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Friday, September 03, 2004

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 Maryland court ignores security experts, rules in favor of Diebold

The 2004 presidential election might not be flawed like the last one was; it might be even worse. Communities across America are purchasing electronic voting (e-voting) machines, but the technology has serious security problems that aren't being addressed. Most of the machines use "black box" software that hasn't been publicly reviewed for security. Almost none provide voter-verifiable paper ballots to detect fraud. A recent analysis by several academic researchers outlines the many and varied ways that anyone from a technically proficient insider to an average voter could disrupt an e-voting system to defraud an election.

The response of some of the companies that make e-voting machines has been even more upsetting. Instead of embracing close technical review and public interest in its products, one of the three major manufacturers of these machines has embarked upon a campaign of sending cease-and-desist letters to those who criticize it. The company first sent one to the academic researchers and then later sent many to individuals and groups who republished internal email messages that reveal both the problems with the systems and employee attempts to cover up those problems.

E-Voting technology is promising, but its benefits should not obscure its dangers. Without basic auditing checks, these machines dramatically increase the chances for undetectable election fraud. This archive is a resource in the fight for accountable elections and responsible voting technology.

It is therefore disturbing that a judge in Maryland on Tuesday issued a ruling denying a request that Maryland voters be offered the option to vote on paper in the November election and that the basic security measures sought by the state's own experts be implemented. It's a bad decision, and the court had to ignore two esteemed security experts and embrace some pretty outrageous falsehoods to do it. An emergency appeal is set for September 14th.

The court adopted some strikingly wrong factual findings, and reportedly prevented the plaintiffs from presenting tons of evidence on the other side. The wrong findings include:
  1. That 'all experts agree' that DREs are 'much more secure and less vulnterable than paper ballots, even the optoscan ballots.' This is just not true. The expert reports generally indicate that optical scan systems are the most secure.
  2. The court says that 'the votes have been counted accurately.' Apparently the court didn't see fit to review an amicus brief that presented over 20 instances when that was not the case.
  3. The court says 'recounts have occurred with complete accuracy,' a stunning statement given that DREs leave nothing to recount. They simply reprint the results that the machine tabulated in the first instance. Computers definitely can and do print out the same results twice. That's not the same thing as a recount under any reasonable definition of the word. Recounts are a second 'counting' of the voters' intentions and that's not possible with DREs.
Just how bad are the Diebold electronic voting machines? By entering a 2-digit code in a hidden location, a second set of votes is created in the Diebold central tabulator. After invoking the 2-digit trigger, this second set of votes can be changed so that it no longer matches the correct set of votes. The voting system will then read the totals from the bogus vote set. It takes only seconds to change the votes, and to date not a single location in the U.S. has implemented security measures to fully mitigate the risks. It is not too late to do so, and the corrective measures are relatively simple. This program is not "stupidity" or sloppiness. It was designed and tested over a series of a dozen version adjustments, and has been in place for four years.

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