Tuesday, May 6, 2003

e-voting systems assailed

A great article with some perfect quotes from leading advocates and experts for voter verifiable audit trails. Also, there are some documented cases of voting machine errors in the article.

New Voting Systems Assailed

New Voting Systems Assailed
Computer Experts Cite Fraud Potential

By Dan Keating
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2003; Page A12

As election officials rush to spend billions to update the country's
voting machines with electronic systems, computer scientists are
mounting a challenge to the new devices, saying they are less reliable
and less secure from fraud than the equipment they are replacing.


"These systems, because of the level of testing they go through, are
the most reliable systems available," said Michael Barnes, who oversaw
Georgia's statewide upgrade. "People were happy with how they


But the scientists' campaign, which began in California's Silicon
Valley in January, has gathered signatures from more than 300 experts,
and the pressure has induced the industry to begin changing course.


Critics of such systems say that they are vulnerable to tampering, to
human error and to computer malfunctions -- and that they lack the
most obvious protection, a separate, paper receipt that a voter can
confirm after voting and that can be recounted if problems are

Officials who have worked with touch-screen systems say these concerns
are unfounded and, in certain cases, somewhat paranoid.

David Dill, the Stanford University professor of computer science who
launched the petition drive, said, "What people have learned
repeatedly, the hard way, is that the prudent practice -- if you want
to escape with your data intact -- is what other people would perceive
as paranoia."

Other computer scientists, including Rebecca Mercuri of Bryn Mawr
College, say that problems are so likely that they are virtually
guaranteed to occur -- and already have.


"If the only way you know that it's working incorrectly is when
there's four votes instead of 1,200 votes, then how do you know that
if it's 1,100 votes instead of 1,200 votes? You'll never know," said

Because humans are imperfect and computers are complicated, said Ben
Bederson, a professor of computer science at the University of
Maryland, mistakes will always be made. With no backup to test, the
scientists say, mistakes will go undetected.

"I'm not concerned about elections that are a mess," Dill said. "I'm
concerned about elections that appear to go smoothly, and no one knows
that it was all messed up inside the machine."

"We're not paranoid," said Mercuri. "They're avoiding computational
realities. That's the computer science part of it. We can't avoid it
any more than physical scientists can avoid gravity."

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