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Posted 1:00 AM Eastern

by Jim Kouri
July 30, 2007
© 2007

Scientists may have proven one of Americans' worst fears: that electronic voting machines can be easily manipulated.

According to several reports, California computer scientists at leading universities were successful at hacking into machines made by Diebold Election Systems, Hart Intercivic and Sequoia Voting Systems. Once they hacked into the systems they were able to change votes.

"Be afraid! Be very afraid," warns conservative political consultant Mike Baker.

"What this report tells us is that those already in power have a lock on the elections if they can hack into voting systems with impunity. And since both the Democrat and Republican parties stand to gain from voter manipulation, third-party candidates and their supporters will be stonewalled," said Baker.

Matthew A. Bishop, a professor of computer science at the University of California-Davis, who led the team that tried to compromise the machines, told the New York Times that his group was surprised by how easy it was not only to pick the physical locks on the machines, but also to break through the software defenses meant to block intruders.

With the presidential primary only a few months away, some voting systems in California could end up being decertified.

Prof. Henry Brady, one of the scientists involved in the study on hacking, told the ABC San Francisco affiliate KGO Radio, "I think we have to keep pushing the vendors to get better machines."

University of California professor Henry Brady is an expert on electronic voting. He's been awaiting the state-ordered review which concluded that "security mechanisms for all systems analyzed were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of election results."

While most people who want to hack into the system will not have the kind of time necessary to do what they want to do, the team of hackers that exposed the vulnerabilities had the time, the opportunity and the expertise to pursue worst-case scenarios.

For example, according to KGO, Matt Bishop, a computer hacker, said, "Someone, for example, somehow manipulating the machines that count the votes, so they count the votes incorrectly." And they were able to access files, forge records and crash the systems, according to Bishop.

Debra Bowen, California's Secretary of State, told reporters that "the goal is to put to rest any controversy about voting systems or voting equipment itself."

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she initiated a review two months ago. Now, she states she needs more time to digest the results before deciding what to do.

These news reports -- the latest to raise questions about electronic voting machines -- hit the news media on the day House leaders announced in Washington that they had reached an agreement on measures to revamp voting systems and increase their security.

The House bill would require every state to use paper records that would let voters verify that their ballots had been correctly cast and that would be available for recounts. In other words, electronic systems will remain suspect.

The House majority leader, Representative Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, and the original sponsor of the bill, Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, said it would require hundreds of counties with paperless machines to install backup paper trails by the presidential election next year while giving most states until 2012 to upgrade their machines further.

Critics of the machines said that some of the measures would be just stopgaps and that the California reports showed that security problems needed to be addressed more urgently.

Others are wary of having politicians in-charge of correcting the voting vulnerabilities.

"It's like having bank robbers dictate what security systems should be used in US banks," said former NYPD detective Sid Francis, who now runs a Manhattan security firm.

The media reports -- including an indepth New York Times story -- said the investigators had created situations for each system "in which these weaknesses could be exploited to affect the correct recording, reporting and tallying of votes."

Voting experts said the review could prompt the California secretary of state, Debra Bowen, to ban the use of some of the machines in the 2008 elections unless extra security precautions were taken and the election results were closely audited.

Ms. Bowen told the Times yesterday that it was vital for California to have secure machines for the state's presidential primary in February. She said she would announce by August 3 what actions she would take.

Concerned about security, House and Senate Democratic leaders said they wanted to require a shift to paper ballots and other backup records to increase confidence that votes would be accurately counted.

State and local officials have argued that it is too late to make many of the changes without creating chaos next year. Advocates for the blind and other disabled voters say better equipment needs to be developed to enable them to vote without help from poll workers, as federal law requires.

Advocates for the disabled praised the compromise. For many disabled people to vote independently, the advocates said, the touch-screen machines need to be modified to include audio files that can read back the completed ballots, while the ballot-marking devices used with the optical scanning systems have to be changed to feed ballots automatically.

Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, a group that helped broker the deal, said in a press release that the bill offered hope for an end to "unaccountable, unverifiable and inaccessible voting."

Mr. Holt said the measure could "keep the country from going through another election where Americans doubt the results."

However, many conservatives aren't too thrilled at having politicians charged with correcting a problem they benefit from.

"People for the American Way and other left-wing groups are notorious for stuffing ballot boxes with phony votes including votes by illegal aliens," warns Mike Baker.

"I'm not comforted by that fact that they are in-charge of correcting an already dangerous situation," he said.

Devvy Kidd, contributing columnist for knows all about vote fraud and electronic ballot machines. "Having run for Congress twice, experiencing the end result of electronic voting machines and writing about it since 1993, I can tell you that all these reassurances about paper trails mean nothing. These machines have internal modems that can be programmed from anywhere. My columns are thoroughly researched and based on facts; you can watch one of my live speeches covering electronic vote fraud in great deal here.

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"The only way we the people will know if we have fair and impartial elections is paper ballots, hand counted inside the precicnts before they are transported to the county clerk. Anything else will be a continuing illusion and a tragedy for this nation. Do Americans want fast-food style elections or honest ones? High-tech can be good, but we cannot allow it to steal the ballot box in favor of speed" said Devvy.

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"The only way we the people will know if we have fair and impartial elections is paper ballots, hand counted inside the precicnts before they are transported to the county clerk. Anything else will be a continuing illusion and a tragedy for this nation...