The controversial electronic voting documentary
Robert Carrillo Cohen|
Herbert Hugh Thompson
Hacking Democracy is the 2006 Emmy nominated documentary film broadcast on HBO and created by producer Robert Carrillo Cohen and producer / directors Russell Michaels and Simon Ardizzone and executive producers Sarah Teale, Sian Edwards & Earl Katz. Filmed over three years it documents American citizens investigating anomalies and irregularities with 'e-voting' (electronic voting) systems that occurred during the 2000 and 2004 elections in the United States, especially in Volusia County, Florida. The film investigates the flawed integrity of electronic voting machines, particularly those made by Diebold Election Systems, exposing previously unknown backdoors in the Diebold trade secret computer software. The film culminates dramatically in the on-camera hacking of the in-use / working Diebold election system in Leon County, Florida - the same computer voting system which has been used in actual American elections across thirty-three states, and which still counts tens of millions of America's votes today.
The documentary follows Bev Harris and Kathleen Wynne, director and associate director for nonprofit election watchdog group Black Box Voting, as they attempt to discover the extent to which it would be possible to alter results on the electronic voting machines of Diebold Election Systems (now Premier Election Solutions). Andy Stephenson, an employee of Black Box Voting from July–December 2004, assisted with comparisons of audit documents in Volusia County and obtained a secret videotape of Harris interviewing a voting machine testing lab. Kathleen Wynne captured live video of Harris finding voting machine records in a Volusia County trash bag, and captured video of Cuyahoga County, Ohio elections workers admitting that the initial 3% recount ballots had not been randomly selected during the 2004 presidential election. Harris and Wynne then embarked on a series of five voting machine hack tests with Dr. Herbert Hugh Thompson and Harri Hursti in 2005 and 2006. During the course of the documentary, multiple methods of tampering with the votes are shown.
The first is through editing the database file that contains the voting totals. This file is a standard Microsoft Access database, and can be opened by normal means outside of the encompassing voting program without a password. Some jurisdictions have disabled Microsoft Access, making it more difficult to alter the database, but this protection was shown to be bypassed by Dr. Herbert Hugh Thompson through a Visual Basic program which searched for a string of text and edited the file through external means. However, alterations of the results in either of these fashions would be caught if a vigilant elections official compared the results with voting machine tapes.
Another hacking technique was demonstrated through hacking the actual computer code used in the Diebold Accu-Vote memory cards. This method was discovered by Finnish computer security expert Harri Hursti and is known as "the Hursti Hack". In this hack, Harri Hursti rigged the Diebold optical scan voting system to make the wrong candidate win by adding negative (minus) votes to one race. This resulted in that race having votes literally subtracted from its vote total. These methods were tested by the Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Ion Sancho, on the actual Diebold optical scan voting system used by Tallahassee, Florida in all their prior elections. This method demonstrated, contrary to a previous Diebold statement, that a person attempting to rig the votes of a precinct would need access to only the memory card, not the optical scan voting system or tabulation software. This method, when cross-checked between the optical scan voting system and tabulation software, falsely appears to be legitimate, and further makes the voting machine produce a false zero-vote print-out, falsely confirming that the memory card has no votes inside it before voting begins. Following this historic hack Ion Sancho stated: "If I had not known what was behind this I would have certified this election as a true count of the votes."
Even though no one from Diebold Election Systems admitted to having seen the film, Diebold President David Byrd suggested that Hacking Democracy was "replete with material examples of inaccurate reporting", and demanded that it not be aired. His criticism was based on an earlier film made by the same three filmmakers. However, HBO refused to remove it from their schedules. In addition Diebold wrote a letter to HBO referring to the famous vote changing 'Hursti Hack' featured in the film, claiming that "Harri Hursti is shown attacking a Diebold machine in Florida. But his attack proved later to be a complete sham." This statement by Diebold was proven to be wholly wrong by independent computer scientists at UC Berkeley who investigated the Hursti Hack.
