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October 10, 2015

Florida Elections

Prophet Without Honor?

Leon County's test of its electronic voting machines angered the manufacturer and state officials - then California did a similar test.

Amy Keller | 10/1/2006

Following problems with its lever-operated voting machines in 1986, Leon County switched to optical scanners by 1992. The move put the county ahead of the curve when Florida outlawed punch cards and lever machines in the wake of the 2000 election.

In 2001, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho earned kudos for having the lowest level of spoiled votes, or uncountable ballots, in the state for the 2000 election.

SECURITY TEST: Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho wanted to see if hackers could tamper with voting results. Diebold Election Systems called the test a "very foolish" act.

But four years later, after hearing reports of potential security holes in the optical-scanner screen systems, Sancho began to worry and arranged for his to be tested.

On Dec. 13, in the company of a group of citizen activists, he invited two computer experts to try to hack into his machines. Sancho's test showed that someone with access to a machine's memory card and the right skills could change the results on that individual machine by modifying small programs on the machine's memory card.

Sancho's test stirred up a longsimmering debate over the security of electronic voting machines. It also triggered a firestorm of protest from the equipment manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems. Its newer voting machines, the company argued, were impervious to such attacks. Older optical-scan technology in the 1991 models used in Leon County could only be hacked if election officials abandoned normal security procedures, it says.

In a two-page letter, Diebold lawyer Michael Lindroos called Sancho's testing a "very foolish" act. The company was so offended by Sancho's test that it -- along with the only two other voting equipment vendors -- refused to sell Leon County the machines Sancho needed to comply with federal disability access guidelines, and the county nearly lost $564,000 in grant funds. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Sue Cobb threatened Sancho with "legal action" if he did not come up with a plan to get the required equipment by May 1.

Tags: Politics & Law, Big Bend, Government/Politics & Law

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