Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Testimony for the New Jersey State Assembly Judiciary Committee

Verified Voting is a national non-partisan, not for profit research and advocacy organization founded by computer scientists and committed to safeguarding democracy in the digital age. We promote technology and policies that ensure auditable, accessible and resilient voting for all eligible citizens. We urge you to adopt the proposed amendments and vote “YES” on A-4619.

New Jersey is one of only a handful of states whose voters are still casting votes on entirely electronic voting systems, direct recording electronic (DREs). Because these systems record votes directly onto computer memory without any independent paper record of the vote, they are especially vulnerable to undetectable and uncorrectable errors in the vote count.

Numerous studies and security evaluations of DRE systems over the years have found that the DREs in use in New Jersey have insecurities making them vulnerable to undetectable manipulation and tampering.1 Because DRE systems prevent anyone from verifying that the electronic tally accurately reflects voter intent, many States have discontinued the use of electronic DRE voting systems in favor of paper ballots. In 2006 only 25% of voters nationwide cast their ballots on paper but in 2017 more than 70% of U.S. voters marked a paper ballot.2

In 2007 the California and Ohio Secretary of States conducted comprehensive security reviews of their systems.3 The alarming security flaws and lack of auditability of the DRE devices led both states to discontinue use of paperless DREs and switch to voter-marked paper ballots and optical scan voting machines.

Optical scan voting systems in which a voter records her vote on a paper ballot provide resilience against tampering, that is, the paper record allows jurisdictions to check the electronic tally against the paper ballots and detect any discrepancies. DREs, by design, are unable to provide this assurance. The paper ballot provides a permanent, physical record of voter intent that cannot be altered by a cyber attack and is available for use in a post-election audit to confirm the election tally is correct. In 2011 the U.S. Election Assistance Commission directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to provide guidance on how to audit a DRE voting system to confirm the vote tallies are correct or to catch any potential error or tampering. NIST convened an Auditability Working Group to study the question. The NIST Auditability Working Group found that any system that does not provide a voter-verified paper record of voter intent will be susceptible to undetectable errors in the vote count.4 Put simply, it is impossible to know for sure that the vote tallies generated from DRE voting machines are correct.

The studies cited above have mostly been conducted over a decade ago, when the cyber threat to elections was more theoretical than actual, however those days are over. We are in a new paradigm; in the last year the U.S. Intelligence Community has warned us that foreign adversaries have been probing our election infrastructure, looking for weaknesses.5 In a March hearing before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, the former director of the FBI testified ominously that “[t]hey’ll be back.”6 We must face the chilling reality that our enemies have the will, intention and ability to tamper with our election infrastructure, potentially delegitimizing our elections and destabilizing our government. This is a national security issue. The legislature has the opportunity to act now, to safeguard New Jersey’s elections and remove the insecure, untrustworthy DREs in use and replace them with voter-marked paper ballots.

The broadly accepted evidence that paperless DREs are insecure and untrustworthy drove the legislature to pass a measure to require voter-verified paper records in 2005 but it failed to fund and implement this law. For over a decade, New Jersey voters have continued to use an untrustworthy and unreliable voting system. Given the recent revelations of nation-state adversaries, the urgency of replacing unverifiable voting systems with new systems is more pressing than ever. New Jersey must replace its outdated and unverifiable voting equipment.

Threats to our election systems demand action

In response to the threat of election interference – and because, like New Jersey, it will be conducting several significant state-wide races this November – the Commonwealth of Virginia ordered a security review of its paperless DRE voting systems including the AVC Advantage and the Sequoia AVC Edge7 (machines that count the overwhelming majority of votes in New Jersey). As a result of this review, the Virginia Commissioner of Elections recommended the immediate decertification of all DREs in the Commonwealth. Virginia’s bipartisan State Board of Elections voted unanimously to decertify all the DREs before the November elections. In its decertification resolution, the Board stated, “the DRE devices analyzed all exhibited a range of demonstrated, documented, or potential vulnerabilities that materially impact the integrity of the voting process, availability of the voting systems, or integrity of election results.”8 Though regrettably it’s too late for New Jersey to take action before the November 2017 elections, we strongly urge the legislature to pass A-4619 with proposed amendments.

In April the Coalition for Peace Action submitted proposed changes to A-4619 to Assemblywoman Muoio that would amend A-4619 from requiring all voting systems “produce a paper record of each vote cast” to require “a voter-marked paper ballot for every vote cast in the State,” and that all new voting systems purchased or leased “be paper ballot voting systems comprising one automatic ballot tabulator per election district for the tabulation of such voter-marked paper ballots, and one accessible non-tabulating ballot marking device per election district to assist voters with disabilities and others needing assistance in marking paper ballots. All voter-marked paper ballots may be tabulated by automatic ballot tabulator or by hand.” It is critical the legislature adopt these amendments. In 2005, when New Jersey passed its law to require a voter verified paper ballot, less was known about the cost, efficacy, and auditability of DREs equipped with voter-verified paper record. Over a decade later we know these systems are more costly, inefficient and difficult to recount or audit than a voter-marked paper ballot scanned by a ballot tabulation device. States are moving away from such systems in favor of voter-marked paper ballots. In this instance, New Jersey’s slow action provides a benefit – the legislature can avoid the mistake and extra expense of purchasing DREs that produce a voter-verified paper record.

We strenuously urge the legislature to adopt the amendments proposed by Verified Voting and the Coalition for Peace Action and vote YES on A-4619.

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1. Gross, Grant, “Security vendor demonstrates the hack of a U.S. voting machine,” PC World, Nov. 7, 2016, “Hacking the AVC Advantage Voting Machine,” http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~appel/voting/advantage-hacking.html, “Can DREs Provide Long-Lasting Security? The Case of Return-Oriented Programming and the AVC Advantage,” Checkoway, Feldman, Kantor, Halderman, Felton, Shacham, https://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~hovav/dist/avc.pdf

2. https://www.verifiedvoting.org/verifier/

3. California Secretary of State “Top-to-Bottom Review,” http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-systems/oversight/top-bottom-review/, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, “Project EVEREST, Evaluation and Validation of Election Related Equipment Standards and Testing,” https://votingmachines.procon.org/sourcefiles/Everest.pdf

4. Report of the Auditability Working Group, Jan. 14, 2011, U.S. Election Assistance Commission https://www.eac.gov/assets/1/28/AuditabilityReport_final_January_2011.pdf

5. Isikoff, Michael, “FBI says foreign hackers penetrated state election systems,” Yahoo News, Aug. 29, 2016

6. Washington Post Staff, “Full Transcript: FBI Director James Comey testifies on Russian interference in 2016 election,” March 20, 2017

7. https://www.elections.virginia.gov/Files/Media/Agendas/2017/DREdecertificationmemofinal09-08-17.pdf

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