Montana SoS Offers New Election Machines After Tampered Seals Discovered in Carbon County

Carbon County Election Administrator Crystal Roascio declined two brand new ES&S DS200 election tabulation machines offered by the Montana Secretary of State’s office after citizens discovered the warranty seals covering machine access screws were broken on Carbon County’s two tabulation machines.

The warranty seals were found broken during a public test of the machine organized by the Carbon County Elections Department last Thursday, May 12th. The public test was scheduled in response to growing concerns in the community regarding the accuracy and security of election tabulation machines. During the test, elections officials demonstrated the features of the DS200, running 390 ballots through the machine.

After elections officials opened the outer protective case containing the DS200 machines, Chip Bennett, a citizen in attendance, walked up to the machine and noticed that both warranty seals on either side of each of the County’s DS200 tabulation machines were broken. Bennett, who has nearly 40 years of computer consulting experience (10 years with Digital Equipment Corporation and 28 years operating his own computer consulting company), approached the county commissioners and the election administrator to inquire about the broken seals.

Bennett said that County Commissioners Scott Miller and Scott Blain (commissioner Bill Bullock had left shortly before the revelation) were silent. Roascio broke the silence and told Bennett and other attendees that she had not noticed they were broken until Bennett pointed them out. The elections administrator said that the lift supports must have abraded the seals.

One of four damaged warranty seals covering machine access service screws on Carbon County ES&S DS200 electronic tabulators.
Photo: Chip Bennett

However, the machine access screws covered by the warranty seals were found to have pieces of the seal embedded and conformed to the inside of the screw’s head, indicating that the seal had been pressed into the screw by a driver. No abrasion marks on either the seal or the lift support were visible, only circular penetration marks directly into the center of the seal, likely from a screwdriver. The seal reads “REMOVAL OF LABEL VOIDS WARRANTY”.

Typically, seals that read “warranty void if removed” are often found on electronic devices, in many cases covering service access screws that allow authorized service workers to open the product and inspect its internal components. Broken seals can indicate whether a consumer has tried to carry out an “unauthorized repair.”

In fact, the Federal Elections Assistance Commission, the body in charge of certifying election equipment for sale in the United States, notes in documentation on their website that a “physical seal” on election equipment is a “common detective control in election administration” that “permits the detection of tampering.”

The county’s two DS200’s were purchased in October of 2019 and delivered in February 2020. The machines were first used in the June 2020 Primary and in subsequent elections since, except the local school board elections.

When questioned about who could have tampered with the seals, Roascio told those in attendance that she had been present each time the ES&S approved maintenance person touched the machine and the technician never took a screwdriver or any other tool to the machine nor did he open it up.

Roascio was questioned by attendees about the existence of any election security protocols which require staff to check seals. She said that no protocol existed to check the integrity of the seals on the physical machine; just the outside case the device is stored in. EAC guidance notes that election custodians are in charge of verifying seals to ensure no unauthorized access is gained to the voting machines.

The elections administrator provided photos of the broken seals and machine security logs to the Secretary of State’s office. Despite offering Carbon County two replacement machines after discovering the broken seals, Roascio told Western Montana News that the Secretary of State’s office would not be investigating, “I have sent pictures and our security log to the SOS Security Office and they have determined no investigation was warranted.”

Strut clearance on Carbon County ES&S DS200 electronic tabulators. Photo: Chip Bennett.

Roascio said that the damaged seals were caused by the lift supports attached to the lid of the machine, however photos of the struts and the hidden screws demonstrate ample clearance for the struts to pass by the warranty seal and no material from the seal appears on the side of the lift support facing the warranty seal. Western Montana News requested copies of the security logs provided to the SoS to determine if the logs indicate when the machine may have been opened.

The decision not to replace the possibly breached machines was made by the elections department office and the Carbon County Commissioners. In an email, elections administrator Roascio said, “Our office and the County Commissioners have chosen to not receive new machines. We feel our machines are secure and have passed the initial public test and do not warrant replacement.”

Roascio also said that she has scheduled an ES&S technician to “recertify” the tabulation machines. WMN asked if the recertification of the machine indicated that the machine was currently considered not certified, but no immediate response was provided.

Western Montana News contacted the Secretary of State’s office to find out if Secretary Christi Jacobsen had inspected the photos of the broken seals herself and to get clarification on why the SoS office determined no investigation into the reason for the broken seal was necessary. An immediate response was not provided, but the office’s communications Director said they would reply.

Carbon County Commissioners agreed to attend a public forum at the Red Lodge Fairgrounds Building on May 23 at 6pm to meet with national election machine fraud expert Mark Cook and Senator Theresa Manzella.  The forum is free and open to the public.

Carbon County’s second public test for the tampered machines will be held on Wednesday, May 25th, 2022 at 1:00pm in the Carbon County Administration Building.

What do you think?