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July 29, 2007

Today's Voting Machines Post - Prove It

-- by Dave Johnson

The California Secretary of State ordered tests on all the voting machines. They flunked. Most vote machines lose test to hackers,

State-sanctioned teams of computer hackers were able to break through the security of virtually every model of California's voting machines and change results or take control of some of the systems' electronic functions, according to a University of California study released Friday.

The researchers "were able to bypass physical and software security in every machine they tested,'' said Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who authorized the "top to bottom review" of every voting system certified by the state.

Suppose they fix these "vulnerabilities? But o matter how much testing you do and bugs or vulnerabilities you fix there are going to be more - the ones we don't know about. That is how it is with computers.

Here's a simple test for election systems: "Prove it." What do I mean? Suppose you have a perfect voting machine and every possible security problem that anyone can think of is accounted for. The machine's code is carefully inspected. The hardware is working. So I go in and cast a vote, and they say, "Your vote was recorded accurately." I say, "Prove it."

They can't. So I'm not happy.

Or, imagine this test: You ask them to let you cast the only vote and then they count the votes. You cast a vote for 'A' but tell them that you cast a vote for 'B'. There is no way they can PROVE you did that. So no one has a reason to trust the "election" results.

Here is the answer - the only answer. After you cast your vote, a paper record of your vote is printed, you look at it, and you put it into a separate box. Now there is a way to PROVE how people voted. You open the box, you count the ballots. You prove it.

The only solution to the voting machines problem is to print a paper ballot that the voter examines. If you have that system in place then it doesn't matter if the machine was hacked, or broken, or you made a mistake. With that piece of paper you have a way to double-check what the machine did. Without that piece of paper it doesn't matter how secure the machine is - because you can't prove it.

Posted by Dave Johnson at July 29, 2007 7:49 AM

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Comments

In Portugal they still use paper ballots and count the votes by hand. I'm not sure how many other countries still do this. I agree, it's important to have that paper record and look at it to verify that your vote was recorded properly -- unless it's possible to hack the machines so they print one thing and record another.

I learned in civics eons ago that even the paper ballot system has lots of room for throwing elections. Ballots get discounted at the slightest excuse. I guess there's no perfect system.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 29, 2007 3:48 PM

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