Are Connecticut’s new electronic voting machines safe from fraud? A year-long Talk Nation Radio investigation found serious security problems when the machines were first used in some Connecticut towns during the 2006 election.

There was chaos at the polls during the 2nd District recount and LHS Associates, the company that sold the state the new voting machines, were refusing to follow the voting machine security protocols drafted by Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz under Chapter 9 of Connecticut law. A year later the state’s new protocols were are still being updated for the public with the Nov. 6 election right around the corner.

According to LHS staff member Mike Carlson, their bosses, LHS President John Silvestro and Vice President Gary Bergeron, gave them extra memory cards, voting machines and “marching orders” to make switches of the memory cards. They may have suspected the problems with the memory cards for their machines were far worse than the manufacturer wanted to admit. 

In 2006 Carlson told us, “Before I left the office in conversation with John Silvestro and Gary Bergeron who are the President and Vice President of LHS in communications with the Secretary of State; we were given marching orders as to how LHS was supposed to conduct themselves during the election.”

Three LHS employees in all including Carlson, Sales and Marketing manager Ken Hajjar and Municipal Division Manager Tom Burge, said they planned to swap memory cards during the 2nd District recount.  The state’s protocols had been faxed to LHS indicating the company’s employees were not to touch the voting machines during the election. All three said they would be doing so anyway.

There were at least three memory card failures documented during the 2006 election and recount, and we shared details about this and other problems we uncovered with Secretary Bysiewicz and her Deputy Lesley Mara as well as the state’s voting machine security consultant, Alexander Shvartsman of the University of Connecticut’s Voting Research Center.

In 2006 Shvartsman said the plans LHS staff members had to change memory cards during elections were “highly unadvisable.” His response to learning that LHS staffers had actually changed memory cards was to reassure Connecticut listeners that they would no longer be allowed to do so in 2007.

Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz confirmed that LHS was not supposed change memory cards during the 2006 election. She said, “Well I would beg to differ that they [LHS] would take a memory card out of a machine. There are spare machines that are ready to go if there is a failure of a scanner machine but we had no reports of that.”

Yet, LHS staff members knew there had in fact been memory card failures and card swaps during the 2006 election. The company President said there were internal reports of the irregularities, and he stressed that Bysiewicz’s office had been told. We made the actions of LHS clear to the state and to Professor Shvartsman and during our more recent interview with him on July 20, 2007 he said stronger security protocols would be implemented during the next election to be held in the state.

Unfortunately, they would still leave Connecticut machines vulnerable

In addition to restricting LHS’s access to machines and memory cards the new protocols were supposed to add another layer of security during the most vulnerable parts of elections, Shvartsman said. This would be during times when machines were being transported to the polls and after the cards had been programmed.

Everything appeared to be moving in the right direction as of August 2007 when officials from the Secretary of the State’s office met with LHS President John Silvestro to talk about his company’s actions during the 2006 election and recount of the 2nd district. 

But according to the managing attorney in the Secretary of the State’s voting division, Michael Kozik, LHS suffered no consequences for those violations.

Worse still the 2007 voting machine security protocols drafted by the Secretary of the State did not fully implement Shvartsman’s recommendations. The protocols used during primary races in Connecticut between September and October of 2007 mentioned LHS 50 times and put LHS employees in key positions of responsibility at the polls when voting machine failures were going on. They even gave LHS employees at the polls and at the LHS Help Desk major roles in keeping records about machine failures and reporting on them to the Secretary of the State’s office.

The Secretary of the State had downplayed the incidents we reported and was dragging her feet on finding a remedy. We therefore decided to take the matter to the Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission [SEEC].

On October 30, 2007 we submitted a State Elections Enforcement Commission complaint to Joan Andrews, Director of Legal Affairs and Enforcement Unit. Our complaint asks for an investigation of LHS and research into the state’s protocols. We pointed out that there could be multiple violations of Statute 9 and H.A.V.A., the Federal Help America Vote Act, and we urged the SEEC to hold LHS accountable for any violations committed during the 2006 election. 

We also described what we saw as likely motives on the part of LHS. LHS President John Silvestro admitted the 2006 violations during a Talk Nation Radio interview just prior to his August meeting with officials. He seemed confident about his role with the state and even described his suggestion he planned to make that any failing machines should automatically become part of the “random audit”. Of course, that would have meant the audit wasn’t “random” anymore and it would remove another layer of security.

Silvestro said, “This was the first election and the first recount we had in Connecticut and we learned from it and we will make the proper adjustments in the future to make sure that the things that may have been improperly, I don’t even want to, I don’t want to use the word improperly; things that were not understood correctly in last November will be understood correctly in the future and will be handled properly and the protocols will be read, signed off on, and enforced, and adhered to. So if they weren’t in November it will not happen again in the future. And that I can assure you.”

