Seth Woolley's Blog

Occasional Musings

Wed Sep 23 06:19:16 2009 -- Open letter Regarding Trout Hiring

Open letter Regarding Trout Hiring(0)

Uodate 2012-04-21:

On the very issue of HB3074, if you look at the rules they actually implemented, they weren't as I was told by Trout.

So yeah, no integrity.  See for yourself, look at OAR 165-007-0310 that specifies that the processes will be SECRET.  Way to go Trout.

I guess I was right to be suspicious about him all along.

Trout got the benefit of the doubt with me.  There's no doubt any more.

Update 2011-05-24:

After a couple years of dealing with Mr. Trout, the concerns mentioned in the below letter have been addressed and it is my belief that Trout administers state elections with integrity.  Paperless elections are indeed controversial, but Trout now works in a full paper ballot, auditable election system as an administrator under a progressive official.  In multiple opportunities I have had to interact with Trout, he has listened to concerns and not stonewalled as Bev Harris accused. In essence, the information that may be found online isn't as accurate as it may seem.

I suggest that people give Trout the benefit of the doubt and deal with him on a direct level before coming to their own conclusions and not jump to conclusions based upon hearsay.

HB3074 (2011) has been introduced that would enable electronic voting for what HAVA calls long-term absentee voters, intended to enfranchise military service members.  The current system of facsimile voting is flawed beyond belief and it needs updating.  By allowing the use of e-mail, better, more secure, more open technology can be enacted by rule.

The rules will be developed with the Department of Defense and election security experts.  It was interpreted by some that the statute changes don't address the trust issues that electronic voting has brought up since the 2000 election.  By deferring to rule-making process, in fact, I believe it does.  The worst elements of HAVA are where it went too far and added verbage that handcuffed the technical experts to make rules with more insight than the details of the statute, rendering them unable to complete its intent and vision.  HB3074 is actually well-written in my view and deserves support rather than opposition, to help lead us to better, more secure, more accessible voting, electronic or otherwise, in the future, where, I hope we can have open, paper-backed, cryptographically secure elections for everybody.

By attacking Trout personally rather than the issues of the bill, the bill's detractors have unfortunately gone down the wrong path.

I suggest they work with rather than in opposition to the elections division in formulating a better bill.  Perhaps during rule-making their complete concerns can be addressed under the stated intent of the statute, the spirit in which the bill was offered, and what testimony for or against it parameterized the goals of the Oregon community.

Seth Woolley

End Update

( See the press release at http://pacificgreens.org/node/81 )

Secretary of State Kate Brown:

I write to you regarding your recent hiring of Stephen Trout as the new Director of Elections.  I have a few questions, but first, I will provide the context in which my questions originate.

A number of people have brought to my attention Mr. Trout's history as an elections administrator.  Frankly, the information, which can now be found online, is disturbing.

----

Bev Harris, of the nation's premier election oversight group Black Box Voting (BBV), says he is, "a supporter of paperless touch-screens and worse, has demonstrated a dreadful attitude towards citizen oversight."

He was on their "Gotta Be Replaced" list of election administrators who are hostile to election transparency.

Mr. Trout tried to keep BBV from auditing the election in San Bernardino County and is closely tied to Scott Konopasek, who was famously quoted by the NY Times as saying he has to sometimes "massage the data" when asked how the vote totals went down in the middle of a count for a progressive candidate. Konopasek and Trout were ultimately dismissed from both positions there for cause, including not being responsive to superiors when problems were pointed out.

Black Box Voting in 2006 listed Stephen Trout again when they updated their "Gotta Be Replaced" list, highlighting the relationships among the top four on the list:

http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/1954/32750.html

Elections work is extremely challenging, but it's made worse when a small percentage of obstructive and vendor-friendly officials achieve positions of influence. It's one thing to have a mishap or two, but certain elections officials seem to be in trouble all the time. [...]

