Cause For Concern: 'Experimental' Patches Applied To Ohio Voting Machines Without Certification

from the seriously? dept

Update: Just as this post went out, the ruling was released—the judge has rejected the claims.

While we’ve covered e-voting issues for years, it really did seem like the issues with e-voting machines were less this year than in the past. Except… maybe not. ES&S, the largest vendor of e-voting machines, who has a long and scary history of problems with their machines, is embroiled in yet another controversy, in which Ohio’s Secretary of State, Jon Husted, had the company install “experimental” software patches on ES&S vote counting machines (not the voting machines themselves, but the tabulators). The software is uncertified and likely violates the law.

Husted’s office has not inspired confidence with its responses to these charges:

The Secretary of State’s office has been evasive and contradictory in response to questions about the minor seeming change that involved converting results from xml to csv format. Apparently, by calling the software “experimental,” Husted was attempting to avoid any approval, review or testing of the new software. But as the federal Elections Assistance Commission titled a memo back in February , “Software and Firmware modifications are not de minimis changes.”

In the meantime, a court is set to rule on the challenge to the software any time now, and a ruling against the software patches could make counting the votes tonight a more complicated process — but considering the concerns, a reasonable solution. Today, the judge rejected the challenge to the software.

Oh, and while this story is making the rounds, we have no idea what to make of the video of an e-voting machine that votes for Romney if you click on Romney or Obama. There have been some questions as to whether the video was real, but reporters have confirmed that the machine (in Pennsylvania) has been “taken off line.” The writeup on that one suggests it’s not just a touch screen calibration issue, because the guy who filmed it said that if you touch other candidates, the same offset doesn’t happen.

Filed Under: ,
Companies: es&s

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Cause For Concern: 'Experimental' Patches Applied To Ohio Voting Machines Without Certification”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
blaktron (profile) says:

At least someone will look at these ones… what about the thousands of other voting machines across your country that will not be inspected? It really only takes 1 tabulator per swing state to potentially throw an election. The only really good way to ensure a high enough level of trust in the results is the time honored tradition of electoral volunteers counting votes.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: We need a better system

actually, we *do* have a system that is more reliable than computer-based voting systems, is cheaper, is actually auditable(!), and has worked for hundreds/thousands of years:

Paper Ballots
Hand Counted
Locally Reported

*Not* that this system is impossible to game, it is just infinitely more difficult to game *that* whole system, rather than having hidden, un-auditable, PROPRIETARY software/hardware which can be gamed with NO ONE the wiser…
(based on a true story)

which is exactly WHY we won’t be instituting such a system: the two-headed korporate money party WANTS a system they can control/game…

this tired old quote bears repeating until all the sheeple get it: if voting changed anything, it would be illegal…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy


Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

we have no idea what to make of the video of an e-voting machine that votes for Romney if you click on Romney or Obama

I’ve heard accounts of machines doing the opposite. Well, the process is a joke and only the government could blow wads of somebody else’s money to give to their pals to make shoddy equipment.

Christopher Best (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, to rig the election.

Except that there have been several reports, as the parent said, of voting machines doing the same thing. It is possible that this was a case of fraud, but (speaking as a software developer and as a realist) it’s infinitely more likely this is just an example of incompetence, ie: a software error.

If someone wanted to commit fraud on an e-voting machine, they wouldn’t make it display a different candidate than the one you selected. They would just change the ballot when it was stored to disk and not tell you!

Think about it. Romney has pissed off 47% of the American people. That, coupled with the other groups that don’t like him should give Obama a landslide. If it does not, something smells and smells really bad…

Except that 47% of the American people doesn’t represent a landslide by any sane definition of the world. Except that of those 47% he supposedly pissed off with his comment, the majority of them never even heard the comment, or care about it, and over half of them won’t even vote. So, no. There are plenty of things that smell bad about this entire election, but a Romney win is not such an impossibility as to immediately assume something nefarious is going on. Or at least anything nefarious and out of the ordinary.

MAC says:

Re: Re: Re:

How do you know it would be discovered?

Are you a software engineer? Did you write the code?

If you are neither then you have no idea what you are talking about.

Machines can be made to lie. It happens in the corporate world all the time. And, since it’s all electrons; unless you have some very stringent audit requirements, no one knows the difference.

And, even the auditing can be defeated by a good programmer. And bosses can give a programmer plenty of incentives (good and bad) to comply with their wishes.

Don’t be naive; if it can happen it will happen. Except in this case, there are no boxes full of ballots hidden under the pews. There is nothing. The perfect fraud.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The personal attacks are completely uncalled for.

I think I was pretty clear that even though it would be easy to notice, that few bother to look.

I happen to work in information security at one of the largest banks in the country, so yes, I have an idea what I’m talking about, and I’m not naive.

Of course machines can be programmed to lie. My point was that it is exceedingly stupid to change all the votes to go your way, or do it in an obvious manner, unless you want to have a long stay in a federal prison.

You don’t go into a casino with a set of loaded dice that always come up 7 and expect to sit at the craps table and win millions. A pair of fair dice will sum to 7 on average 1/6th of the time (6 out of 36 possibilities). But if you go in with a set that comes up 8/36, it will take much longer for the casino to wise up.

If you want to get away with election fraud, there are “better” ways to go about it than what was stated. If you can hack or re-program the machines, you can tip an election in a much more subtle manner. If the election is close, you only need a few machines, in areas your opponent is strong in, and you only change a small percentage of votes.

