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Electronic Voting Systems

Martin County Democrats

Electronic Voting Systems

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), tech advisors to Technical Guidelines Development Committee (that will issue federal voting guidelines in 2007) just released a whitepaper. Major recommendation: require voting systems to be "software independent" (provide independent evidence of voter's record that can provide an audit or check on the accuracy of the electronic counts that is independent of the machine's software) e.g., marked ballot that is scanned or paper print out from touch screen (DRE) system.

HR 550, Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act: Sponsors: Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) -- met with supporters of the bill for early passage in 110th Congress to rectify e-voting machine problems before 2008 elections; Wexler praised NIST Report recommending national standards for paper trail.

Vendor Issue:

  • Jurisdictions have become dependent on voting system vendors that provide ballots, programming, testing services, maintenance - all without public oversight. Amounts to privatization of voting process to four vendors.
  • Secret source code in machines means vendor is only party able to program, test, service equipment, etc. New standards needed to require vendors to reveal source codes; use COTS (commercial off the shelf) software rather than secret source code. Issue not included in current HR550.

Voting Equipment Issues

Touch Screen (DRE): poor track record, little voter confidence; no recount/ independent audit capabilities.
Printer add-ons experienced paper jamming; no-print means no vote recorded; tape printouts difficult to read thru viewer and don't match screen view of ballot. Some states moving away from DREs due to unreliability, lack of voter confidence, cost overruns on maintenance.

Optical Scanners:

  • Diebold AccuVote Optical Scan: tested by Leon County, hired hacker able to flip votes - only had access to the removable memory card; system later tested by University of Connecticut - found system could be compromised in a matter of minutes using off the shelf equipment even with memory card sealed in place; also corruption could include timed invasive changes so that machine passed pre-tests, but shifted votes on election day.
  • ESS Optical Scan System: numerous reported problems, malfunctions in Hawaii; missed votes in 98% of Texas election; major equipment delays in Rhode Island.
  • Sequoia brand relatively new, few problems reported to date.

Thanks to Lani Havens for research.