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Surprise: Ohio's e-voting machines riddled with critical security flaws

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Electronic voting machines used in Ohio contain critical security failures that could jeopardize the integrity of state elections, according to a study commissioned by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

The report found that the machines were susceptible to numerous hacks, many that required little sophistication on the part of attackers. A magnet and a personal digital assistant were the only tools needed to tamper with paper audit trails, according to the study. It also found materials such as memory storage and printer paper that hadn't been certified by manufacturers and a lack of standardized testing for hardware and software.

"The results underscore the need for a fundamental change in the structure of Ohio's election system to ensure ballot and voting system security while still making voting convenient and accessible to all Ohio voters," Brunner said.

Conducted by a bipartisan team of academics and private researchers, the report comes as confidence among some in US elections is waning. Ohio electoral votes have narrowly swung two elections in favor of President Bush.

The accuracy of voting machines in at least one county in Florida - another key swing battleground - were called in to question after anomalies were discovered in results for the state's 2006 race for the 13th Congressional district. California's top elections official in May decertified electronic voting machines made by the industry's four biggest vendors following a separate report that highlighted their potential for election tampering.

Brunner recommended eliminating the use of direct recording electronic devices. Critics have focused much of their attention on DRE machines because most provide no means for a voter-verified paper trail that can be used in the event of recalls. Most DRE vendors refuse to disclose the devices' inner workings, an omission critics say prevents researchers from being able to accurately assess the security of the machines.

Instead, Brunner wants polling places to use optical scan machines that electronically record paper ballots that are filled out by voters. She called for legislation mandating the changes to take place in time for the November elections in 2008.

The federally sponsored, $1.9m study found that all of the examined systems "possess critical security failures." The devices were designed by Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Hart Intercivic and Premier Election Solutions.

"No matter what type of voting system is used, conducting elections requires the involvement of well-trained election officials and poll workers," ES&S said in a statement. "All play an important role in the integrity and security of elections. Elements of this report appear to ignore that important reality."

Premier similarly cautioned people not to read too much into the report.

"It is important to note that there has not been a single documented case of a successful attack against an electronic voting system, in Ohio or anywhere in the United States," an executive for Premier said in response to the report. "Even as we continue to strengthen the security features of our voting systems, that reality should not be lost in the discussion."

He went on to say the report failed to take into account security improvements made since the study began.

A PDF copy of the Secretary of State's report is available here. ®

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