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12/3/2006
09:43 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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E-Voting: Feds Say One Wicked Programmer Could Bring Down Democracy

In what the Washington Post calls "the most sweeping condemnation" of paperless electronic voting machines, researchers at a key federal agency say such systems can never be made secure enough. Among the reasons: just one "clever, dishonest programmer" could rig an entire statewide election.

In what the Washington Post calls "the most sweeping condemnation" of paperless electronic voting machines, researchers at a key federal agency say such systems can never be made secure enough. Among the reasons: just one "clever, dishonest programmer" could rig an entire statewide election.Slashdot has a link to the discussion draft of the document from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It's actually intriguing reading, if you give a hoot about electronic voting.

The study group concludes that paperless electronic voting can't be made sufficiently secure, since there's no reliable record. It also concludes there's no effective way to assure software is free from errors or intentional malicious code. And it asks the question of how big a conspiracy it would take to rig a large election. It concludes a conspiracy of one: "In principle, a single clever, dishonest programmer in a voting machine company could rig an entire statewide election if a state uses mainly one kind of system."

NIST notes that this is a draft report, not a final recommendation, and it will be a point of discussion this week by the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, a group created to assess such issues for the Election Assistance Commission.

Still, the draft report marks a blow to those who favor software-based, paper-free voting. It concludes there are good, automated methods that leave a reliable paper trail, such as optical scanning. It recommends against any software-dependent approach. And rather than moving away from paper-based systems, it urges spending effort making them more viable. In other words, fix the chad, but keep the paper.

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