Threat Management

County officials nabbed in Kentucky e-voting fraud

Along with a number of charges involving abuse of power, five officials in Clay County, Ky. – including the circuit court judge, the county clerk and election officers – have been arrested on charges they tampered with electronic voting machines during several elections.

The defendants were accused, in a 10-count indictment unsealed last week, of violating statutes of the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) from 2002 to 2006. Charges also included extortion, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to injure voters' rights and conspiracy to commit voter fraud.

The count of voter fraud involved a method that poll workers employed to manipulate the ES&S iVotronic system used by Clay County.

The touch-screen direct recording electronic (DRE) device, currently in use in some 419 jurisdictions in 18 states, displays the ballot on the computer screen. Voters touch the screen to select their choices and are subsequently presented with an illuminated red button labeled "vote." In written instructions presented to them before entering their votes, users are told that pressing this vote button is the final step of the session. However, for some models of the iVotronic system, pressing vote brings up an extra "confirmation" screen.

The Clay County officials are accused of exploiting this interface to their advantage by having poll workers inform voters that pressing the vote button is the last step, according to the indictment. These workers would then return to the open session to "correct" the ballot, and thus be able to change a vote cast..

If convicted, the Kentucky defendants face up to 20 years in prison.

In a related story, in a hearing held on March 17 in California, an official with Premier Election Systems (formerly Diebold), admitted that the company's audit log system was vulnerable to the deleting of votes in a way that couldn't be detected. Justin Bales, general sales manager for Premier's western region, reportedly told a state investigator that the software does not record deletions.

Much of the controversy over the safety of electronic voting machines stems from these audit logs. Opponents claim that it's too easy to manipulate vote counts without a forensic trail. The solution, at the very least, they say, is a paper receipt that records the vote.

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