[E-voting] David Dill Unplugged

Catherine Ansbro cansbro at eircom.net
Fri Dec 15 01:44:30 GMT 2006


Original Content at 

December 14, 2006

*David Dill Unpluggd: Computer glitch leaves electronic voting machine 
advocate without a script*

By Michael Richardson

It happened at Harvard. Stanford University computer scientist David 
Dill was at Harvard's computer resource center talking about electronic 
voting machines. Dill, one of the nation's foremost "paper trail" voting 
machine advocates, is the founder of a lobbying group called Verified 
Voting. About ten minutes into his Power Point presentation to the 
assembled Harvard intelligentsia, Dill's laptop computer crashed leaving 
him without a script. The irony was unmistakable.

Dill then departed from his prepared remarks explaining, "I know so much 
I can't organize a talk." The next hour was devoted to a Q&A session 
that rambled in a self-contradictory trajectory revealing more about 
Dill than electronic voting machines.

Before the "glitch", Professor Dill was in full reformer mode and 
sounded pretty good. Dill explained he had spent his two decades at 
Stanford, "trying to check software correctness, but it's not something 
we can do."

The three big "unsolvable" problems with electronic voting identified by 
Dill were error, security, and making sure the system is running what 
you think it is running. "We can't prove correctness....We don't know 
how to make systems secure....Why do we even trust the hardware?" Dill 
warned, "It is wrong to hand control of elections to private companies."

Dill declared that any voting technology should be at least as 
trustworthy as hand-counted paper ballots, which he characterized as the 
"gold standard" for voting. We should "give up" on audits and instead 
"empower each voter to check their vote."

"We have made a mistake by focusing on technology; instead we should 
focus on procedure."

Then the questions started and Dill lost his way. After advocating for 
precinct optical scanners or printers on touch screen machines, Dill 
admitted that optical scanners do not always count the ballots 
correctly, "A careful hand-count is more accurate than optical scan." 
Touch screen printers were open to "nefarious individuals that could 
cause the paper record to be unreliable." Dill also admitted that 
self-deleting malicious code would not be detectable.

The Harvard computer experts in the audience got Dill to admit the push 
for electronic voting machines came from marketing by the vendors; that 
there were problems with machine certification standards leaving a 
"gaping hole"; that there was no way of testing for viruses; that the 
Election Assistance Commission is "highly politicized" and incapable of 
the tasks it is presented; and that, "What we have now are a bunch of 
bad voting systems."

Dill acknowledged that "vote-flipping" happened all over the country in 
the 2006 election and that it is an "insidious" phenomenon without 
explanation. Dill said that 1% percent audits are "frighteningly bad" in 
anything but a statewide race and that an "over-qualified janitor at an 
electronic voting machine vendor could rig an election."

After admitting that a "careful hand-count" is the most accurate and 
cheapest way to count votes and that optical scanners could be rigged 
and don't always accurately record the ballot entries of voters, Dill 
then advocated precinct-based optical scanners as his solution to the 
problem of election fraud.

After his confusing, contradictory talk, Dill was asked about his 
support for H.B. 550, a "paper trail" electronic voting machine bill 
pending before Congress. "That is my public position, although the bill 
is being rewritten and I don't know where I stand."

[Permission granted to reprint]

Authors Bio: Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston.

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