Feeds

'Crash tested' e-voting machines spread doubt on Super Tuesday

Six states at 'high risk'

Build a business case: developing custom apps

In the Democratic and Republican primaries being held today, voters from 24 states will cast ballots for presidential candidates, making it the biggest "Super Tuesday" in US history.

But this election day comes with a much more dubious distinction: mistrust of the electronic equipment that will be used to tally many of the votes is higher than ever, computer and political experts say. Doubts about e-voting are no longer the esoteric stuff of geeks and conspiracy theorists. For perhaps the first time, they have become a mainstream obsession.

"In 2002 and 2003, I had trouble getting any credibility in the press or getting politicians to listen to me," says David Dill, a Stanford University computer science professor and a critic of electronic voting machines. "Now, the tide has definitely turned, and the momentum is against e-voting. By and large, there is a perception that it is problematic."

According to a report issued by two voting advocacy groups, six of the 24 states holding primaries today are at a high risk of miscounting votes because of machines that malfunction or are tampered with. Five other states are rated at medium risk, according to Common Cause and Verified Voting Foundation.

The states rated to carry the most risk - which include New York, New Jersey and Arkansas - are those that use electronic voting machines that don't produce a paper record that can be used in an audit or recount. Those found to be a medium risk use machines that provide a so-called voter-verified paper record but don't require audits that check for the accuracy of e-voting gear.

The widespread doubts about e-voting follow last year's release of reports prepared by elections officials in California and Ohio that found critical vulnerabilities in all the machines currently in use. Among the findings:

  • An un-patched Windows 2000 server used by systems made by Premier Election Systems (formerly Diebold) left them open to a host of documented vulnerabilities that could allow it to be controlled by an attacker.
  • An undisclosed account in the software made by Hart InterCivic could allow an attacker to gain unauthorized access to officials' election management database.
  • Physical locks in Sequoia's Edge system could be bypassed by unfastening screws.

Even before the reports were issued, voters had grown wary of e-voting after some highly improbable election results were recorded in a 2006 race in Florida's Sarasota County. Machines supplied by a company called Election Systems & Software (ES&S) showed that Republican Vern Buchanan edged out Democrat Christine Jennings by just 369 votes in the race for the state's 13th Congressional district. More than 18,000 of the ballots cast recorded no vote in the race, an "undervote" rate that was about nine times higher than other races. (Jennings has contested the results in court.)

Each report or event "has planted a question mark, or raised a little red flag in people's minds about whether we can trust the machines, and whether they will live up to the promises made about them," says David Wagner, a computer science professor at the University of California at Berkeley who participated in a top-to-bottom study of voting machines commissioned by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. "Four years ago, this only got attention from really obscure corners."

Boost IT visibility and business value

Next page: Crash tests

More from The Register

next story
Super Cali signs a kill-switch, campaigners say it's atrocious
Remote-death button bad news for crooks, protesters – and great news for hackers?
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
Don't even THINK about copyright violation, says Indian state
Pre-emptive arrest for pirates in Karnataka
The police are WRONG: Watching YouTube videos is NOT illegal
And our man Corfield is pretty bloody cross about it
Felony charges? Harsh! Alleged Anon hackers plead guilty to misdemeanours
US judge questions harsh sentence sought by prosecutors
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?