Monday, January 2, 2012

How They Rig Election Machines

As we get into primary season, here's court testimony on the rigging of election machines.



  1. Sounds too easy to go undetected. Sounds like they need to either check the source code right before the voting begins, or at least count all the receipts.

    I doubt either will happen

  2. Demand paper ballots!

  3. This guy giving testimony is full of crap. I question if he has ever implemented any system in his life. One of the first things you do with any system, whether it be a new system roll out or a patch is to cycle and regression test it for accuracy and load performance. If these elections offices are not doing this, then they are reckless in their approach to technology. Simple testing would have revealed the very basic rigging scheme he described. I deal with extremely complex systems and never in my life have I had to look at code to see if something is programmed properly. That is utterly absurd.

    If I were to design a test scheme for one of these systems I would simulate the same load as would occur in a Presidential election using a known testing data set with planned issues (ie double voting, under voting, over voting, etc.). All one would need to do is make sure the results are the same as the test data set. I would also require that before each election each voting machine is tested using a fact pattern with know results.

    I'm not at all saying that vote rigging can't happen, but if you have an elections office that is doing their job it would get caught 99.999% of the time. Voting systems are extremely basic and thus easy as hell to comprehensively test.

  4. unlike in the monetary sphere, paper is the real deal here!

  5. @Anon 1:16,
    I tend to agree with you. I have been in the software business for 40+ years. If the right controls are in place, the probability of rigged votes is near zero. Running a test with known balloting patterns (with and without errors) immediately prior to operational use by trusted personnel is about as safe as can be expected. In Florida, we use mark-sense cards that are immediately verified on-site for errors, tabulated and reconciled by computer. The cards can be re-tabulated anytime by any election office computer or manually. I trust the system we now have in place.


  7. @Anon 3:09,

    The ploy you referenced requires physical access to the equipment. With the right controls and testing in place 'access denied'.

  8. "If these elections offices are not doing this, then they are reckless in their approach to technology."

    Yes, local government, especially those in charge of elections, are staffed by the most capable, honest and uncorruptible of bureaucrats.

  9. star-gazer

    Isnt it common knowledge that the crooks are always one step ahead of those trying to stop them?

    Do you believe that Bush actually won Florida?

  10. Key phrases from the comments:

    "if you have an elections office that is doing their job"

    "If the right controls are in place"

    "operational use by trusted personnel"

  11. Nobody can guarantee perfection in people or processes. The election officials in my district are honest. I know many of them personally. Nobody has disputed the results since the mark-sense card voting began in 1998. My district results during the 2000 election were never in question by anyone. No hanging chads here.

  12. @geoih: I am going to guess you didn't watch the video. My comments were not to infer that government is full of competent people but that if something as stupid as this very basic hack that is described on the video were to get placed into a production environment, the blame would lie entirely with the the elections office and their incompetence. If you watch the video, the questions appear to be along the lines of exonerating the incompetent government workers as if they would have had to do the impossible and read the actual code to catch this basic hack. That is complete b/s and laughable and the basis of my post.

    Anon: 1:16

  13. I come across incompetence on a daily basis. Even the "operations" groups of private sector investment banks routinely show gross incompetence due to laziness and negligence but most often it's from "it's not my responsibility"-type attitudes.

    If this type of negligence happens in the private sector, I can't even imagine what would happens in the public sector.

    My point is, If you are reasonably smart and have the slightest bit of motivation, you can find the weak link in pretty much any operational environment and then use it to your advantage.

    I agree with the software and tech guys that say it's easy to write a regression test to validate any voting machine before it is actually used. HOWEVER, I think they are incredibly naive to think that simply writing a working regression test will actually result in it being:
    a) used at all
    b) used correctly
    c) used sufficiently often to catch any alterations

    I can easily see some election official trying to run it, having it not work and say "hey, I tried, oh well". Or, having an official run the regression test the day they get the machine, then letting it sit in a corner for a week and never retesting it before it's used in the election. Or, an official actually running a test correctly right before the election starts, but then having "power go out" or some system restart, and then never re-testing ... the list really is infinite.

    The only way to guarantee any electronic voting records is to have a countable physical trail of your vote.

    If you got a printout of your vote, along with a unique voting id, and were able to match that to a published list of all votes and their matching (anonymous) voting id, this would ensure complete accuracy.

    It's really not hard to do electronic voting correctly ... It amazes me that, as a country, we haven't done so.

  14. Hey all you software guys, the central tabulator "Gems" software was written MS Access. That should be all you need to know. To adjust the numbers, you just edit the entries in the underlying table. No audit trail, no fingerprints, no nothing. It's called "Access" for a reason.