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Diebold insider alleges company plagued by technical woes, Diebold defends 'sterling' record

Miriam Raftery

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In an exclusive interview with RAW STORY, a whistleblower from electronic voting heavyweight Diebold Election Systems Inc. raised grave concerns about the company’s electronic voting technology and of electronic voting in general, bemoaning an electoral system the insider feels has been compromised by corporate privatization.

The Diebold insider, who took on the appellation “Dieb-Throat” in an interview with voting rights advocate Brad Friedman (BradBlog.com), was once a staunch supporter of electronic voting’s potential to produce more accurate results than punch cards.

But the company insider became disillusioned after witnessing repeated efforts by Diebold to evade meeting legal requirements or implementing appropriate security measures, putting corporate interests ahead of the interests of voters.

“I’ve absolutely had it with the dishonesty,” the insider told RAW STORY. Blasting Wally O’Dell, the current president of Diebold, the whistleblower went on to explain behind-the-scenes tactics of the company and its officers.

“There’s a lot of pressure in the corporation to make the numbers: `We don’t tell you how to do it, but do it.’ [O’Dell is] probably the number one culprit putting pressure on people,” the source said.

Diebold spokesman David Bear rebuts the charges. “Diebold has a sterling reputation in the industry," Bear said. "It’s a 144-year-old company and is considered one of the best companies in the industry."

Previous revelations from the whistleblower have included evidence that Diebold’s upper management and top government officials knew of backdoor software in Diebold’s central tabulator before the 2004 election, but ignored urgent warnings—such as a Homeland Security alert posted on the Internet.

“This is a very dangerous precedent that needs to be stopped—that’s the corporate takeover of elections,” the source warned. “The majority of election directors don’t understand the gravity of what they’re dealing with. The bottom line is who is going to tamper with an election? A lot of people could, but they assume that no one will.”

Concerns about Georgia, Ohio elections

The insider harbors suspicions that Diebold may be involved in tampering with elections through its army of employees and independent contractors. The 2002 gubernatorial election in Georgia raised serious red flags, the source said.

“Shortly before the election, ten days to two weeks, we were told that the date in the machine was malfunctioning,” the source recalled. “So we were told 'Apply this patch in a big rush.’” Later, the Diebold insider learned that the patches were never certified by the state of Georgia, as required by law.

“Also, the clock inside the system was not fixed,” said the insider. “It’s legendary how strange the outcome was; they ended up having the first Republican governor in who knows when and also strange outcomes in other races. I can say that the counties I worked in were heavily Democratic and elected a Republican.”

In Georgia’s 2002 Senate race, for example, nearly 60 percent of the state’s electorate by county switched party allegiances between the primaries and the general election.

The insider’s account corroborates a similar story told by Diebold contractor Rob Behler in an interview with Bev Harris of Black Box Voting.

Harris revealed that a program patch titled “rob-georgia.zip” was left on an unsecured server and downloaded over the Internet by Diebold technicians before loading the unauthorized software onto Georgia voting machines. “They didn’t even TEST the fixes before they told us to install them,” Behler stated, adding that machines still malfunctioned after patches were installed.

California decertified Diebold TSX touch screen machines after state officials learned that the vendor had broken state election law.

“In California, they got in trouble and tried to doubletalk. They used a patch that was not certified,” the Diebold insider said. “They’ve done this many times. They just got caught in Georgia and California.”

The whistleblower is also skeptical of results from the November 2005 Ohio election, in which 88 percent of voters used touch screens and the outcome on some propositions changed as much as 40 percent from pre-election exit polls.

“Amazing,” the Diebold insider said.

Diebold is headquartered in Ohio. Its chairman Wally O’Dell, a key fundraiser for President Bush, once promised in an invitation to a Republican fundraising dinner to deliver Ohio’s electoral votes for Bush. The staffer said the company has a deep conservative culture.

“My feeling having been really deep inside the company is that initially Diebold, being a very conservative and Republican company, felt that if they controlled an election company, they could have great influence over the outcome,” the source, a registered independent, said.

