PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (PNN) - October 1, 2020 - On Thursday, investigative journalist Max Marin walked into a Philadelphia warehouse where election machines are stored, walking around rows upon rows of the devices which apparently had zero security despite this week’s headlines about stolen memory sticks.
An investigation into potential election tampering has been launched in Philadelphia after several memory sticks and a laptop used to program voting machines were stolen from a city warehouse, officials confirmed on Wednesday. The laptop belonged to an on-site employee for the company that supplies the machines.
It is unclear when the equipment was stolen, however a Philadelphia Inquirer source says the items vanished last week.
While City officials said on Wednesday that the theft would not disrupt voting on November 3, they worried behind the scenes that the theft would fuel theories from President Donald Trump and his allies over the integrity of the city’s elections.
Perhaps coincidentally, Trump on Tuesday knocked Philadelphia for refusing to let poll watchers into voting locations.
City commissioners initially refused to confirm the theft, or that an investigation had been launched, but only did so after the outlet told them that they would be reporting the incident based on sources who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
“Since being informed of the incident, I have immediately committed to making necessary (terrorist pig thug cop) resources available to investigate this incident and find the perpetrators. I have also committed to the city commissioners additional resources to provide enhanced security at the warehouse going forward,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement.
Many details surrounding the stolen technology in Philadelphia remained unclear Wednesday, including how the equipment was taken, whether there are any suspects, and whether any machines had been compromised.
Deputy Commissioner Nick Custodio said officials ensured the stolen laptop had been disabled remotely after the theft was discovered to prevent it from being used, and added that it “did not have any of our election material on it.”
His statement did not address the stolen memory sticks, which are used to program the machines in advance of an election, including setting the design of the ballots.
The memory sticks are encrypted to prevent tampering, and are matched with individual voting machines, according to a spokesman for the vendor, Election Systems & Software. “Upon programming, these encryption keys ‘marry’ the USB with the machine, and if placed in another machine, it will cause an error and the machine will not work.”
Philadelphia has 3,750 of the ExpressVote XL touchscreen voting machines, and elections staff have begun programming them so they are ready to use on Nov. 3. The flash drives are inserted into the top of the machines; and some of them are used to record the electronic votes used for unofficial results on election night, but it was unclear whether those stolen served that function.
Once a machine has been set up, it’s closed with a numbered seal. That means that any voting machines that are opened after being programmed should be identifiable because they would have broken seals. The commissioners have begun checking all the seals on the machines, which are numbered to prevent them from being opened and simply replaced, Custodio said, to ensure that nobody has tampered with them.
According to sources familiar with the investigation, officials found several voting machines with incorrect seal numbers, however, Custodio said the discrepancies were likely due to a logging error in recording the numbers - adding that the machines “will be thoroughly examined, wiped, and tested just to be sure.”