Author - Guest Author

Verified Voting Blog: Dismissed Venango County Pennsylvania Election Board Files Appeal

Attorney Charles A. Pascal, Jr., has filed a Motion For Reconsideration on behalf of members of the specially appointed Venango County Election Board. The filing was made this afternoon in response to President Judge Oliver J. Lobaugh’s order dismissing the Board yesterday. Citing ongoing investigations into serious voting machine problems reported during the May 17 primary election, the specially appointed Election Board requested that they be allowed to continue their work until 11:59 PM on December 31, 2011.

“The members of the specially appointed Board of Elections believes that it is necessary to continue their work in order to assure the voters of the County of Venango of the integrity of the election process in the county,” the Motion states, “and to assure that any possible violations of policy, protocol, best practices, or the law, or any directive of the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, are not repeated in future elections.” Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Let the MOVE Act have a chance to work before considering electronic return of ballots

Military and overseas voters saw improvements in their ability to vote in 2010, thanks to the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) passed in late 2009, according to a report to Congress last month by the Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA). The report indicates that MOVE will improve things further as its provisions become better known and implemented.

The MOVE Act required states to send ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before election-day in federal elections so they have time to return their voted ballot. MPSA must pick up ballots for return to election offices no later than 7 days before election day. MOVE also sped up the process by requiring states to offer electronic transmission (website, email, fax) of blank ballots and registration materials. The law stopped short of establishing electronic return of voted ballots because ballots cannot be secured against undetected interception and manipulation over the internet. New procedures were implemented for 2010, coordinating MPSA with USPS, including the use of Express Military Mail Service (EMMS) for uniformed overseas service members and their families. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Online voting is risky and expensive

Online voting is an appealing option to speed voting for military and overseas voters. Yet it is actually “Democracy Theater”, providing an expensive, risky illusion of supporting our troops. Technologists warn of the unsolved technical challenges, while experience shows that the risks are tangible and pervasive. There are safer, less expensive solutions available. This year, the Government Administration and Elections Committee held hearings on a bill for online voting for military voters. Later they approved a “technical bill”, S.B. 939. Tucked at the end was a paragraph requiring that the Secretary of the State “shall, within available appropriations, establish a method to allow for on-line voting by military personnel stationed out of state.”

In 2008, over thirty computer scientists, security experts and technicians signed the “Computer Technologists’ Statement on Internet Voting,” listing five unsolved technical challenges and concluding: “[W]e believe it is necessary to warn policymakers and the public that secure internet voting is a very hard technical problem, and that we should proceed with internet voting schemes only after thorough consideration of the technical and non-technical issues in doing so.” The prevailing attitude seems to be, if voters and election officials like it and see no obvious problems then it must be safe.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Flawed Wisconsin Race Proves Need for Transparency, Accountability in Election Procedures

When Wisconsin voters flocked to the polls on April 5, one of the factors driving the high turnout was the State Supreme Court contest between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. Prosser, whose term ends July 31, often casts the deciding vote on the seven-member court. He is a conservative Republican former Speaker of the Assembly seen as closely allied to Wisconsin’s controversial Gov. Scott Walker. Kloppenburg, a virtual unknown who was given little chance of success when she entered the race several months ago, was buoyed by the high passions stirred by Walker’s actions to strip government employees of their collective bargaining rights. Though the race is officially nonpartisan, it was seen as both a referendum on Walker and a chance to affect the Supreme Court’s ruling on Walker’s actions, which are likely to be reviewed by the Court in its next term. Election night results were considered too close to call, but the next day when seemingly all the votes had been tallied, Kloppenburg claimed victory with a margin of 204 votes of the more than 1.4 million total votes cast. A recount seemed inevitable.

Then one day later, County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus of Republican stronghold Waukesha County suddenly announced in a dramatic press conference that she had forgotten to include the votes of the county’s second-largest city, Brookfield, in her tabulation. The more than 14,000 votes she added now gave Prosser a lead of almost 7,316 votes of the 1,498,880 votes cast, or 0.488%. Wisconsin picks up the tab for recounts where the margin of victory is less than 0.5%, so this falls just barely within the margin of a state-funded recount.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Losing Democracy in Cyberspace

This op-ed appeared at Northjersey.com on April 3, 2011.

It has been nothing short of astonishing that, within a few weeks, the brave people of Tunisia and Egypt toppled corrupt dictators who ruled for decades. One of the protesters’ key demands was for democratic elections — the right to choose a government that is responsive to the people’s needs. That is also what protesters in Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, Jordan and Libya are demanding as they call for the dissolution of their autocratic and oppressive governments. As the protesters know all too well, voting does not mean that one’s vote will be counted. In Egypt’s 2005 elections, Hosni Mubarak was reelected with 88.6 percent of the vote. In 2009, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was reelected with an 89.6 percent landslide victory. In both cases allegations of fraud and corruption surrounded the elections.

What nobody is talking about is how votes will be cast in emerging democracies. For elections to be legitimate in such countries, it is critical to use voting technology that counts votes accurately. In the 21st century, chances are high that computers will be used in some form in the coming elections in Egypt and Tunisia. But voting computers, like heads of state, must be held accountable to the people they serve. It is a tenet of computer science that computers can be programmed to do anything, including play “Jeopardy!” and steal votes. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Paper vs. Electronic Voting in Houston

Back in late August, Harris County (Houston)’s warehouse with all 10,000 of our voting machines, burned to the ground. As I blogged at the time, our county decided to spend roughly $14 million of its $40 million insurance settlement on purchasing replacement electronic voting machines of the same type destroyed in the fire, and of the same type that I and my colleagues found to be unacceptably insecure in the 2007 California Top-to-Bottom Report. This emergency purchase was enough to cover our early voting locations and a smattering of extras for Election Day. We borrowed the rest from other counties, completely ignoring the viral security risks that come with this mixing and matching of equipment. (It’s all documented in the California report above. See Section 7.4 on page 77. Three years later, and the vendor has fixed none of these issues.)

