07:30 PM

E-Voting Security Scrutinized During Midterm Elections

Project Vote predicts voting troubles in 33 urban jurisdictions in nine states.

Security of electronic voting machines is coming under scrutiny as the midterm elections approach.

On the eve of Election Day, several states have reported computer problems during early elections. A privacy group predicted disaster; voters' advocates anticipated errors and one group announced a Web tool for recording and addressing problems.

Evolve Strategies has what it claims is a nonpartisan voter complaint system called Voter Story. The free "Web page widget" allows any group with a Web site to allow voters to tell their story. It refers those with problems to voter protection groups.

"We want to make sure that any voter who experiences a problem at the polls has a way to tell their story and get help," Rob Stuart, president of EvolveStrategies and voter rights advocate, said through a prepared statement. "We hope and expect webmasters will install the widget on news and candidate sites, civic organization sites and blogs dedicated to election protection."

Evolve Strategies is a communications company that serves advocacy, nonprofit and political clients. The company created a system in which voters can complete an online form explaining what went wrong. When the voter clicks "submit," the open source widget moves the data to a central database that alerts voter protection groups each time a new incident is reported in their district. Voters receive e-mail confirmation.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute supported the project. The Carnegie Corporation's Strengthening U.S. Democracy Program is also supporting nonpartisan voter protection hotlines and support, according to Geri Mannion, program chair.

"The Web Widget complements those efforts by making sure more voter complaints are recorded online and can be addressed on Election Day and in the future," she said.

Meanwhile, the civic association Project Vote announced that it was anticipating problems in 33 urban jurisdictions in nine states. In one report, the organization pinpointed problems with certain brand and models of voting machines. In another report, the group focused on states with previous and current problems. Those states are: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Project Vote announced that errors in programming could "contribute to potentially serious obstacles to free and fair elections." The document outlines problems and vulnerabilities from four major manufacturers, including Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Sequoia Voting Systems, Diebold Election Systems and Hart InterCivic.

Project Vote states that Diebold machines, which will be used in Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Missouri and Ohio, have programming errors that could cause ballots to be missed, double-counted or reversed during counts. Screens have also registered the wrong vote and security can be breached with a minibar key, according to Project Vote.

Diebold has stood by its election products and dismissed claims that its machines can be hacked. The company claims that its security, including instant encryption and duplicate storage, protects the integrity of the machines. It states that recent reports showing how to tamper with Diebold machines used outdated systems.

ES&S machines, used in parts of Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, have had similar problems with screens registering the wrong vote, according to Project Vote's report. The machines could also stop counting ballots or begin counting backward once they have reached capacity, the report states.

ES&S touts the reliability of its machines, which it claims counted more than 100 million ballots in 2000. The company states that it has never had any problems in any election.

Hart InterCivic machines, used in Cincinnati, are also vulnerable to errors because of default settings that change votes, races being dropped from ballots and programming errors that can add votes, according to the report. The manufacturer states that its machines passed test runs.

Sequoia machines, used in Colorado, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey have known problems, including straight-ticket votes directed toward other parties, software source code published on the Internet and screens registering the wrong vote, according to Project Vote. Sequoia maintains that its machines are reliable and so is the company's 100-year history.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, warns that lack of training among poll workers, technicians' unsupervised access to machines and faulty voting equipment could compromise election results. Derek Slater, who writes a blog for EFF, cited a recent letter from the American Statistical Association president Sallie Keller-McNulty, who said the association predicts as many as 20 local elections could be too close to call. Slater said that millions of votes would not have paper records, while McNulty suggested random election audits and real recounts, not simple rereading of machine totals.

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