Cook County Electronic Voting Equipment Indicates Tampering

Evidence Suggesting Tampering Discovered In Suburban Cook County, Illinois

General Election 2014, November 4th, 2014 – Electronic Voting Advisory

Back in October of 2011, our firm, Forensicon, Inc., was invited in at the last minute to participate in an open Request for Bid project with the Suburban Cook County government’s electronic voting equipment forensic audit.

At the time, we decided to pass on bidding on that project, since the process described was one that was not likely to accomplish an effective audit outcome.  I was pleased, however, that the recently elected President of the Cook County Board, Toni Preckwinkle, took steps to increase competition on this project by inviting our firm to participate.  Despite that, I remained doubtful that the work required of the County’s RFP, was anything that would deliver any real value to the voters of Cook County.

In the March 18th, 2014 primary election, I voted in suburban Cook County, Illinois and was pleased to see many improvements had taken place to the electronic voting process.  Having said that, today I was interested to learn more about what electronic voting looked like in the present.

Election Checking

2014 Cook County General Election – Electronic Voting Machines may Report Tampering System Wide

The election judges checked me in, asked for my name and address, confirmed that I was registered, and then printed an adhesive label containing my name, address and registration information. Once printed, I was asked to sign the printed label listing my name and other information.  This label was then examined by the election judge and affixed to the spiral bound voter ballot sheet contained within the velobind binder.  The barcodes contained on the label presumably allow for the document to be scanned later with quick match up of the voter signature to the voter’s name for any future ballot challenges relating to the voter’s signature and identity.

I was impressed that the new check-in system that appeared to have progressed from the technology front and included the usage of a label printer, Wi-Fi hotspot devices teamed with a controlling laptop computer for each precinct.  Such improvements demonstrate some level of innovation that didn’t go unnoticed by me.
Following checking in with the front desk election judges, I was offered the option of a paper ballot or an electronic voting ballot. I asked the election judges working the check-in table if there was an internal printer hard copy generated detailing my voting choices and secured within the Sequoia electronic voting terminal. After being reassured such a backup paper audit trail was generated, I decided to vote electronically.  It was my hope to observe first have how electronic voting had progressed since Cook County President Tony Preckwinkle took charge of the County’s operations. After requesting the electronic ballot, I was provided an electronic voter card that was activated by the election check-in judge and handed to me.  I was told to wait my turn and then insert it into my voting terminal in order to begin the electronic voting process.

Before beginning to vote, I inspected the equipment and asked the Democratic election judge overseeing the electronic voting machines a few questions about the printed audit trail.  The election worker explained to me that the paper ballot audit trail tape is sealed in the box unit attached to the Sequoia electronic voting machine. [Displayed on the right is the audit trail box opposite the monitor in blue and off-white at a 70 degree angle.] Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to observe how the audit paper trail box was sealed and secured (presumably it was secured by the silver serialized seal affixed to the top of the unit).  Cook County Electronic Audit Trail

I expressed my concern to the election worker who was overseeing the equipment, and asked him what happens when the paper runs out. He explains that he is the only one at the precinct authorized to break the seal and remove the existing audit trail paper used up, and replace the existing audit trail paper printed log with a new role of audit paper and then reseal the unit.

An effective part of the new method using the audit trail is that the voter is provided a complete record of their voting selections, both electronically on screen, and printed out to view through the plexiglass containing the paper audit trail.  I observed that this results in much extra printing, thereby causing the paper audit log container to fill up quickly, long before the voting day is over.  This process is a serious breakdown, because the audit trail logs should remain sealed and beyond the reach of any precinct worker who may wish to tamper with the voting counts or distribution of votes by possibly replacing the audit trail logs with fabricated versions of the same.  Unlike the paper ballots, which the voter drops in securely into the sealed and locked ballot box after it is fed into the digital scanner for reporting, the electronic voter paper trail audit tape is not being properly secured.  The precinct workers appear to have access to the underlying paper audit trail print outs as disclosed by this election worker to me, break whatever seal is protecting the hard copy audit trail by making such tampering evident when they remove it from the voting equipment.  It wasn’t entirely clear to me what happens next with the paper audit trail leading me to have further concerns.

Potentially, this precinct worker also has a stock of plastic seals to reaffix to the audit trail container once the paper has been replaced.  If this is the case, then the plastic clips are virtually a false feel-good security mechanism and not one that insures any measure of integrity at the ballot box.

