Oh, for the days of punch cards…

Ever since the 2000 elections, there has been an ongoing debate about the way we conducti elections. The election prompted Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act to help states modernize their election administration.

Good bye punch cards.

In Florida, smaller counties opted to use optical scan readers, where a voter colors in a bubble next to his or her choices on a ballot and feeds the ballot into a scanner that counts the choices.

reader

The large counties elected to go with touch screen machines, where the voters touch the screen next to their choices.

touch screen

Many state and local governments made similar choices.

The problem for many was, many touch screen systems did not have any paper system one could manually review after voting. Calls for these critics grew louder and louder. States started reverting their touch screens to require a paper trail.

touch screen

Then in the 2006 election, we had more problems. In Sarasota, some 18,000 people chose note to vote in the Congressional election. The race eventually went to court, and the politics surrounding it will come up again in 2008.

Coup de grace

The final blow on touch screen voting apparently came last week. As it became clear hacking touch screen systems was possible. The New York Times wrote:

Computer scientists from California universities have hacked into three electronic voting systems used in California and elsewhere in the nation and found several ways in which vote totals could potentially be altered, according to reports released yesterday by the state.

The California reports said the scientists, acting at the state’s request, had hacked into systems from three of the four largest companies in the business: Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting Systems.

Thousands of their machines in varying setups are in use.

The reports said the investigators had created situations for each system “in which these weaknesses could be exploited to affect the correct recording, reporting and tallying of votes.”

Matthew A. Bishop, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, who led the team that tried to compromise the machines, said his group was surprised by how easy it was not only to pick the physical locks on the machines, but also to break through the software defenses meant to block intruders.

Let’s read that last paragraph again.

Matthew A. Bishop, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, who led the team that tried to compromise the machines, said his group was surprised by how easy it was not only to pick the physical locks on the machines, but also to break through the software defenses meant to block intruders.

This is scary stuff folks.

Okay, so touch screen critics are rejoicing. They have been vinidcated. Touch screens will go the way of pagers. We’ll all be coloring in little bubbles to vote from now on.

But wait.

The Miami Herald’s Naked Politics Blog wrote:

Insider computer hackers can change votes without a trace on Diebold optical-scan machines.

The study by Florida State University found that, despite recent software fixes, an “adversary” could use a pre-programmed computer card to swap one candidate’s votes for another or create a “ballot-stuffing attack” that multiplies votes for a candidate or issue.

Okay. So touch screens are “easy” to hack. So are optical scan machines.

Now, where did we put those punch cards?

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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