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Christian Smith-Socaris on March 26, 2009 - 9:45am
Three recent revelations about electronic voting machines highlight the maddening lack of security in paperless elections, and emphasize why paper ballot voting with robust post-election audits are a basic requirement for secure elections.
The Premier "Delete" Button, Discarding Votes Made Easy: The California Secretary of State's Office recently completed their investigation on the cause of almost 200 lost votes in the 2008 general election in Humboldt County. Faulty software from Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold) was to blame, as it was in Ohio. Both California and Ohio are suing Premier over the botched product. Premier originally denied there were any flaws in its software, alternately blaming the issue on user error and anti-virus software, but has now acknowledged they are at fault.
The investigation, however, uncovered an even more troubling problem - the machines used in Humboldt County and elsewhere had an erase button that allowed the machine's audit logs to be "zeroed out" with the touch of a button. Not only does such a capability fatally undermine the security of these machines, they were built in such a way that votes could be deleted without election workers noticing they had done so. Premier was even made aware of the insanity of including such a function in their machines. An e-mail from one of the system's developers stated that "adding a Clear button is easy, but there are too many reasons why doing that is a bad idea."
The report on this fiasco by the Sec. of State sums up the scope and depth of the problem this way: "The Clear buttons ... allow inadvertent or malicious destruction of critical audit trail records in all Gems version 1.18.19 jurisdictions, risking the accuracy and integrity of elections conducted using this voting system. Five years after the company recognized the need to remove the Clear buttons from the GEMS audit log screens, not only Humboldt, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties in California but jurisdictions in other parts of the country, including several counties in Texas and Florida, continue to use Gems version 1.18.19...."
CIA Cybersecurity Expert Warns Electronic Voting Inherently Insecure: A CIA cybersecurity expert who specializes in assessing foreign threats to US election systems has warned the federal Election Assistance Commission that electronic voting is inherently insecure. Steve Stigall was testifying on the likely rigging of electronic machines that has occurred in Venezuela, Macedonia, and Ukraine when he attacked the security of electronic voting in general. According to a transcript of the hearing obtained by McClatchy Newspapers Stigall said, "[y]ou heard the old adage 'follow the money'? I follow the vote. And wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to . . . make bad things happen."
Public Officials in Kentucky Indicted for Stealing Electronic Elections: Political corruption and vote buying have been alleged in Clay County Kentucky for decades. In an effort to counteract that tradition, the Department of Justice has indicted several public officials - including a judge, the county clerk, the school superintendent and members of the elections board — on vote buying and election fraud. According to the indictment, the defendants not only conspired to steal elections the old fashioned way, but also exploited a vulnerability in their new ES&S iVotronic paperless voting machines. The defendants are alleged to have duped voters into leaving the voting booth after they had pressed the "vote" button, which doesn't actually cast the vote, but brings up a review screen where a voter confirms their selections. Once the voter had left the booth, corrupt election workers went in and changed their votes.
This case is significant for a couple reasons. The first is that the major defense used by voting machine vendors regarding the flaws in their products has been that none of the problems have ever resulted in a stolen election. If the DOJ is correct, several elections were stolen in Kentucky on electronic machines. Second, the fact that using electronic voting machines is confusing enough that many voters can be tricked into leaving the booth before they have actually cast their ballot is a critical vulnerability in these systems that has not previously been appreciated.
Revelations like those outlined above just add to the overwhelming evidence that elections without paper records cannot be secure. And while a majority of voters in the US now cast their ballots on paper, there are still a large number of voting jurisdictions that plug their ears to the growing drum beat of warnings and defend these indefensible voting systems. Progressive leaders in these states must stand up for the rights of their constituents to free and fair elections by demanding paper ballot elections that create a permanent record of the votes, as well as strong post-election audits to detect any errors or fraud.
Progressive States Network - Paper Ballots
Progressive States Network - Post-election Audits
Wired - Report: Diebold Voting System Has 'Delete' Button for Erasing Audit Logs
California Secretary of State - Report Concerning Errors and Deficiencies in Diebold/Premier GEMS Version 1.18.19
McClatchy Newspapers - Most Electronic Voting Isn't Secure, CIA Expert Says
Brad Blog - KY Election Officials Arrested, Charged with "Changing Votes at E-Voting Machines"