Some of the "Gotta Be Replaced" list remain in office, embattled. Those who have remained try to hire those who resigned, as consultants, to come in and give seals of approval to problematic elections and equipment.

Scott Konopasek: Was elections chief in Salt Lake County (UT) went to Snohomish County (WA) where he ushered in Sequoia touch-screens; from there he went to San Bernardino County (CA) where he also pushed through Sequoia touch-screens.

In August 2004, Konopasek admitted to Black Box Voting investigators (unbeknownst to him, in front of a New York Times reporter) that he had occasionally had to "massage" the data on election night. That admission made the New York Times. Two months later Konopasek apparently offended county supervisors so badly that he was terminated.

Konopasek and his sidekick, Stephen Trout (formerly of the Bill Jones regime at the California secretary of state's office), formed an elections consulting company.

Conny McCormack: McCormack had been in charge of jury selection in Dallas County (TX), where she became head of elections. Shortly after taking office, Drake-McCormack was hit with violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 over an incident related to installation of voting machines. She subsequently came under investigation by the Texas Attorney General on allegations that she had manipulated an election by shorting ballots in African-American districts.

While still under investigation, McCormack went to San Diego County, CA. She took over from San Diego's Ortiz, who had been indicted. McCormack turned over the reins in San Diego County and took over in Los Angeles County.

Conny McCormack appears to be related to Scott Konopasek through marriage (her sister-in-law is a Konopasek.) Black Box Voting has an unconfirmed report from local citizens that Konopasek's new consulting firm participated in a vendor meeting with McCormack regarding a telephone voting system.

Mischelle Townsend: (Riverside County, CA) - After a contentious stint as Registrar of Elections in Riverside County, where Townsend brought in Sequoia paperless touch-screens, shared a public relations company with Sequoia, appeared in commercials for Sequoia, and allowed Sequoia technicians intimate access to her voting system during live elections, Townsend resigned. She took a position with Konopasek's consulting firm to make it Konopasek, Trout and Townsend.

Curiously, Mr. Trout has purged his San Bernardino and ForeFront Elections information from his Linkedin account, only choosing to highlight his CA Secretary of State work, and then zooming forward to his current company, Election Solution Providers. ( http://www.linkedin.com/pub/stephen-trout/a/b7b/607 )

In your release, you note that a qualification listed was his "defense" of "election processes" in court.

Under his Election Solution Providers moniker, he has attacked the California Secretary of State for decertifying election software when CA Secretary Bowen became convinced the machines were not secure enough to ensure accuracy of the election:

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting_systems/pemt/may08/election-so\
lution-providers.pdf

He was clearly working in the interest of the vendors.  Why? He makes a living implementing computerized touchscreen voting.

In addition, I found that it was reported that Mr. Trout didn't just resign from San Bernardino County Asst. Registrar of Voters. He was placed on administrative leave with some sharp criticism from his superiors.  The administrative leave was essentially a firing, as they had already appointed a replacement and said the leave was required to ensure a smooth transition.

http://www.google.com/search?q=%22stephen+trout%22+%22paid+administra\
tive+leave%22
http://web.archive.org/web/20041121044439/http://www.vvdailypress.com\
/2004/11006133329466.html

The Daily Press reported:

Former San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Scott Konopasek and Assistant Registrar Steve Trout are on paid administrative leave. Konopasek, who started in January 2003, had come under criticism for problems at the registrar's office.

"I've been consistently a critic of the Registrar of Voters during the past year due to the fact that Scott Konopasek has always had a difficult time working under the management or leadership here in the county of San Bernardino," said First District Supervisor Bill Postmus.

Postmus cited problems with preparing and mailing sample ballots in the primary and general elections this year. Konopasek ignored a county commission's suggestions to solve problems in the primary election, the supervisor said.

Konopasek will receive $9,416 a month while on paid administrative leave through Dec. 24. County spokesman David Wert said the paid leave is necessary so Konopasek will be available to the county as needed. His salary was $113,000 a year, plus benefits.

