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E-voting gets bitch-slapped in Calfornia

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California's top election official has decertified electronic voting machines made by the industry's four biggest vendors, in response to a report that highlighted their potential for election tampering.

The move by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen effectively bars the machines of three of the manufacturers - Diebold Election Systems, Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic - unless new measures are implemented to safeguard against abuse.

Bowen also decertified e-voting machines sold by Election Systems and Software, which didn't turn over source code and other materials in time to be tested in in a "top-to-bottom" review designed to assess the security of all ballot machines. ES&S machines could be certified for use in the future.

Last week, University of California researchers hired by Bowen concluded machines sold by all three vendors studied suffered from a series of security vulnerabilities including the ability to overwrite firmware, install malicious applications, forge voter cards and gain access to the inside of voting machines by unfastening screws that were supposed to be inaccessible.

Bowen announced her decision just minutes before midnight on Friday, the deadline to determine whether the machines were reliable enough to be used in February's presidential primary.

The decision is a victory for critics of e-voting, who have long warned that it is more susceptible to tampering. But the move is also a clear reminder that people need to be careful what they wish for. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, 39 counties are affected by the decision, which means the next seven months could be a frenzied time for administrators trying to come into compliance.

Critics, including county registrars and those in the e-voting industry, warned voters may get caught in the crossfire.

"Secretary Bowen’s top-to-bottom review was designed to ignore security procedures and protocols that are used during every election," according to a statement from Diebold. "Her team of hackers was given unfettered access to the equipment, the source code, and all other information on security features provided by DESI to the Secretary of State's office. We are disappointed that Secretary Bowen has taken action to severely limit the options available to local election officials and voters in California."

Bowen's decision doesn't completely remove e-voting machines from state polling places. Counties will be allowed to keep one in each precinct to satisfy a requirement that makes it easier disabled users to cast ballots. Still, county administrators will be required to implement a stringent series of measures, including the requirement, according to the San Jose Mercury News, that the machines "be 100 per cent manually recounted for accuracy". ®

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