Sunday, October 08, 2006

A "security feature" from Diebold

The following is an excerpt from an email I received from a gentleman named Walter Mancuso who was a Republican Chief Judge in the September 12 primary in Montgomery County, Maryland.

    Approximately a week after the primary I received a telephone call from the Montgomery County Board of Elections inquiring as to why one of the eight touch screen voting machines that we used on election day had recorded no votes, even though 55 voters were logged onto the machine. Neither I nor the Democratic chief judge had any explanation. The person at the [Board of Elections (B of E)] told me that they would investigate, talk to Diebold, and get back to me. After a week I called the Board and asked what they had discovered. I was told that at 6:50 AM (prior to opening the polls) that particular touch screen machine had been rebooted, and the memory card had been removed and reinserted into the machine. I was told that removing the memory card activated a security feature of the touch screen unit, and thus nothing was recorded on the memory card. By the way, no error message was displayed to indicate that that machine had been tampered with and thus should not be used. When we accumulated the votes on the zero machine after the polls closed, that particular machine reported than no voters had used the machine during the election. Thus, prior to talking to Diebold we assumed that the 55 votes were lost.

Walter goes on to explain the the board of elections used the hard drive of the voting machine to recover the 55 missing votes.

So, according to this, there is a security feature that causes a machine with a memory card that is ejected and then reinserted to not record any votes on that memory card. I don't understand what security threat this is designed to counter. Even if a rogue memory card is inserted, how does not recording votes on that card protect anything? Furthermore, this introduces a new risk. A malicious poll worker (i.e. a malicious person who decides to become a poll worker to disrupt the election) could insert and remove each memory card at the precinct during setup. If you believe the message from Walter Mancuso, that would cause none of the votes in that precinct to be recorded anywhere except on the hard drives of the voting machines. But, these votes could only be recovered after the election by the Board of Elections in conjunction with Diebold, as Walter explained later in this message:

    However Diebold had good news for us. That good news was that each touch screen unit contained a hard drive, so the B of E, with the help of Diebold was able to recover the “missing” votes from the hard drive.

I worry about the chain of custody of these votes. The chief judges and the other judges have no way to monitor or audit these votes before they are produced and counted by the board of elections, working with the vendor.