Thursday, September 28, 2006

U.S. House Hearing on Paper Trails webcast live

The U.S. House Administration Committee is holding a hearing today on election security and voter verified paper audit trails. You can watch the hearing live online using RealPlayer.

Witnesses include:

Edward W. Felten, Professor, Department of Computer Science, Princeton University
Gary Smith, Election Director, Forsyth County, Georgia
Barbara Simons, Member, U.S. Public Policy Committee, Association for Computing Machinery
Keith Cunningham, Election Director, Allen County, Ohio
James Dickson, Vice President of Government Affairs, American Association of People with Disabilities
Michael I. Shamos, Professor, Institute for Software Research Director, Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, September 25, 2006

Articles I'm reading today....

There was lots of news today and over the weekend about electronic voting. Here's a quick round-up of what I'm reading:

Officials Wary of Electronic Voting Machines, by Ian Urbina in Sunday's New York Times. Excerpt:

A growing number of state and local officials are getting cold feet about electronic voting technology, and many are making last-minute efforts to limit or reverse the rollout of new machines in the November elections.

Less than two months before voters head to the polls, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland this week became the most recent official to raise concerns publicly. Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said he lacked confidence in the state's new $106 million electronic voting system and suggested a return to paper ballots.


Electronic Voting Scaled Back, by Rebekah Gordon, Alameda Newspaper Group, September 25, 2006. Excerpt:

SAN MATEO -- One thousand, nine hundred poll workers, who may have left training on the county's new electronic voting machines with the jitters about mastering the newfangled contraptions, can breathe a partial sigh of relief.

Electronic voting machines will be coming to San Mateo County this November, but not in full force. Call it "eSlate lite."

With Nov. 7 just weeks away and rising concerns over whether a full-scale implementation at the county's 472 polling places could be achieved without compromising election integrity, county Elections Officer Warren Slocum said he decided Wednesday to only use disability-accessible electronic machines and leave the rest of the election to paper ballots.

Rather than mass roll-out, Slocum said, "what we're going to do is do it in a controlled way." The eSlate machines will gradually be added over the next three to four elections instead. "It'll be a safe way to do it," Slocum said.


Following the Paper Trail, by Erik Galvan, Imperial Valley Press (Imperial County, CA), September 23, 2006. Excerpts:

The controversy has been heard from coast to coast around the nation.

A nonexistent paper trail being looked for by voters, politicians and just about everyone else filling out a ballot using electronic machines, aren't being found by some.

The word voter fraud has been attached to this controversy, but those looking for that paper trail may want to look to California.

Most states around the U.S. now use electronic-voting systems where a ballot can be cast with a touch of a screen. But in California, we've taken it a step further. We have our paper trail.


Even if there are a few glitches - according to (Imperial County registrar Dolores) Provencio, only the one paper jam - it's a system that puts Imperial County and the rest of California ahead of others around the country.

"They might be having issues," Provencio said, "but as far as a paper trail goes, we're covered."


Will the Next Election Be Hacked?, by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, Rolling Stone Magazine, October 5, 2006. Excerpt:

The debacle of the 2000 presidential election made it all too apparent to most Americans that our electoral system is broken. And private-sector entrepreneurs were quick to offer a fix: Touch-screen voting machines, promised the industry and its lobbyists, would make voting as easy and reliable as withdrawing cash from an ATM. Congress, always ready with funds for needy industries, swiftly authorized $3.9 billion to upgrade the nation's election systems - with much of the money devoted to installing electronic voting machines in each of America's 180,000 precincts. But as midterm elections approach this November, electronic voting machines are making things worse instead of better. Studies have demonstrated that hackers can easily rig the technology to fix an election - and across the country this year, faulty equipment and lax security have repeatedly undermined election primaries. In Tarrant County, Texas, electronic machines counted some ballots as many as six times, recording 100,000 more votes than were actually cast. In San Diego, poll workers took machines home for unsupervised "sleepovers" before the vote, leaving the equipment vulnerable to tampering. And in Ohio - where, as I recently reported in "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" [RS 1002], dirty tricks may have cost John Kerry the presidency - a government report uncovered large and unexplained discrepancies in vote totals recorded by machines in Cuyahoga County.

