Diebold: The Untold Story
Electronic voting fraud. It’s real. It happened in 2000 and in 2004. And it will happen again in 2008.
Supporters of electronic voting machines have launched an aggressively savvy campaign to discredit anyone who questions the validity or accuracy of this technology.
But the bottom line is your vote can be stolen.
How do I know this?
I spent the last two and a half years investigating electronic voting fraud.
I did so on my own time and own dime, despite working as a producer for one of the most respected network news organizations in the world.
During the course of my research, I interviewed 7 highly accredited computer scientists, statisticians, election officials, poll workers, senators, secretaries of state and former electronic voting machine company employees.
In my quest to find the truth about how these machines process and count
Two years ago, I showed my findings to various colleagues at the ABC News bureau in
Many thought I was wearing a tin hat. So I continued on my own, investigating the four private companies that control American elections. Finally, I was able to persuade the Radio division’s bureau chief that I had a rock-solid story. He could see I had a tiger by the tail. In many cases, I had not two, but three or four sources on many of my claims against this technology. I even had a former Diebold contractor, known in voting integrity circles as “Diebthroat” willing to be interviewed. He fully checked out as legitimate source. And he had documents. Lots of documents. He even agreed to sign an affidavit. My correspondent and I were so convinced he was the real deal, we told our bureau chief we would go to jail in order to protect his identity. So my Lou Grant went to bat for me.
I was given a one-hour special for network radio. I spent nine months working on it, becoming a near expert on the inner workings of electronic voting machines and its players.
I sent twelve versions of this story to our corporate lawyers who ripped it apart.
I diligently but begrudgingly rewrote my piece each time, telling myself that even if I couldn’t tell the full story, at least the public would have an idea of what was happening.
I remember one young attorney, after reading my 40 page script said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” I replied, “Yes, that’s the way we used to do news here.”
Every time I complied with an edit, they had another change. And another one. And another one.
They pulled the Diebold whistleblower from the script.
I fought like crazy to keep Diebthroat in – feeling oddly like Al Pacino when he portrayed Lowell Bergman in the “Insider.”
I recall the famous lines.
“Do we have a whistleblower? Yes!
Is he telling the truth? Yes!
Are we going to air the piece? No!”
I almost quit my job of 11 1/2 years over this story.
I was told to take a vacation and think about things.
I finally acquiesced – realizing that even without the
whistleblower the story still had legs and had to be told.
Then I was asked to write to Diebold and ES&S (the two companies the piece was focused on) informing them of our plans to air the story.
I contacted Diebold on seven occasions. Each time they declined an interview.
Diebold pushed back at some of the claims we were about to make and our attorneys caved. They did not want a lawsuit.
Apparently having an untarnished record of not being sued was more important to the head office than airing the biggest story in decades.
This wasn’t about shelving my piece.
This was about keeping the truth from the American public.
I felt betrayed and absolutely sick to my stomach..
It was true. The corporation was setting the news agenda.
A dear colleague convinced me to stay on, noting I could still
get a few good stories under the radar.
I watched with disgust as I saw snippets of this story hit the front page of the New York Times, seven months after I took it to my supervisors. I walked around the bureau
waving the headlines at people. Still, no one wanted this story.
A few months prior to the midterm elections, I arranged to have Dr. Ed Felten, the head of
Then after Felton’s hack hit the front page of the New York Times and Washington Post, an executive producer in
I produced two spots for Good Morning America and Weekend World News. They were two minutes each -- hardly enough time to explain an incredibly complex subject.
The day the piece was to air on Sunday night's World News, we were pre-empted by sports.
The network aired half the show. But instead of restacking the newscast, our piece was pulled for
"McDonalds Gets a Makeover." Two weeks before the midterms and we couldn't possibly
air a piece warning voters that their vote could be comprised.
It was at that moment that I realized we were never really going to do this story justice.
The piece did finally air during the west coast re-feed but half the nation never saw it.
This should have been a week long investigative series. But apparently teenage tanning addicts won that air time.
I was also asked to brief a senior correspondent on Diebold. Diebold’s spokesman David Bear agreed to an interview on Good Morning America but cancelled at the last minute.
The correspondent told our viewers that we would keep calling Diebold.
We never did.
The story died.
And we helped kill it.
I was beginning to think it was unwritten policy that as a news organization, we would never do this story, despite the fact that we could have broken it, won awards and most importantly, served the public interest.
It’s now time to do so.
