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It’s The Ballot Count, Stupid! Florida Déjà Vu in Tucson

by Denis Campbell --


Millions will soon begin early voting in the November general election. Nearly half of all US counties will use the Diebold GEMS tabulation system. Election officials have the ability to print off complete election summary reports throughout voting as ballots come in. This report shows how many ballots were cast, for whom, where, and preliminary totals.

According to Jim March, “this is a Zogby poll from hell because if this information falls into anyone’s hands and not enough care is taken to protect the data; last-minute external pressure can be strategically placed to steal an election,” not to mention the blatant internal manipulation possible.

Pima County, Arizona, uses Diebold voting machines. In May 2006, a widely opposed $2-billion RTA bond measure to build new highways somehow was approved. Americans United for Democracy, Integrity, and Transparency in Elections – Arizona (AUDIT AZ) wants to know what happened.

They are so committed to uncovering vote machine and county worker fraud that a group member, who was also the officially, registered Democratic and Libertarian Party observer, was ordered arrested in Tucson last week during a hand count audit of the AZ Primary Election for asking questions about broken seals and ballot handling.

Bill Risner, Pima County Democratic Party attorney and de facto chair of AUDIT AZ, remains dumbfounded at the outcome. He’s even more flummoxed as to why Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) refuses to investigate what appears to be a prima facie case for at least looking into possible problems with the machines or the rigging of an election.

Photo at top: AUDIT AZ members in front of Pima County’s Offices: Jim March, Bill Risner, and John Brakey (left to right)

Risner could not understand where the resistance was coming from or why “a three-person Democrat majority on the Board of Supervisors made their own party sue them for access to records and fought like dogs over every scrap of information.”

AUDIT AZ is convinced the RTA election was rigged and they worry about ballot security in the November 4th general election. While a voter sees a series of checks and balances, it’s what they can’t see: the inner workings of computer code, lax data security, database manipulation, and hacked scanner memory cards that allow elections to be stolen without a trace.

An eerie sense of déjà vu surrounds all of this. Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer (R) was state chair of Bush-Cheney 2000 and 2004. She is also a key supporter and was co-chair of the recent Republican convention nominating Arizona native son John McCain for President. Is this Florida and Katherine Harris all over again?

5,000 counties use machines local authorities do not understand. Across thousands of jurisdictions, poll workers are just not ready. These systems have repeatedly failed basic security tests and contain gaping back-door data holes that allow anyone from an election official to a contractor to the janitor to manipulate results from a single computer terminal.

What we don’t know can cripple the foundation of our one person, one vote democracy. We tap screens, pull levers and ‘trust’ our vote is on its way placing faith in the system because we cannot imagine the alternative.

Arizona’s Election Watchdogs
Since 1996, this group of concerned citizens with extraordinary computer skills have been digging through Pima County election results. They have painstakingly examined ballot machine audit tapes, databases, and procedures. The forensic accounting trail has, they believe, uncovered election fraud in Diebold scanning machines and the GEMS tabulation system.


Dr. John Moffat is the county’s Office of Strategic Technology Planning. An ex-aerospace engineer, his brief was expanded a month after the RTA election to include voting systems. He disputes AUDIT AZ’s claims saying, “they asked for ten items; we gave them nine, not because we were hiding anything.” Dr. Moffat admitted mistakes were made and insisted “hundreds of changes, many recommended by AUDIT AZ, have been adopted since then.” He continued, “this is not a fight. I too want to see a ballot recount because as a voter, I want to know what happened.”

The problem is arcane AZ civil election laws limit ballot challenges to five days after an election. “We can only open the ballots under two situations, if compelled to by a judge or if the AG’s Office orders the recount,” said Dr. Moffat.Said Bill Risner, “it’s not Democrat vs. Republican. It’s pro vs. anti-development.” The bond issue was headed for defeat. The victory shocked everyone and AUDIT AZ looked more closely.

AG Goddard’s Office did not respond to requests for comment, specifically the question “why, with so many concerns on both sides, would you not order an independent recount to resolve the issue?” His press secretary said, “there was an investigation and no wrong-doing was found.”

Election Hacking
The Emmy-Award nominated HBO documentary film “Hacking Democracy” showed Finnish computer scientist, Harri Hursti, manipulating a crop scanner’s memory card. These cards which store all ballots scanned are removed from machines in the field, placed in sealed envelopes by poll workers, and sent via courier to County offices after polls close.

In an on-camera experiment, Hursti manipulated a memory card. The “Hursti hack” produced the correct total number of ballots scanned for the machine’s “audit” register tape, but spit out a vote count radically different from that of the actual ballots scanned!

AUDIT AZ claims an election department insider changed the RTA election result using a simple Microsoft Access table back-linked into GEMS. This also left no trace of the hacker’s entry into or exit from the system.

Film producer Russell Michaels was asked why so many election officials were hostile and belligerent towards them during filming? He said “they consistently saw that the one thing they have to hide is their professional incompetence.”

Said Bev Harris of, “elections are run in 5,000 jurisdictions. A teenage cashier at McDonalds has tighter controls than these Counties. Imagine what would happen in business if you just allowed cash counts to go in and out willy-nilly without auditing, balancing, or counting to see if it was correct? It would be complete chaos.”

And chaos is what is brewing in County tabulation rooms each election day.

Taking the Fight to Their Own Party
We were dismissed as a bunch of conspiracy theorists,” said AUDIT AZ’s John R. Brakey. “When California Secretary of State Deborah Bowen released her 2007 top-to-bottom review of all voting machines in which every vendor’s machines failed, every security flaw our group warned about and reported was there, and it was even worse.”


