Election Officials Confirm that Employees from LHS Associates, Diebold's Sole Programmer, Vendor, and Service Provider in NH, Were Allowed to Access Vulnerable Optical-Scan Systems Throughout Election Day
Attorney General's Office Offers Conflicting Information...
By Brad Friedman on 1/12/2008, 9:57pm PT  

Special to The BRAD BLOG by Dori Smith of Talk Nation Radio

Early research into New Hampshire wards and towns which used Diebold's AccuVote Optical-Scan voting machines during last week's Primary reveals that chronic problems continue with the company's infamous paper-ballot voting machines.

As well, the preliminary investigation reveals a great deal of confusion and conflicting information from local election clerks and a high-ranking official in the state Attorney General's office regarding protocols and security procedures for voting systems and memory cards, and how they are to be handled during Election Day failures.

All four counties I contacted on January 10th that had used Diebold's electronic machines last week reported problems during the election with the machines. Two other calls that same day turned out to have been to areas where electronic voting is not in use, where hand counts are done instead. If the small sampling is any indication, a statewide study would likely reveal that voting machines failed many times during the 2008 Presidential Primary across the entire state.

Problems with the systems were quickly revealed during all of my calls to officials who had used the optical-scan systems in Hanover, Exeter, Nashua, and Manchester.

Little reporting or inquiry into such problems has been done so far by the mainstream media. Reports of machine failures in Stratham, leading to hand counting of votes after a "glitch" was discovered in the optical-scan systems used there, were buried in a local article on Primary results in SeaCoast Online on Thursday. The bulk of media reporting on the anomalous results from the election has focused, instead, on speculation as to what might have gone wrong with pre-election polls. Little if any coverage has been given to whether the results themselves were correct as reported, or whether voting machine errors or tampering may have occurred.

The paper ballots cast by 80% of the state's voters have never been examined by anyone to determine the mechanical vote-counting accuracy. The computer counting of those ballots is overseen by a single, private company which is routinely granted extraordinary access to the systems, and interviews with a number of state officials indicate they all seem to have different understandings of what, if any, rules exist to regulate that access...

LHS Associates of Methuen, MA, the private vendor which handles all programming, sales, and service for the Diebold voting machines, oversees the tabulation of those 80% of ballots cast last week. The company is heavily relied on by town officials across the Granite State. The officials trust the company, and their representatives are relied upon to step in to take care of crucial voting machine problems which crop up during elections. They are like copy machine repair staff in a frantic law office. Little would move without them.

Yet access to such systems, and their vulnerable memory cards, has been revealed as particularly dangerous by numerous independent academic and state studies over the last several years, all of which have shown that elections can be tampered with, and results manipulated, via such access.

If a statewide recount of New Hampshire, as requested by Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich and little-known Republican candidate Albert Howard, proceeds as currently scheduled [PDF] to begin on January 16th, any irregularities revealed could be cross-referenced to towns where machines failed. However, whether irregularities are discovered or not, voting machine failures need to be compiled.

No such compilation of Election Day problems with Diebold voting machines has so far occurred in New Hampshire, to my knowledge. Such data, combined with a top-down investigation into the performance of all electronic voting machines in general, could help to make the 2008 Presidential Election far more secure.

Of interest would be the number of times that voting machines and vulnerable memory cards were repaired, replaced, or in any way handled by town officials or LHS Associates, a company which, as I've reported previously, has a less than stellar reputation and, frequently, little regard for local election laws.

Additionally, new information concerning the criminal background of a senior LHS executive has also recently been unearthed, adding to concerns about the company which has nearly complete control over every aspect of 80% of New Hampshire's votes. It is unclear whether the New Hampshire Secretary of State or those of any of the other states across New England --- where LHS also serves as Diebold's sole vendor and service provider --- are aware of that particular aspect of the company's background.

Last-minute repairs and replacements made to voting machines by LHS in advance of, or during, elections are prime opportunities for fraud, a time when the systems are in their most vulnerable state. A now-infamous hack of the exact same machine used last week across New Hampshire in its Primary was seen in HBO's Hacking Democracy (video of hack here). The hack in Leon County, Florida, in late 2005, is seen as completely flipping the results of a mock election such that only a manual hand-count of the paper ballots would reveal the tampering that had been done to the system's memory cards.