More likely, the worker of any precinct is likely to have to break the silver serialized tamper evident seal in order to open the unit and replace the audit trail tape with new unused tape, thereby breaking down the ability to easily authenticate the audit tape trail as genuine.

Instead of maintaining the paper audit trail sealed with tamper evident serialized labels, the audit trail paper records are able to be accessed by precinct workers. This is similar to the locked ballot box containing your paper ballots being unlocked once it fills up with the contents removed by a precinct worker.  It would be much more ideal to have a backup ballot box secured and locked beyond the precinct workers reach so that it could be attached to the ballot scanner.  Such is likely the case for the paper ballots, however this control is still severely lacking from the electronic paper trail audit container given the disclosures and findings I have reported herein.  The securing of the paper audit trail remains a strong issue of concern that needs to be addressed in order to provide confidence in the integrity of the electronic voting process. I asked the election worker overseeing the electronic voting machines, why they didn’t imply have a replacement sealed box to affix that could remain sealed.  He said that was a good idea, but that the equipment maker, Sequoia, would have to offer that option.  He didn’t have time to explain the process more when I inquired further about the paper audit trail and what happened after he removed the seal from the equipment in order to replace the paper audit trail with new unused paper.

VOID VOID VOID text captured by photo indicates tampering.

Electronic Voting Tamper Evident Seal compromised. Click to view full size zoomed image.

I did observe the Sequoia voting terminal’s white and red plastic tamper seals, plus a silver bar code labeled tamper evident seal loosely attached to the unit. I took a photo of the seal affixed to one of the units that appeared to be attached rather insecurely with a slight lift of the seal appearing. (Photo at left)

At the time, I didn’t notice that the seal when viewed on my computer monitor showed the words VOID to the left of the bubble area, suggesting that the unit had been opened either to access and replace the audit paper trail, or for some other reason. 

I told the election worker this (the raised seal) was unusual and placed my finger above the top of the bubble for him to see, not noticing at the time, that the VOID marks were evident on the tamper evident label.

If it was necessary to remove the seal in order to replace the paper spindle as the election worker had described, most such tamper evident seals used on Cook County electronic equipment are likely to show similar tampering evidence throughout many other Cook County precincts.  The printed verification process consumed a significant volume of paper for my ballot alone.  I voted around 7AM, only one hour into the voting process, suggesting that numerous paper audit trails are likely to exist many of which may not be secured effectively throughout the day.

The silver serialized label I observed is relatively generic, not specific to Cook County on observation, and similar to the types of labels anyone could purchase easily online. presently similar labels many available for under $10. The labels and plastic tamper seals used also lacked any identifier (signature, initials, timestamp or other personal identifier) regarding who the specific person was that last resealed the voting machine’s internal storage media containing the voter’s choices.  It is not known entirely whether the controls on releasing these labels are in place sufficient to be able to track and tally the total number of labels issued.  Such control over the source labels may, exist, however anyone purchasing duplicate number labels could easily thwart such mechanism and go non-detected.

Sequoia Voting Machine with plastic seals shown.

White and Red plastic tamper evident seals lacking any identified name and time the unit was last sealed.

Such additional identifying information about who sealed the unit and when it was last sealed is typically a minimum part of an effective audit control mechanism.

These findings should be checked out by the media before the polls close.  It will be interesting to see if every precinct electronic voting machine used this election report’s tampering based on the silver serialized seal that shows the words VOID VOID VOID when removed after initial placement.

If anyone hasn’t voted yet, please try to take a photo of the seal on the electronic voting equipment in your precinct before the seals are removed and replaced with new seals.

Many positives features were observed on the process, despite the significant issue of not effectively securing the electronic voting machine’s paper audit trail beyond tampering.

The electronic voting machine notifies the voter if they failed to cast a vote for every option.  This can help voters catch bypassed choices, however, when there is only one option on the ballot, which is often the case in Cook County, Illinois, many choose not to vote for a single choice out of protest.

At the conclusion of the voting process, I was asked to review the paper audit trail containing the record of my electronic votes.  This is nice and would give me much more confidence that my vote was cast as intended if the paper audit trail reviewed was adequately sealed beyond tampering from anyone in the precinct.

I like having the opportunity to review my selections of votes cast on the paper audit trail, with the opportunity to confirm or revise my vote if it was in error or not as I had intended.

Work to continue reforms made by Cook County should continue so that voter confidence in electronic voting strengthens. 

My recommendation, take the paper ballot this election cycle if you want to be sure your vote counts!

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