Trout will be on paid leave under the same circumstances through Jan. 15.

In a press release, county officials credited Konopasek and Trout with successfully establishing electronic voting in San Bernardino County and making provisions for disaster victims to vote during the 2003 wildfires.

His resignation was forced: His administration was bungled.

It's interesting that the article notes "success" implementing electronic voting while at the same time criticizing his lack of success actually implementing a key part of the election that provided transparency and ignoring the county commission when instructed to fix the problems.

Is that what we actually want in Oregon?  Paperless computer voting, poorly implemented?

You are quoted in the Statesman Journal:

"Oregon is very fortunate to get someone of Steve Trout's caliber for this job," Brown said in a statement. "I'm confident he will continue Oregon's tradition of fair, impartial and accurate elections. He has the knowledge, creativity and on-the-ground experience to secure the integrity of our elections and foster the innovative strategies that have made Oregon a model for this country."

I write software for touchscreen systems on Windows, the most common platform for election touchscreens, and am an elections administrator myself for the Pacific Green Party of Oregon. I can tell you from professional experience that I would never accept an electronic voting system except as open source software with a full paper trail.  HAVA ties my hands here, as a subsidy for electronic voting, for I would rather not use electronic voting at all except in tally and tabulation with a stringent, strong statistical hand-count.  I have also myself written online election software and processes that are open source and designed for secure online voting for computer science professionals aware of how to use advanced cryptographic software.

Sequoia touts its proprietary source code as a security "benefit", in violation of the Kerckhoffs-Shannon principle, "The enemy knows the system."  The California Secretary of State's Audit of the Sequoia systems by UC Berkeley found 800,000 lines of code just for an elections system application, not including the operating system and library code (based on virus-prone Windows).  That such a system, without public review, is trustworthy is not taken seriously by any reputable security researcher.  As a security researcher with a dozen discovered vulnerabilities to my name, I cannot consider it trustworthy, especially without a paper trail.  Vulnerabilities in Sequoia systems, including those that claim to have a paper trail, are widely known:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/12/sequoia_evoting_machine_felle\
d/print.html

Computer scientists have figured out to how trick a widely used electronic voting machine into altering tallies with a technique that bypasses measures that are supposed to prevent unauthorized code from running on the device.

The research team - from Princeton University, the University of California at San Diego and the University of Michigan - pulled off the attack by obtaining a Sequoia AVC Advantage legally off the internet (http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~appel/avc/). Without access to any of the source code, they reverse engineered the hardware. They were then able to reverse engineer the software it ran by analyzing the machine's ROM.

Sequoia and manufacturers of other brands of e-voting machines frequently discount vulnerability research into their products by pointing out that the underlying source code is closely guarded. Researchers in many studies, they argue, have unrealistic access to the devices' inner workings.

"What we have shown or what I hope we have shown in this paper is that that criticism in untrue," Hovav Shacham a professor at UC San Diego, told The Register. "It might take a little more work if we don't have the source, but nevertheless we're able to find vulnerabilities and exploit them in useful ways in machines where the only access we have is the physical artifacts themselves."

Sequoia in the past has gone to great lengths to prevent outsiders from peering into its proprietary voting machines. Last year (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/20/sequoia_kills_evoting_review/\
),
it threatened to sue after a county in New Jersey asked Princeton University researchers to inspect election gear suspected of malfunctioning during the presidential primary election.

I am concerned that Mr. Trout's advocacy of paperless touchscreen voting and past work against election transparency will interfere with his ability to provide Oregonians an accurate election, as BBV noted, "Those who have remained try to hire those who resigned, as consultants, to come in and give seals of approval to problematic elections and equipment."

It is simply not acceptable to have a known advocate of paperless, unauditable elections heading Oregon elections.  A democratic election is one that is transparent and can be audited. In addition to his anti-democratic advocacy, we risk his hiring or paying as consultants the rest of his associates.

