Voting machines are not secure


Representative forms of governments are based upon on the concept of voting. Casting a vote gives an individual a voice in matters of government, which affect all citizens. For these types of governments to be considered legitimate, they must obtain a consensus or mandate from the voting public to carry out their political agenda. This makes it absolutely necessary for voting and elections to remain free and fair. The voting public must be sure that their intent is accurately transmitted through the voting process.

Most states employ electronic voting machines at their polling stations. The current generation of electronic voting machines should be disqualified for any elections — federal, state or local — because they are unreliable and vulnerable. Edward William Felten, a Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University, along with graduate students Ariel Feldman and Alex Halderman, managed to hack into a Diebold Election Systems (now Premier Election Solutions) electronic voting machine on September 13, 2006. They reported that "malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection. The malicious software can modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machine, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss." Premier Election Solutions is not the only company that markets risky voting machines. Sequoia Voting Systems, which provides voting machines in 20 of New Jersey's 21 counties, also has problems. An incident in the February 2008 N.J. primary election involved Sequoia voting machines that failed to add up votes properly. A New Jersey County Clerk contacted Professor Felten to request assistance in examining the machinery. Sequoia threatened the professor with a lawsuit if he obtained any of their voting machines with the intent of carrying out the requested examination. The company has since refused to send any of their machines to Professor Felten and claims to be conducting their own investigation. 

Companies that produce the electronic voting machines used in federal elections have also refused to make their source code open to the public. While one can understand the desire to maintain company intellectual property, the source code for electronic voting machines should not be secret. It is not technically challenging, so there is little fear that other companies will steal patented trade secrets. There are several companies who can provide electronic voting machines for use in federal elections. We should not settle for a bidder who refuses to make their source code public. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and while there may not be hidden threats within the source code, we cannot know for sure until it is made public. We cannot allow our voting process to be susceptible to such external and internal risks.

Electronic voting machines must produce a voter-certified paper trail. Without this, there is no guarantee that a vote is counted properly, or at all. Each voter must be shown a paper record of their vote that they are willing to vouch for before it is added to the permanent record. If there is a problem, such as a vote being attributed to an incorrect candidate, a voter can obtain assistance from a technician, election judges, and poll-watchers. A technician, with approval from election judges and supervision from poll-watchers, can erase the faulty vote from the machines and the paper record will be destroyed. The voter would then be able to cast a new vote ensuring that his or her intent is properly recorded. Once a voter has seen a paper record that he or she believes to be accurate, it will then be securely stored to provide a permanent record. These paper trails can then be used for a physical tally of the votes in the event of a contentious election or recount.

There is a bill, H.R. 2239, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003, which would remedy several of the problems that plague our voting process. The VCIAA was sponsored and introduced to the House by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey's 12th Congressional district. The Senate version, S. 1980, was introduced by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida.

The VCIAA would mandate that the voting process "shall produce a voter-verified paper record suitable for a manual audit" and would "provide the voter with an opportunity to correct any error made by the system before the permanent record is preserved." The bill would prohibit the use of source code that was not made available to the Federal Elections Committee and then to the public upon request. Any wireless communication devices would be prohibited on an electronic voting machine.

This bill was introduced to fix many of the problems and irregularities present in the 2000 federal elections. This bill was not passed in time for the 2004 elections or the 2008 elections, which are happening today. This bill should be passed immediately with bipartisan support. I urge all of you to contact your elected officials and voice your support for these bills.

It is true that implementing these measures would not be without cost. These steps would require both time and money. However, the price of freedom is vigilance. Freedoms are won and protected, not handed out. The cost of paper trails, new voting machines, and perhaps even a national holiday during federal elections is minimal compared to the value of what is being protected — our democracy. Every citizen deserves the right to know that their vote was recorded as they intended. There is no reason why our voting process should be opaque and vulnerable. Looking back at all that was sacrificed to afford us the privilege of voting, we as a society should pay what it takes to have fair and honest elections.


Alexander Draine

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