The Death of Democracy -- Or -- May the Best Hacker Win
Jim Condit Jr.
Nov 15, 2000 23:06 PST
October 27, 2000 NA (Network America) e-wire
The Death of Democracy -- Or -- May the Best Hacker Win
Network America Comment: The following excellent article is by
Christopher Bollyn of the Spotlight Weekly. A version of this article
was carried in the Spotlight near election day 2000 --- but what you
read below is the entire original article as written by Mr. Bollyn. The
article is the logical development of the research done by Dr. Phillip
O’Halloran presented in the November, 1996 edition of Relevance
Magazine, “Pandora’s Black Box – Did it really count your vote?”
The process of researching this article resulted in a thinly veiled
death threat issued to Mr. Christopher Bollyn by the Russian born Alex
Kantarovich, now living near Chicago and providing election software for
the largest supplier of vote-tabulating computer systems in the United
States. The story of that death threat is carried in our archives in the
November 14th, 2000 Network American e-wire.
Title: The Death of Democracy -- Or -- May the Best Hacker Win
By Christopher Bollyn
Subtitle paragraphs, in italics in the original: “American elections are
a fraud and a scam" is the stern verdict of Pat Buchanan and a deeply
disturbing comment on the state of democracy in America.
The pervasive use of ballot-counting computers equipped with internal
modems compromises the integrity of elections and has effectively
usurped the democratic franchise from the American people.
(Body of the article):
Cook County, IL – Across the United States, in precincts from coast to
coast, ballot-counting computers equipped with cellular telephony and
two-way modems have counted the votes of the American people. These
ballot-counting machines, designed and operated by private companies,
and the laws that ushered in their use have essentially disenfranchised
citizen election judges from the vote-counting process and relegated
them to insignificant roles as public servants working for private
business on election night.
Computer programmers leave no fingerprints inside a computer, what
happens inside it cannot be seen, and its records, and printouts can be
fixed to conceal whatever an operator wants to keep secret. However,
here and in other key jurisdictions around the nation, election judges
have signed off on tally tapes of computer-generated vote counts without
any actual verification on their part that the tally is correct.
Some officials concerned with elections have pondered the unthinkable;
namely, the stealing of a presidential election by computer fraud in the
metropolitan areas of key states. Steve White, former assistant
attorney general of California, said, “ Given the importance of the
national election, sooner or later it will be attempted. There is a
real reluctance to concede the gravity of the problem.”
Officials at the Illinois State Board of Elections, the agency that
approves the voting machines used in the state was contacted and asked
about how the integrity of the elections could be safeguarded; each and
every official interviewed was indifferent to the threat of computer
vote fraud. Rick Fulle, Assistant Director of voting systems and
25-year veteran of the board said, “You can’t secure any computer
When asked if election judges were permitted by law to do a manual
recount of the votes – to verify the accuracy of the computer tally –
the officials invariably replied, “You do not do a hand count,” although
Fuller added, “nothing would stop them.”
A hand count of the votes by the election judges at the precinct level,
before posting the results, is the only way to ensure that the machine
tally is correct and that no computer fraud has been perpetrated.
However, election officials discourage any manual audit saying that
there are too many choices on the ballot and that a manual count would
take too long.
In Switzerland, arguably the most democratic nation, all major political
decisions are put before the people as referenda and polling with
hand-counted paper ballots is conducted at least four times a year.
Switzerland is not a member of the United Nations due simply to the fact
that the Swiss people have rejected UN membership at the polls.
Tests of computer vote-counting systems used in Illinois from 1983-1987,
which tested tens of thousands of ballots, revealed significant errors
in the computer counting in more than twenty percent of the tests.
Fulle said that in Illinois today there is “a 16 percent error rate”
with ballot-counting machines. He expected numerous problems on
election night saying “equipment will fail across the state.”
“I don’t understand why nobody cares,” Michael L. Harty, former Illinois
director of voting systems and standards said, “At one point, we had
tabulation errors in twenty-eight percent of the systems tested, and
The indifference of election officials, the people ultimately
responsible for the integrity of the elections, proves a point made by a
former president of the University of Chicago, Robert M. Hutchins, who
said, “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from
ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and
Officials from the Illinois Board of Elections said that election judges
are only required to verify that the number of ballots tabulated by the
machine matches the number of ballots counted by the judges – as if
voters are only voting for one candidate. Fulle added, “Nothing in the
law [Illinois] requires that the count be accurate.” In this way the
basic role of election judges -- to count and verify the accuracy of the
vote -- has been usurped and compromised by election machines operated
by private companies.
PUBLIC ELECTIONS ARE PRIVATE BUSINESS
Whether it was the Precinct Ballot Counter 2100 (PBC), the Optech Eagle
III, the Model 100 Optic Mark Reader (OMR), or the Votronic touch-screen
system that counted your vote, these machines have something in common:
they are all designed and operated by Elections Systems & Software, Inc.
(ES&S) -- and they each contain a two-- way modem, allowing them to
communicate - and be communicated with - while they are in operation.
What is particularly troubling about these machines is the fact that
they contain an internal modem, which enables anyone with a
modem-equipped computer, -- from hackers and vendors to telephone
company personnel and politicians, -- to potentially access and alter
the computer’s tally of the votes.
