Fwd: [IP] (wiith comments by djf) NYTimes.com Article: Why We Fear the Digital Ballot

From: Joseph Lorenzo Hall <joehall_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Mon Sep 27 2004 - 17:58:51 CDT

This is from Dave Farber's list... with an uncharacteristically long
comment by Dave himself. The OVC should respond to this in come
capacity... it's obvious that work needs to be done, but the NSF isn't
going to fund it (it's faddish to them and to much mingled with
question of prescriptive policy). -Joe

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: David Farber <dave@farber.net>
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 2004 18:38:15 -0400
Subject: [IP] (wiith comments by djf) NYTimes.com Article: Why We Fear
the Digital Ballot
To: ip@v2.listbox.com

This is another of the endless articles that says computer based voting
systems are not to be trusted. , Computer systems are untrustworthy IF
THEY ARE BUILT without a clear cut understanding of how to build
trusted systems along with a quality assurance system and a clear set
of procedures and requirement that support such goals There are
examples of development processes that support such goals.

For example banks which develop smart money cards designed to operate
"offline" seriously worry about the hardware and software and
development process that is used. If one can compromise the integrity
of the devices they would have a US Treasury printing press.

I would claim that utilizing recent developments in trusted hardware
systems (like the Intel LT effort) backed by what we know about quality
and security assurance and utilizing well known but often neglected
software methods, we could and should research, design and then build a
prototype system that would yield a trusted verifiable software system
that would be embedded in a tamper resistant hardware environment.

No great magic but lots of difficult study, research and development.

This should all be done in an open public manner with the results open
to any company to use..


Why We Fear the Digital Ballot

September 26, 2004

WASHINGTON - It was a bit of gorilla theater.

At an event meant to highlight the dangers of electronic
voting, a smattering of reporters and voting-rights
advocates at the National Press Club last Wednesday watched
a film of Baxter, a chimpanzee, poking the "Delete" and
"Enter" keys on a computer keyboard. This was presented as
evidence that even a chimp could tweak an election.

Breathless accounts of "secret back doors" and "hidden
triggers" embedded in election-tabulating software were
cited as indications that democracy was endangered. A man
protesting computerized voting marked the 15th day of his
hunger strike.

In fact, while most experts appear to agree that electronic
voting has real problems, few argue that they could
completely undermine the November election, or that they
are products of a dark conspiracy. "The people who designed
these systems just weren't thinking enough about security,"
said Aviel Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns
Hopkins University and one of the first people to point out
major flaws in electronic voting systems.

But the burlesque and passion on display last week may
indicate a simpler truth: Voting has always required a leap
of faith - one that, after the 2000 election debacle, and
in a culture grown hip to the fallibility of technology, is
proving harder to make.

For over a century, as election technology moved from the
tactile (paper, ballot boxes) toward the invisible (the
hidden workings of lever machines, optical scanners, touch
screens), each upgrade was touted as a bulwark against
manipulation or human error.

"A device for registering votes without possibility of
fraud has been patented by Albert Snoeck, a Belgian
inventor," The New York Times reported on Aug. 20, 1896.
"It is called the Perfected Voting Machine."

While Mr. Snoeck's particular innovation didn't quite catch
on, New York State did introduce mechanical lever machines
at the end of the 19th century. By the 1930's most major
cities had followed suit, according to Stephen
Ansolabehere, a professor of political science at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the
Voting Technology Project, which studies election systems.
One of the machine's best security features: its size. "You
couldn't just walk away with it," Professor Ansolabehere

But rumors of tampering swirled around mechanical voting
through much of the early- to mid-20th century, and by the
1960's, mechanical devices were yielding to the magic of
I.B.M.'s computerized systems.

"Could a skilled technician set a vote counting computer to
switch a candidate tally ... ?" another New York Times
article asked in 1969. "Recently, six local computer
experts, after pitting a computer against a set of tests
they devised, declared it was possible to rig the machines
to cheat." I.B.M. countered that "a crooked technician
couldn't get close enough" to the computers "without
attracting the attention of others."

Despite such debates, the culture quietly absorbed the new
technology, as it did optical-scan voting in the late
1970's, push-button electronic voting in the 1980's and
touch screens in the 1990's. In the context of a culture
flooded with compact discs, DVD's, personal computers, the
Internet and MP3's, digitized voting made sense.

And after the election breakdown of 2000, the solution, to
many, was plain: electronic voting machines. "In the
immediate post-2000 era, enthusiasm for the machines was
pretty high," said Doug Chapin, the director of
Electionline.org, a nonprofit group monitoring election

But the 2000 election also occurred just as the dot-com
bubble was bursting, and as words like "hacker," "virus,"
"worm" and "pirate" were becoming commonplace. If everyone
needed anti-virus protection, spam filters, 128-bit
encryption and firewalls, even the most ardent technophiles
had to wonder, could electronic voting machines be hacked?
Infected? Hijacked?

Many voting-rights advocates are now demanding a return to
paper ballots, as a means of restoring transparency to the
voting process. Others insist that the major manufacturers
of electronic voting systems, like Diebold and Sequoia and
Election Systems and Software, release their source code to
the world for inspection.

The fear that electronic voting represents a corporate
conspiracy is probably overblown, experts say. Too many
people would have to cooperate on too many levels - from
the programming labs at each company to the warehouses
where machines are stored to precinct floors on election
night. "It would be a heist on the order of 'Ocean's
Eleven,' " said Michael I. Shamos, a professor of computer
science at Carnegie Mellon University who spent 20 years
testing the integrity of election systems. "It would make
for a fascinating movie, but it's not reality."

But that's no longer likely to satisfy everyone. Even some
middle-of-the-road voters, whether they submit punch cards
or poke an electronic screen, will pause to wonder what's
going on under the hood of their voting system.

"Even in places that don't have new technology, the voters
are different now," Mr. Chapin of Electionline said.
"They've been exposed to the process. They're thinking
about it more. Even in those places where the only upgraded
moving part is the voter, there's still change."



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Joseph Lorenzo Hall
UC Berkeley, SIMS PhD Student
blog: http://pobox.com/~joehall/nqb2/
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