[E-voting] (Mississippi) Local Election Commissioner Calls for a
Pause in Voting Machine Procurement
cansbro at eircom.net
Wed Jul 6 17:23:57 IST 2005
Posted on Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - 07:35 am: Edit Post
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/We've been talking with a ton of people from Mississippi, who are
extremely uncomfortable with the new Diebold purchase. Spoke with Mr.
Wages shortly before he released this statement. Note the outstanding
job Susan Pynchon (Florida Fair Voting Coalition) is doing to support
others -- BH/
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 5, 2005
CONTACT: John M. Wages, Jr.
Election Commissioner, 3rd District, Lee County
662-840-3706 jwages at earthlink.net <mailto:jwages at earthlink.net>
Local Election Commissioner Calls for a Pause in Voting Machine Procurement
Last week, Mississippi's Secretary of State announced plans to purchase
the Diebold TSx computer touchscreen (DRE) voting machines, "These
voting machines will greatly improve the accuracy and integrity of every
election in Mississippi...." Yet the voting machines the state has
chosen provide no way for the voters, local Election Commissioners, or
even the Secretary of State himself, to meaningfully audit their
performance. As an Election Commissioner in Lee County, the absence of a
paper trail concerns me, as it should concern every citizen, every
voter, and every official charged with responsibility for our elections.
The main concerns with these machines are security, the audit trail, and
disabled access. Until these questions are answered, Mississippi should
pause the purchase process.
DRE voting machines eliminate over-votes, and they have the potential to
eliminate unintentional under-votes. But, over-votes and under-votes
represent just two categories of voting inaccuracies; DRE voting
machines introduce new possibilities for error through manipulation of
electronic vote totals within the memory cards of the machines
themselves. In the 2004 election, DRE machines in several states were
the source of reports of mysteriously disappearing votes, altered vote
tallies, votes shifting from one candidate to another, and so on. Much
of the discussion about security presupposes no one wants to
deliberately alter vote totals; the history of elections suggests this
is not always the case.
We know that the first generation of DRE voting machines, including
those from Diebold, had serious security flaws:
We conclude that this voting system is unsuitable for use in a general
election. Any paperless electronic voting system might suffer similar
flaws, despite any 'certification' it could have otherwise received. We
suggest that the best solutions are voting systems having a
'voter-verifiable audit trail,' where a computerized voting system might
print a paper ballot that can be read and verified by the voter.
Using publicly available source code, we performed an analysis of the
April 2002 snapshot of Diebold's AccuVote-TS 4.3.1 electronic voting
system. We found significant security flaws: voters can trivially cast
multiple ballots with no built-in traceability, administrative functions
can be performed by regular voters, and the threats posed by insiders
such as poll workers, software developers, and janitors is even greater.
Based on our analysis of the development environment, including change
logs and comments, we believe that an appropriate level of programming
discipline for a project such as this was not maintained. In fact, there
appears to have been little quality control in the process.
(From Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute Technical
Report TR-2003-19, July 23, 2003)
Of more immediate concern, we do not know if a security flaw in
Diebold's optical scan voting machines recently identified in a report
(http://www.blackboxvoting.org/BBVreport.pdf) is also present in the
TSx. The aforementioned report was reviewed by internationally
recognized information technology and computer security expert Kalle
Ø I call on the Secretary of State to make a Diebold TSx machine
available for immediate testing by independent experts to determine if
the same flaw reported in Diebold's other voting machines is also
present in the TSx.
Fully accessible or not?
The Secretary of State notes, "the new machines are fully accessible to
all voters, regardless of disability." DRE voting machines can have
significant advantages for disabled voters. However, a fundamentally
flawed voting system disserves all voters. Advocates of verified voting,
such as myself, support voting machines and polling places that are
fully accessible and compliant with ADA requirements, but that also
produce a voter-verifiable audit trail.
Furthermore, verified voting activists with the Florida Fair Elections
Coalition have raised questions about accessibility of the TSx: while
its headphones give a blind voter an audio ballot, there appears to be
no way the voter can verify that her choice was correctly recorded. Nor
is there any provision for a "sip and puff" device for quadriplegic
voters. Such devices exist and can be provided, one per polling place.
Ø The Secretary of State must secure a firm commitment from Diebold that
the machines it sells Mississippi are fully and unconditionally
HAVA-compliant with respect to access by the disabled and that they
comply with all HAVA requirements that become law on January 1, 2006.
An audit trail is a requirement, not an option The superficial
attraction of a high-tech voting machine with all the "bells and
whistles" (except, of course, the most important one: the paper trail)
may explain this decision, even if no one wants to admit it.
Mississippians want to shed the image of always bringing up the rear. In
this case, the best way for us to lead is to require voter-verifiable
audit trails. In fact, Mississippi could lead the nation in election
reforms, if it so chose, beginning with a firm commitment to auditable
Mississippi's HAVA Compliance Plan, put together by an assemblage of
state and local officials after public comments, stated that paper
receipts would be available for recounts as required by state law.
Furthermore, RFP #3443 gives one of the requirements as "The DRE
equipment must be capable of printing a receipt (not ballot facsimile)
for the voter at the polls, should it ever be required to do so."
However, the Secretary of State's press release states that the receipt
feature will be obtained only if funds are available. Assuming the
Congress or the Legislature appropriates the required funds, we should
bear in mind that an audit trail is even more important than the issue
of voter confidence. Confidence with no basis in fact is misplaced
confidence. Without random audits of a statistically significant
percentage of machines in each precinct, no one can tell if the machines
are accurately recording votes. The Diebold TSx paper receipt appears to
be on a roll tape that can be hundreds of feet in length - impractical
for elections officials to manually recount and with no mechanism for
Ø The Legislature should immediately pass legislation that requires
random audits of 2% of the machines in each county in each election and
that requires voting machines to provide a paper receipt that is
practical for Election Commissioners to recount.
Unauditable voting machines are not a bargain
The track record of DRE machines to date, listed online by numerous
sources including the nonprofits VerifiedVoting.org and
BlackBoxVoting.org, suggests that they are unlikely to live up to the
Secretary of State's high expectations. It is quite likely that new
voting equipment will ultimately have to be purchased with taxpayer
dollars and no federal match, to replace the DRE machines if they
malfunction in Mississippi as they have in California, Ohio, Florida,
In testimony before the Federal Commission on Election Reform in April
of this year, Dr. David Dill (Department of Computer Science, Stanford
University) noted the fundamental concern with DRE voting machines that
has led some to characterize them as "black-box voting" or "faith-based
[T]he public must know that the [election] results are accurate. That
can only be achieved by making election processes as transparent as
possible. Unfortunately, paperless e-voting technology is almost totally
opaque. No one can scrutinize critical processes of the election, such
as the collection of ballots and counting of votes, because those
processes occur invisibly in electronic circuits. Voters have no means
to confirm that the machines have recorded their votes correctly, nor
will they have any assurance that their votes won't be changed later.
Mississippi voters would be well served by a pause in the process of
voting machine procurement to allow a second period of public comment
and testing of the Diebold TSx by independent computer security experts.
Because the machines to be purchased do not appear to meet the letter or
intent of the State's HAVA plan or RFP requirements, and because
independent experts have raised serious concerns about this type of
machine, the Public deserves a second opportunity to speak out before
the final purchase is made. This decision is much too important to hurry.
These are my own statements and not necessarily the opinions of other
members of the Lee County Election Commission or other elections
officials in Lee County.
jwages at earthlink.net <mailto:jwages at earthlink.net>
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