Washinton Post: Touch-Screen Machines Stir Election Anxiety in Md

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Sat Aug 19 2006 - 12:14:38 CDT

This article is of particular interest given the contacts we are making in
MD, and suggestions in Balt Sun
(http://gnosis.python-hosting.com/voting-project/July.2006/0067.html) that
they turn the Diebold machines there into ballot printers a la OVC.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/18/AR2006081801064.html?referrer=emailarticle

Touch-Screen Machines Stir Election Anxiety in Md.

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 19, 2006; Page B01

Touch-screen polling machines, which will be used statewide in Maryland when
voters go to the polls for the Sept. 12 primary, were intended to calm fears
of election flimflam raised in the wake of the infamous 2000 presidential
balloting in Florida.

But the new machines themselves have become a politically charged topic in
Maryland. Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who agreed to purchase them
three years ago, now questions whether they can provide fair and accurate
elections, given their vulnerability to computer hackers and their lack of a
paper trail to document votes.

"There's a lot to be concerned about here," Ehrlich said recently.

Democrats, in turn, accuse the governor and the Republican Party of trying
to dampen voter turnout through scare tactics. "It's highly unfortunate that
Bob Ehrlich has chosen to alarm people about the integrity of the voting
process," said Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), a candidate for state
comptroller.

Yet Franchot and other Democrats acknowledge their own unease about the
equipment.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who was a co-sponsor of the 2002 federal
legislation that required states and counties to upgrade equipment, said he
is concerned by reports from computer security experts that the voting
machines could be manipulated to skew results.

"This is new technology, and we're going to have to watch it," he said. "We
want to make sure this new technology is not used to undermine fairness."

State election officials say that their Diebold Elections Systems voting
machines, which are being used in Maryland and 28 other states, are safe. "I
think the system is fabulous," said Linda Lamone, administrator for the
state Board of Elections. "It's probably the most secure system in the
country."

Ehrlich has cast doubt on her assurances, citing warnings from computer
scientists and accusing the Democrat-controlled General Assembly of stifling
efforts to safeguard the system.

Lamone led Maryland's efforts to purchase the voting machines, making the
state one of the first to go electronic in every precinct. The process began
before Ehrlich took office, but in 2003 he signed a $55 million contract for
additional machines and installation. Within weeks, Johns Hopkins University
computer scientist Avi Rubin released a report that described the machines
as flawed and easily hacked. He said Maryland officials should "ask for
their money back."

Ehrlich commissioned a review by computer security consultants, who
identified 328 security weaknesses, 26 of them critical. With the promise
that the faults would be fixed, he agreed to honor the contract.

"Because of this report, Maryland voters will have one of the safest
election environments in the nation," he declared in October 2003.

Joseph M. Getty, Ehrlich's policy director, said the assurances from Diebold
and the state election board have not been met. "The board of elections has
done nothing to reassure us," Getty said.

Ehrlich informed the board this year that he no longer had confidence in its
"ability to conduct fair and accurate elections in 2006."

His concerns align him with a Takoma Park group, TrueVoteMD, that is pushing
for a paper trail. "Over the past year, there have been a series of really
alarming reports pointing to vulnerabilities, and so far, Maryland hasn't
issued any real response," said Bob Ferraro, co-founder of the group.

Maryland is not alone in its concern. In the spring, a test of Diebold
machines in Utah revealed how easily the machines could be tampered with,
prompting California and Pennsylvania to warn their county election
administrators to take additional security steps.

A June report by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University
School of Law, billed as the nation's first systematic analysis of security
vulnerabilities in electronic voting, concluded that all the systems in use
"have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities, which pose a
real danger to the integrity" of elections.

The greatest vulnerability, according to the report, is that a software
virus could be inserted into a voting machine to alter voter tallies.

The Brennan report notes that systems without paper trails -- a paper record
or receipt that voters can use to confirm votes -- lack an important
countermeasure to software attacks: the ability to compare paper to
electronic records.

Lamone and the election board staff say the Brennan report, as well as those
prepared by Rubin and other computer scientists, has sensationalized the
issue, ignored practicalities and undermined voter confidence.

"People are so focused on these outlandish theories," Deputy Administrator
Ross Goldstein said. "Our system combines security and usability in a very
effective manner."

Maryland election officials say the state's system of "parallel testing"
provides a better safeguard against tampering than a paper trail. Maryland
is one of only three states using parallel testing, which involves selecting
voting machines at random and testing them.

In the weeks before the election, election officials will pull machines from
each jurisdiction and conduct a mock election, tabulating the results to
ensure they match votes cast. Then, on Election Day, one machine will be
pulled from each jurisdiction for similar testing, ensuring that some type
of "Trojan horse" virus has not sprung to life, Goldstein said.

The Brennan report says this parallel testing is an effective method to find
software-based attacks.

Lamone said the machines will be secured after inspection, sealed with
tamper-resistant tape and closely monitored on Election Day. "With all the
attention given this, I'm confident that someone would notice if anyone
tried to muck around with it," she said.

The state has invested more than $90 million in a statewide system of 20,000
AccuVote-TS touch-screen machines. The machines were used for the 2004
election in Maryland. The state had a 0.3 percent residual vote rate --
votes that do not count because of voter error or other problems -- which
tied for the lowest in an academic survey of 37 states in the 2004 election.

A bill introduced in the past session of the General Assembly and supported
by Ehrlich would have provided $21.8 million for Maryland to replace the
Diebold system with paper ballots read by optical scanners. But the
elections board opposed the measure, saying the money was not adequate to
make the switch and that the confusion could disrupt elections. The House
passed the measure, but it died in the Senate.

Maryland election officials are continuing to resist the push for a system
that provides a paper trail for future elections in favor of waiting for
developing technologies that they say could further safeguard the balloting
process.

A paper trail, they say, would not be a panacea. "In my mind, if you add a
paper trail, you're going to end up with a lot more questions than answers,"
Goldstein said. Discrepancies might arise from comparing computer tallies to
hand-counted paper receipts, which could be subject to human error.

Nonetheless, elected officials say they believe voters might not be
satisfied without a paper trail.

"What people want, and where the legislature is headed, is some kind of
paper trail," Franchot said. "I don't believe we're going to have the paper
trail for this election, but we're clearly moving in that direction."

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Received on Thu Aug 31 23:17:08 2006

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