“Does that mean fixing elections? Not necessarily, but if your people are in election departments and they are biased toward Republicans, you will have an influence…I think this is what they were buying, the positioning. Obviously screwing with the software would be a homerun—and I do think that was part of their recipe for getting into the election business. But the public got involved and said 'Hey, what’s going on?' That pulled the sheet off what their plan was with these paperless voting machines.”

The difficulties of installing paper trails

Responding to public demand for paper trails, Diebold has devised a means of retrofitting its paperless TSX system with printers and paper rolls. But in Ohio’s November 2005 election, some machines produced blank paper.

The whistleblower is not surprised. “The software is again the culprit here. It’s not completely developed. I saw the exact same thing in Chicago during a demonstration held in Cook County for a committee of people who were looking at various election machines… They rejected it for other reasons.”

Asked if Ohio officials were made aware of that failure prior to the recent election, the source said, “No way. Anything goes wrong inside Diebold, it’s hush-hush.”

Most officials are not notified of failed demonstrations like the one in Cook County, the insider said, adding that most system tests, particularly those exhibited for sale are not conducted with a typical model.

California, which recently conducted a test of the system without public scrutiny that found only a three percent failure rate—far lower than earlier tests that found a 30 percent combined failure due to software crashes and printer jams.

Asked if the outcomes of the newest test should be trusted, the whistleblower, who does not know the protocols used in the California test, warned, “There’s a practice in testing where you get a pumped-up machine and pumped-up servers, and that’s what you allow them to test. Diebold does it and so do other manufacturers. It’s extremely common.”

Neither the TSX nor the older TS6 election equipment systems used by Diebold were designed to be retrofitted with paper trails. “The TSX was designed and brought to market after the paper trail issue erupted, yet it was introduced as a paperless system. But the uproar became so great… The public forced Diebold to put printers on their machines.” Adding printers to existing computer hardware together poses challenges.

The TS6 machines can’t be retrofitted with paper at all, leaving 35,000 voters in Maryland and Georgia to rely on paperless, faith-based voting.

Even if the blank paper problem could be solved, there are other serious problems with some TSX equipment. “The system that was offered to San Diego was purely experimental—the TSX and the electronic poll book, the check-in device,” the Diebold insider stated. “Voters couldn’t access the system to vote with the electronic poll book if the batteries died.” The high rate of breakdowns involving access cards for the poll book caused major problems, the source added. “The interesting part about this device is that it had never been used before. That was probably not certified.”

San Diego has since warehoused its TSX system, pending a decision by the state on whether to recertify. San Diego County now uses Diebold optical scanners—but those pose security problems as well.

Although Black Box Voting demonstrated during a demonstration in Leon County, Florida that computer experts could hack into a similar system in less than a minute and alter a memory card to switch votes, election officials still brush off concerns for additional security precautions.

San Diego County Registrar of Voters, Mikel Haas, for example, was questioned by this reporter for the city’s local paper, Citybeat. He insisted that no additional security measures were needed.

Asked if Diebold had implemented any changes to close security holes revealed by the Leon County hack, the source replied, “None that I know of.”

Informed that Haas allowed over 700 voting machines with memory cards inside to be sent home overnight with poll-workers, the insider raised alarm. “These memory cards need to be protected every single step of the way, like money. If they have people taking these machine home with memory cards, that’s out the window.”

The Diebold whistleblower also criticized election officials in San Diego and elsewhere for allowing Diebold personnel to be present when votes reach the server. “The election office’s employees—people who are paid with our tax dollars to conduct elections and have proper security elections and background check should do this – and no one else.” Manufacturers should be a mile away on election night, the source added.

The best way for concerned citizens to detect fraud is to “be there on election night” to observe vote tabulations, the insider said. But in some cities, citizens have been barred from watching votes being counted on Diebold tabulators – and in San Diego, Black Box Voting activist Jim March was arrested in July 2005 and charged with felony trespassing after entered a secured room to watch votes being counted. The charges were later dismissed.

