Election Fraud? Maybe. Incompetence? For Sure!!

Some things just don’t pass muster. Today in Wisconsin, in Waukesha County, we have an incident that falls in this category. LINK

Waukesha – The County Board’s Executive Committee has ordered an audit of the county clerk’s election equipment and system beginning with the September primary despite several memos she sent to the committee over the weekend defending her practices and resisting the move.
County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus has maintained that as the one in charge of elections, she is responsible for the security and operation of the system. However, other county officials say they worry about the integrity of the old equipment and the system she’s using and whether she has adequate backup.

Where this goes really bad is revealed in this clip on Maddow tonight. The Ed show also has a piece about this.
Video

In the clip, Kathy Nickolaus refers to human error and not hitting the save button and further that she is using an Access database for this. There is so much wrong with this I don’t know where to begin.

As a user and programmer of Access for over twenty years nobody would ever use it in the manner portrayed here. It just isn’t secure and provides no audit trail for record keeping purposes. Access itself can be programmed as a front end for an SQL Server databse or other ODBC data structure securely stored on a server. That is the normal mode of usage for this purpose. It provides strong security and an audit trail.

Secondly, Access has never, in all it’s versions over the years needed a user to press a save button. When entering data in a form or a tabular view, the record that has the focus, if it is changed, upon navigation to the next record, the one previous is automatically saved. If you close the DB, whatever record you are on is committed to the table where that record is stored. There is a save button but it is redundant to the notion of saving a record. The manner in which this has been portrayed by Ms. Nikolaus clearly states to an informed person that she has no clue of what she is talking about. What she has said here leaves all manner of questions. I would so love to be able to examine just how this system is configued and inspect the data.

For instance, in the table holding the data, each record has a unique ID. For every record ever entered this ID will be sequential. If you wanted to assure the table has never been manipulated all you’d have to do is look at the record sequence. There must not be any missing record ID’s. If there are ten records then there must be an ID for each record numbered 1-10. If some are missing (deleted records) then you’d see an interruption in the sequence and have to ask what happened to the missing numbered record. Why was it deleted? More commonly there would be a record entry reversing a previous entry for audit purposes. You see this concept on a credit card bill where a charge is entered once as a debit and then, if a charge is reversed, it is entered again as a credit. This is part of the audit process where you can know every action performed and its purpose. Simply deleting records destroys the possibility of an audit. You should never be able to go back in time and modify a previous entry. You should only be able to make a new entry which effectively reverses the action of a previous entry. In an SQL data structure, this audit process is far more comprehensive. An SQL server, if so configured, records every person who connects to the database and records every action on every record performed by that person for that connected session. In the interest of data integrity, in my view, this is a minimum for assuring the data hasn’t been compromised and is 100% auditable. Even then, this assumes a DB administrator who knows what they’re doing and who is intent upon mischief hasn’t gotten in there and modified something.

In any case, what we see here is seriously unacceptable. No other assessment is possible. If what we see here is any indication of how municipalities perform these operations we’re in really deep trouble. At the very least, we have some major idiots running this stuff who should never be allowed near a computer or be allowed to make decisions of how public computer systems are provisioned.
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12 thoughts on “Election Fraud? Maybe. Incompetence? For Sure!!

  1. I see additional information on this where data was recorded from at least one town on a spreadsheet that had to be imported into the database. What a crock. A spreadsheet is in no way the proper tool for doing data recording. Especially not this kind of data. These people are total morons. No question. In listening to the below link on HuffPo, the press, as indicated by their questions, is equally ignorant of how serious a breach of any normal IT processes this really is. I totally can’t believe this is actually happening.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/07/david-prosser-wisconsin-supreme-court_n_846431.html

    1. Thanks flower. I’m thinking that perhaps this election contest was never in doubt. I’m still appalled though at the shortcomings of a process which could be so easily compromised. This is an open invitation to corruption which in the current climate isn’t helpful and does little to improve upon my dearth of confidence in our elected officials. In this age of information and technology we can ill afford to have persons in charge who are so ill prepared to make decisions which affect us all.

  2. teresamac0

    Yes, your points about Access are well taken, when she said that last night, that she didn’t hit save on her Access Database.. it didn’t pass the smell test, as Access autosaves, duh and auto calculates once information is entered. Umm every Access developer knows this, but reporters know nothing and didn’t even ask a pertinent question. WTF. I could go on about their lack of security, importing excel spreadsheets etc… they are operating in a pretty half-assed manner, Wow. But thanks, you’ve said it all. Hey TPC nicely done.

    1. Thanks Teresa. Being a long time purveyor of the dark arts yourself I’m not the least surprised to see you chiming in here. I do wonder how much of this exists across the country. Scary stuff. No wonder the Chinese are into all our networks etc. We got the welcome flag hung up all over the place.

      1. teresamac0

        I wonder too tpc, how many of our elections systems are that completely outdated, half-assed and insecure!
        I like that though, purveyor of the dark arts”… hahaha nice”. Yep.

  3. teresamac0

    tpc, did you see this article at RawStory.
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/04/08/wisconsin-election-workers-find-of-uncounted-ballots-certain-to-draw-scrutiny/
    The rub:
    Last fall, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper reported the Waukesha County Board had ordered an audit of Nickolaus’s office, citing concerns about the integrity of the equipment she used he backup system.

    The newspaper said the move came after Nickolaus removed the election results collection and tallying system from the county computer network last spring and installed it on standalone personal computers in her office.

    The newspaper quoted an official saying Nickolaus had been “uncooperative with attempts to have information technologists review the system and confirm the backups.”

    1. I had seen this after I put up the post. It’s a bit curious that she was reluctant to comply. It struck me as her simply being defensive about it. That may be wrong though. We may never know if there have been some shady dealings. The politics of this has a bad smell that’ll come back against repubs in 2012. This isn’t going to help Walker survive the forthcoming recall either. Wisconsinites are flat pissed and repubs just keep pouring gas on the fire.

    1. Not entirely true C. MS has an enviable record with Windows 7 relative to all other contenders. In fact a poll from the last couple of weeks that I saw had MS at the top of the heap in the eyes of the general pblic. Ranked ahead of Google and Apple etc in trust.

      MS has learned a lot over the years. And it’s worth remembering they have a huge bullseye on their back. Unlike any other tech company on the planet. The software development model MS uses today is often commented upon by security types and is emulated by other companies for the way it integrates security. Also in the last couple of weeks MS was the lead, in association with our government and a pile of governments from around the world, in a global coordinated effort taking down a major global botnet. It was the Rostok botnet I believe was its name.

  4. Tonight Rachel listed a whole pile of information for us which indicates an unmistakable pattern on the part of Ms. Nikolaus which would seem to leave little doubt that she has no compunction against bumping up agaisnt existing law or ethical practices for public officials. Most of you will have seen the segment so I won’t go into detail. The larger piture though is one which reveals a thoroughly corrupt republican machine in the state of Wisconsin. Given the theme that is revealed here it is no wonder Scott Walker is so emboldened. I can’t help but think that ultimately all of this will backfire on republicans. There will be a progressive backlash to this at the polls in 2012. Bet on it.

  5. In fact this is exactly like Texas in 1948 when LBJ ran for Congress. The trick is to supposedly wait for the election to be over, find out the other side’s winning vote tally and then surprise spring the lost votes that put your candidate on top. As long as you know their last move you can top it. The video was great. Thanks.

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