For the next few weeks, I will post my unaired interviews.
Below is the first installment, a portion of my interview with “Diebthroat.”
It took me seven months to develop this source and gain his trust. On January 20, 2006, my correspondent and I flew out of state to meet with him. We spent the day in a hotel room. There, he told us his story.
Q: Why did Diebold get into the voting machine business?
A: Being in this business, having the power of controlling elections, not necessarily the outcomes, just controlling elections is priceless.
Q: Is that what Diebold is doing?
A: Electronic voting leaves a lot of doors open for manipulation of the vote. Not that I can prove that was taking place. But there was a conservative agenda at work in the management and the acquisition. Things changed when Diebold took over (discusses company’s history).
Q: What about back-door software? Is it true these machines can be accessed without a password?
A: You can actually enter the Global Elections Management System, GEMS, which is the tabulation software through the back door. In other words, you can access the data base. This whole thing sits on top of Microsoft Access, so you can go in the back door, without going in the front door and needing a password and make alternations to the data base and Homeland Security recognized this threat and it’s documented on the Internet now.
Q: Why construct a system like that?
A: It’s not actually the machine, it’s the tabulation part of the system. We have the touch screens and we have a server and they all work in unison. But to answer your question, poor design is one reason and to manipulate the vote if it is needed. To make corrections should thing come out of balance there’s a back door you can go in, undetected and you can balance the books so to speak
Q: Who knows how to do this?
A: Certainly most of the Diebold employees who know how GEMS works. Many of those are available on Election day, involved in tabulation on election day. I haven’t heard any rumors that they’ve done it but they could.. A savvy client, whom Diebold has sold the equipment to, could do the same thing, who had a good technician on staff or a good software person. Anyone who was hired by a third party to infiltrate the system and make changes on their behalf, they could do it. It’s not difficult to do. It doesn’t take a lot of background research.
Q: Is that one of the attractive features of Diebold? That a partisan could tamper with the results?
A: I think the corporation would tell you it can’t be done. But in fact it can be. It’s just poor design and I don’t think it was ever intended it would be discovered as a security risk.
Q: Is it poor design or is it a deliberate design?
A: A little bit of both.
Q: Can you elaborate?
A: It’s a poor design in that it’s an early release of an elecgtronic voting system. It’s like a model-T. They didn’t anticipate many things they needed to. I will let Diebold off the hook in that sense. Now that they know, they should close the door and they haven’t. That makes them guilty.
Q: When did you first notice the tabulators had back door access?
A: I first noticed it in 2004 doing a search for GEMS. The GEMS software is on the net and can be downloaded. Anyone who wanted to hack the program, they can download it and practice it before they do it.
Q: Yes, but wouldn’t you have to be at the server to gain access?
A: I could figure out to change this, possibly remotely. I wouldn’t have to be at the server. So I construct a program to give the server instructions and I place that in the server to execute at a particular time. And that instruction could be to allow my candidate to win by 3 percent. Always, regardless of how many votes come in.
Q: Who has access to the server?
A: Who should have access? Only election officials, people who are government officials and who have had background checks and have been authorized by law to be involved in tabulation. And I think if you looked at the laws in some states, there are restrictions on that. Because we’ve gone electronic, we’re left with the paper rules. You can compare a lot of this to the Internet. It’s moved at lightening speed and the law hasn’t been able to keep up.
Q: So election officials and poll workers don’t know how to work the equipment?
A: Yes. In fact, we have a condition in Broward County where the vendor has a contract that he tabulates the votes. We have at many times been at the server on Election night, at the control panel. We put the votes into the server. We run the server roomn. We accumulate the votes. And when I say we, I mean Diebold Elections Systems.
Q: Let me get this straight, Diebold employees have full control of the polls on Election day?
A: Yes. Here’s what happens weeks before Election day. Diebold will bring in a team of people from corporate and they will be assigned to hire temporary staff. They don’t need to be qualified, just breathing. They train them two or three days and get them ready to be called "technicians." On Election day, they may bring in – in the case of a state like Georgia, they put 400 or 500 temps in the field and are supervised by Diebold people. So we ran the entire first election in the state of Georgia when they used the touch screen system. The election officials didn’t know how to run the system, they didn’t have the time to learn. The implementation was a six month implementation for 20-thousand machines or so. You can’t learn it that fast.
Q: Have you ever processed ballots?
