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Call for 'hackers' to try to access voting machines draws stern warning
By AESHA DUVAL Virgin Islands Daily News
Thursday, September 9th 2004

ST. CROIX - Law enforcement officials and the V.I. Board of Elections issued warnings Wednesday saying anyone who tampers with voting machines will face criminal prosecution.

The warning came after Elections officials received a faxed document last week stating that a $10,000 cash award would be offered to anyone who can successfully "hack" into electronic voting machines to prove whether vote tallies can be changed.

The flier lists on top in large bold letters, "Cash Payout" and further reads, "The first person to change vote tallies undetectably can claim $10,000!"

Hope Gibson, a St. Croix resident and former senatorial candidate, said she sent the document to Elections offices and the media and insists she is not asking that anyone break the law.

Gibson states in the document that she is calling the Joint Board of Elections to allow challengers the opportunity to access the voting machines and prove that the machines can or cannot be programmed to give false results.

She said similar challenges are being offered on the mainland and that the accuracy of the same machines used in the territory - the 1242 ELECTronic voting machine which is manufactured by the Danaher Corp. - have come into question.

Gibson said the $10,000 is being offered by Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist.

"I didn't do anything illegal," Gibson said Wednesday.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Azekah Jennings disagrees, saying the document can be misinterpreted as an open invitation for anyone to illegally tamper with voting machines and that by changing voting results, a cash award can be claimed.

"It is unlawful for anyone to engage in any kind of voter fraud," Jennings said. "There are substantial criminal penalties for such violations. If such actions are taken, those individuals run the risk of being exposed to criminal prosecution."

Jennings said tampering with voting machines is a federal offense and violators could face substantial fines and possibly imprisonment depending on the violation. He declined to say if criminal action would be taken.

Elections board member Alicia Wells and other members were shocked and appalled by Gibson's challenge.

"We want to make it clear that any tampering with voting machines will not be tolerated," Wells said.

Gibson said although Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. has said fail-safes are built into the machines to ensure accuracy, she believes the machines are unreliable and vulnerable. She said a paper ballot system is the only means for a voter to physically verify their vote before they cast it.

"The point that is being made here is the only people who really know if your vote counts are the voting machine vendor, the local programmer and the potential hacker - not the voter," Gibson said.

Abramson said Wednesday he forwarded the document to the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office and V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron.

"We are leaving this in the hands of law enforcement," Abramson said.

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