ES&S is “the largest company in the world focusing solely on automating
the election process.” The company “provides specialized systems and
software to automate the entire election process for local, state, and
national governments worldwide.” ES&S is a reorganized company that was
given a new name in November 1997 after combining two of the largest
election machine companies: Business Records Corp. (BRC, formerly part
of Cronus Industries) and American Information Systems, Inc. (AIS).
ES&S is a privately held company owned by unknown investors and headed
by Aldo Tesi, who refers to the democratic franchise as “the election
industry.” The company is headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska and supplies
“thousands and thousands of machines being used across the country” to
more than 2,200 U.S. jurisdictions in 49 states.
Cook County bought nearly 5,000 PBC machines from ES&S at a cost of $25
million for the suburbs and the city of Chicago in what a company
spokesman called a “huge contract.”
ES&S FIASCO IN VENEZUELA
ES&S supplied Model 100 ballot-counting machines (through a Madrid-based
company called Indra – Note the use of pagan deity names) for the
elections in Venezuela.
It was reported (in the Omaha World Herald, whose publisher, John
Gottschalk is one of the directors of ES&S) that the head of Venezuela’s
National Elections Council, Etanislao Gonzalez, placed the blame for the
technical difficulties during the election on the Nebraska-based ES&S.
Gonzalez said, “the firm flagrantly failed to meet its commitments and
the failure had destabilized the country’s electoral process.”
A Venezuelan air force jet flew to Omaha to fetch experts to “salvage”
the election. It was reported that more than 6 percent of the 7,000
voting machines broke down during the Venezuelan election and that there
were major “technical glitches”. ES&S said that the rate of failure in
the Venezuela election was "slightly higher than we would expect."
EASY ACCESS ANYTIME
The PBC machines contain an internal Expedite modem made by Novatel
Wireless, an international company based in San Diego, a “spin-off” of
two Canadian companies: NovAtel, Inc. of Calgary, a company specializing
in satellite communications and global positioning systems, and an
internationally owned oil company in Alberta.
“You certainly run the risk of somebody hacking into these
[vote-counting] machines,” a spokesman for Novatel Wireless said, “The
machine can be accessed anytime it is plugged in,” – if one knows the
computer’s IP (Internet Protocol) address. “Internet voting scares me,”
he added, “it puts us in the same situation as a third-world country.”
When asked about the ownership of Novatel Wireless, he said, “I’ve no
idea who owns the company.”
Roy Saltman, a computer consultant at the National Institute of
Standards and Technology’s Computer Systems Laboratory wrote a report
for the U.S. Commerce Dept. in 1988 entitled, “Accuracy, Integrity, and
Security in Computerized Vote-Tallying”, in which he documented many
instances of vote mistabulation and the inherent vulnerability of U.S.
voting systems to error and fraud. Among the possible methods he listed
by which “unknown persons may perpetrate undiscoverable frauds” were
“fraudulent alterations in the computer program or in control cards that
manipulate the program” and “introduction of false voting summaries
through changes in data stored in removable data storage units of
precinct-located, vote-counting devices.”
Herb Deutsch, who works in the technical department of ES&S in Rockford,
IL, where the PBC was designed has worked with election software and
hardware for 25 years having formerly worked for BRC. Deutsch defended
the PBC saying that its ballot tabulation program is “generic” and that
its computer code has been “certified.”
However, each PBC machine is programmed and run by a pre-programmed
512-K memory card. According to Deutsch, “the memory card can be used
for lots of purposes” and contains the coded instructions that
“essentially tell the machine what to do” when it is turned on. These
cards are programmed at the company offices of ES&S in Chicago. The
card is removed by the election judges and turned in to headquarters
when the polls close.
Vikant Corp., a Chicago area company owned by Alex Kantarovich of Minsk,
Belorussia, supplied the control cards to ES&S. When asked where Vikant
cards are produced, Kantarovich said, “I cannot disclose where the cards
are made,” but admitted that they are not made in America.
Mr. Kantarovich said that he has been in America for 11 years but
declined to discuss his employment prior to running Vikant Corp.,
saying, “I don’t want to disclose that information.”
Kantarovich said he had obtained his degree in the Soviet Union and
initially refused to answer questions about how his product was chosen
for the ES&S voting equipment saying that it was “inside information
that I cannot disclose.” Kantarovich said later that his firm was chosen
over larger firms like IBM and Panasonic because Vikant was uniquely
able to meet the specific requirements of ES&S and provide the cards on
short notice. He added, however, that there had been “some problems”
with the cards from other suppliers.
Kantarovich said, “To tell you the truth, I have no idea how these vote
counting machines work. We are just the supplier of one particular
“NO ONE IS SAFE”
Deutsch said that he trusted that the election computers were safe from
hackers on the very day that it was reported that Microsoft’s computers
and source code had been “hacked” for a week. Teenagers have
demonstrated that breaking into the most secure computer networks in the
world is “child’s play,” but serious questions about the security of the
national election computer network are dismissed as preposterous.
Security experts say the attack on Microsoft shows that no one is safe -
it was reported that the information stolen from Microsoft was sent to
Russia, although this could be a front for people anywhere on the net.
End of article by Christopher Bollyn, End of E-wire
Jim Condit Jr.,
Director, Citizens for a Fair Vote Count