The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Cold Shoulder for E-voting Whistleblowers

by Catherine Komp

Bruce Funk's efforts to investigate Diebold machines

This sidebar is associated with a full-length news article, More E-voting Concerns Surface with State Primaries Underway.

Some government employees have not been well-received for bringing problems with electronic voting machines to light. In Emery County, Utah, Bruce Funk, a county clerk of 23 years, was condemned by county and state officials and Diebold representatives for his scrutiny of touch-screen machines.

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Earlier this year, in preliminary testing of the 40 Diebold devices purchased by the county, Funk found numerous problems, including faulty printers, broken doors and low backup-memory storage. Funk also suspected that some of the machines were not new, having found the results of previous elections still stored on them.

"And I’m thinking, ‘I’m supposed to rely on these for upcoming elections for how many years?’" Funk said to The NewStandard. "Something’s not right here.’"

Funk approached Black Box Voting (BBV), one of the leading advocacy groups working to expose problems with electronic machines, for advice on further machine testing, and BBV suggested that Finnish computer scientist Harri Hursti could inspect some of the machines. Hursti had successfully changed votes on optical-scan machines without leaving evidence of machine tampering during 2005 tests in Leon County, Florida, leading to the county’s elections supervisor, Ion Sancho, to drop implementation of all Diebold machines.

Sancho, whose concerns prompted California state officials to hire computer scientists who then verified the Diebold flaws, was likewise disparaged by state and local officials.

Diebold has also accused both Sancho and Funk of breaches of contract in letting an unauthorized third party inspect the machines.

Funk doesn’t agree. "I felt that looking over the contract that I was totally within my right, because in elections, I’m the one ultimately responsible and I felt I needed to be assured myself that everything was okay," he said.

After Hursti’s tests in Utah showed the same security holes uncovered in Florida, Funk told county commissions he was not comfortable with using the Diebold computers and preferred to use optical-scan machines in the June primaries.

In response, Funk said, commissioners accused him of causing $40-50 thousand in "recertification" costs and pressured him to resign. He said they even changed his office locks so he could not come back. Funk said he bended under the pressure and gave a verbal resignation, but later rescinded it and never officially resigned in writing.

"I just saw a lot of things that I didn’t think were right. I tried to alert people and they labeled me as a troublemaker," said Funk. "I just like things right and fair and [want to] protect the vote of the people; that’s always been my concern."

Emery County Commission Chair Ira Hatch told The NewStandard they would not accept the withdrawal of Funk’s verbal resignation because "he could not move ahead with the electronic voting process" using Diebold machines.

Hatch, who said he has no doubt that there were problems that needed fixing, did not say Funk violated the contract with Diebold but that Funk should have gone to Diebold with his concerns instead of a third-party. Even though Funk only permitted Hursti to examine two machines, the process of which was videotaped, the county is recertifying all 40 models, at the price of $1,260 per day per technician.

Funk, who said he had already decided he was not going to run for re-election before the problems with Diebold, has retained legal counsel to address what he believes is a forced resignation.

"It’s disheartening," Funk told TNS. "I mean, elections was one of the things that was my primary concern and has always been – the integrity of them and making sure everything was accurate – and you know, you don’t know who’s on your side when you walk down the street…. It’s not fun being a whistleblower."

While Funk may not have many allies in Emery County, some voter-access advocates are calling him a hero; the tests Hursti conducted on Emery’s machines led to the exposure of the latest security hole which some computer scientists characterize as the most serious flaw yet to be discovered.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This Sidebar originally appeared in the May 17, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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