- AP NEWS - Oct 1, 2020 -
FRANK BAJAK and CLAUDIA LAUER -
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Computer thumb drives used to program Philadelphia voting machines were stolen from a city warehouse along with the laptop of an employee from the machines’ manufacturer.
The items were stolen from a warehouse in the city’s East Falls section, city election commission spokesman Nick Custodio said in a brief emailed statement, adding: “We are confident that this incident will not in any way compromise the integrity of the election.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, which first reported the theft in the majority Democratic city, said they were stolen this week.
The laptop did not hold any “sensitive election-related data” and was not used for election programming, said spokeswoman Katina Granger, of Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska, the manufacturer. She said ES&S immediately cut it off from the vendor’s network upon learning of the theft.
Granger said she was not able to address specifics about the stolen USB drives, including how many were taken and what was on them. Custodio did not answer emailed questions, including whether any of the 3,750 ExpressVote XL touchscreen ballot-marking devices used by the city might have been affected.
Pennsylvania is a crucial battleground which Trump won by 44,000 votes in 2016, with Hillary Clinton winning Philadelphia by a 67% margin, or 475,000 votes.
Election security expert Eddie Perez of the nonpartisan OSET Institute said Philadelphia voters’ confidence in the integrity of the election demands on transparency from officials that is so far lacking: “This is supposed to be a secured facility,” he said, “and apparently neither the county nor the election vendor adequately protected these sensitive assets. Why not?”
Granger of ES&S said the companies’ USB devices use multiple levels of encryption and are “married” to single voting machines during programming. But Perez said that it’s so far unclear how far along Philadelphia was in programming for the Nov. 3 election — and thus how much of a threat the theft might pose.