AUDIT AZ filed: citizen public information requests and lawsuits. They pored over the data and found irregularities. Despite their work, the findings can only be confirmed by a hand recount of the paper ballots comparing those ballots cast to machine audit tapes.

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Vote machines are the third rail for state officials; touch them and you die. “To maintain faith and integrity in the system,” said Bill Risner, “most do nothing and just hope it will go away.” Instead of ordering a recount, Goddard sent a letter ‘asking’ Pima County’s pro-development Board of Supervisors to ‘consider’ a recount, thus, it seems, giving him political cover and a clear conscience.

As explained by Bill Risner, Jim March and John R. Brakey there are a number of unanswered questions pointing to fraud:

  • Then State Rep. Ted Downing, witnessing ballot count with the Democratic Party Chairman, took a hi-res photograph of the tabulation room shown here. They asked what Bryan Crane, Supervisor of Elections, was doing with a Microsoft Access Programmer’s Manual opened to a page on table creation/manipulation? (MS Access is GEMS’ foundation program for calculating results.)
  • Two weeks after the election, computer expert Jim March reviewed a set of photos taken that evening. He saw a set of network cables heading into a room off the main tabulation room. Pima County’s Brad Nelson would not allow March to come in and trace back the cables. (One can “backdoor” a database into GEMS and change results via a simple cross connection.)
  • AUDIT AZ obtained system logs via court order and saw that election officials printed two copies of the Election Summary Report five days before the election. There were 8,000 early and mail-in ballots scanned and counted in the system. (It is illegal to view, print, or otherwise share this report because of actual election data continued therein.)
  • Each report is valuable because it gives an indication of actual votes cast. One can use this information to put extra ‘get out the vote’ pressure on a street-by-street basis, based on live, hard election data. (Which explains why this practice is illegal.)
  • AUDIT AZ saw that between January 2004 and 2006 every election had someone printing these summary reports. Indeed, Pima County had a rubber stamp for the reports to show they were ‘interim’ reports. Pima’s official excuse was “laziness.” Dr. Moffat was only interested in the topmost part of the first page--how many votes counted thus far--to use as an audit system. “The problem” said March, “is that same data is found in the ‘Cards Cast Report.’ It tells you how many pieces of paper the machine has eaten but not result totals or… who is winning.” (That is the only proper report to use for monitoring mail-in or early ballots pre-election.)
  • Election Supervisor Brad Nelson purchased a crop scanner during the summer of 2005 (see the receipt shown here). It was similar to Diebold scanners but had no controls or sign-out procedures. Using the ‘Hursti Hack,’ one could manipulate enough memory cards to affect a result. During the RTA election, 70 memory cards failed. Brakey explained, “If someone of moderate technical ability tried the Hursti Hack, it would result in a high number of card failures.”

Their admittedly circumstantial evidence trail becomes murkier when we ask a series of what if questions? In the 2006 primary election, Rep. Downing was running against another Democrat. Pima County election officials produced a summary report on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. At 8:00 p.m., a Robo-call went out across Ted Downing’s district slamming him with lies on tax votes.

It was paid for by the Republican Party. So was it business as usual or did they already know something? Too, there was no Republican running in the election. Downing campaigned for election integrity and transparency. He lost the primary by a very small margin. And a county worker later claimed that the election supervisor gave a since recanted, barroom confession to rigging the election.

Dr. Moffat disputes charges of nefarious conduct. While Pima County’s General election will likely be safe with more observers than Zimbabwe, who is watching the other 5,000 jurisdictions? What’s being done to ensure transparency in their results? With the stakes so high in a very tight Presidential election this is what rightfully scares many voters.

Wipe on Flaming Wood
Comedian George Carlin’s sketch about what one does if someone sneezes and their liquid ‘result’ ends up on you… “you would wipe it on flaming wood,” was his reply.

That seems to be how Diebold feels about its Elections Unit. Unable to sell it, they have renamed it twice and made it disappear from their website. Indeed this company best known for bank cash machine solutions probably wishes it never entered this field even with 50% of all voting machines under their control.

The problem is system design. The software code is proprietary and secret. Well… it was until’s Bev Harris found it sitting on an unsecured .ftp server. She downloaded it and along with a team of scientists experimented with and saw how riddled with security holes the GEMS system was. Diebold has refused comment and defends the reliability of its machines via written statements.

Frankly, what else can they do? They’ve pushed All-In, to use a poker term. Past statements from former CEO Walden O'Dell do not help. In a 2003 fundraising letter on behalf of George W. Bush, O’Dell was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year." O'Dell was a member of the elite group of Bush fund-raisers, ‘Rangers and Pioneers’ and penned personal invitations to a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser to benefit the Ohio Republican Party and President Bush at his mansion in Columbus’ Upper Arlington suburb. He would be removed as chairman in 2005 after revelations of improprieties during his tenure.

In their mad rush to sell systems; standards and training were barebones at best and federal government standards were ignored. Vendors, under increased time pressure, showed Counties back-door ‘tricks’ to get around system defaults and save time. Armed with this backdoor entry information, anything could and did happen.


So in one marathon 18+ hour-long day, these systems will undergo the strain of ‘accurately’ counting 100-million votes to produce a definitive election result. The problem? Anyone can create the result they wish to see vs. what the voter’s ballot actually says.

In an intensely divided, mistrustful, partisan, polarized, and broken election system, there is an ‘illusion’ of Ballot Box security. What’s needed is the assurance of security, transparency, and accuracy.

Denis Campbell

Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?

Related Videos:

The Hursti Hack (16 minutes only on hack alone)

The film ‘Hacking Democracy’

© 2008 Denis Campbell, The Vadimus Post

Permission is given to reproduce this article provided the copyright notice and source URL above appears.