A voting systems expert testifying in a Georgia trial last week demonstrated that Dominion Voting Systems machines were so easily hackable he could use a Bic pen and smart card to copy, edit, and change votes in seconds, according to Law360 Pulse, which is covering the trial.
Professor J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan, the author of a highly publicized report detailing deficiencies in Dominion’s voting machines, testified at an Atlanta trial Thursday in a case filed in 2017 against the state of Georgia.
The suit was originally filed by the Coalition for Good Governance, a liberal activist group, which claimed the state’s use of voting machines which include touch-screen computers to cast ballots without the benefit of a verifiable print ballot, made the voting counts susceptible to manipulation.
After the suit, Georgia election officials changed their voting vendor in 2020 to Dominion Voting Systems, which also used a touch-screen ballot but provided voters with a paper ballot containing a QR code containing their vote information.
The Good Governance suit, however, asked a federal judge to order Georgia to stop using Dominion since they claimed their machines remain vulnerable to attack.
The suit also claimed the Dominion machines offer voters a paper QR code that cannot easily be read to verify the accuracy of their vote.
Halderman, who wrote a 96-page report in July 2021, began his demonstration before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg in Atlanta by asking a plaintiffs’ attorney to borrow a pen, Law360 Pulse reported.
The professor then inserted the pen into the Dominion voting machine and held it there for a few seconds, which caused the machine to reboot into “safe mode,” according to Halderman.
Halderman then explained that a person could copy or change files on the voting machine, change its operating settings, or install malware.
Halderman said accessing the “terminal emulator” could allow a user to bypass the computer’s normal security settings and obtain “super-user” access — something that allows a person to read, monitor, and change “anything,” including ballots, on the voting machine with “no limits,” Law360 Pulse reported.
“All it takes is five seconds and a Bic pen,” Halderman said.
Halderman also inserted a “$10” smart card into the machine. He said such smart cards can be programmed to replicate cards used by poll workers, voters, and technicians to access the voting machines.
The poll worker and voter cards can be used county-wide to “print as many ballots as you would like,” Halderman said.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys played a video, taken outside the courtroom, showing Halderman using a USB flash drive to alter votes in a way undetectable to voters.
The trial, which began Jan. 9, was over a case filed in 2017 by several voters and the Coalition for Good Governance against members of the State Election Board and then Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Judge Totenberg, from the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia and a sister to NPR’s Nina Totenberg, is expected to issue a ruling in late spring or early summer. Totenberg was appointed by then-President Barack Obama.
The plaintiffs say they are not disputing any election results in Georgia, and their case is unrelated to the 2020 election and the defamation lawsuits brought by Dominion, CBS News reported.
After the 2020 election, Dominion claimed it was defamed by several parties, including Fox News, Newsmax, OANN, and several individuals.
In April of 2023, Fox News settled its litigation with Dominion, paying the voting firm $787 million. Dominion’s litigation against Newsmax is ongoing in Delaware court.
Newsmax has stated that it acted within the bounds of a media organization to report the public claims of President Donald Trump and his lawyers.
At the time, Newsmax also reported that Dominion had denied all claims made by Trump and his team.
During this period, Newsmax asked Dominion to appear on its network to rebut claims made by the president, but Dominion declined to do so.
“In a democracy, there can be no more issue for important public discussion than the reliability of a voting company’s technology, and the current Georgia trial underscores the fact that the vulnerability of Dominion’s voting systems, machines and methodology remain highly concerning and of ongoing public interest,” Newsmax said in a statement.
“Dominion’s lawsuit against Newsmax is nothing more than a political effort to squelch free speech and a free press,” Newsmax said.
The network also noted that Dominion’s voting systems had been controversial before the 2020 election and was even the focus of a HBO documentary called “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections.”
The early 2020 documentary alleged that Dominion’s machines were hackable and did not offer a verifiable audit of votes.
In the Georgia case, Totenberg has already agreed with the plaintiffs that the direct-recording electronic voting machine system was outdated and “highly susceptible to manipulation and malfunction,” Courthouse News Service reported.
In August 2019, she ordered the state to update the election system that had been used since 2002 ahead of the 2020 primaries.
Current Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger entered a nearly $107 million contract with Dominion to install new ballot-counting devices that record votes in both the system’s software and with a printed QR barcode.
Raffensperger continues to stand by the integrity of Dominion’s voting software and systems.
“The Halderman report was the result of a computer scientist having complete access to the Dominion equipment and software for three months in a laboratory environment,” he explained in a June 2023 letter to the state legislature.
“It identified risks that are theoretical and imaginary. Our security measures are real and mitigate all of them.”
Raffensperger also indicated that a MITRE report found Halderman’s identified system vulnerabilities were “operationally infeasible.”
In a statement to Newsmax, Dominion Voting Systems claimed Halderman’s “experiment did not happen in the real world, and he had far more than a BIC pen.”
Dominion noted that the court had ordered Halderman to be “given all the passwords, security cards, exact election files, and more — everything he would need to try to cause trouble.”
Despite the unprecedented access, Dominion stated that “he was not able to prove that an election could be successfully hacked.”
The voting company said Halderman’s scenario of a hack “would require a criminal conspiracy between an army of US election officials and thousands of in-person American voters.” Such a case would also require “unfettered physical access to every election system they want to compromise, during (not after) the election. This is implausible and conspiratorial.”
Dominion emphasized that the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency concluded Halderman’s assertions are “mitigated by existing election procedures” which have been strengthened. These mandated election protocols are part of the national and state systems “over 20 years through the work of the bi-partisan EAC, State election officials, and accredited third-party testing laboratories.”
Regardless of the claims of Raffensperger and Dominion, those challenging the new system say the devices are not “voter-verifiable, secure, or reliable” and are still susceptible to the problems with the old system.
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, then-President Trump and his surrogates made numerous allegations of voter fraud and abuses, including claims that Dominion’s voting systems had been manipulated to give Joe Biden a victory in key states including Georgia.
Ultimately, neither Trump nor his campaign provided evidence to back up claims the machines had been hacked and the state of Georgia, as well as all other challenged states, deemed the results as legal and final.
President Biden won Georgia by roughly 12,000 votes in 2020. The Peach State is one of just two U.S. states that uses the Dominion machines statewide.