There are no routine audits or spot-checks of the state's paper ballots of the sort that would protect against the hack described above.

Total Access for LHS Associates

Given the sensitive vulnerability of these systems, it's troubling that in New Hampshire last week, reports indicate that LHS employees may have had regular access to memory cards and voting machines, and even replaced them during the course of the day as failures occurred.

Officials I spoke with in New Hampshire were unclear whether LHS was working under any strict written security protocols other than those procedures that clerks and other officials are told to follow concerning set-up and use of the machines on Election Day. Such procedures would include the fact that town officials are told to hold the keys and open machines for LHS staff members when they arrive to make any Election Day repairs, breaking the security seals on the systems in the process of such repairs.

Computer scientists we spoke with in Connecticut (where LHS also oversees Diebold voting), such as Professor Michael Fischer of Yale University's Computer Science Department and Professor Alex Shvartsman of the University of Connecticut's Voting Research Team, recommend tight written legal protections to govern the way voting machine failures are handled. Connecticut officials continue to work on problems that have arisen since they purchased the Diebold AccuVote Optical Scan machines in 2006.

My interviews with New Hampshire officials, however, revealed a consistent lack of concern about security protocols that would restrict a vendor from coming in to replace parts or repair machines during all phases of elections.

I followed up with a few more phone calls to New Hampshire on January 11th, and when I asked the Rochester Clerk of the Election, Cheryl Eisenberg, to go over the voting machine security protocols that would apply to LHS staffers she said, "I don't think there is anything in writing as to how the situation would be handled. We rely on them, we trust them". Her remark typifies the way Town Clerks described their relationship with LHS during my initial interviews.

Overview of Trouble Reports Documented on January 10, 2008

Of five of the towns called over two days, four had problems with their machines...

  • Betsy McClain, Deputy Town Clerk in Hanover, New Hampshire, reported that their optical-scan machine broke down during the election and LHS Associates came out to make repairs. This same machine had just been repaired by LHS for the same problem. A deflector, or visor, that guides ballots into a bin for write-in votes versus regularly marked ballots, was malfunctioning. The write-ins were being directed into the regular vote bin. The LHS staffer was allowed to reach into the machine during the course of election day in order to connect a cable, McClain told me.
  • Linda Hartson, Town Clerk of Exeter, New Hampshire, also reported that LHS Associates came out and fixed the deflector or visor inside the mechanism during the primary race on January 8th. This was again the deflector or visor that guides votes with write-ins to one bin and regularly marked ballots to another bin.
  • Paul Bergeron, Clerk of the Election in Nashua, New Hampshire, oversees elections in nine different voting wards. He said he did have a bad memory card on set-up and testing and he burned a new one and provided it to one of the wards. He did so under direction of LHS with their software on his laptop.
  • Trisha Piecuch, Town Clerk of Manchester, New Hampshire, said she oversaw all of the phases of elections including set-up and testing and the election itself. She said they had one memory card failure in Ward 3 and they used their back-up card on hand to burn a new one for that ward under the supervision of LHS.

    Also, one week prior to the primary race there was a problem with one of Manchester's AccuVote machines and an LHS Associates employee named Tina came out to repair it. She replaced a "chip and a reader" according to Piecuch. "I'm not sure what chip it is," she said. "It's the chip that I'd say accepts the codes and everything like that. So they [LHS] again err on the side of caution and where it looked like it was a reader problem they decided to be safe and replace both because they didn't want us having any problems."

In some areas where town officials are not equipped to burn or code their own back-up cards, the Town Clerks indicated that if memory cards failed during the election they would call LHS to come and change the card. This is consistent with what LHS staff members have told me about their routine practice in the past where memory card failures have occurred.

Piecuch confirmed that LHS employees would provide new memory cards in the event that backup cards had failed.

"Normally if we have to call LHS in, it means that we've gone through our spare [cards] and we need spares," she said. "We will break the [machine's security] seals, allow them to fix whatever the problem may be inside the machine, whether it's a reader or a chip, and then we will reseal the machine. Somebody from our office is with them at all times."

Though an official may be present, he or she would not likely have the capacity or resources to read the data on the card, and ensure it's validity.

New Hampshire's Deputy Attorney General, Jim Kennedy, offered conflicting information, however. When I contacted him for more information, he indicated that LHS would not make card switches in New Hampshire during elections. He said there are clear protocols for setting up machines and storing them, but he knew of no specific written security protocols that would apply to LHS. I was told to ask election moderators and the Secretary of the State for further information.