But no amount of observation can totally protect the public from the dangers inherent in electronic voting, the whistleblower says. “People are going to end up losing their rights in many ways that they will never, never understand. For example, the new electronic databases for voter registration is a great idea, but it passes control away from local boards of elections and puts it in the hands of the states…The final database is manipulated by states instead of counties. Every state must have it. It’s mandated by [the Help America Vote Act]. It’s a sleeper issue.”

The source, who once supported the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), now concedes “it’s terrible…Most of this is a big money grab.”

The Diebold hand believes many election officials are naïve, while others are “downright arrogant. They are serving politicians and in many cases, vendors.”

How Diebold woos state officials

The insider described a systematic process Diebold uses to woo election officials via cash doled out by lobbyists or attorneys and favors to assist budget-strapped public officials. “They promise the election directors the moon and deliver things to them that really aren’t legitimate parts of the contract.” Those promises range from providing personnel to equipping warehouses with electrical systems to recharge batteries in voting machines.

“The corporation pretty much takes over. That’s how they capture so many of these people. Diebold is making them look good and they’re not going to bite the hand that feeds them.”

Diebold creates a “monetary incentive” to stay involved via future servicing contracts after selling election equipment, the whistleblower noted, adding, “The machines are purposely complex and poorly designed.”

Noting that the GEMS software runs on Microsoft Access, Dieb-Throat observed, “There are problems that can’t be fixed. I understand they are going to redesign it around Oracle.”

Diebold spokesman David Bear denied that the company is redesigning software around an Oracle platform. “No, that’s not true to my knowledge,” he said.

Asked whether any TSX machine produced blank paper during a demonstration in Cook County, he replied, “I’m not aware of that.”

Bear initially denied that any Diebold machines in Ohio produced blank paper rolls.

“That’s not true,” he said. “They just ran an election November 8th with over 15,000 of the units and the Secretary of State was overwhelmingly pleased.” After being told of news reports describing blank paper rolls produced in Ohio, however, he replied, “It would not surprise me if a paper roll was installed upside down.”

Diebold consultant convicted for embezzlement

The Diebold insider noted that the initial GEMS system used to tabulate votes for the Diebold Opti-scan systems was designed by Jeffrey Dean, who was convicted in the early 1990s of computer-aided embezzlement. Dean was hired by Global Election Systems, which Diebold acquired in 2000. Global also had John Elder, a convicted cocaine trafficker, on its payroll. Diebold spokesman David Bear told Citybeat that Dean left shortly after the acquisition and that Elder also left “long ago.” Black Box Voting reported that Diebold gave Elder a “golden parachute” in 2004 and that he was let go only after his criminal past was revealed by BBV and mainstream publications.

But the Diebold whistleblower told RAW STORY that Elder remained working for Diebold “as recently as the summer of this year… [Elder creates ] the paper ballots for absentee voting…They were making the ballots for the November election for sure, for all over the country.”

Bear denied that Elder is still on Diebold’s payroll as either an employee or independent contractor.

“He was with the company two companies ago, never was an employee of Diebold, and worked for a company that was acquired by Diebold,” he said.

Asked if Elder works for a company producing ballots for any of California’s Diebold systems, Bear responded, “The counties contract for that. I don’t have the slightest idea… There are probably several different companies that produce ballots for California.”

Bear denied allegations that Diebold has installed uncertified patches. “Nothing is done in any state except under guidance and authority of election officials in the state.”

He also stated that the California Secretary of State’s staff has recommended recertifying the Diebold TSX system retrofitted with paper rolls.

Bear defends Diebold's record.

“In the last presidential election, over 150,000 touch screens were run. They were recognized by CalTech and MIT for having accurately captured the vote. From the presidential election 2004, they believe over 1 million more votes were captured. They singled out touch-screens; the state with the most improvement was Georgia.” (Full text of the Caltech/MIT report)

The Diebold insider says Americans who care about their vote must remain vigilant. “I don’t look for the paperless people, the corporations, to back off at all. They will continue to try to keep the public in the dark.”

Originally published on Tuesday December 6, 2005

 


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