The documentary “Hacking Democracy” (2006) follows activists Bev Harris and Kathleen Wynne, who later become the director and associate director of nonprofit election watchdog group Black Box Voting, as they attempt to discover the extent to which it would be possible to alter results on the electronic voting machines of Diebold Election Systems, Inc.
The yahoo moment for me was near the end, when a Florida voting official who had been calling these activists “conspiracy theorists” and essentially insisted there was “nothing to see here, move along,” sobbed with emotion as she finally realized she had been duped by the Crime Syndicate. Despite such revelations, it has been business as usual for those who make voting-machine purchasing decisions. They’ve essentially made voting a futile exercise.
Andy Stephenson, a member of Black Box Voting from July–December 2004, assisted with comparisons of audit documents in Volusia County and obtained a secret videotape of Harris interviewing a voting machine testing lab. Wynne captured live video of Harris finding voting machine records in a Volusia County trash bag, and captured video of Cuyahoga County elections workers admitting that the initial 3% recount ballots had not been randomly selected during the 2004 presidential election.
Harris and Wynne then embarked on a series of five voting machine hack tests with Dr. Herbert Hugh Thompson and Harri Hursti in 2005 and 2006. During the course of the documentary, multiple methods of tampering with the votes are shown.
The first is through editing the database file that contains the voting totals. This file is a standard Microsoft Access database, and can be opened by normal means outside of the encompassing voting program without a password. Some jurisdictions have disabled Microsoft Access, making it more difficult to alter the database, but this protection was shown to be bypassed by Dr. Herbert Hugh Thompson through a Visual Basic program which searched for a string of text and edited the file through external means. However, alterations of the results in either of these fashions would be caught if a vigilant elections official compared the results with voting machine tapes.
Another technique was demonstrated through hacking the actual computer code used in the Diebold Accu-Vote memory cards. This method was discovered by Finnish computer security expert Harri Hursti and is known as “the Hursti Hack.” In this hack, Hursti rigged the Diebold optical scan voting system to make the wrong candidate win by adding negative (minus) votes to one race. This resulted in that race having votes literally subtracted from its vote total.
These methods were tested by the Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Ion Sancho, on the actual Diebold optical-scan voting system used by Tallahassee, Fla., in all their prior elections.
This method demonstrated, contrary to a previous Diebold statement, that a person attempting to rig the votes of a precinct would need access to only the memory card, not the optical scan voting system or tabulation software. This method, when cross-checked between the optical scan voting system and tabulation software, falsely appears to be legitimate, and further produces a false zero-vote printout to verify that the memory card has no votes inside it before voting begins. Following this historic hack, Ion Sancho stated: “If I had not known what was behind this, I would have certified this election as a true count of a vote.”
It’s noteworthy that after a flurry of bad press, Diebold spun off its elections products into subsidiary Premier Election Solutions, which in 2009 sold to its competitor Election Systems & Software (ES&S), a subsidiary of McCarthy Group, LLC (aka McCarthy Capital, a merchant bank). In 2014, the private group — not subject to government or investor oversight — boasted voting machines in 42 U.S. states.
“Hacking Democracy,” presented by HBO: