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NBC News Election Expert Dismisses Voting Machine Concerns

NBC News Election Expert Chuck Todd: Voting Machine Concerns are 'Conspiracy Garbage'

A few questions for the popular pundit that may help better educate both him and the nation's electorate...

By Brad Friedman
21 October 2012

This morning, NBC News' top election expert, Chuck Todd, tweeted the following...

@chucktodd: The voting machine conspiracies belong in same category as the Trump birther garbage.
22 Oct 12

Todd was responding, no doubt, to the many folks who have been justifiably concerned of late, since it was discovered that a bunch of Bain Capital investors, led by Mitt Romney's son Tagg, via a company called H.I.G. Capital (believed to stand for Hart Intercivic Group) took over control of Hart Intercivic, the nation's third largest voting machine company, in 2011.

The Austin-based Hart company, according to's database, supplies electronic voting machines and paper ballot tabulators that will be used to tally votes in the Presidential Election this year in all or parts of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

I offered my point of view about those concerns earlier this month, explaining that it was not just the private ownership of Hart's machines by Romney backers which voters should be concerned about, but the private ownership of the similar systems in all fifty states that will once again be used to tabulate the results of this year's Presidential Election with little --- and very often zero --- possibility of oversight by the public or even by election officials.

Todd does an extraordinary disservice to the electorate with Tweets like the one above, and I'd be happy to come on his daily MSNBC show any time to explain why, as I have told him via Twitter in response to the above.

As Todd has not responded in kind, and to expand upon my response to Todd there, I'd like to ask him these few respectful questions...

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when paper ballot optical-scan tabulators made by Sequoia Voting Systems in Palm Beach County declared incorrect results of three different races last March, including declaring two losing candidates to be the "winners"?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when the Canadian firm, Dominion Voting, which now owns Sequoia Voting Systems admitted the failure in Palm Beach was caused by a bug in all versions of its central tabulation software which will be used to tabulate the Presidential Election (and many others) on November 6th this year in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when, despite using Dominion/Sequoia's recommended "fix", the same problem occurred yet again in Palm Beach County's August primary elections, as their Supervisor of Elections recently explained to me on air?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when 16,632 votes were found unaccounted for when those same machines were first used in Palm Beach County back in 2008?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when eight (8) top election officials --- including the County Clerk, a Circuit Court Judge and the School Superintendent --- in Clay County, KY were sentenced last year to 156 years in federal prison for gaming elections, including changing the votes of voters on ES&S electronic touch-screen voting machines?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when the President of Diebold Election Systems, Inc. (by then renamed Premier Election Systems, which is now owned by the Canadian firm Dominion Voting) admitted in 2008 that the company's GEMS central tabulation software, used in some 34 states, does not tabulate votes correctly and routinely drops thousands of them when they are uploaded to the central server?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when Diebold/Premier's spokesman admitted to the CA Secretary of State during a 2009 hearing that the supposedly permanent "audit logs" in all versions of its GEMS central tabulation system fail to record the deletion of ballots, after it was discovered that their electronic tabulator had failed to tabulate hundreds of paper ballots in a Humboldt County election (or to even notify system administrators that it had deleted those ballots)?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when the CA Sec. of State decertified federally-certified electronic voting and tabulation systems made by Diebold, Sequoia and Hart Intercivic in 2007 after a state-commissioned team of computer science and security experts from the University of California, Livermore National Laboratories and elsewhere "demonstrated that the physical and technological security mechanisms" for all of the state's electronic voting systems (also used across the rest of the country) "were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of the elections results and of the systems that provide those results" and that their "independent teams of analysts were able to bypass both physical and software security measures in every system tested"?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when the 2007 landmark study commissioned by OH's then Democratic Sec. of State, found "Ohio's electronic voting systems have 'critical security failures' which could impact the integrity of elections in the Buckeye State" and when she (unsuccessfully) recommended, along with the then Republican Speaker of the Senate, who is now the state's Republican Sec. of State, that all touch-screen systems in the state be decertified due to concerns of, as she told The BRAD BLOG, "viruses that can be inserted into [Ohio's e-voting and tabulation] system through something as simple as a PDA [Personal Digital Assistant] and a magnet and then the cards are passed from machine to machine almost like Typhoid Mary" so that "If there is malicious software, like a virus put into the system, it can not only affect the machines at the polling places, it can affect the tabulation that occurs at the server and it can also affect future elections if it's not detected"?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when the New York Daily News discovered in 2012 that hundreds of paper ballots at just one precinct in the Bronx went uncounted in 2010 during the September primary (failure rate of 70%) and the November general election (failure rate of 54%) on their brand new ES&S DS200 paper ballot optical-scanners, which are also used in OH, AZ, MI and elsewhere?

