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Criticizing the criticisms in an ongoing e-voting saga

Representatives from three voting machine companies expressed their criticisms against a California state-sponsored “top-to-bottom review” that found “very real” vulnerabilities in their products.

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 her office.

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Diebold and Sequoia further pointed out that the study evaluated outdated versions of the voting machines and their software.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 Schafer.

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.”

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RE: Do it the same way as banks.
By Ringold on 8/3/2007 3:56:31 AM , Rating: 2
Let the flames begin... ;)

Let me take a step further! And before I do, allow me to credit Robert Heinlein for the following idea.

Lets throw out this universal suffrage crap. Even my 12 year old niece knows there's a lot of idiots out there that shouldn't be handed the right to vote on a silver platter.

Lets chop American's up in to two categories. Legal residents, and Citizens. Citizens can vote, and receive access to the full array of government services, while others do not. One becomes a citizen only be public service, be it volunteering for military duty, extensive community service or some other route where time and effort are sacrificed in the name of the country.

This right could be bestowed individually, so one isn't born a Citizen and one can't through marriage become a Citizen. Once citizenship is attained, it's for life.

Asides from a college degree, it would also be the new sole method of entry to the United States; volunteering for our military, learning English, and then being granted the title.

No more uncaring voters. And through virtue of having spent time either defending the community or serving it (auto-citizenship, perhaps, for firefighters, police, etc), voters would also have a more.. broad view of society from which to base their votes.

Oh, and if some guy in another country wants to volunteer to serve in our Army so that his family can have a better life and doesn't mind, say, a slightly longer than normal contract compared to residents, then that'd be okay by me too, just the kind of people we need.

I don't believe it'd necessarily be any sort of divergence from the intentions of the framers of the constitution, either. Suffrage was FAR from universal then.. I'd even say they might like the idea.

Somebody can flame me, don't really care. It'll never get implemented. :)

RE: Do it the same way as banks.
By rtrski on 8/3/2007 1:15:15 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I've always liked that idea myself. Frankly I was throwing out the whole pay for votes incentivizing idea as a lark. I was expecting far more flames than I got.

I'm with you - I don't want unmotivated, unintelligent voters voting. They'll always vote for short-term comfort at best, or at the worst based solely on surface aesthetics.

RE: Do it the same way as banks.
By iNGEN on 8/4/2007 12:51:51 PM , Rating: 2
Remember that line from Starship Troopers about the difference between a resident and a citizen? That was actually an adaptation from a 1801 comment made by then President Thomas Jefferson that the difference between a resident and a citizen is that a citizen makes the individual liberty of each and every one of his countrymen his personal responsibility.

If you are willing to modify your comment to say that citizenship is not granted, but instead that citizenship is intrinsic; displayed or recognized through some form of civil service your idea has my support!

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il
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