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Election officials scoff at security experts’ questions about voting machines

Argonne National Laboratory researchers Roger Johnst(left) JWarner demonstrated how voting machines can be tampered with.  Warner removed circuit panel

Argonne National Laboratory researchers Roger Johnston (left) and Jon Warner demonstrated how voting machines can be tampered with. Warner removed a circuit panel, an easy access into the machine. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 30, 2012 6:22AM



Using a straightened paper clip, Jon Warner needed less than 10 seconds to pop a crucial component out of the touch-screen voting machine.

The simple maneuver exposed a green circuit board — opening the machine to electronic sabotage that could steal or alter votes cast on it, said Warner, a security researcher at Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont.

“You can reach inside and do lots of damage pretty easily,” agreed Warner’s boss, Roger Johnston, after the recent demonstration.

But election officials said the simulated attacks don’t depict real-world conditions or accurately show whether voting machines can be vulnerable to tampering.

The Argonne tests involve different models of touch-screen machines and don’t take into account a host of other security measures used in Chicago, Cook County and other collar counties, election officials said.

“It’s not even apples and oranges; it’s apples and hippos,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections, who described the tests as “a side show.”

And officials say there are political overtones to the research.

A group that earlier this year signed a six-month contract with Argonne to conduct voting machine research has ties to the Cook County GOP and a political incentive to raise questions about voting machine security in Democratic strongholds.

The group, Defend the Vote, is led by suburban resident Sharon Meroni, tapped earlier this year by the county GOP to head a group aimed at finding Republican election judges.

“In this case, the group has a partisan agenda,” said Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr, who oversees county elections.

Defend the Vote and Johnston recently approached Cook County and Chicago to ask to study their voting machines to see how vulnerable they might be to physical attacks such as implanting electronic bugs that could surreptitiously alter vote tallies.

Both agencies summarily rejected those requests.

“The idea of turning over voting equipment to any group, especially a few weeks before an election with early voting under way, would be irresponsible,” Greve said.

Argonne routinely signs consulting contracts with organizations such as Defend the Vote, Johnston said.



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