The study was lead by UC Davis professor Matt Bishop, who
discussed the study at a hearing held by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, whose
office is currently deciding whether or not to allow the machines’ use during
the Feb. 5 presidential primary.
Under a contract with UC Davis and Bowen’s office, Bishop’s study
examined machines from Diebold Election Systems, Hart Intercivic, and Sequoia
Voting Systems. The conclusions, partially released last week, included
findings that the voting systems posed difficulties for voters with
disabilities and were vulnerable to intrusion. "It may be that all of [the
vulnerabilities] can be protected against. It may be that some cannot,” said
Bishop. According to Secretary Bowen, a
fourth company, Election Systems & Software, was also to be included in the
review but was omitted because it was late in providing needed information to
According to state law, Bowen has until Friday to set the
rules for the upcoming primary election. "I intend to go through a methodical
process to determine what to do next," she said.
Sequoia Systems, in a statement released
Monday on their web site, called the study’s findings “implausible,” objecting
to the fact that the study was conducted in a closed lab environment over a
period of weeks as opposed to a true election environment or in accordance with
ISO criteria. “None of the attacks described … are capable of success,” said
Sequoia sales executive Steven Bennett to a panel of officials from the
Secretary of State’s office.
Diebold and Sequoia further pointed out that the study
evaluated outdated versions of the voting machines and their software. “While
it cannot be guaranteed that all of the extremely improbable vulnerabilities
identified are prevented by subsequent product development and updates, many
are specifically addressed,” said Sequoia. However, Sequoia acknowledged that it
is working to insure that the “few system vulnerabilities” found could not be
used to tamper with election results.
“Voting system reliability is something we're always working
at improving … security is never finished,” said Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle
Hart Intercivic also objected to the study’s laboratory
environment, stressing it was not a considerable substitute for real-world “people,
processes, procedures, policies, and technology” and, in the company’s official statement,
suggested that a better study might “define a realistic threat that faces all
layers of security in an election.”
Even members of the security community have questioned the
study’s approach: “While the goals of this effort were
laudable, our organization is concerned about its execution,” writes
Jim March of watchdog group Black Box Voting, to Secretary Bowen. “Your
agency's review only partially examines the risks of inside manipulation with
these systems. Procedural remedies can be circumvented by those with some level
of inside access. In fact, we would contend that the most high risk
scenario of all is that of inside manipulation, and we would also contend that
the systems used in California cannot be secured from inside tampering.”
Since their inception, voting machines in the US have received
a bad rap amidst a storm of negative press, mishaps, and concern about their
ability to be tampered with:
In September 2006, Princeton researchers were able to hack Diebold’s
AccuVote-TS machine, going so far as to write a computer virus that spread
between other Diebold machines. Later, voting machines from Sequoia were also found to have similar vulnerabilities. “You can’t
detect it,” explained Princeton Professor Andrew Appel.
In the same month, a
team of untrained 54-year-old women from Black Box Voting, using 4 minutes’
worth of time and $12 in tools, were able to circumvent tamper-proof seals on
a Diebold vote scanner, and were able to replace the device’s memory card.
Also in September 2006, a consulting firm working for Ohio’s
Cuyahoga County -- which includes Cleveland -- found huge discrepancies
between the electronic and paper records kept by Diebold voting machines. Ohio
was a key swing state for the tight 2004 presidential election, and its
electoral votes help decide the result.
Earlier that year in August, Diebold voting machines botched
the Alaska preliminaries in several precincts as they failed
to connect to their dial-up servers to upload vote results, slowing the
election considerably. Officials had to hand-count votes and manually upload
the totals to the central server.
In December 2005, a Diebold whistleblower under the name of “Dieb-throat,”
who was once a “staunch supporter of electronic voting’s potential” gave a scathing
interview to The Raw Story accusing Diebold of
mismanagement and burying known backdoors in their own products, including
one that made the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Alert System
for the first
week of September 2004.
In 2004, Black Box Voting released a video demonstrating that
a chimp, given
an hour of training, was able to hack a Diebold voting machine. “What you saw
was a staged production ... analogous to a magic show,” said Diebold spokesman
David Bear, in response.
These findings, as well as others both negative and
positive, culminated in a March 2007 warning from the US Government
Audit Office as it testified before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and
General Government: “[E-voting] security and reliability concerns are legitimate and
thus merit the combined and focused attention of federal, state, and local
authorities responsible for election administration.”
quote: “Voting system reliability is something we're always working at improving … security is never finished,” said Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle Schafer.