Due to my concerns, I have a few questions regarding his hiring:

1. Were Mr. Kanopasek or any on the BBV Gotta Be Replaced list used as a reference for Mr. Trout?

2. Were any electronic voting system company employees or consultants, especially for Sequoia, used as a reference for Mr. Trout?

3. Did anybody do a basic web search for information on Mr. Trout and his references?

4.  Did anybody inquire as to the circumstances around Mr. Trout's dismissal as the San Bernardino County Asst. Registrar of Voters?

5.  Who was on the hiring committee that was mentioned in your press release announcing his hiring?

6.  Were there any representatives of election machine vendors on the hiring committee, specifically Sequoia?  If so, which ones?

7.  Were there any representatives of public advocacy groups on the hiring committee that could properly screen Mr. Trout?  If so, which ones?

8.  Based on the record provided, did Mr. Trout mislead the committee or fail to provide any relevant facts at any point in the hiring process?  What is the redress process if this did happen?

9.  What is Mr. Trout's detailed opinion of the security issues inherent in proprietary voting systems and the need for a paper trail?  Is he at least open to open source voting?

It is unfortunate that these questions need to be asked, but, for the sake of Oregon's election system, somebody must do the asking.

I opposed you in the 2008 general election for Secretary of State based on Bill Bradbury's historical work as a partisan hack, viciously working to keep ideas and candidates he disfavored off of the ballot and rigging the redistricting process.  Your historical support for 2005 HB 2614, initial shyness regarding finance reform, and other democratic election reforms were why I entered the race. You also stated that you wanted to run the office like Bradbury did.

While Bradbury was terrible, I was concerned you were going to end up like him if I did not provide a progressive challenge.

After the election was over, I was hopeful that you were changing the direction of the Secretary of State's office from Bradbury's historical work as a partisan hack by at first keeping John Lindback from giving false testimony against ranked ballots to the state legislature, and the election reform community was quite excited to see Lindback leave his position.

Things were looking up.

This new appointmentment, however, while it doesn't look partisan, appears to have been a major gaffe.  I encourage you to review the suggestion of your hiring committee and exercise your power to seek the answers to my questions and take any appropriate action you deem is necessary to correct the situation.

I am CC'ing a number of reporters who have reported on the appointment and a number of newspaper editors who may also be interested. I'm sure they would appreciate a reply to my questions as well.

With great concern for our democracy,

Seth Woolley

Secretary, Pacific Green Party of Oregon

2008 PGP Candidate, Secretary of State

To:

"Kate Brown, Secretary of State" <oregon.sos@state.or.us>

CC:

"Jeff Mapes, Oregonian" <jeffmapes@news.oregonian.com>, "Peter Wong, Statesman Journal" <pwong@StatesmanJournal.com>, "Mark Zusman, Willamette Week" <mzusman@wweek.com>, "News Editor, Portland Mercury" <news@portlandmercury.com>, "Tim King, Salem News" <tim@salem-news.com>, "Eric Howald, Salem Monthly" <editors@salemmonthly.com>, "Jack Wilson, Register-Guard" <jack.wilson@registerguard.com>, "Kim Jackson, Albany Democrat-Herald" <kim.jackson@lee.net>, "Mark Garber, Portland Tribune" <mgarber@theoutlookonline.com>, "City Desk, Bend Bulletin" <news@bendbulletin.com>, "News Desk, East Oregonian" <eonews@eastoregonian.com>, "Bob Hunter, Ashland Daily Tidings" <bhunter@mailtribune.com>, "Oregon Voter Rights Coalition" <info@oregonvrc.org>, "Bev Harris, Black Box Voting" <crew@blackboxvoting.org>, "Rick Dancer, 2008 Rep. SOS Candidate" <rick@rickdancer.com>, "Jeff Alworth, Blue Oregon" <alworth@gmail.com>

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