MAC says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

At least there is something to find with paper. With electrons there is nothing and I do mean nothing to find. No permanent record. And don’t tell me about backups and mirroring and all the other tech stuff. I work in the industry and I know what I’m talking about. One of the easiest things to do is make a computer lie.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Most of the rest of the world is just as bad as we are.

Designing a system for elections is surprisingly complicated when trying to meet many goals:
1) Fair and accurate
2) Secure from voter tampering
3) Accessible for all voters (the blind, for example)
4) Protects the secret ballot…
5) …while not allowing multiple voting
6) Able to be approved and purchased by the large number of local counties following their own rules and the laws in 50 different states
7) Able to be run by the poll workers in above counties/states
8) Secure from poll worker/observer/consultant tampering

My own voting today was quick (~20 minutes to wait in line, 5 minutes to vote) and painless. The machine appeared to work correctly. The voter-verified-paper-trail recorded my votes correctly. Technologically I saw no problems at my precinct on the machine I used. What I can’t verify is if the other machines behaved the same, or even the same one for other voters. I can’t verify the paper record will ever be seen if there’s a question on the results. I can’t verify the poll workers didn’t add some votes when no one was around.

MAC says:

Re: This drives me insane

That’s why I like paper; it’s easy to use and it’s PERMANENT.

I would also like to see a receipt on paper of who you voted for. That way if there is a dispute as to whether or not the machine is rigged then at least there is a ‘real’ record of the event.

I do not trust electronic ballot machines. Period.
Neither should you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ohio’s SOS would have ground to stand on if he hadn’t been involved in several lawsuits earlier this year where he blatantly tried to favor his own political party in voting. Such as only allowing early voting for members of the military, who tend to vote for his own party much more heavily then the other party.

Maybe this will finally wake people up to the dangers of electronic voting with no paper trails.

Mr. Applegate says:

This drives me insane

“I would also like to see a receipt on paper of who you voted for. That way if there is a dispute as to whether or not the machine is rigged then at least there is a ‘real’ record of the event.”

Except with that receipt I walk out the door, show it to this guy on the corner and he hands me a $100 or ???. Or worse yet, some guy at work says show me you voted as I told you or I break your legs. (And yes I have been threatened like that, though it was a union election, many, many years ago)

So it would be a bad idea to allow people to have proof of how they voted. Proof that they voted would be fine.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: This drives me insane

Then it is not what I would call a ‘receipt’, it is a printed record of a transaction, but I don’t want to get into semantics here.

Of course there is a problem with paper ballots too. Remember hanging chads? For the optical scan ballots, there are always problems with improperly filled in circles which raise questions. For written ballots, the problem is legibility, spelling…

So, I assume what we are talking about is the “Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)” system. Some information on that type of system, and some concerns about it can be found here:

While it sounds like a good system on the surface, due to some of the concerns raised in the provided link and my observations of people over my life, I am not sure it would actually be any better than other voting systems in place.

In any system there is ALWAYS a way to beat, or at least game, the system. So at some point there is, inevitably, a diminishing return on the effort put into preventing fraud.

Not saying I have the answer, and honestly I think the VVPAT would solve several of the issues, but it would also raise others.

The eejit (profile) says:


IT’s a machine that records votes.

Over here, in the upcoming elections, the system will be something like:

1) Person assigned reference;
2) Person takes reference to polling booth;
3) Vote;
4) Votes tallied;
5) IF discrepancy, then confirm votes;
6) Shred the database Key matching voter to vote reference once tallies concluded.

95% of the issues go away.

The Diebold (csorry, Premier Election Solutions) machines were hackable by USB drive. Think about that. A USB drive rigging an election.

Jay (profile) says:


Here’s the problem. Since 2000, voting machines have had a hasn’t red shift. That should not happen. Neither should it be possible to privatize the vote, which is what the judge has done.

No matter the technology, your vote should count. Now it’s too easy to change the vote totals from Jon Husted’s office into a Romney victory.

This is just the same as Bush v Gore… Get the vote totals close enough them take the election for themselves.

minijedimaster (profile) says:


Well, if the computer prints out a paper copy of your ballot showing your votes, I guess there would be a backup paper trail of said votes to fall back on if the machines are suspected of being tampered with or not working properly. I’m pretty sure some of the voting machines out there do have this functionality today. They all need it though.

Gregg says:

Re: Re:

In most Democratic countries of the world (ie Canada, UK, France, Germany, Australia…) the elections (Federal level) are controlled by a separate department that is not elected OR appointed. This body ensures that elections are fair, accurate and accessible to everyone. Their top priority is that everyone gets to vote and to prevent voter fraud and even ensuring that parties follow election rules.

The US does not have this system in place at all and it should. It is very cost effective and is a third party that keeps all election parties in line while the campaigns and elections are on.

Wally (profile) says:

Voting Machine

Oh I was wondering about the interface change that prompted that kind person on how to properly boot in my ballot. The State of Ohio Board of elections applied the patch without Federal Approval because the Feds screwed it up. I voted today and I’m from Ohio. I even saw my name on the ballot printout this year verifying that it was in fact me.

The ballot sheets printed out are not taken from the machines until they need counted by a QR scanner.

There is nothing wrong with them this year.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...