2007/07/29

Open Source Voting Machines

The results are in, and 3 of 4 electronic voting systems used in California failed to prove themselves 'hacker-proof' in tests conducted by the University of California. Machines from Diebold , Hart InterCivic, and Sequoia had both their software and hardware security systems penetrated or bypassed. Election results were changed and internal processes corrupted. In fact, the only company whose machines were not compromised by researchers, ES&S, got away because they failed to supply equipment by the deadline imposed by CA's Secretary of State. Though there is no reason to believe that ES&S' equipment would have faired any better.

Predictably, with hearings on the findings and potential decertification looming, manufacturers complain that the tests were biased. Counties with multi-million dollar investments worry that they'll be forced junk their expensive little bundles of potential election fraud. But in all cases, the proponents of electronic voting systems make an economic argument at the expensive of the democratic argument: "We should be allowed to do business in any way we see fit." "We shouldn't be forced to make our systems available for testing." "We shouldn't have to junk expensive systems that we've already purchased."

Even the federal government is getting involved, attempting to deal with the electorate's 'crisis of confidence' regarding the reliability of electronic voting systems. As evidence of deliberate vote manipulation in 2000 and 2004 mounts, many people have become convinced that their vote no longer counts. So...in steps Congress to put a band aid on the issue with a law mandating a 'verifiable paper trail'. But what our leader's conveniently ignore is that once an electronic tally has been compromised, the paper trail can easily be forged to reflect the doctored results. Unless the voters themselves are put in control election audits (way too unwieldy to manage), this bill is worthless.

The only solution to these problems is to restore the public's confidence in the systems themselves. This means mechanical systems with physical results that are hard to manipulate. Or...if we must have electronic voting machines, they must be open-source systems that have been subjected to the scrutiny of security researchers and submitted to rigorous validation processes. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we must mandate open-source for electronic voting machines because only open-source can provide the transparency necessary for something as important as elections. The Diebolds of the world can still make money building and deploying machines, but we should never again hear an argument that goes: "Our machines contain proprietary IP that is too important for us to expose." This is an invitation to wide spread election fraud.

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17 Comments:

I'm definitely having a "crisis of confidence."
There aren't any computers that are hacker proof.. voting machines are computers.
That the CEO of Diebold promised to "deliver" votes (in Ohio) to Bush should be enough to send shivers opf fright down any Americans spine. When the voting process becomes secondary to corporate interests, democracy is in danger.
Nvisiblewmn... I won't vote on touchscreen voting machines--don't trust the damn things.

There aren't any computers that are hacker proof

Suzie-Q... Though you're technically correct, there are software systems that are tamper resistant and software processes for voting that would guarantee reconstruction of the actual, verifiable vote count even in the presence of fraud. Many have already been proposed by security and cryptography experts.

The key is expert and peer review in an open system. Closed systems will always be less secure, or in this case, fraud resistant than open systems.
Hello, Kvatch.
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't it necessary to write by-passes into the code in order to troubleshoot the system later?
I'm not visiting your blog again Kvatch! It's too...too depressing.

So from what you're saying the Republicans will win again in the next Presidential election. Bush will be their candidate surely. George W. that is. Or his dog perhaps!

I'd prefer his dog.
Where it really got ugly is when you said, "even the U.S. government is getting involved". That doomed the whole project.
Why do we need voting machines anyway? There will never be another election. Bush will stage some sort of "terrah-ist attack" and declare martial law and suspend elections.

By the time the "emergency" is over, he will have declared himself dictator for life.
That the CEO of Diebold promised to "deliver" votes (in Ohio) to Bush should be enough to send shivers opf fright down any Americans spine.

Lew... and deliver he did, if memory serves.

ProgressiveT... You know you're right! I think I heard that at a Diebold sponser software development conference. ;-)
I'm not visiting your blog again Kvatch! It's too...too depressing.

Daniel... [sniff!]

But seriously, sometimes vote rigging gets overwhelmed by sentiments of the electorate. Look at the mid-terms. The GOP was acting for all the world like the fix was in but lost anyway. Who knows what might happen in 2008, though I think there's a clause in the Constitution that says that you have to be sentient to be president. Oh...wait! Damn! That disqualifies Bush.

Peacechick... Right you are. This bill is a worthless paper.

Sewmouse... Why declare yourself dictator when you can achieve it with the veneer of legitimacy?
I'd read during the last elections that one could reach around to the back of the voting machine, hit a reset button and vote as often as they liked, all the votes would be recorded. I wonder what would happen if no one voted...
I like the idea of voting machines, but I would want a piece of paper to take home with me. Maybe a thousand dollar bill with my vote embedded in it
Tree... Not sure about that specifically, but the Diebold machines have a switch on the logic board that will give you complete control to download new firmware. I referred to this as the Election Correction Switch

Scott... Don't get me wrong, the piece of paper they give to you verifying your vote is critical, but I don't believe that is what Congress is proposing. Just a paper trail available to election's officials.
Daniel, Bush's dog is named "Checkers", right? 8-)> Maybe the Republicans will win the next election but if not, they will probably win the one where Jeb runs in 2012.

Sorry to be such a negatorian, but that's the only way I can view this problem.

I think the only way to fix all this bullcrap is to revert to the way things were done 30 or 40 years ago in my little hometown. Local little old ladies would stay up all night counting paper ballots as many times as necessary to determine winners. I still trust little old ladies. I lost my trust for Republican-owned manufacturers of electronic voting machines, one of which had GOP Senator Chuck Hagel on its board of directors, as soon as I heard of the concept.

The machines are not tamper-proof, and once their results are tallied there isn't a way to go back and check... so maybe this is something Congress should address before the 2008 elections. I'm sure Dumbya isn't so dumb that he would sign a bill that bans electronic voting. He would undoubtedly veto such a measure.

My guess is that we will have one more presidential election "decided" by the damned things, and then Congress will take action. I hope so, anyway.

But yeah, that means a Republican may well win again in 08. This isn't going to be any slam dunk like a lot of Dems seem to think it will be... Not only will the Dems have to face the advantage the GOP has with the electronic vote, it also has to face the spin the GOP is giving to the "do-nothing Congress", which only appears that way because of the GOP's own efforts to make it so. Edwards has his haircut, Hillary has the Clinton administration "baggage" and her polarizing problem, and the conventional wisdom will soon be that Barack Obama is too inexperienced and/or "naive" (thanks for your support on that one, Hillary!)

I'm guessing that Fred Thompson is just sitting back on his lazy, undoubtedly smelly, spotty behind, licking his chops at the prospect of having FOX, the voting machines, the Wall Street Journal and the GOP spin machine all on his side.
The answer is a verifiable paper trail, with two copies. One for the voter, and one for recounts.
Maybe we can switch to voting by raising our hands.
I've always been confused by the need for voting machines in the US. What's wrong with a piece of paper and a pen and manually making that cross yourself?

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