Electronic Voting Machines Story in NY Times

This story, To Register Doubts, Press Here in the NY Times today.

But not everyone likes the switch to electronic balloting. Some of the loudest opposition, in fact, is coming from computer experts who say the new technology could prove more troublesome than its predecessors. They warn of equipment malfunction, unchecked tampering and the lack of secure proof for each vote.

A group of more than 100 technologists, led by David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, has called for tighter security measures on electronic voting apparatus and a “voter-verifiable audit trail,” meaning a permanent record of each vote that can be checked for accuracy even after the election. (The group’s “resolution on electronic voting” is at verify.stanford.edu/evote.html.)

Without such a trail, Dr. Dill warned, if a machine is tampered with or malfunctions, “then the votes in question are corrupted and you have no option but to hold another election or accept bad results.” Thus the only reliable backup, the group contends, is for the machines to print out paper ballots after each vote, which can be hand-counted if necessary.

Dr. Dill and his counterparts, who in- clude computer science experts in academia and Silicon Valley, also assert that unlike more mechanical machines, electronic systems cannot be opened up to the public for verification. And the only people who know what is encoded on them are computer experts. “I think it’s unreasonable for the public to be asked to accept the security of these machines on blind faith,” he said. “There’s no question the technology is open to tampering.”

Paul Terwilliger, director of product development at Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the largest manufacturers of electronic systems, said that while no one disputes the need for safeguards, complaints about machines like his company’s were uninformed. “I think the concerns being raised are 100 percent valid,” Mr. Terwilliger said. “However, they’re being raised by people who have little idea about what actually goes on.”

Mr. Radke of Diebold added that voters have more, not less, confidence in electronic machines. He pointed to a study conducted in February at the University of Georgia that found that 70 percent of voters in the state’s November 2002 elections, which were conducted on Diebold machines, reported being very confident that their vote was accurately counted. When this question was asked in September 2001, before electronic voting was in place in the state, only 56 percent of Georgia voters reported being very confident.

Mike Kernell, a longtime Tennessee state assemblyman from Memphis and a technology enthusiast, is concerned about future elections because the new machines are harder to get a look at. “We used to be able to check the machines and see if they’d been tampered with,” he said. “It is now almost impossible.” Mr. Kernell wonders whether he will have to hire a computer programmer in his next race to make sure the machines are working smoothly and haven’t been tampered with. “We’ve hit a brick wall,” he said.

Along with Dr. Dill, endorsers of the resolution include professors from Yale, M.I.T., Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, Bryn Mawr and Johns Hopkins, as well as industry experts from Apple, Sun Microsystems, Cisco and Unisys. Dr. Mercuri has written substantially on electronic voting and is one of the group’s most outspoken members. She worries that no electronic voting system has been certified to even the lowest level of federal government or international computer security standards, nor has any been required to comply with such.

Dr. Mercuri said the machines had had problems in some elections. In March 2002, for example, in Wellington, Fla. (in Palm Beach County, the epicenter of the 2000 dispute), there were 78 unrecorded ballots in a City Council election conducted with electronic machines. That represents about 3 percent of the total votes.

“Computers are good for many things, but at the same time we need to be cautious. If a machine’s not functioning, then it might not be able to shut itself down,” Dr. Mercuri said.

I’ll tell you what. If you think I’m going to go into a voting booth and touch a screen and leave the booth without some way of knowing what that machine recorded as my vote, then you’ve got another think coming. If I don’t see for myself where that machine put down that I did not vote for Bush, then I do not believe that the machine didn’t and that’s all there is to it. You can substitute Hillary Clinton’s name there and pretend you’re hearing this on the Rush Limbaugh show, because there’s no reason for them to trust this, either. It’s suspicious that they aren’t complaining.

Here is my question. Why are the voting machine companies working so hard to defend what they are selling? They would MAKE MORE MONEY if they sold systems that also printed out a voter-verifiable ballot that could be used as a backup and for recounts! So it doesn’t make sense that they aren’t pushing for that. Unless…

Note – I am quoting more extensively than I usually would because of the NY Times new policy of making readers pay to see stories after a month or so.