Thursday, September 16, 2004

How It Works: Holding the Vote-Counting Machines Accountable

By Lisa Guernsey, New York Times, September 16, 2004

Today's New York Times' Circuits sections features a "How It Works" story that focuses on how electronic voting machines, and Diebold's machines in particular, are tested and prepared for elections. The article focuses on specific security risks that have been discussed and debated in recent months, such as connectivity to the Internet, software testing and smart cards.



Computerized voting machines are attracting a lot of attention in this election year, but one system is being watched particularly closely: the AccuVote-TS.

The AccuVote-TS has been the subject of at least four studies over 14 months that expose security holes. This spring California's secretary of state, Kevin Shelley, blasted the manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems, for not following proper procedures in updating its software. Those problems and a battery defect that rendered some machines unusable for hours during the March primary prompted Mr. Shelley to order all counties using touch-screen machines to offer a paper alternative.

Still, the AccuVote-TS will be used by more voters than any other electronic system this fall. Precincts with more than 6 percent of registered voters will use Diebold's system, according to the research company Election Data Services. It says that over all, 29 percent of voters are registered in precincts where ballots will be cast electronically.

Nearly all voters in Maryland and Georgia will use AccuVote-TS, which is also the primary machine used in the California counties of Alameda and Plumas.


Officials say that no matter what machines are used, hackers and malfunctions will be kept at bay. "The voters can be assured that we've done everything humanly possible to make the voting equipment secure and safe for them to use," said Linda Lamone, administrator of Maryland's State Board of Elections.

What exactly is being done to build that confidence? Here is a look at some of the oft-cited risks related to the Diebold machine and how they are, or are not, being mitigated.

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