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California's E-Voting Machines Get Extra Security

The state plans to use independent experts to randomly test machines, amid other measures to protect electronic voting integrity.
On March 2, California citizens will head to the polls to cast their votes in the presidential primary. Some of them may run into independent experts who will be on hand to randomly test selected voting machines in every county.

Late last week, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said that additional security measures will be taken by county elections officials to avoid problems with computerized voting machines, whose security and reliability has been questioned in a number of recent studies. As part of the measures, counties will have to keep images of each ballot cast on record; post voting results on every machine at each precinct for public display; and prepare a voting equipment security plan for review by state officials. The directives prohibit attaching the machines to the Internet.

California is in part reacting to a finding by computer scientists hired by Johns Hopkins' Information Security Institute, which found that Maryland's electronic voting machines, made by Diebold Election Systems, were easy prey for hackers. Many California precincts use the same voting system. Last year, Shelley took the first steps toward ensuring accuracy by requesting that California's electronic voter systems provide voters with a verifiable paper trail, designed to validate that votes have been recorded properly. The technology to implement a paper trail is being developed.

In the meantime, Shelley's security measures are designed to resolve some of the recent problems with electronic touch-screen voting systems. "These security enhancements provide our voters additional confidence that votes cast during the March 2 election will be accurately counted," Shelley said in a statement.

Not everyone believes electronic voting machines pose as much risk, including some Maryland officials. "Maryland probably has the most secure electronic voting system in the United States," says Joe Torre, voting system certification coordinator at the Maryland State Board of Elections, who points out that paper ballots have as many, if not more, problems.

"The majors ones are over-votes, under-votes, and mismarked ballots," he says. "People will often fill out the ballot improperly or they will circle a choice instead of filling it in, which is what happens with mismarked ballots. We don't catch these votes until recount, and only then we can examine them. With electronic systems, there is no over-voting. People cannot vote twice."

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