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Voting system said to fail

Hacking changed outcome, asserts Florida county

TALLAHASSEE -- Tests on an optical-scan voting system used around the country indicated it is vulnerable to hacking that can change the outcome of races without leaving evidence of fraud, a county election supervisor said.

The voting system maker, Diebold Inc., sent a letter in response that questioned the test results and said the test was ''a very foolish and irresponsible act" that may have violated licensing agreements.

Company spokesman David Bear did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

Optical-scan machines use paper ballots in which voters fill in bubbles to mark their candidates. The ballots are then fed into scanners that record the selections.

In one of the tests conducted for the election supervisor for Leon County, Ion Sancho, and an election-monitoring group,, the researchers were able to get into the system easily, make the loser the winner, and leave no trace of the changes, said Herbert Thompson, who conducted the test.

He also said the machine that tabulates the overall count asked for a user name and password, but didn't require it.

In the other test, the researcher who had hacked into the voting machine's memory card was able to hide votes, make losers out of winners, and leave no trace of the changes, said BlackBox founder Bev Harris. The memory card records the votes of one machine, then is taken to a central location where results are totaled.

The Miami Herald reported yesterday that Sancho scrapped Leon's Diebold machines this week for a voting system from another manufacturer.

Many Florida counties switched to computer-based elections systems after the 2000 presidential election, when the cardboard punch-card ballots then in use were plagued by incomplete and multiple punches.

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