July 14, 2024

NJ Voting-machine trial: Plaintiffs' witnesses

Both sides in the NJ voting-machines lawsuit, Gusciora v. Corzine, have finished presenting their witnesses. Briefs (in which each side presents proposed conclusions) are due June 15 (plaintiffs) and July 15 (defendants), then the Court will eventually issue a decision.

In summary, the plaintiffs argue that New Jersey’s voting machines (Sequoia AVC Advantage) can’t be trusted to count the votes, because they’re so easily hacked to make them cheat. Thus, using them is unconstitutional (under the NJ state constitution), and the machines must be abandoned in favor of a method that provides software independence, for example precinct-count optical-scan voting.

The plaintiffs’s first witness was Stephanie Harris, who testified for half an hour about her experience voting on an AVC Advantage where the pollworker asked her to go back and recast her ballot for a total of three or four times, because the pollworker wasn’t sure that it registered. Ms. Harris testified that to this day she’s not sure whether her vote registered 0 times, or 1, or 2, or 3, or 4.

I testified second, as I’ve described. I testified about many things, but the most important is that you can easily replace the firmware of an AVC Advantage voting machine to make it cheat in elections (but not cheat when it’s being tested outside of elections).

The third witness was Ed Felten, who testified for about an hour that on several different occasions he found unattended voting machines in Princeton, on weekends before elections, and he took pictures. (Of course, as the Court was well aware by this time in the trial, a hacker could take advantage of an unattended voting machine to install vote-stealing firmware.) Ed wrote about this on Freedom-to-Tinker here, here, and here; he brought all those pictures with him to show the Court.

Next were Elisa Gentile, Hudson County voting machine warehouse supervisor, and Daryl Mahoney, Bergen County voting machine warehouse supervisor. Mr. Mahoney also serves on the NJ Voting Machine Examination committee (which recommends certification of voting machines for use in NJ). These witnesses were originally proposed by the defense, but in their depositions before trial, they said things so helpful to the plaintiffs that the plaintiffs called them instead! They testified about lax security with regard to transport and storage of voting machines, lax handling of keys to the voting machines, and no security at polling places where the machines are delivered several days before the election. They didn’t seem to have a clue about information security and how it affects the integrity of elections conducted using computers.

Next the plaintiffs called County Clerk of Union County, Joanne Rajoppi, who had the sophistication to notice a discrepancy in the results report by AVC Advantage voting machine, the integrity to alert the newspapers and the public, and the courage to testify about all the things that have been going wrong with AVC Advantage voting machines in her county. Ms. Rajoppi testified about (among other things):

  • Soon after the February 5, 2008 Super Tuesday presidential primary, she noticed inconsistencies in AVC Advantage results-reports printouts (and cartridge data): the number of votes in some primaries was higher than the number of voters. (See Section 56 of my report, or Ed Felten’s analysis on Freedom-to-Tinker)
  • She brought this to the attention of State election officials, but the State officials made no move at all to investigate the problem. She arranged for Professor Felten of Princeton University to examine the Union County voting machines, but she stopped when she was threatened with a lawsuit by Edwin Smith, vice president of Sequoia Voting Systems.
  • In a different election, the Sequoia AVC voting system refused to accept a candidate’s name with a tilde over the ñ. Sequoia technicians produced a hand-edited ballot definition file; she was uneasy about turning control of the ballot definition file over to Sequoia.
  • Results Cartridges get locked in the machines sometimes (when pollworkers forget to bring them back from the polling places for tabulation). (During this time they are vulnerable to vote-changing manipulation; see Section 40 of my report.)
  • Union County considers the vote data in the cartridges to be the official election results, not the vote data printed out at the close of the polls (and then signed by witnesses). (This is unwise for several reasons; see Sections 40 and 57 of my report.)

The defendant (the State of New Jersey) presented several witnesses. I’ll summarize them in my next post. After the defense witnesses, the plaintiffs called rebuttal witnesses.

Plaintiffs’ rebuttal witness Roger Johnston is an expert on physical security at the U.S. government’s Argonne National Laboratory (testifying as a pro bono expert on his own behalf, not representing the views of the U.S. government). Dr. Johnston testified that supposedly tamper-evident seals and tape can be defeated; that it does no good to have seals without a rigorous protocol for inspecting them (which NJ does not have); that such a protocol (and the training it requires) would be very expensive to implement and execute; that AVC Advantage’s design makes it impractical to really secure using seals; and that in general New Jersey’s “security culture” and its proposed methods for securing these voting machines are incoherent and dysfunctional. He demonstrated for the Court one defeat of each seal, and testified about other defeats of these kinds of seals.

The last plaintiffs’ witness was Wayne Wolf, professor of Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech. Professor Wolf testified (and wrote in his expert report) that it’s straightforward to build a fake computer processor chip and install it to replace the Z80 computer chip in the AVC Advantage voting machine. (See also Section 12 of my report.) This fake chip could (from time to time) ignore the instructions in the AVC Advantage ROM memory about how to add up votes, and instead transfer votes from one candidate to another. It can cheat just like the ROM-replacement hack that I testified about, but it can’t be detected by examining the ROM chips. Professor Wolf also testified about the difficulty (or impossibility) of detecting fake Z80 chips by some of the methods proposed by defense witnesses.


  1. Anonymous says

    Anybody have (free) links to sources about tamper seal evasion? None of Johnson’s stuff seems to be freely available.