17 October 2014

Amy Searcy, the Hamilton County Board of Elections Supervisor, is currently the chief spin doctor for the Romney campaign, continually discounting his ties to the Hart InterCivic vote counting company. Since the Columbus Free Press began its reporting on the Romney presidential campaign and Romney family ties between voting machine manufacturer Hart InterCivic, Searcy has stepped forward in the press and in social media to repair public perception about the security of these deeply flawed devices.

Searcy is quoted in the Washington Post saying that "Hart has nothing to do with" vote tabulation in Hamilton County. However, in public records obtained by the Free Press this past April, the Hamilton County Board of Elections confirmed that their vote tabulation hardware and/or software was "Hart InterCivic."

Searcy told the NBC affiliated blog theGrio, "Whoever is spreading these rumors is needlessly unsettling voters about things that are not true...Any kind of discontent in the electoral process is based in false rumor."

Mere hours after the Free Press exposed her falsehoods, the arch-conservative news source NewsMaxx chose to reprint her statements as if they were facts. What neither the Washington Post nor NewsMaxx chose to mention was Amy Searcy's ties to Tea Party activists. In April, Searcy addressed Tea Party activists at a major poll worker recruitment event in Cincinnati.. The Post also failed to note that she serves both as Chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections and Vice Chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party. She seems to be well positioned to be the Kathleen Harris of Cincinnati in the 2012 presidential election.

Earlier this month, Searcy was responsible for sending erroneous voting information on postcards to 225,000 voters. When confronted by the press the mistake was called a printer's error.

Days earlier, apparently blissfully unaware of the deep security flaws in her equipment, Searcy informed Cincinnati.com (a Gannett Company) that it was permissible for voters to bring an iPad into the voting booth. Voters are not permitted to use cell phones in the polling place.

Despite assertions about the security of Hart's equipment made by Searcy, Hart InterCivic and others, the landmark EVEREST study commissioned by former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner found numerous security flaws. One security expert involved in the EVEREST study confirmed that it is entirely possible to subvert a Hart eSlate machine with a portable device such as an iPad. In its final report, the team of respected academics concluded (italics in original document, bold type is this author's emphasis):

There is a veritable sea of previously undetected functionality in the Hart system. Note that we found what we believe is only a tiny fraction of the features enabled through undocumented software triggers, e.g., Windows registry entries.
  • An attacker may subvert all back-end data protections in the Hart and Premier systems by exploiting combinations of new and previously known vulnerabilities.
  • It [is] possible to replace Hart system firmware in seconds with unfettered access to the equipment.
  • The previously unevaluated ExpressPoll electronic poll book is trivially vulnerable to an attacker. The team was able to completely replace the software on the pollbook and compromise voter data within an hour of gaining access to the device.
The Free Press contacted one of the academics involved in the study, William Enck, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at North Carolina State. When asked about the vulnerability of these machines to subversion by means of an iPad, Enck replied "It is entirely possible for a malicious attacker to subvert a Hart eSlate machine with a portable device through the built in serial port."

Phone calls to Ms. Searcy seeking comment for this article were not returned by press time. What is known is that Hamilton County should be under the greatest level of scrutiny during this election cycle.

As the Today show offered, as goes Hamilton County, so goes Ohio -- and as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.

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Gerry Bello is the chief researcher at the Columbus Free Press. He holds a degree in computer security from Antioch College. Bob Fitrakis is the Editor of the Free Press. He holds Ph.D. in Political Science and a J.D. from the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.