Photo credit: Courtesy of John R. Brakey.

In the past few days, election integrity activists got up close to the current generation of ES&S voting machines — close enough to record video of a digital scanner voting machine sending results wirelessly.

The ability of the machines to communicate with the outside world has generally not been acknowledged by either the manufacturer or election officials. Yet this wireless link is at the heart of concerns that election results could be hacked or manipulated, “including attacks that could change vote totals and election results,” said Emily Levy, director of communications at the voting transparency group AUDIT-USA.

“There is no secure chain of custody for election materials in Broward County or any other county that has modems inside or connected to their election systems.”

Almost two decades after its starring role in the 2000 Bush v. Gore Florida voting debacle, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office is still the centerfold for election integrity issues — not just in Florida but in the country as a whole.

Back then, much of the controversy swirled around voting machines and punch cards made by the firm ES&S.

John Brakey, director of AUDIT-USA, recorded the wireless transmission of election results from an ES&S DS200 digital scanner voting machine at a Broward County polling place on Election Day.

In the videos, Brakey confirms that modems are installed in the DS200 voting machine and that they operate with a wireless antenna. He observed one as it successfully transmitted the results to the election management system, a program on a central computer at the election department that tabulates the results. Also seen in the video is the poll tape that the machines generate with the tabulated results.

“A vulnerability like this means there is no secure chain of custody for election materials in Broward County or any other county that has modems inside or connected to their election systems,” Levy said. “That means we can’t trust the official election results produced by those voting systems.”

Levy said the only way to verify an election with vulnerabilities created by these types of voting machines would be to do a manual hand count of all paper ballots. However, that may not be the solution in this case.

This pairing of a cellular modem with a digital scanner voting machine is the precise vulnerability that could allow hackers near and far to gain access to election results.

“There are questions about the chain of custody for the paper ballots as well, so even their veracity may be compromised,” Levy said.

But the bigger problem is that this type of recount is currently not permitted. “A recount of all the paper ballots is actually illegal in the state of Florida,” Levy said.

This may be confusing to some because it is widely known that results in the very close race for the US Senate between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson could head to hand count if the margin is a quarter of a percent or less. 

“Until recently, I think most people have trusted the government when it says it’s taking security concerns seriously,” Levy said. “I started working in the field of election security in 2004. For years, it felt like almost everyone I talked to about the issue dismissed my concerns. I’ve got to say, that rarely happens now. People are opening their eyes to the dangers of trusting corporations and computers to count our votes.”

WhoWhatWhy spoke previously to election security experts who confirmed that the wireless transmission of results is vulnerable to attacks. This pairing of a cellular modem with a digital scanner voting machine is the precise vulnerability that could allow hackers near and far to gain access to election results.

Related: Florida Election Offers Target-Rich Environment for Russia’s Agents

Brakey is also concerned that the staff at the election department doesn’t understand that digitally scanned ballots get their pictures taken by the voting machines, and these pictures become part of the chain of custody — which can be central in any inquiry into ballot tampering.

Activists have had major concerns about the intentional or accidental destruction of ballot images in Florida. If lawyers for either party understood how ballot images figure in the chain of custody for an election, Brakey noted, they would be fighting to get hold of these images to protect their high-profile clients.

“It’s organized chaos down there in Broward County,” Brakey said.

Follow the Money


Election integrity activist Jonathan Simon said the government is unwilling to budget enough funds to provide robust systems for election departments. Simon is co-founder and executive director of Election Defense, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to restore observable vote counting and electoral integrity as the foundation of American democracy. He is also the author of CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.

“We’re not providing public infrastructure,” Simon said. “And we’re certainly not providing it in the area of elections.”

Protecting Our Vote

Simon said it would not take much to budget for a well-protected system.

“We could certainly hire people at $20 an hour, a very nice wage, to do this work on election night and possibly the day following election,” Simon said. “It really wouldn’t make a divot of any sort in the national budget or in the state budget.”

In order to improve election security in departments that use wireless voting machines like the DS200, highly-trained computer programmers would need access to the machines. But manufacturers like ES&S have continually blocked access to anyone outside of its organization. Simon said programmers could be trained to spot man-in-the-middle attacks, which are made possible by cellular modems in voting machines connected to the internet. This would go a long way to ensuring security and verification of election results.

But without trained observers and access to the equipment, Simon said, “it would be very hard for you to apply your forensic chops to the actual data and evidence … That’s why I think election rigging has taken place on a pretty systemic scale.”

Blocking the Public


Brakey knew he might be blocked by poll workers from entering the Broward precinct during closing of the polls — even though he would have been within his rights to do so.

“After all voters who [sic] have finished voting and the polls are closed, the proceedings of the election board are open to the public.” That’s what the Polling Place Procedures Manual says. But Brakey was worried about how that rule would be honored. So he sent out a memo to other activists who planned to be at the polling places when they closed at 7 PM.

“I was afraid if I failed, maybe somebody else could get in,” he told WhoWhatWhy.

As it turned out, he was successful in gaining access to the voting machines. But others were less fortunate. Brakey said there was clear discrimination against other investigators present at the closing of the polls. “Maybe it was the luck of the draw,” Brakey said. “At the same time this is happening, I’m getting phone calls. ‘Hey, they’re blocking me. They won’t let me in.’”

Florida, Polling Place Manual

Photo credit: State of Florida

New Practices in Broward?