He also said, “I feel very confident that the process itself is better left in the private thing than it is in the public venue when I see the influence that each political party can put on people and make things happen in this country whether right or wrong, I mean if you think about it and I’d ask you the same way. Would you like politically connected people to vote parties, to be in charge of running you know the process of creating voting machines, counting ballots and you know would you like that? I don’t know.”

Silvestro has been a politician for years in the town of Londonderry New Hampshire where they use the voting machines his company sells. The SEEC will have to evaluate the twin histories of Diebold and LHS Associates, to fully understand their behavior under contract with Connecticut. Perhaps the SEEC can assist poll workers who will now have to identify just which protocols the state intends to have on site during upcoming elections.

The Secretary of the State’s office has been under pressure from voting rights activists at True Vote Connecticut, and they seem more aware that they need stronger protocols and better training.

It’s a tall order. The state selected one of Diebold’s safer voting machines because a paper ballot is produced. But that won’t rule out fraud unless all of the ballots are hand counted. Nor will random audits of elections rule out fraud or error unless they work to assess exactly what 10 percent of the machines did during the election. Ongoing problems with voting machines have made security protocols that much more important.

The Memory Card Nightmares

There is no question that John Silvestro knew there were problems with the memory cards for some versions of Diebold Optical Scan machines prior to the 2006 election. He mentioned that problems with memory cards were being discussed and he said Diebold knew about glitches within the firmware in New Hampshire’s machines when he testified at a public hearing March 10, 2006. Diebold planned to institute repairs, he said.

Meanwhile Florida officials had been scrambling to keep up with memory card failures in Diebold AccuVote Optical Scan machines and there have been subsequent replacements of the cards by Diebold.

Connecticut’s joint contract with Diebold and LHS is worth about $15.7 million and runs through 2026. Diebold is the contractor and LHS the subcontractor on a document that includes provisions for services at the polls during the first two uses of the new machines by each town.

They will have at least one set of memory card failures to investigate in Montville. Bill Bunnell, an engineer by training and a voting rights activist with True Vote Connecticut, told Talk Nation Radio he saw an LHS staff member take a memory card from his pocket and attempt to install it in a machine as it was failing during the 2006 election. He said it did not appear that the card was actually used that time. But a memory card switch was definitely made by an LHS staff member in Montville during the recount of Connecticut’s tight 2nd District race. That memory card change was observed by the moderator, Lorraine Elliott, who spoke with us shortly after a post election debriefing meeting. None of the state officials at the meeting had asked the poll workers in attendance about memory cards.

Right after the meeting we told Elliot about the plans LHS staff members had shared where they said they would be installing memory cards during the recount. Realizing what had happened she said, “On the recount we had two memory cards that failed and they replaced it with their LHS one.”

Her description indicated a problem at the manufacturing level. She said, “We had set up a new machine and we put the memory card in and it didn’t work. It didn’t print anything out. So we took that one out and put another one in and the same thing with the second one. It didn’t print. I don’t know how the memory card actually works but the little prongs I guess sometimes they don’t actually touch the inside? So the third card that we got from LHS worked fine.”

What Lorraine Elliot saw could be far more important that we originally thought. Diebold has admitted that there could be problems with some of the 25,000 optical scan readers that caused memory card failures during elections in Florida and other states.

Diebold is looking at the “J40 connector” that ties the memory cards into their machines, according to MC Moewe, a staff writer at the Daytona Beach News-Journal Online. She has been covering ongoing problems with memory cards in Florida and her November 3rd story raises questions about Diebold’s reports on the statistical likelihood of memory card failures. It seems the statistics being maintained on the ground in places like Valusia County Florida were higher. Officials there had created a form for poll workers to use in documenting memory card failures for themselves.

Such perpetual voting machine glitches have led to financial catastrophe for Diebold and the company has been concerned about tumbling stock values. Reporter Grant Gross of IDG news Service told us that Diebold was trying to sell off its troubled voting division. If that happens officials from Florida to New England could be left scrambling to find replacement equipment such as memory cards.

Don’t Worry Vote Happy

Over the weekend Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz told the Associated Press she was confident in her office’s training of 3,000 local poll workers.

Bysiewicz said her office had implemented all of UConn’s recommendations to prevent tampering but voters should test that statement carefully. She also told AP she would announce new voting machine security protocols on Monday, Nov. 5, which could leave town officials scrambling to learn them just one day before an election. Finally, the Secretary of the State told voters that the 2006 trials of the new machines “were a success and no irregularities were found.”

This statement disregards what we learned about the new machines, LHS, and the state’s slow progress in drafting security protocols. Voters have a right to know that there were problems, and they have a right to know that the Secretary of the State merely confused the issue when she assured AP that, “Technicians from LHS Associates, which sells the AccuVote machines in New England, will be at every polling place to deal with any problems.” This statement appears to contradict the Secretary’s new protocols where they direct LHS to just advise registrars who will then “deal with any problems”. LHS staff members, as we understand it, are still not supposed to touch the machines or make repairs. 

Contact Dori Smith