[E-voting] (Mississippi) Local Election Commissioner Calls for a Pause in Voting Machine Procurement

Catherine Ansbro cansbro at eircom.net
Wed Jul 6 17:23:57 IST 2005


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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/

PRESS RELEASE
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.

*Security flaws*

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 
Kaukonen.

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 
voting equipment.
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 
automated recount.

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, 
and elsewhere.
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 
voting":

[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.


John Wages
662-840-3706
jwages at earthlink.net <mailto:jwages at earthlink.net>
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