Re: Reflections on the election and implications for the OVC

From: David Jefferson <d_jefferson_at_yahoo_dot_com>
Date: Thu Nov 04 2004 - 02:55:29 CST

On Nov 3, 2004, at 10:27 PM, Arthur Keller wrote:

> David, thanks for your comments. Can you discuss the pros and cons of
> reusing voting machines for other non-voting purposes, and vice versa?
> That's a part of the Dechert proposal. It seems to improve the
> financial equation, but is not required for the Dechert architecture.
> Best regards,
> Arthur

I went through these possibilities some years ago when VoteHere was
exploring a business model like that. It is truly tempting to try to
"borrow" computers from, say, the schools, or some other government
department for a few days around election time, and then just return
them. But ultimately I thought the idea would never fly, and VoteHere
dropped it also. The problems were:

1) School, office, or library PCs are not configured for use as voting
machines; as mentioned in the previous message they have the wrong
ports and devices, and processors that are too fast with too much RAM,
and they are not physically packaged (e.g. with privacy panels and
locks and whatnot) for use in voting. They are also also not
ruggedized to pass the shake-and-bake tests needed for voting.

2) School, library, and government systems are composed of a
bewildering variety of PCs of different ages, brands, packaging, device
configurations, port configurations, speeds, BIOSes, and operating
systems. But to field, say, 1000 voting machines in a medium-sized
county you pretty much have to have them all essentially identical or
the configuration logistics are hopeless.

3) Hardware that is part of a voting system has to be federally
qualified and state certified. It is not possible for all of the PCs
that might be borrowed for voting to go through those processes, so
some profound changes in the nature of certification would be required.

4) The security problems are horrendous. PCs have devices and ports
that pose very grave security problems, and they would have to be
neutralized some how before the machine could be used for voting. This
is especially true of (a) devices suitable for booting or application
launch (floppy, CD, DVD, hard disk); (b) comm devices (modem,
ethernet, IrDA, bluetooth, WiFi); and (c) sophisticated ports like USB,
IEEE 1384, SCSI, and cardbus. Other devices cause less trouble because
you would leave them back where you get the PC from and restore them a
few days later when you return the PCs (mouse, keyboard, speakers),
although doing that is a logistical nightmare.

5) If one government agency rents its computers (and it would have to
be a rental for legal reasons, not just a "loan") to the election
agency for a week in order to conduct an election, then the two
agencies would have to negotiate a price, and make detailed records of
the serial numbers, configurations, and replacement value of the rented
machines. They would have to sign contracts, and purchase insurance,
etc.--just think of the preparation and paper work! Then the lending
agency would have to cleanse the systems of any private data (say, by
removing the hard disks), Finally, the lending agency would probably
have to essentially shut down for a week or so (since it would not have
its computers), and its mission would be more or less suspended for the

6) The election agency, before it could use the rented machines, would
have to secure them all by removing or disabling any dangerous devices
and ports and configuring the BIOS to prevent voters from being able to
do any threatening operations (like shutdown, restart, or insertion of
a CD), and then configure the machine with devices and software
required for voting.

7) After the election, all of this would have to be reversed. The
machines would have to be inventoried and inspected, and compensation
paid to the original owning agency for any damage to the PCs used in
the election.

Basically this is all a nightmare. I have concluded that (1) voting
machines are, and should be, very specialized computers, and that (2)
it is essentially hopeless to try to "borrow" PCs from another agency
to serve as voting machines.

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Received on Tue Nov 30 23:17:08 2004

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