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sinking shipSeptember 23, 2008

“Right now, there is not a single voting system on the market or in use anywhere in the country that meets current federal voting standards, and very few people realize it.” ~ Douglas Kellner, New York State Board of Elections Commissioner (AP)

From New York to New Jersey, from D.C. to Florida, Sequoia Voting Systems continue to fail. Vendor response is, we’re not at fault and don’t you dare study our product. That’s because experts tell us in report after report these machines are fatally flawed by design, lacking the most basic security protocols. Yet, election managers continue to use them, and “voter advocacy” groups continue to support their use. A recent University of California (Santa Barbara) paper by the Computer Security Group warned that “the very core of our democracy is in danger.”

hole in sequoia bmdDesigned-to-be-hacked is what we discovered in our own investigation. The physical security of Sequoia’s optical scan ballot marking device is designed with a slotted hole that allows up to ten cardstock ballots to be stuffed at once into the locked ballot box.

BMD ballot stuffing slot. Here’s exclusive video.

New York state’s election commissioners also tend to blame election workers when Sequoia’s machines fail. New York tested out its shiny new $12,000 Ballot Marking Device made by Sequoia-Dominion in the September 9th election. When state election commissioners tried to vote on the machines, the BMDs didn’t work. At the Sept. 17th NY SBOE meeting, Anna Svizzzero, Director of Election Operations, advised better training of poll workers was needed.

Of 3,350 BMDs deployed in the Sept. 9th election, only 1,333 people voted on them. Only one voter used the BMD in Ulster County – John Decker (D-Highland), who complained that he first watched the 20-minute instructional video and then it took another 20 minutes to vote on the machine. McClatchy reports:

“Decker said he couldn’t believe that it took him so long to vote and would like to see the county retain the older lever pull machines.”

In Nassau County, 126 BMDs were deployed but only twelve voters used them, reported Nassau County Elections Commissioner, William Biamonte. Making his job even tougher, Sequoia failed to deliver the BMD’s privacy materials until the Saturday before the election – after the machines had already been deployed. Twenty technicians had to be dispatched to deliver and install the materials.

Faulty design, hackable software, lengthy voting process and an inability to accurately count the votes won’t stop the League of Women Voters of New York State from insisting these machines be used, and promoted for use.

Tempers flared at the end of Friday’s NY SBOE meeting when the NY LWV accused election officials in four counties of dissuading voters from using the new software driven optical scan ballot marking devices. Naming Buffalo, Binghamton (Broome), Utica, and Albany, they charged:

“The counties are actively discouraging voters who are not disabled from using the ballot marking devices.”

Phew, smart commissioners, even if they are violating state-mandates that all voters can use the BMDs Maybe they’re avoiding hand counts. This year, NY election officials must hand count the ballots cast on BMDs since Sequoia still hasn’t been certified for use in NY.

Sequoia admits to hundreds of document discrepancies – that’s where they provide one thing but the document says something else; or they provide and document something that New York specifically forbids. For example, Sequoia’s optical scan software uses “self-modifying, dynamically loaded or interpreted code,” in violation of New York law. This is what made the Hursti Hack possible in Leon County, Florida in 2005, according to systems analyst Howard Stanislevic.

The League also reported that the Albany County LWV co-president “was asked to produce evidence of disability.” Because she’s not disabled, she lied in order to use the new BMD. Not a smart admission to make in the public record, especially after accusing counties of violating NY election rules.

The NY SBOE was highly skeptical of the League’s reports, prompting another LWV rep to became hostile. Commissioner Evelyn Aquilla practically called them liars:

“We’d like to have that in writing, because, you know what? We didn’t see that anywhere. Not any place…. To say that every single commissioner did that, across the state, I don’t know if that’s true or not, because we saw, I saw four different … counties, and I never saw that anywhere. I went into at least twelve places.”

The New York League of Women Voters wholly supports the use of software driven optical scanners, despite scientific condemnation. They must have been ignoring the papers, too, that amplified our breaking story on July 1st when we reported that Sequoia’s BMD failure rate in Nassau County stood at 85%. Two weeks later, Wired.com reported a 50% statewide failure rate. Failure rate be damned, the League wants these machines in use. But then, the League of Women Voters also supported paperless touchscreen voting systems until June of 2004.

Sequoia Fails around the Nation

Florida’s Palm Beach County, right now, reports that 12,000 votes were not counted by Sequoia’s optical scanners in its unending nightmare of conflicting results from the August election. That’s where 3,400 votes (or 3500, depending on which news article you read) went missing, then were found, and now 12,000 more ballots have been found that the machines didn’t count. This is an ongoing fiasco. Today’s manual recount of 12,000 ambiguous votes “turned up an additional 159 uncounted ballots.” South Florida’s Sun Sentinel reported that “software issues” with Sequoia’s optical scanners were to blame.

The August vote count troubles follow the June snafu, also in Palm Beach County, when the scanners failed to count 14% of the ballots. At that time, Palm Beach officials were looking to pay Sequoia more money to take over more of the ballot counting process. In January’s presidential primary, “defective cartridges” prevented Palm Beach from posting results for several hours. Yet, still, no one in Palm Beach is considering junking the machines, although voters reportedly did dump Elections Director, Arthur Anderson.

Washington, D.C. election officials have had enough, and have subpoenaed Sequoia records to explain why over 12,000 “phantom votes” appeared in the software driven results from this month’s primary. When D.C. officials ran the supposedly “faulty” cartridges through the same software, three different results were produced. When they hand counted three precincts, none of the totals matched Sequoia’s reported totals.

Better to seize the machines and run a forensic investigation; although, that didn’t work out too well when New Jersey tried it earlier this year.

In New Jersey’s February 5th primary, Sequoia’s AVC Advantage touchscreen voting system produced conflicting vote totals from its own internal memory. When the numbers didn’t add up, Union County officials sought the expertise of Princeton University computer security scientists. They caught errors in 60 precincts. Computer scientist Ed Felton produced the tapes showing those errors, and refutes Sequoia’s explanations (blaming the pollworkers) for why their computer can’t add. Felten concludes:

“Sequoia’s own explanation makes clear that they made an engineering error that caused the voting machine to behave incorrectly.”

New Jersey officials seized the machines via subpoena, which Sequoia sought to prevent. Sequoia threatened to sue Union if they studied the machines that Union owns. Union County dropped the investigation. Better to have expensive, faulty counting devices than an expensive lawsuit, I guess. Ed Felton explains this case in this video, starting at about 4:23.

A month later, Sequoia’s website was hacked and defaced.

The Computer Security Group at UCSB may be in trouble for posting that How-to-Hack Sequoia video, but only democracy loyalists would warn the public so instructionally. No doubt, the November 2008 election will be determined by computer hackers, or enough citizens will show up to hand count the ballots after the next round of ridiculous totals are reported. Let’s not forget the negative 25 million votes reported for John Kerry in one precinct in Youngstown, Ohio in 2004. That had to be a red flag sent up by a loyalist.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia plan to use Sequoia Voting Systems in what is shaping up to be the third questionable presidential “election” in a row.