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October 13, 2003

E-voting and Diebold's deceptions

So not only were republicans able to steal the 2000 elections in Florida, but that disaster has accelerated the shift to e-voting, without broad discussions of its methodologies and risks. As much as I love digital technology, I am upset with any voting system that fails to provide a paper trail of any kind.

Worse still, the CEO of Diebold (the dominant player in traditional and electronic voting machines) is an activist, far-right Republican fundraiser, who wrote in a fundraising letter last year that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." This immediately makes me thinks about foxes in the henhouse. And with e-voting, there is absolutely no way to be sure votes haven't been tampered with. And a recent Johns Hopkins study of Maryland's e-voting procedures shows how easy Diebold (and flawed state safeguards) make this. (How easy, you ask? Hardwired passwords, source code exposed on public FTP sites, and the storage of election results on easily-forged smart cards. Add to this the serious flaws in the training of election workers and the physical security of the machines after their shipment to polling places, and you end up with the potential of wholesale election tampering and theft.)

Even more troubling are the comments of a whistleblower who worked with Diebold as a subcontractor in the lead-up to Georgia's 2002 gubernatorial election, which ended up with the surprise unseating of a popular Democrat by a Republican challenger who had trailed him in the polls throughout the election. Diebold subcontractor Rob Behler claims that Diebold engineers applied patches to voting machines after they were certified, and that they actively avoided recertification, due to time constraints and because it could have prevented Diebold from being paid for the machine. Why the need for patches? Because up to 30% of the machines were crashing and freezing. (The OS in question? Windows CE.)

I am always mindful of the adage that one should never suspect malice until ignorance is ruled out. Diebold sounds mighty ignorant, and it has cleared leapt into the breach with e-voting in an attempt to preserve the market share it built up on mechanical voting systems. But you know, they make most ATMs, which are about as safe and reliable as technology gets. Wouldn't you expect they could engineer a voting machine that is at least as good as an ATM? Unless, that is, there were compelling reasons to hold our votes less secure than our money. If you're the CEO of Diebold, perhaps there is a good reason.

Digital voting systems are fine-- the technology has the potential to make voting faster, more convenient, and more accessible for those with disabilities. But it is clear that e-voting needs to maintain some kind of paper trail to allow auditing.

Posted by jay at October 13, 2003 07:59 AM | TrackBack
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