December 29, 2007

CO SOS tests voting systems — certifies only Premier (Diebold)

Posted in Diebold, Elections, ES&S, voting machine certification, voting machine testing, voting machines tagged , , , , , , , at 1:00 pm by bluebanshee

Colorado SOS Michael Coffman completed court mandated testing and recertification of voting systems used in the state and issued some dramatic rulings which were immediately subject to a firestorm of controversy.

Premier (formally known as Diebold) All voting equipment submitted for recertification passed.

Sequoia The optical scan devices, Insight and 400-C, used to count paper ballots both passed, but the electronic voting machines, the Edge II and the Edge II Plus, both failed due to a variety of security risk factors, including that the system is not password protected, has exposed controls potentially giving voters unauthorized access, and lacks an audit trail to detect security violations.

Hart The optical scan devices, eScan and BallotNow, both failed because test results showed that they could not accurately count ballots. The electronic voting machine, eSlate, passed.

ES&S The optical scan devices (M 100 and the M650) both failed because of an inability to determine if the devices work correctly and an inability to complete the testing threshold of 10,000 ballots due to vendor programming errors. The electronic voting machine (iVotronic) failed because it is easily disabled by voters activating the device interface, and the system lacks an audit trail to detect security violations.

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/pressrel/coffman_completes_elec_voting_equip_tests_12-17-07.html

Since there has been no report issued equivalent to CA SOS Debra Bowen’s Top to Bottom Review (T2B), it is difficult to know how the tests were conducted and how credible the results are. Colorado certainly has had problems with the optical scan systems from ES&S — in 2006 audits and recounts in 10 counties using ES&S equipment led to reversals in reported election results. Until and unless Coffman issues a report of the caliber of the California T2B reports it will be difficult to evaluate the robustness of the testing process. However, California’s Bowen also decertified ES&S equipment. Thus there are two states that have conducted testing of voting systems and have decertified ES&S across the board. This has implications for other states using the same equipment, especially if those states have not conducted their own testing but have opted to take the Federal testing and certification process at face value.

Questions have been raised about the certification of the Premier systems from Diebold. The same firm which provides strategic advice for Coffman’s political campaign has been hired by Diebold to lobby for the adoption of their systems in Colorado. At best there appears to be a conflict of interest here, despite Coffman’s denials. At worst, Diebold may have hired the lobbying firm for increased access to key players in the decision making process.

The political consulting company running Secretary of State Mike Coffman’s congressional campaign also was working for a voting machine manufacturer when Coffman gave that company’s devices his seal of approval on Monday.
Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold, was the only one of four voting machine companies to have all of its equipment conditionally approved for use in 2008 elections.
Premier hired Phase Line Strategies, a Highlands Ranch consulting firm, in September to lobby on its behalf, records show.
Phase Line also is running Coffman’s campaign to take over U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo’s 6th Congressional District seat. Coffman said he hired Phase Line in November but has been talking to them since the summer.
The reactions to the revelations about the client list of Phase Line was vehement:
“This is an outrageous conflict of interest,” said Paul Hultin, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit that resulted in Coffman’s certification process.
Hultin said Premier’s machines are known to be flawed and there was no credible basis for Coffman to certify them. “This explains what was going on,” he said.
Coffman and a Phase Line official both deny that Premier got any special consideration in the lengthy review of Colorado’s electronic voting systems.
“There was absolutely no outside influences that affected any of my decisions on the vendors,” Coffman said Wednesday night.
Chris Riggall, spokesman for Premier, said the company found out Wednesday night about Phase Line’s connection to Coffman.
“That was certainly news to us and of great concern to us . . . and effective tonight that relationship is terminated,” he said.
“Oh my God!” said Claudia Kuhns, executive director of the Voter Integrity Project, an advocacy group that pushes for accurate and verifiable elections. “I thought (the certification process) was politically capricious before but now I really do.
“When you have a situation where there’s the appearance of impropriety, it really causes one to be completely distrustful of the entire process.”
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2007/dec/20/jeffco-appeal-voting-machine-decision/

It is interesting that the conditional certification of the Diebold/Premier equipment was not recommended by Coffman’s panel of experts.

Coffman’s testing board recommended that all electronic equipment be decertified, but Coffman used his discretion to decide which systems were “substantially compliant.” He said he approved Premier’s systems with conditions because the problems were not serious.

However this discretion does not seem to be based on experiences elsewhere:

The same Premier machines used in Colorado, however, have been found to be easily hackable and inaccurate in studies done in other states.

The reporter writing this story was almost certainly  referring to the well-publicized but separate hacks of Diebold equipment  by Harri Hursti and Ed Felten.

  • In December 2005 Harri Hursti, a computer security expert from Finland, was able to hack into a Diebold optical scan machine (Accu-Vote OS 1.94w) and change election results using only a memory card.  An excellent eyewitness account of the “Hursti hack” is posted at
    http://www.votetrustusa.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=798&Itemid=51
  • Ed Felten and his students at Princeton were able to document various hacks on the software and hardware of a Diebold Accuvote-TS touchscreen machine in September 2006.  Professor Felten’s videotape record and report on the vulnerabilities he found are laid out in his blog at    http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1063

So there is really no reason for SOS Coffman to pretend that Diebold/Premier’s security vulnerabilities are a minor matter that could be mitigated by placing conditions on their continued use in Colorado.  The results of the testing at the behest SOS Debra Bowen in California and SOS Jennifer Brunner in Ohio further document the hackability and vulnerabilities of the Diebold machines.  The reports from both states do not support Coffman’s discretionary granting of conditional certification to Diebold/Premier.The vendors which were not fortunate enough to receive the benefits of Coffman’s discretion will have some recourse:

Under state law, the clerks and the vendors of decertified equipment will have up to 30 days to formally “Request a Reconsideration” of Coffman’s decisions. The legislature, when it convenes next month, can also decide to modify the requirements set forth in the state’s certification law to allow decertified equipment to be used in the 2008 election.

Premier/Diebold is already a large supplier of equipment in Colorado with contracts in 12 counties, including El Paso, Weld, and Larimer. If the decertification of the equipment from the other companies stands, then Premier/Diebold is well-positioned to make gains. ES&S supplies 2000 machines in Jefferson and Mesa counties. Several counties, including Arapahoe and Denver, use Sequoia equipment. On the other hand, Hart InterCivic is potentially the big loser since it currently supplies equipment in 40 counties.

Given the questions that have been raised about the “discretion” that Diebold/Premier was the beneficiary of, there is great potential that some of the decisions regarding certification will be revisited and revised during the appeal process — or perhaps by the Colorado legislature.

UPDATE: Colorado SOS is calling for paper ballots and optical scan machines for the 2008 Presidential election. He is facing opposition from the county clerks and some members of the legislature. The only two companies now certified to supply optical scan equipment are Premier/Diebold and Sequoia. http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2007/dec/27/colorado-secretary-state-backs-paper-voting-2008/

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