LA Times: State's decision on electronic voting machines is delayed

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Sat Aug 04 2007 - 04:51:14 CDT

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-voting4aug04,0,1833910.story?coll=la-home-center

State's decision on electronic voting machines is delayed
As deadline nears, official weighs her judgment about the method to be used
in the February primary.
By Hector Becerra and Jordan Rau, Times Staff Writers
August 4, 2007

SACRAMENTO - Weighing the fate of how Californians will vote in February's
presidential primary, Secretary of State Debra Bowen was holed up in her
Sacramento office late Friday, deciding how many of the state's 58 counties
would be allowed to use computerized balloting.

Bowen was under a legal deadline of midnight Friday to certify election
machines across the state, including electronic systems that an audit
released by her office last week found could be easily hacked into,
potentially compromising millions of votes.

If Bowen decertified the machines, county election officials would have six
months to find replacement systems - likely some form of paper balloting.

Bowen had originally said she would announce her decision around noon
Friday.

But the former Democratic state senator from the South Bay remained behind
closed doors well into the night, as county officials were glued to their
phones and a growing crowd of reporters, interest groups and state officials
gathered outside her office.

Some decamped to a Mexican restaurant across the street, where they sipped
margaritas while awaiting word.

Rumors swirled that Los Angeles County's InkaVote balloting system would
decertified; Bowen's office would not confirm or deny it. When pizza arrived
at her office around 8 p.m., the crowd's hopes for an imminent announcement
faded.

"That was not a good sign for those of us waiting," said Bill Gatlin, chief
of staff to Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia).

Gatlin's boss, monitoring events from San Bernardino County, was more
pointed. "This is the most frustrating thing. Why would she do something
like this, make people wait this long for something that should have been
taken care of ages ago?" Adams asked.

Whatever her decision, it is likely to place California in the center of the
national debate about the susceptibility of electronic voting systems to
hacking, an issue being hashed out in Congress as well as in statehouses.

The audit Bowen released last week was considered one of the most
comprehensive reviews ever of electronic voting systems. It found that
machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and
Sequoia Voting Systems - which are used by more than a dozen California
counties, including Orange, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura - could be
compromised either through manipulating the software or physically breaking
into the computer hardware.

There has been much debate around the country about the potential for
electronic voting machines to be infiltrated by hackers trying to changes
the results of races.

Increasingly, states are moving toward electronic voting machines, prompting
lawmakers and other to argue over what can be done to prevent hacking.
Congress has been debating whether to require all electronic voting machines
to produce paper records.

Bowen has long been outspoken in her concerns about electronic voting. Last
year, she defeated incumbent Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a
Republican who was appointed to the job by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in
2005. The campaign hinged largely on the candidates' differences over the
trustworthiness of the voting machines.

During the March 2004 primary in California, touch-screen voting terminals
by Diebold malfunctioned, and state election officials discovered that the
machines contained uncertified software.

The state barred four counties from using Diebold but later approved their
use in 11 counties after those jurisdictions agreed to new security
requirements, including making paper ballots available as an alternative.

Bowen's audit has been harshly criticized by election officials across the
state who said the testing was done in a manner inconsistent with real-life
situations.

The University of California was given the task of infiltrating the three
companies' machines physically and electronically without facing the
safeguards that voting machine vendors or counties use. The testers were
provided with encrypted source codes by the companies that government
employees would not have.

"It was akin to testing the security of your money in a bank with unlocked
doors, with no security guards or even bank tellers in sight and the bank's
vault wide open," said Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Conny
McCormack.

Other election officials said decertifying machines now would cause major
problems. "Six months is not a lot of time to make any wholesale changes,"
San Diego County Registrar Deborah Seiler said.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
hector.becerra@latimes.com

jordan.rau@latimes.com

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Received on Fri Aug 31 23:17:03 2007

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