- As a statewide election recount got underway in Ohio
last week, a Democratic congressman called on the FBI to impound vote-tabulating
computers in at least one county and investigate suspicions of election
tampering in the state.
- Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), ranking Democrat of the
House Judiciary Committee, sought the investigation after an Ohio election
official disclosed in an affidavit that an employee of Triad Governmental
Systems, the company that wrote voting software used with punch-card machines
in 41 of Ohio's 88 counties, dismantled Hocking County's tabulation computer
days before the recount and "put a patch on it."
- Conyers called the action "inappropriate and likely
illegal election tampering." A spokesman for the Green Party, one
of the parties requesting the recount, called it "compelling evidence"
of deliberate tampering. A public hearing in Ohio on Monday will determine
if there is cause for an investigation.
- But Sherole Eaton, a Democrat and the deputy director
of elections for Hocking County who wrote the affidavit, said her words
have been blown out of proportion. She doesn't think Triad tampered with
the votes and is a little angry that the Green Party and others have spun
her words to imply that they did.
- Eaton's story came to light only when members of the
Green Party contacted her before the recount to discuss the procedures
and asked who had access to the counting software. When Eaton mentioned
Triad's recent visit, the Green Party took the information to Conyers and
presented it at an ad hoc Judicial Committee hearing in Ohio as evidence
of possible vote tampering.
- Eaton said that after the Green Party started spreading
the information around, she decided to write the affidavit to get her account
on record so that it would not be distorted or misinterpreted.
- Doug Jones, Iowa's chief examiner of voting equipment
and a computer scientist at the University of Iowa who has been a leading
critic of electronic voting machines, said the matter was less likely a
case of election tampering than poor election procedures and oversight.
But he added that even if no one tampered with votes, the fact that someone
had unsupervised access to tabulating equipment before the recount was
a breach of security procedures and might even violate Ohio election law.
- "The tabulating room should be viewed as a secure
computer systems site where nobody goes in there unsupervised, but the
affidavit suggests there was no supervision in the tabulating room,"
Jones said. He said that suspicions of tampering are just as destructive
to the integrity of an election as actual tampering and laws prohibiting
unsupervised access to voting equipment should be enforced.
- According to Eaton's affidavit, Michael Barbian, a technician
for Triad, called Eaton on Dec. 10 to say he'd be coming to the office
to "check out" the elections computer before the recount Dec.
14. When he arrived to examine the machine, a 14-year-old Dell PC, the
computer wouldn't boot up. Barbian told Eaton the computer's internal battery
was dead and that "stored information" on it was "gone."
- Barbian told Eaton he "could put a patch on"
the computer and "proceeded to take the computer apart and call his
office to get information" to put into the computer. When the computer
was fixed, Barbian asked Eaton which precinct the county planned to hand-count,
then returned to the tabulating room. When he came out again, he said the
computer was ready and told them to reboot it once to reset the internal
clock, then leave it on so the battery could recharge.
- Voting activists have seized the detail about the "patch"
and the precinct as proof that Barbian rigged the machine. Under Ohio's
recount law, a county must first hand-count 3 percent of ballots and then
run them through a machine count. If the hand tally matches the machine
tally, the county can recount the remaining ballots by machine only. But
if the hand and machine counts differ, the county must hand-count all ballots.
- So activists say Barbian asked about the precinct so
he could set the machine to record only those ballots correctly, while
tampering with votes in other precincts.
- Hocking completed its recount Wednesday, and the results
differed from the certified results by only three votes. President Bush
and Sen. John Kerry picked up an additional vote each when pregnant chads
fell out of two ballots that had previously shown no vote in the presidential
race. A second extra vote went to Kerry from a previously uncounted absentee
ballot. Bush won Hocking County with 6,935 votes to John Kerry's 6,173.
- In the end, the county hand-counted a different precinct
from the one Eaton told Barbian it would count. The county changed the
precinct after members of the Green Party expressed concern that Barbian
knew which precinct was planned. The results of that precinct matched the
original certified results.
- Brett Rapp, president of Triad, said Barbian visited
the Hocking County elections office before the recount because the state
had mandated that only the presidential race would be recounted and Barbian
had to set up the computer to count and report only that race on punch
- "All Ohio counties had to do that," Rapp said.
"Not just ... counties (using Triad software)."
- He said that when the computer experienced "a CMOS
error," indicating that the rechargeable battery on the motherboard
had died, the computer had lost stored information about the hard drive's
specifications, which it needed to make the computer boot up. No other
data on the machine was lost.
- He said Barbian took the case off the computer to identify
the hard drive's make and model.
- "He called our office, told us the model and we
obtained the hard drive parameters by looking them up on the internet,"
Rapp said. "That's the information we gave him over the phone. He
installed no patches on the computer system. He did not tamper with it.
He simply fixed a piece of equipment that was broken." He said that
Eaton must have misheard Barbian say he was going to put a patch on the
- Rapp said that once Barbian fixed the computer, he tested
all of the precincts and showed the election officials that the computer
and tabulator were counting correctly. Then election officials ran their
own test to make sure the machine was counting properly.
- Rapp said he believed Barbian asked about the hand-counted
precinct because he was trying to make sure the election officials, who
had never conducted a recount before, understood what they were doing and
which precinct they were going to count.
- "He was trying to help them make sure the process
went smoothly," Rapp said.
- Eaton and Lisa Schwartze, director of elections for Hocking
County, confirmed that they ran a test to make sure the machine was counting
properly. But Eaton took issue with Rapp's assertion that she misheard
Barbian say he mentioned placing a patch on the computer, which, in computer
terms means to install computer code on a machine.
- "I wouldn't just come up with that. I don't use
that term or know what it means," she said. She added that Barbian
used the same word with the 70-year-old chair of Hocking County's elections
board, who she said also wouldn't have come up with the term on his own.
- Still, she does not believe that Barbian tampered with
- "I have had, and still do have, complete trust in
Triad," Eaton said. Eaton, who is 65 and by her own admission not
computer-savvy, did not understand much of what Barbian did, and said that
when he asked if he could take apart the computer, he had to ask for a
screwdriver from one of the office workers. "He brought no tools with
him," Eaton told Wired News, "which indicates to me that he wasn't
planning on working on the machines."
- She also said that Barbian's office visit wasn't out
of the ordinary since Triad "ran" the county's primary and general
elections this year.
- "A lot of the (election) boards hire the company
that (makes) their program to come in on election night and do all of the
computer work and run the tabulators and do that type of thing," Eaton
said. "We pay them for that."
- Voting activists have long criticized the practice of
allowing voting company employees to run tabulation equipment during elections.
Iowa's Doug Jones said the practice allows for the possibility of vote
tampering and should be stopped.
- "If access is being permitted that even allows for
manipulation, that's a serious problem," Jones said. He said he hoped
that the issue in Ohio will prompt legislators and election officials to
re-examine the practice and strengthen laws that would control access to
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