One thing Brakey discovered after he gained access to the polling place brought a smile to his lips: OKI digital scanners were being used in the supervisor’s office to scan previously scanned ballots for a second time. This redundancy was something Brakey said he had hoped to see for a decade: “We tried to do this in Pima County [Arizona] 10 years ago … And to see it, it’s like whoa, it’s happening, a tandem system.”

Brakey believes few politicians even at the state level know what Broward has done. If used properly, the redundant system — with two digital copies of the paper ballot — could effectively verify results. If the first digital copy is tampered with, it can be referenced to both the original ballot and the second digital image.

“It doesn’t stop all the problems,” Brakey said. “But at least we’d know the totals are right. And we can focus on other areas.”

However, Emily Levy of AUDIT-USA noted that this type of audit only makes sense if election officials can be trusted. With supervisors who have poor records of voting security, such as Brenda Snipes in Broward, the integrity of the audit is not assured.

“That kind of check on the system relies on a secure chain of custody,” Levy said. “If the people who run elections in this country want the public to trust the official outcomes, they need to make sure they’re using systems and procedures that are transparent, trackable, and publicly verified. Election officials must be held accountable for running secure and accurate elections. That includes making sure voting systems are not connected to the internet.”

Too Much Paper


Over all, Brakey is seeing some of the same problems in 2018 that occurred in the 2000 presidential election. Back then, he said, it wasn’t so much the punch-card machines themselves that caused the trouble but the confusing ballots. “The ballots were purposely set up to fail,” Brakey asserted. In his view, the same thing is happening today.

A major problem with ballots in Broward is the number of pages a single voter needs to peruse and fill out to vote. In many precincts the voters have to fill out six pages. In other precincts, voters are faced with four or five pages.

Part of the reason for a multi-page ballot is that both Spanish and English are included on each ballot. Brakey agrees that ballot content must be translated, but he said it’s just as easy to print separate Spanish and English ballots, which would minimize the number of pages for a single ballot.

Activists like Brakey trust that technology can be used for good. He believes some form of tandem system with public verification will allow elections to run smoother. Other observers, like Simon, would prefer to roll back the clock and go to a verification system that places paper ballots at the center of the custody chain to verify elections.

Both agree that the fight to make elections publicly verifiable is more important than ever, if voters are to believe in the probity of the US election system.  

Correction notice, 11/14/2018, 5:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this story did not accurately describe the recount process. The paper ballots will be rescanned while under and overvotes will be counted by hand. We regret the error.

Stolen Future, Stephen Singular

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Emily Levy

Thank you for the excellent coverage. AUDIT USA (Americans United for Democracy, Transparency, and Integrity in Elections) just released a new resource for candidates, campaigns, and voters who want to verify — or need to challenge — the results of an election conducted on digital scan election systems. It’s available at http://auditelectionsusa.org/candidates.

John R Brakey

Folks, we did it! Our lawsuit in Federal Court in Florida, on behalf of several Florida voters, seeks to protect the digital ballot images created in the Florida recounts and in all future elections.

Fox v Detzner, 18-Cv-529
The brief will follow soon. You can read the complaint at:

Big thanks to Who, What and Why!!! As an investigator, these are the question to ask.

Virginia Martin

So there’s wireless transmission of the results, and there are poll tapes produced by the machines. Who if anyone compares the poll tapes to the published results? Does the public have access to the poll tapes?

Concerned Voter

I’m tired of “making sure this never happens again.” We need a revote on this last election. A Saturday, with a week to vote in advance. You can’t let them get away with this.


Hi there. IT Professional here. Just because it has this type of hardware installed and in use does not instantly mean that it can be hacked. It certainly makes it more possible, but by no means does it mean its a certainty. It all depends on how the device connects to the central server. In fact, the setup appears to require a manual process to get the connection to the central server. This would indicate that it’s more secure than your common smart phone just because there is a very limited window where the device is using its network connection. What would be more concerning is that the central server may have an ‘always on’ type of connection. If the central server is not highly secured by using network access controls and VPN with high level encryption like AES256, then there is nothing that is not possible. Wireless over cellular is not the issue. The issue is that the architecture of this solution is not open sourced for other IT, security, and cryptography professionals to confirm that it is setup with solid security.



Armand Gilbert

You may find the following link interesting, it details issues with the cellular connection in terms of security. Click Here for PDF Report on DS 200


I disagree that nothing can be done about this. I see this election racketeering as being something that constitutes Exhibit A in the “dysfunctional institutional culture” that Goal #16 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 speaks of. That goal is to create strong institutions and to achieve equal justice for all.

The heroic work of Prof Tim Canova in making sure that there is a community standard that demands a responsible election oversight system – needs to be backed up by an organized effort to use Goal 16 as a tool for ensuring that our institutions are compatible with and actually serve a democratically based society. I am committed to making sure that people get familiar with the SDGs and have a way of connecting. This project is for independent activists and informal community groups. https://www.researchgate.net/project/Building-a-world-network-for-the-17-SDGs-for-2030


“I’m tired of “making sure this never happens again.” We need a revote on this last election. A Saturday, with a week to vote in advance. You can’t let them get away with this.”

Who is the “them” and what is it they are “getting away with”?

If you mean Snipes and her continuing manipulation of the vote, destroyed ballots and the like, a jail sentence would seem to be the appropriate response, both to punish her and to serve as a warning to future manipulators. But the bottom line is, they haven’t “gotten away” with anything because the vote was under sufficient scrutiny (this time) to prevent successful vote rigging… as was barely the case in the Bush election 18 years ago.


and since Soros has ties to the voter machines, how would the fake vote count differ from the real one? (hint: Soros is a leftist)