He added, "If a town is going to use a voting machine it's up to that town to set up the contract with LHS to establish the voting machine in that town and to repair it, according to what's required to run an election. And we certainly haven't received any complaints that LHS has failed in its obligation to see that these voting machines are operating properly."

LHS Associates - A History of Following Their Own 'Laws'

Late last year, I reported on a recorded interview I'd had with LHS's director of Sales and Marketing, Ken Hajjar, who admitted that the company routinely replaces both voting machines, and vulnerable memory cards, during elections.

Despite such replacements against strict laws in Connecticut, Hajjar told me, "I mean, I don't pay attention to every little law. It's just, it's up to the Registrars. All we are is a support organization on Election Day."

He described keeping three memory cards in the trunk of his car during elections and, in the event they had to be used, he argued, the chain of custody issues wouldn't matter since, "once you run the [pre-election] test deck through, you're golden."

"We would have a whole bunch of machines in the trunk in the car and we hope the phone doesn't ring, but if it does somebody tells us where to go, we replace the machine and then we go on our merry way," he told me last year.

Hajjar was recently barred from working on elections in the state of Connecticut by the Secretary of State, after objectionable and profane remarks he had made publicly in the comments section of The BRAD BLOG.

More recently, a public records request made by BlackBoxVoting.org revealed that Hajjar had plead guilty to narcotics trafficking in the state of New Hampshire in 1990.

Another LHS official, Mike Carlson, similarly confirmed the company's practice of replacing voting systems during Election Day in Connecticut despite state laws that ban such practices, during an interview I had with him in late 2006. The audio and transcription of that interview are available here.

Confusion About the Law Among New Hampshire Officials

An investigation into New Hampshire's voting machines would likely reveal a lack of consistency in reporting on voting machine problems and Election Day voting machine repairs. Officials at the polls clearly have the impression that the vendor, LHS, is a legitimate source for official guidance on addressing mid-election problems. Yet, at the state level, officials with legal oversight over voting machines are not aware of the seriousness of the repairs, or in some cases that they are even occurring. Consider this exchange with Jim Kennedy, Deputy Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire, on January 11, 2008.

Smith: What about security?

Dep. Atty Gen. Kennedy: There is also security protocols...There are locks and seals that go on these machines during the day and actually our office conducted inspections throughout election day to insure that the seals were properly on the machines.

Smith: But what if, say, a memory card were to fail during the election and LHS were to come in and put in a different one?

Kennedy: That's not what's done in the State of New Hampshire. Actually by state and federal law we are required to retain the actual memory card that's used in the election. So to interchange a memory card I think would be odd.

Smith: I mean to replace it so the machine could be used.

Kennedy: I don't know of any circumstance that that's occurred here.

Smith: What about during set up if the card is tested and fails and so LHS is able to just send out a new one.

Kennedy: I'm not sure they send out a new memory card or that they fix the one they have or whatever is done. Certainly if the machine's not working how it should be working, according to the test procedures that are laid out before the election commences, that machine won't be used.

We tried to contact the Secretary of the State for further information but the phone was busy all afternoon on Friday. My exchange with Town Clerk Linda Hartson of Exeter reveals that in that region at least, a mid-election memory card failure could very well result in a switch being made by LHS.

Smith: Let's say the back up would fail what would they do?

Exeter Town Clerk Hartson: LHS provides back up memory cards. But if a memory card failure were to occur during the election the vendor would arrive with another memory card. This is from LHS that I'm getting them and they are providing the back up. If they bring you another one, you just put it in. There's no problem.

Smith: And it wouldn't be a problem if that happened during the election?

Hartson: Nope nope nope nope. Because you could run the report off the machine and then just put in the new memory card and it would keep on going. That's my understanding.

Smith: Right. So...LHS trained our people, [in Connecticut] did they train you guys too?

Hartson: Originally yes.

For further information on Connecticut's problems with LHS Associates and the Diebold AccuVote Optical Scan Voting Machines try Talk Nation Radio, The BRAD BLOG, or Connecticut News Junkie.

Additional contributions to this article by Brad Friedman

For related coverage, please see our index of notable New Hampshire-related BRAD BLOG articles, since the '08 Primary.
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