A: I have personally loaded votes into servers in several states. I have done this. I have observed the president of Diebold doing this. I have observed the president of Diebold’s communications division, Mark Ratke, Bob Urosevich doing this. So it’s been done. It’s been done countless times. The times I’ve stated are the times I was there and actually participated.
I would like to mention one other thing about the Homeland Security warning on the Internet and the back door to the Diebold tabulators. Homeland Secuirty knew about the back door before the presidential election (2004) and they should have done something. That was my view and that’s when I really began to think there was a rat involved in this. Something was seriously wrong with everything I had done in the way of electronic voting and the representation of electronic voting.
Q: Didn’t you think it was irregular that you were opening and closing the polls and handling ballots?
A: I thought it was irregular but necessary in the sense that I was saving the elctions officials or the precincts from a lot of problems and that I did have the knowledge, it was very difficult for me to keep my hands behind my back. They were really fumbling along and I had many precincts under my control and I had to make sure those precincts opened and closed on time. So many Diebold employees had to take charge or the elections wouldn’t have happened.
Q: Where you ever asked to load software onto the machines?
A: The only time that we were requested to add a patch to the system, the certified system that’s supposed to be locked in and you can’t change it unless you go back for recertification, was in Georgia in 2002 when Diebold introduced what is now called "the Georgia patch."
I as involved in applying the patch in two of the counties. In Fulton County and also in Dekalb County.
Q: Tell me about this.
A: It was 10 days to two weeks away from the election, very close. In elections you start preparing and that’s gonna be your deadline: two weeks away to have the election ready. So we were applying a patch, supposedly to fix what is called the real time clock that keeps track of events on Election day, it makes sure the polls open and close on time. There’s a clock inside the machine. This patch was supposed to fix that.
Q: Looking back, what do you think was the reason for the patch?
A: The patch did not fix the real time clock.
Q: What did the patch fix?
A: I don’t know what the patch did. At the time I was told it was for the clock and I used the patch where I was told to use it. So as far as I’m concerned, it was the clock. But when the clock wasn’t fixed, I thought something was just wrong with the patch.
Q: The patch is called "Rob Georgia dot zip?" Was that the technology title for it? "Rob Georgia dot zip?
A: Well I think that may have been in reference to, and I don’t know this, a person by the name of Robert and it was his patch and it was the way of identifying ownership. I don’t know if they would ever name something that they were gonna rob a state of its right to vote. I just don’t know!
Q: Do you recall the outcome of that election in Georgia?
A: As I understand, it was somewhat historical in that Georgia elected a Republican. This seems to be sort of a consistent pattern with these machines. In Maryland, it was once again an unusual even of a Republican being elected in a Democratic state. It’s nothing that I can tie directly to the machines. But you know, two coincidences, you begin to wonder.
Q: Looking back, do you thing that the patch was designed to jimmy the machines so that, no matter what, the Republican would emerge with a majority?
A: A lot of people think that fixing elections is a very difficult process. So when people say, was the election fixed? And they say well, it takes a big conspiracy – because we used to tell people it takes a conspiracy of hundreds and hundreds of people. When in fact, it does not take that type of conspiracy.
Q: How so?
A: Let’s say I wanted to rig a national election for president. I certainly wouldn’t go in every state. Some states are already gonna vote my way, whatever way it is, Democratic or Republican. I would go to major states, let’s say. Let’s go to the big states: Illinois, Ohio, New York, California, Florida, Texas. And even in those states, I would not bother with every county. I’d bother with key counties. So I’d take key counties in key states and I’d flip a national election. That’s how easy it is. In Georgia, I applied the patch to DeKalb County and Fulton County. I don’t know, in fact I’m almost certain, the entire state was not done. There simply was not enough time or manpower to do it. But it was certainly done in those counties.
Q: Was the patch certified?
A: No. The patch was not certified. It was not known to the state of Georgia. In fact, the patch was applied in somewhat of a secret rush manner.
Q: Diebold, the people who make the machines, applied it secretly?
A: Yes they did. It was sort of done very quickly and there was no communication from my understanding with the State. And we were just to do it and to do it very quickly.
Q: How would you have gained access to those machines?
A: We had access and control of all the machines in the state of Georgia.
Q: And who gave you that access?
A: The state of Georgia did. This was a fast implementation. I’ll just put a time window of six months or less on the implementation and that’s not enough time to train poll workers and voters and elections officials on how to use this technology. It’s just not enough time. So we were running the entire election of 2002 for the state of Georgia.
