Judge muzzles Sequoia e-voting attack dogs
NJ machines to be inspected, after all
New Jersey voting rights advocates will have the chance to have independent experts inspect electronic voting machines they say malfunctioned during the recent presidential primary election, a state judge has ruled.
Sequoia Voting Systems, the manufacturer of the touch-screen machines, previously forced New Jersey officials to scrap plans for an independent review after threatening legal action. Lawyers for the company claimed the audit would violate its trade secrets.
Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg of Trenton gave the go-ahead for the experts to test software and firmware of Sequoia machines that were used in the February 5 presidential primary in New Jersey. Officials from New Jersey's Union County requested the review after discovering that paper-tape backups showing the number of Democrats and Republicans casting ballots didn't match the same data contained on cartridge printouts. Officials from four other counties later identified the same errors.
Sequoia has said the errors were the result of mistakes by poll workers. It also argued test labs for the federal and state governments had already thoroughly inspected machines and inspections by Princeton University computer scientist Ed Felten were not necessary.
Feinberg disagreed. According to the Associated Press, she said inspection of the Sequoia machines is "clearly critical" to analyzing the "security and accuracy" of the machines. She said she would draft a protective order that would prevent information about the machines from being publicly disclosed.
Feinberg also postponed the trial date in the case from May to September. The delay means the outcome will come too late to change how New Jerseyans vote in the November presidential elections. ®
Public policy and confidence
The PROMISE of electronic voting is that it can be used as part of a framework to make elections more free, fair, accessible and efficient (in that order of prioritisation). Indeed, several countries around the world have positive experience with this. It is truly ironic that we Americans now look to /other countries/ as the "Free World".
For e-voting to work, it has to be part of a framework as I indicated; it's not a magic bullet. It also has to be implemented and operated in a fully transparent manner, open to public scrutiny and responsive to public criticism and suggestion. Failing that, it turns the table turtle instead of levelling it.
For companies such as Diebold and Sequoia to hold these systems as proprietary, covered by trade-secret law and the DMCA and not subject in any way to public scrutiny or oversight, is appalling. To then have such companies engage in openly partisan activities, favouring candidates who themselves have questions of legitimacy and transparency attached to them, is nothing short of treasonous.
I am an American citizen, born in California. I have lived in or visited more than a dozen other countries, including the Soviet Union, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Palestine. i find it absolutely outrageous that in each of those countries save one, I felt significantly more free from surveillance and harassment than in the former self-styled 'land of the free and home of the brave'. That what once was a decent-enough constitutional republic called the United States is becoming more like that one country every day is readily apparent to everyone outside its borders, and, fortunately, an increasing number within.
For some time late last year and early this year, it looked like the demand for change was so overwhelming that no amount of skulduggery-as-usual could stop it. That 'danger' appears to be receding; people's votes in the last few primaries have closely tracked the way they've been told to vote by the media, and Tuesday looks fair to be the finale of what was shaping up to be a true danger to the powers-that-be.
But what are we to expect? The US was, after all, the first country to declare that fictional legal persons (known as 'corporations') have greater and more important rights under the law than natural human persons. So long as that remains the case, you can file 'freedom' under that other F-word: 'fiction'.
@Gareth - Receipts - Secrecy
There are various voting protocols that permit verification by voters without allowing verification by third parties (for purposes of coercion or subornation). Bruce Schneier mentions one propsed by Ron Rivest:
While there are implementation difficulties (notably the problem that people are already confused by our existing, rather simple protocols), this does show that it's possible in principle.
Voting is unlike any other thing we do.
Computers have changed the way we do almost everything, from phone and postal communication to reading newspapers, to running businesses, banking and buying and selling.
But the key difference between all of these activities and voting is that we have decided that there is a fundamental requirement for secrecy in voting. Some people say that there's secrecy in banking too, but there isn't - there's privacy, but at least 2 parties have to be aware of a financial transaction for it to have any meaning. In voting, nobody else is supposed to be aware of how an individual voter voted, and no individual voter is supposed to be able to prove that he voted a particular way.
This requirement for secrecy is something that electronic voting is fundamentally unable to deliver. It is physically impossible for a voter to verify that pressing button A causes a vote to be recorded electronically for candidate A. If the voting machine prints out a ballot, but also "counts" the vote internally, the paper ballot will inevitably be a cosmetic exercise, and seldom, if ever, counted.
The "need for speed" in counting is a truly narcissistic demand - in most cases the results will stand for years, so who, besides the media and the politicians themselves, really cares whether the result comes in 1 hour or 1 day? (Ironically, the elected position that really brought e-voting to the publics attention isn't actually filled until 10 or 11 weeks after the election - US Presidents don't take office until late January).
The key fallacy that most proponents of e-voting make is in conflating the issue of voting with the issue of counting the votes. These are two separate functions, with very different requirements, and in trying to design a "ballot box that counts it's own votes", the integrity of the voting and the counting process is inevitably compromised.
(The other fallacy that people outside the US make is paying too much attention to the way the US deals with this issue. Now-where else in the English speaking world has such convoluted voting practices as the US does, with literally dozens of offices listed on a single ballot, and with the rules for how elections are managed often differing from town and state to state. But that's a whole 'nother story!)