Friday, December 01, 2006

Paperless electronic voting machines cannot be made Secure.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued a report that says electronic voting machines without a verified paper trail cannot be made secure. A method of voting that allows an independent recount has to be put into place. From the Washington Post:
NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse "optical-scan" systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts. [Snip]

NIST's recommendations are to be debated next week before the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, charged by Congress to develop standards for voting systems. To become effective, NIST's recommendations must then be adopted by the Election Assistance Commission, which was created by Congress to promote changes in election systems after the 2000 debacle in Florida.

If the commission agrees with NIST, the practical impact may not be felt until 2009 or 2010, the soonest that new standards would be implemented. The standards that the Election Assistance Commission will adopt are voluntary, but most states require election officials to deploy voting systems that meet national or federal criteria.[snip]

NIST says in its report that the lack of a paper trail for each vote "is one of the main reasons behind continued questions about voting system security and diminished public confidence in elections." The report repeats the contention of the computer security community that "a single programmer could 'rig' a major election." [Snip]

Computer scientists and others have said that the security of electronic voting systems cannot be guaranteed and that election officials should adopt systems that produce a paper record of each vote in case of a recount. The NIST report embraces that critique, introducing the concept of "software independence" in voting systems.

NIST says that voting systems should not rely on a machine's software to provide a record of the votes cast. Some electronic voting system manufacturers have introduced models that include printers to produce a separate record of each vote -- and that can be verified by a voter before leaving the machine -- but such paper trails have had their own problems.[Snip]

Linda Schade, a founder of TrueVoteMD, which has pressed for a system that provides a verifiable paper record of each vote, said, "These strong statements from a credible institution such as NIST add yet another voice to the consensus that paper electronic voting as used in states like MD is not secure. We hope that the [Election Assistance Commission] formally adopts these improved standards."

Even critics of paperless electronic voting have grown disenchanted with the practical problems of adding printers to electronic "touch-screen" voting machines.

"Why are we doing this at all? is the question people are asking," said Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, a group critical of electronic voting systems. "We have a perfectly good system -- the paper-ballot optical-scan system."
This clearly isn't a done deal, but it looks like the purely electronic machines with no paper trail are now fighting a defensive battle. Still, that doesn't solve all the problems. The system used in my county offers your choice of an electronic booth or optical scan during regular voting.

The reason given for requiring electronic machines in the first place is so that visually handicapped voters can vote. Otherwise, the optical scan system is perfectly satisfactory. However, I have an assisted living center in the voting precinct for which I am the Election Judge, and the electronic voting booth makes the blind voters a lot happier than having two election workers read the ballot and mark it for them on the optical scan system.

But we still have to use the system of two precinct workers providing assistance for people who are blind and whose language is not English. We had two election workers help each of two elderly individuals, and our only available translator was their grandson. Needless to say, they used paper ballots.

Then there is early voting. Early voting goes on for two weeks, and with nearly one million voters in the county as well as having combined elections for federal, state, county, city, school district, water district, Community College District and a few others, the ballots for any given individual can get complicated. I held the Nov 7th election for two precincts, and one precinct has a single block that is in the county, not the city, and there was a city proposition on which county voters could not vote. So I had three ballots for two precincts. Since early voting uses a limited number of voting places (30 to 40 rather than the normal nearly 300 precincts) and anyone in the county can vote in any voting place, the stack of preprinted ballots stored at the early voting locations would be extremely difficult to keep up with. As a result, in our county only electronic voting machines are used for early voting. We normally have half of the voters use early voting.

Still, it looks like the Presidential election of 2008 may be the last chance for Diebold to steal an election without any record.

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