Even worse, many electronic machines don't produce a paper record that can be recounted when equipment malfunctions - an omission that practically invites malicious tampering. "Every board of election has staff members with the technological ability to fix an election," Ion Sancho, an election supervisor in Leon County, Florida, told me. "Even one corrupt staffer can throw an election. Without paper records, it could happen under my nose and there is no way I'd ever find out about it. With a few key people in the right places, it would be possible to throw a presidential election."


and listening to....

NPR's Science Friday with host Ira Flato and guests Ed Felten of Princeton and Larry Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice discussing voting technology security, reliability and usability. Friday, September 22, 2006.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New county-by-county voting equipment directory and map now online

The California Voter Foundation has published an updated county-by-county directory and statewide map depicting the voting systems used in California's 58 counties.

There are a few significant changes that have been made since the June Primary election. San Mateo County has chosen to implement an all-electronic voting system, manufacturered by Hart Intercivic. San Diego County is returning to electronic voting and will be deploying Diebold's TSx machines in all polling places. Alameda County has permanently switched from electronic to a paper-based, optical scan system, and has also switched vendors, from Diebold to Sequoia. Santa Cruz has selected Sequoia's optical scan system, and Yolo is implementing Hart's optical scan system. Many counties have also acquired new accessible devices in order to be in compliance with state and federal law.

Overall, 35 counties are using paper-based, optical scan systems, comprising 57 percent of the state's registered voters, and 23 counties are using electronic systems, all with voter-verified paper trail printers, comprising 43 percent of registered voters.

Several counties have also upgraded their optical scan systems to provide precinct counts and the opportunity for voters to correct mistakes on ballots. These include Los Angeles, Alameda, Nevada and Santa Cruz. A recent usability report published by the Brennan Center found that precinct-count optical scan voting systems performed the best in terms of minimizing voting errors that result in overvotes or undervotes in the 2004 election.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Princeton video shows how to hack a Diebold voting machine

A team of researchers has produced a video demonstrating how to hack into a Diebold electronic voting machine. The short video is worth watching, and provides the public with a close-up look at how vulnerable the machines are to tampering. (One of my favorite parts shows how one member of the research team is able to pick the lock on the memory card door in a few seconds).

The machine hacked by the Princeton team is Diebold's AccuVote TS model, which is no longer used in California. It is, however, used statewide in Maryland and Georgia, as well as in a number of other states. The Princeton team wrote a paper explaining their work in greater detail, which also features several mitigation strategies. They write:

"The most important strategy for mitigating vote-stealing attacks is to use a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) coupled with random audits. The VVPAT creates a record, verified visually by the voter, of how each vote is cast. This record can be either a paper ballot that is deposited by the voter in a traditional ballot box, or a ballot-under-glass system that keeps the paper record within the voting machine but lets the voter see it. A VVPAT makes our vote-stealing attack detectable."

California has a voter-verified paper audit trail law, as well as a law requiring random audits. However, California's "manual count" law, which mandates a public recount of the ballots from one percent of each county's precincts, may not be sufficient to detect fraud or error. The one percent level was set back in 1965, when voting systems were still largely paper-based. In light of the physical and technical insecurities we now know of in Diebold's electronic voting systems, the percentage of ballots to be recounted in California needs to be increased to mitigate the new risks. Another and perhaps better way to avoid these risks is to rely primarily on paper ballot voting systems in the first place.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New California Online Voter Guide debuts!

Today the California Voter Foundation launches the latest edition of the California Online Voter Guide, designed to help California voters easily access reliable election information. Check out today's news release for more details.

I hope you will use CVF's online guide and tell all of your friends about it too! Suggestions? Comments? Please share them with us via CVF's feedback form.