, a spokesman for Yanukovych. 'We will win by between 3 to 5 percent. And remember, if Americans believed exit polls, and not the actual count, John Kerry would be president.'"

According to a survey released the day before the November 2, 2004 election by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the most respected and non-partisan groups to regularly take the pulse of the American electorate, "As of Election Eve, only 62 percent of registered voters are 'very confident' that their votes will be accurately counted."

Perhaps Teresa Heinz Kerry was one of the skeptical voters Annenberg surveyed. And, if the fears she candidly expressed this week have any basis, Americans - of all political persuasions - who believe in democracy, fairness, and open elections must be prepared to act in 2006.

Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, psychotherapist and licensed NLP Trainer, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People," "The Edison Gene", and "What Would Jefferson Do?"

 

 

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