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The Seattle Times

She's at center of high-tech voting debate

By Keith Ervin
Seattle Times staff reporter

Bev Harris, a middle-aged woman who operates a small public-relations business out of her Renton home, would seem an unlikely person to be at the center of a national battle over electronic voting.

Yet in recent months her muckraking, Web-based journalism has helped energize a growing movement of citizens and computer scientists concerned about the potential for fraud in America's increasingly high-tech elections.


Harris might have remained obscure if she had not stumbled across something on the Internet.

While seeking information last January about a voting-machine company for a book she was writing, she found a Web site "on about the 15th page of Google." The open, unprotected site held some 40,000 files that included user manuals, source code and executable files for voting machines made by Diebold, a corporation based in North Canton, Ohio.

She had exposed a massive security breach.


Dan Wallach of Rice and Avi Rubin, Tadayoshi Kohno and Adam Stubblefield of Hopkins' Information Security Institute reviewed source code from the Diebold Web site for the company's increasingly popular touch-screen voting machines. They branded the machines' protective software "far below even the most minimal security standards," warning that election insiders or voters with fake "smart cards" could manipulate the vote.


To some, Harris' credibility has been undermined both by her provocative language and by her publication of articles on such venues as Scoop and Conspiracy Planet.

"It's taken awhile for me to believe in her credibility because, while the facts she's reporting appear to be accurate and carefully researched, the tone appears to be alarmist," said Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer-science professor and member of the Iowa state board that certifies voting equipment.

"I certainly know about Bev," said Jim Adler, president and chief executive officer of VoteHere, which sells touch-screen voting software in the United States and Internet voting software in Great Britain. "As far as her issues are scientific and factually based I agree with them. When they become politically inflammatory, that's when I get off the bus."