Battle for independent election investigation rages in rural Republican county, pitting renegade Election Board against County Commission, giant E-Vote firm ES&S…
-By Brad Freidman
December 12, 2012- According to the Initial Report from a landmark independent forensic audit of the Venango County, PA, touch-screen voting system — the same system used in dozens of counties across the state and country — someone used a computer that was not a part of county's election network to remotely access the central election tabulator computer, illegally, "on multiple occasions." Despite the disturbing report, as obtained by The BRAD BLOG and posted in full below, we may never get to learn who did it or why, if Venango's County Commissioners, a local judge, and the nation's largest e-voting company have their way. And that's not all we won't get to find out about.
The battle for election integrity continues in Venango, with the County Commissioners teaming up with e-voting vendor Election Systems & Software, Inc. (ES&S) on one side, and the county's renegade interim Republican-majority Board of Elections on the other. The Commissioners and ES&S have been working to spike the independent scientific forensic audit of the county's failed electronic voting machines that was commissioned by the interim Board of Elections. Making matters worse, the Board has now been removed from power by a county judge, a decision they are attempting to appeal as the three-person board and their supporters continue to fight the entrenched establishment for transparency and accountability in the rural Western Pennsylvania county.
The extraordinary battle began when the interim Board was appointed by a county judge to oversee elections in the Republican-leaning PA county last spring. Normally the County Commissioners serve as the Board of Elections. But when they themselves are up for election, as they were this year, the county court judge names a specially appointed Board to cover the election and serve until the end of the year, or until they are dismissed by the same court.
When the interim Board of Elections — comprising two Republicans and one Democrat — took power this year in Venango, they unanimously set about commissioning the landmark, independent forensic audit of the county's 100% unverifiable ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting systems, on the heels of sworn testimony from voters about several failed elections over recent years, beginning in 2008.
After months of legal wrangling, with County Commissioners in opposition, the special Election Board's independent study of the County's ES&S iVotronic voting system finally got under way in late September. At that time, a hard drive clone of the computer which runs the ES&S central tabulator system (known as the "Unity Election Reporting Manager") was created and given, along with other data, to two Carnegie Mellon computer science professors who had volunteered to carry out the analysis on behalf of the Board. The Board also announced that the November election this year would be carried out on an optically-scanned paper ballot system, also made by the county's vendor, ES&S, while the reported anomalies from their May 2011 primary election, run on the unverifiable touch-screen systems, were being examined by the scientists.
But now, as documents and letters obtained by The BRAD BLOG reveal, the voting machine company, Omaha-based ES&S, which had issued no objections prior to the start of the study, but changed its mind quickly after it began (as we detailed in an Exclusive report in late October) has now hardened their position, sending threatening legal letters to both the county and the two computer scientists. The e-voting firm has warned them they are likely to face a lawsuit if they do not agree to complete confidentiality and if results of their analysis are released publicly without their prior review and approval.
Shortly after ES&S' legal threats were issued last month, a county judge released the interim Board from their duties (a move now being appealed by the Board) and the County Commissioners, who had fought tooth and nail against the analysis even being undertaken in the first place, are now back at the helm. According to members of the interim Board, the County Commissioners seem likely to "white wash" and/or quash the entire analysis and a plan for continuing the investigation before it can be completed or even see the light of day.
The BRAD BLOG, however, has obtained a copy of the Initial Draft of one of the forensic studies by the Carnegie Mellon computer scientists. Findings from the report [linked in full below, along with ES&S' threat letters], include a number of disturbing, and so-far unexplained revelations that should raise alarm bells for voters in virtually every corner of the nation as we head into another Presidential election year.
Among those findings: details on unexplained, out-of-sequence activity log entries in the computer tabulation system, indications that the system was mounted several times with a "USB 'flash drive'" device, and, perhaps most troubling, evidence that the system was repeatedly accessed by an unidentified remote computer, for lengthy periods of time, on "multiple occasions."
The entire affair has left members of the interim Board — which includes the Chair and Treasurer of the local Republican Party, as well as the former Chair of the Democratic Party — hopping mad. They're asking questions about motivations of both the County Commissioners and ES&S and describing their actions as a "cover up," even as they take legal action to try and complete the work they had begun months ago, after first hearing sworn testimony from voters, describing major failures with e-voting machines at the polling place in recent elections…