Saturday, July 28, 2007

Unaccountable, unverifiable and inaccessible voting

To err is human, but to really foul things up takes a computer.

A July 28 New York Times article by Christopher Drew, Scientists' Tests Hack into Electronic Voting Machines in California and Elsewhere (login required), tells how three different types of electronic voting machines (Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting Systems) were easily compromised by computer scientists at the University of California, Davis.

According to the article, investigators had created situations for each system “in which these weaknesses could be exploited to affect the correct recording, reporting and tallying of votes.”

Investigators had found possible problems not only with computerized touch-screen machines, but also with optical scanning systems and broader election-management software.

Executives for the voting machine industry countered that the tests had not been conducted in a realistic environment (such as in Ohio during an actual election) and that no machine was known to have been hacked in an election. Right. But if a computer scientist at a university can do it, I'll wager that somebody else could -- and probably did -- do it.

A proposed House bill would require every state to use paper records that would let voters verify that their ballots had been correctly cast and that would be available for recounts.

The 2004 election in Morgantown, WV, was my first exposure to an electronic voting machine. I was surprised and pleased to note that a paper roll on my machine was printing out a corroborating record of my selections. Before that, things were done the old fashioned way -- with little old ladies threading together paper ballots as they were handed in.

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