CBS plays catch-up: Electronic Voting Causing Concern


January 3, 2004, 09:40 PM

There is also a video at the webpage but I don't know how to link to it

Electronic Voting Causing Concern

Jan. 3, 2003

(CBS) As the curtain opens on this presidential election year, more Americans than ever will cast their votes electronically, CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell reports.

"Everybody who tried it thought it was terrific," said Margaret Luca, who supervises elections in Fairfax County, Virginia, where voters make their selections by simply touching a screen.

It turns out that not everybody thought it was terrific. Rita Thompson believes the machines cost her a second term on the County School Board, which she lost by just 1% of the vote.

Several people had started to complain about the fact that either they didn't see my name on the ballot, or it would take three or four times for the touch screen to light up my name," Thompson said.

Officials confirm that improper stacking of their machines may have damaged the touch screens in a way that cost Thompson votes on at least one machine, Mitchell reports. They can't be sure about all the other polling places because the machines, made by Advanced Voting Solutions, do not create a paper record of every vote.

"We have nothing to validate this election – except they say, 'We believe the machines worked well,'" Thompson said.

States like Virginia had hoped the machines would help prevent the chad fiasco that made Florida a punch line, but there's a growing number of experts who question the accuracy and security of electronic voting.

Avi Rubin and a team of researchers examined software code developed by Diebold Election Systems, the largest manufacturer of electronic voting machines.

"There are many things that we teach in Security 101 that were not understood by the developers of these machines," Rubin said. "Within an hour of looking at the source code in the Diebold machines, we knew were looking at very bad code."

That code, Rubin says, was vulnerable to tampering that could manipulate vote totals. The researchers are especially critical of the so-called smart cards that control each machine - the card's PIN number was simply: 1-1-1-1.

"A 15-year-old in a garage could manufacture smart cards and sell them on the Internet that would allow for multiple votes," Rubin said.

Diebold Marketing Director Mark Radke says Rubin's team examined code that is not currently used in his company's machines. However, Mitchell reports, he admits that independent reviews by Ohio and Maryland have helped Diebold remedy potential weaknesses - like the PIN number.

"I wouldn’t call them holes. I would say we enhanced the security of the system with some of the changes that were made," Radke said. "The touch screen machine and all electronic voting we offer is very secure."

Still, Diebold will not guarantee tamper-proof technology.

That's not good enough for California, which now requires their electronic machines to provide a ballot-by-ballot paper trail by 2006. Members of Congress are proposing similar legislation to expand such a requirement nationwide.

"That piece of paper would be kept by the voting machine and used in a recount," Rubin said.

But opponents argue that a record would require storing and securing thousands of pounds of paper.

"We are trying to get away from that kind of thing," Luca said.

The upcoming presidential primaries could make or break electronic voting's reputation, Mitchell reports. After the controversial election of 2000, voters may have little tolerance for being bitten by technical bugs.

"I'm afraid that they will sweep this under the rug and not look at the problem that happened in my instance, and not improve," Thompson said. "I don't want this to happen again."

Last week, a Washington-based software company that makes security software for electronic voting machines admitted that hackers broke into its computers and stole internal documents. The company, VoteHere, described the documents as "unsensitive."

©MMIV, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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January 4, 2004, 01:31 AM
Paper trails are virtually useless IMO. If they're reasonably tamper-proof, "electronic voting" becomes merely selecting your candidate on a touchscreen and having the ballot printed out, to be re-counted by a machine if there's a question about the validity of the vote counts. This is pretty much how things are done today AFAIK, except the mechanism by which the ballots are created. Doing mandatory paper-trail printouts that way eliminates one major benefit of electronic voting: no printing costs. it isn't cheap to print 10 million ballots. And of course there would be hardware failures resulting in some precincts having to have poll workers manually verify votes, which violates privacy issues and allows the mob to buy votes... Organized criminals could sabotage the ballot printing machine and bribe the poll worker to confirm that various people voted for the "correct" candidate.

There are some fringe schemes that have been cooked up (using hashes/crypto) that provide some level of assurance that your vote was counted by giving you a hash receipt of your vote, generated in such a way that you can verify your vote was counted properly when the election generates the final result (vote totals plus a hash that verifiably includes your hash, and the grand total hash verifiably produces the vote counts). I don't recall exactly how this worked but I can track down information on the scheme if anyone's curious. Unfortunately, TPTB are technophobic. You can bet that one mention of hashes and they'd be asking why the proposal gives drugs to voters.

Jim March
January 4, 2004, 10:22 AM
I'm aware of (and approve of) the Australian electronic system - totally open-source, download the code and check out it's honesty, plus it's built on Linux. Runs on old scrap Pentium 200s or similar for dirt-cheap terminals. No paper trail.

I actually agree that with totally open-source software that can be checksummed in the field to make sure it's the "known honest stuff", a case can be made that paper trails aren't necessary, so long as there's enough tamper-resistant features in place that the county-level elections officials can't booger it.

BUT: with the current trend towards closed-source voting applications by ES&S, Diebold, Sequoia and the like, WE NEED PAPER. Paper that can be hand-counted will act as a deterrant to mass-scale fraud.

Even that has limits though: the known "user error rates" of MOST voting systems range from 1% to 4%, so as long as you vote-hack within the known error rates, fraud won't be provable as such. "Micro-scale vote hacking" is still a problem because done consistently, it can change the balance of power in the legislature or even throw a Prez race.

And we know that at LEAST one of the major voting systems has totally dishonest software: Diebold. Dear GOD what a mess :barf:. - if you're just starting out in this issue, read my letters to the California SecState for a reasonably quick intro.

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