Q: Kathy Cox was the Secretary of State. She allowed this?
A: That’s right. It was necessary politically for the Secretary of State to go forth and say "We are the first electronic state" and make that claim. From a political standpoint, this was the feather she wanted in her cap and so Diebold helped her get that feather.
Q: Do you have a lingering suspicion that those patches were designed to give a majority to the Republican candidate?
A: I don’t think anyone could prove that and what we have to rely on is the preponderance of evidence – what was the outcome and what did we do as a corporation during that period of time that was illegal. And when you marry those two together, I think people can draw their own conclusion. There’s absolutely something wrong.
Q: There was something wrong with the results?
A: There was something wrong with the entire election, the process of implanting that voting system in the state of Georgia. And the fact that a corporation had essentially taken over the rights of voters in the state of Georgia. Remember, limiting access, machines, voter registration: if you combine the right mix, you can pretty much tailor campaigns and get certain outcomes. It’s a science now. If you could only take out a certain percentage of voters, you can get a desired outcome. It’s not hard at all.
Q: Getting back to this patch in Georgia, what do you think was on the patch?
A: Something illegal. Something illegal. Had it been legal, we would have taken it through the proper certification procedures and we would have applied it as the rules call for. So something illegal, known to be illegal, was put on those machines. That makes the election illegal.
Q: Did the Secretary of State know?
A: Yes, there’s a document where she asks Diebold, "Did you patch all my machines?" so she doesn’t know what they did and it comes across very clear in her punch list of issues after the election.
Q: The Secretary of State didn’t know if the voting machines had been certified?
A: After the election, there was a memo put out, because the elections in 2002 in Georgia was a mess and there were problems although they went forth into the media and said, "Oh, it was a great election. It was a good outcome." At the same time, Kathy Cox, the Secretary of State, was drafting a letter to Diebold, Bob Urosevich, indicating there’s a number of problems that needed to be addressed. One of the problems was certifying the machines. She was asking are the certifications complete? Well, it’s my understanding, under Georgia law, that the State is the certifying authority. If you look at the punch list, and you look at the memo she sent to the President of Diebold, Diebold is the certifying authority.
Q: But that’s not constitutionally possible.
A: But it’s corporately possible because they did it. They had a $55 million contract. And they did it by controlling the whole election. What we’re seeing is the first phases of privatizing elections, like we privatized jails and many other things in this society. But this method is taking something very personal – something people have died for and you’re basically putting it on Wall Street, up for grabs.
So when you look at something like a Voters Rights Act and Civil Rights Act, these are now corporate issues. How much access they will grant to voters. They sort of write the policy.
Q: You make it sound like a takeover.
A; This is a takeover. This is a takeover like anybody would take over a government. But it’s just a module of government called the Election Department. And they actually take it over. Policies are rewritten.
Q: Is this something that Diebold finds attractive?
A: I’d say so.
Q: Is Diebold interested in establishing a new political paradigm in this country so they have positioned themselves in this particular industry to achieve that outcome?
A: Think in retrospect, that looking back on everything, and once again, in looking at the evidence, I would say: that’s a true statement. In the sense that, they never thought the advocacy of the electorate would rise to the level it’s at right now. People object to, and they take it very personally, that their vote is being affected by a corporation. People are very mad about what they’ve attempted to do. And if it wasn’t for this movement, by the way, I think we would have voting – even at ATM machines righ now because that’s one of their plans, vote at ATM machines. So it’s all ntertwined under this master plan to make voting more convenient. Because as Americans, we tend to be addicted to convenience. And it was all part of the master plan.
Q: What’s Diebold’s political agenda?
A: It’s very conservative. There’s very much an environment of straight laced conservatism, especially after the Diebold takeover of Global Election Systems, it was our way or no way – you should be happy to be working here was the attitude.
Q: What about the overall corporate culture?
A: I think they see things as we’re right and everyone’s wrong and whatever we need to do to get our agenda across, we’ll do it. And it’s just sort of part of this whole wave that’s happening in this country that we do things because they’re right, not because they’re correct and not because they’re legal. But because we think they’re right. And that’s the attitude that you get with some of these voting machine vendors. There’s a culture of fear. And most of the people inside the company do not talk about the negatives. So there may be conversation, there may conversation going back and forth, but the negatives are never talked about. For example, for the elections that go bad – they’re not talked about. The minute they go bad, the next day the cover-up starts. "Well, we just had a minor problem and we’re addressing that." That’s how it always is.