• Was it 'conspiracy' garbage when the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released a warning in 2011 from a "Formal Investigation Report" that those same systems failed to count paper ballots correctly, on the heels of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), OH's previous finding that 10% of those machines failed during pre-election testing in 2010?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when Oakland County, MI wrote a letter of concern to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), seeking advice in 2008 after finding their ES&S M-100 optical scanners "yielded different results each time" the "same ballots were run through the same machines" during pre-election testing?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when Princeton University discovered in 2006 that they could, in seconds time, implant a virus onto Diebold touch-screen systems used in dozens of states which could then spread itself from machine to machine and result in an entire county's election being flipped with little chance of detection?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when a computer security expert hacked a memory card on a Diebold paper ballot optical-scan system and flipped the results of a mock election (see the hack and its results as captured in HBO's Emmy-nominated 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy here) in such a way that only a hand-count of the paper ballots in the election could reveal the true results?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when a CIA cybersecurity expert testified to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission(EAC) in 2009 that e-voting was not secure, "that computerized electoral systems can be manipulated at five stages, from altering voter registration lists to posting results" and that "wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to...make bad things happen"?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' that the Vulnerability Assessment Team (which also monitors nuclear facilities) at Argonne National Laboratory (the non-profit research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the Dept. of Energy) released a report earlier this year finding that Diebold's touch-screen systems and, according to the team's lead scientist, "pretty much every electronic voting machine", can be hacked with just $10.50 in parts and an 8th grade science education, or just $26 if you want to do it remotely?

• Was it 'conspiracy garbage' when, in Volusia County, FL's 2000 Presidential Election a paper-based optical-scan tabulator made by Global Elections Management Systems (GEMS, thereafter purchased by Diebold to become Diebold Election Systems, Inc.) tallied negative 16,022 votes for Al Gore thanks to a supposed "software flaw" which has never been explained by anyone, and which Leon County (Tallahassee), FL's Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho --- the man, so well respected by both major parties, that he was placed in charge of the aborted 2000 Presidential Election recount in Florida --- believes was a purposeful hack of the electronic tabulation system which is now used in hundreds of counties in dozens of states?

I could go on and on, obviously, but I won't. You're welcome. There are some 10 years worth of articles at The BRAD BLOG that folks can peruse to determine the facts underscoring my concerns and those of the others who have legitimately expressed them to you, Chuck Todd, about private, unaccountable corporations --- owned by associates of Mitt Romney or by anybody else --- having so much unoverseeable control of our once-public electoral system.

But, to misinform your 272,035 Twitter followers, not to mention your millions of viewers on television, that concerns about oft-failed, easily-manipulated electronic voting and tabulation systems are little more than "conspiracies" which "belong in the same category as the Trump birther garbage" is an extraordinary disservice to your readers, your viewers and the U.S. electorate as a whole.

They deserve a much better understanding of our electoral system from someone such as yourself, who is relied upon by so many as an expert in these matters.

Again, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these concerns with you on your Daily Rundown show on MSNBC any time.

If, in fact, you are correct, that these concerns are little more than 'conspiracy garbage', you will do the electorate a great service by having me on, and putting me in my place once and for all by explaining why.

If these concerns are not 'conspiracy garbage', as I would argue, you would be performing a great service to the electorate by helping the electorate understand why they are not, and what voters may be able to do at this point to help minimize the possibilities of their votes not being counted accurately or transparently, or even at all, this November 6th.

Either way, the electorate will end up being much better informed before this year's Presidential Election, which is, after all, as I'm sure we can both agree, the most important core function of your job --- and mine --- as journalists.


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