Harri Hursti's attack does work: Mr. Hursti's attack on the AV-OS is definitely real. He was indeed able to change the election results by doing nothing more than modifying the contents of a memory card. He needed no passwords, no cryptographic keys, and no access to any other part of the voting system, including the GEMS election management server.
One of Diebold's objections to the film was that it failed to mention that Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins computer science professor and vocal Diebold critic, may have a conflict of interest. Rubin at one point owned stock options in VoteHere, which sells auditing software and systems for voting machines. However, Rubin disposed of his stock options and withdrew from the VoteHere advisory board in August 2003, and says he had not had any meaningful contact since joining over two years before, except occasionally receiving press clippings.
DVD Release and Online Movie
The film was released on DVD on March 20, 2007. It includes deleted scenes, a trailer and director biographies.
"Hacking Democracy" was published for online viewing on Amazon Instant Video on 30 September 2016.
- 2004 United States election voting controversies
- Electoral fraud: Tampering with electronic voting machines
- Black Box Voting
- "The 28th Annual Emmy Awards for News & Documentary: The Nominations". EmmyOnline.org. Archived from the original on 2015-02-20. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- Interviews & Features | TVGuide.com[dead link]
- "HBO defends "Hacking" from criticism". Monsters & Critics. Archived from the original on 2006-11-16.
- Janofsky, Michael (2006-10-31). "Diebold demands that HBO cancel documentary on voting machines". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 2006-11-03.
- Lerer, Lisa (2006-11-01). "Diebold Gives HBO A Thumbs Down". Forbes.
- "Statement of Avi Rubin on Relationship with VoteHere Inc". Johns Hopkins University. 2003-08-17. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- Hacking Democracy - Official Website & Live Streaming Movie & DVD
- People & Power - Protecting Democracy - 14 Oct 08 - Part 1 follow-up by Hacking Democracy creators Simon Ardizzone & Russell Michaels published on YouTube by Al Jazeera English but blocked from USA IP addresses
- People & Power - Protecting Democracy - 14 Oct 08 - Part 2 follow-up by Hacking Democracy creators Simon Ardizzone & Russell Michaels published on YouTube by Al Jazeera English but blocked from USA IP addresses
- People & Power - Protecting Democracy - 14 Oct 08 - Part 1 follow-up by Hacking Democracy creators Simon Ardizzone & Russell Michaels published on Dailymotion by Al Jazeera English but blocked from USA IP addresses
- People & Power - Protecting Democracy - 14 Oct 08 - Part 2 follow-up by Hacking Democracy creators Simon Ardizzone & Russell Michaels published on Dailymotion by Al Jazeera English but blocked from USA IP addresses
- People & Power - Protecting Democracy - 14 Oct 08 - Part 1 follow-up by Hacking Democracy creators Simon Ardizzone & Russell Michaels republished on YouTube by HotLatestNews
- People & Power - Protecting Democracy - 14 Oct 08 - Part 2 follow-up by Hacking Democracy creators Simon Ardizzone & Russell Michaels republished on YouTube by HotLatestNews
- Program info at HBO
- Black Box Voting
- Hacking Democracy on IMDb
- Ars's How to Steal an Election by Hacking
- Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy
- Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy: Diebold Hacking video
- County Seeks to Mend Electronic Voting Problems - Daily Californian
- Prof Helps Get Voting Machines In State Decertified - Stanford Daily
- In the Land of 'Every Vote Counts,' Uncertainty on Whether It's Counted Correctly - New York Times
- "Hacking Democracy" Review of the HBO documentary - Salon.com
- Hacks, Lies & Videotape, Brad Friedman's review of HBO's 'Hacking Democracy' - Computerworld
- Diebold slams HBO Hacking Democracy documentary, The Register
- Empire Magazine's review ****
- Bring Democracy Home, CBS News
- It's election day. Do you know where your e-vote is? at Archive.is (archived 2013-01-19), CNET News
- Electronic Voting Fraud - Science Friday (National Public Radio)
- 'Hacking' casts doubt on security of ballots - Boston Globe
- Voter-Turnout Efforts Go Into High Gear - Wall Street Journal