Well, the county also spent the money to print optical-scan paper ballots (two sheets of 8.5″ x 17″, printed front and back), and when I went to vote this morning, I found my local elementary school had eight eSlate machines, all borrowed from Travis County (Austin), Texas. They also had exactly one booth set up for paper ballot voting. After I signed in, the poll worker handed me the four-digit PIN code for using an eSlate before I could even ask to use paper. “I’d like to vote on paper.” “Really? Uh, okay.” Apparently I was only the second person that day to ask for paper and they were in no way making any attempt to give voters the option to vote on paper.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: In D.C.’s Web Voting Test, the Hackers Were the Good Guys

Last month, the District conducted an Internet voting experiment that resulted in a team from the University of Michigan infiltrating election computers so completely that they were able to modify every ballot cast and all election outcomes without ever leaving their offices. They also retrieved the username and password for every eligible overseas voter who had signed up to participate. The team even defended the system against attackers from China and Iran. More than any other event in recent years, this test illustrates the extreme national security danger of Internet voting.

Though the District’s Board of Elections and Ethics prudently dropped the plan to use the most dangerous parts of the system in Tuesday’s midterms, the board still claims Internet voting is the wave of the future. By contrast, the consensus of the computer security community is that there is no secure Internet voting architecture suitable for public elections. The transmission of voted ballots over the Internet, whether by Web, e-mail or other means, threatens the integrity of the election. Simply fixing the problems identified in the District’s test will not prove the system secure. Almost certainly the next test will discover new vulnerabilities yielding a similar disastrous result.

People frequently ask: If we can bank online, why can’t we vote online? The answer is that because every banking transaction must be associated with a customer, banks know what their customers are doing, and customers get monthly statements that can be used to detect unauthorized transactions. There is no banking equivalent of the requirement for a secret ballot untraceable to the voter. While banks have huge budgets for mitigating security problems, they still lose substantial sums due to online fraud. In addition, while banks may tolerate the costs of online theft, because they save money overall, elections cannot tolerate a “small” amount of vote theft. For more than a decade, computer security scientists have been warning of certain core dangers related to Internet voting. The successful Michigan incursion confirmed many of them.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Voting results in New Jersey should not be mysterious

Last week in South Carolina, an unknown, unemployed veteran (recently indicted on felony obscenity charges) who did not even campaign, beat a well-financed political veteran in the Democratic Senate primary election. Even the White House called the results “mysterious.” Allegations have been made that South Carolina’s touch-screen computerized voting machines were hacked. It’s a possibility. Study after study has shown that computerized voting systems, like all computers, can be programmed to do what you want them to do — including steal votes. The hacking allegation is speculative. The truth is that we don’t know whether anyone tampered with the voting machines in South Carolina. And that is the problem. Why is this relevant to New Jersey voters? The answer is simple: It can happen here, too. We know that the 11,000 Sequoia Advantage DRE computerized voting machines used in all but three counties in New Jersey can be hacked. Princeton University computer science department chairman Andrew Appel and an international team of computer security experts spent the summer of 2008 examining the Sequoia DREs. They produced a comprehensive report documenting the many ways in which they are vulnerable. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Software in Dangerous Places

This article was posted at Freedom to Tinker and is reposted here with permission of the author.

Software increasingly manages the world around us, in subtle ways that are often hard to see. Software helps fly our airplanes (in some cases, particularly military fighter aircraft, software is the only thing keeping them in the air). Software manages our cars (fuel/air mixture, among other things). Software manages our electrical grid. And, closer to home for me, software runs our voting machines and manages our elections. Sunday’s NY Times Magazine has an extended piece about faulty radiation delivery for cancer treatment. The article details two particular fault modes: procedural screwups and software bugs. The procedural screwups (e.g., treating a patient with stomach cancer with a radiation plan intended for somebody else’s breast cancer) are heartbreaking because they’re something that could be completely eliminated through fairly simple mechanisms. How about putting barcodes on patient armbands that are read by the radiation machine? “Oops, you’re patient #103 and this radiation plan is loaded for patent #319.”

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Polling Place Burglary Raises Specter of Fraud

The burglary at one of Houston’s early voting locations (“Computers stolen at early polling location; Ballot board to check electronic voting machines for tampering,” Page B2, Tuesday) raises the specter of election fraud. Some computers were stolen, and as far as we know, the voting machines stored at Hester House were untouched. But if the burglars wanted to tamper with the election outcome, what could they have accomplished? In 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen put together a team to conduct a security analysis of the state’s electronic voting systems. I was part of the team analyzing the Hart InterCivic voting system — the same type we use here in Harris County. Our report concluded that the Hart system has a wide variety of security flaws and that it can be attacked in a manner that makes it hard to detect and correct. We further concluded that these attacks can be carried out by a single individual without extensive effort and without long-term access to the equipment. Our results were corroborated by a follow-up study conducted by the Ohio secretary of state.

Did the Houston burglars tamper with the voting machines? I hope not. Could they have tampered with the voting machines? Absolutely. Could we determine if tampering had occurred? Only if we got lucky and found clearly incriminating evidence, such as the burglar’s fingerprints near the connectors on the backs of the voting machines. Read More