Monday, December 05, 2005

The GAO report on electronic voting machines

Here's the GAO report on electronic voting machines. From the Results in Brief section:

"While electronic voting sysytems hold promise for a more accurate and efficient election process, numerous entities have raised concerns about their security and reliability, citing instances of weak security controls, system design flaws, inadequate system version controll, inadequate security testing, incorrect system configuration, poor security management, and vauge or incomplete voting system standards, among other issues."

Among other issues? Yes, there's more.

"... some of these concerns were reported to have caused local problems in Federal elections- resulting in the loss or miscount of votes- and therefore merit attention."

Anytime votes are lost, folks, we may not get the leaders we chose. It sure as hell does merit attention.

The problems outlined in the non-partisan Governmental Accounting Office report may be addressed somewhat by new guidelines; but one of the best ways for voters to verify that their votes count for whom they've voted is still an auditable paper trail. If you haven't been over to sign Rep. Rush Holt's petition in support of verified voting then click on over and do so, then write your congressman and ask that he support the bill when it gets out of committee.

(hat tip to DBK for the link to lambert at Correntewire, who gets the BIG hat tip.)
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WjcW said...

Quick question. Having never read HR550 I'm at a slight disadvantage. But, I am getting it basically will require electronic voting machines to produce a paper receipt at the booth. My question would the following; If we are concerned about the machines being 'hacked', I'm not quite sure what good this bill will accomplish. I am assuming it will call for a software driven printer to produce a paper record. My thought would be that any hacker who is suave enough to reprogram the votes in the machine for his candidate of choice would be equally smart enough to have the machine print out an accurate receipt while secretly registering an erroneous vote.
The point being that the use of the machines was to elimate the inaccuracies and time involved with hand counting. If the machines can be manipulated to register votes for a certain candidate, they could also be manipulated to print out accurate receipts, knowing that the chances of each voter returning with a receipt to verify the vote is nil. Still, if the idea is that a copy of the receipt will be kept at the polling place for manual recount to verfiy the machine total, the point of using the machine and the economies it provides is lost.
Am I missing something?
I guess it comes down to either you trust the technology or you don't. But I think the paper audit trail puts us back at square one, doesn't it?

Sharon GR said...

Hi WjcW, welcome.

Here's the summary.

Hacking is indeed a concern, and you're right that just about anything can be gotten around if the programmer works hard enough. However, without a verified printed system, there's no chance of ever knowing; we'd just have to believe the machine is right.

The bill calls for: 1. a paper trail that can be used for recounts, instead of the current system of just re-running the report for the machine; and 2. a required, random, unannounced, hand-count audit of actual election results in every state, and in each county, for every Federal election; and 3. it prohibits the use of undisclosed software and wireless and concealed communications devices and internet connections in voting machines. The first one will help by showing if fraud has taken place, and the second is a deterrent to fraud as well as a help in uncovering it, the third one decisively makes it a crime to mess with it or to transmit voting data to others.

I disagree that the economies of using the machine are lost when a paper trail is used. Not every election is recounted; even if they are, one electronic count and one hand recount take way less time and manhours than two hand counts. Even with adding in the manual audits, the time spent is still substantially less than all manual counts.

I definitely do trust the technology, just not everyone who may have a hand in it or access to it. I think it more than fair that voters be sure their votes are counted as cast, and a paper trail is probably the best way to do that.

Sharon GR said...

I wasn't too clear there. The bill calls for more than just three things, but those were the three that were relevant to the comment.

BTW I'm sorry it took so long to answer your comment. I was unable to log into Blogger last night so I didn't see it until today.

DBK said...

The random audits are the key to stopping that sort of hacking. Actually, optical scanners, while less economical with respect to paper, are a big improvement over the touch-screen electronic machines and don't have the same problems. WJCW raises legitimate concerns, but they are dealt with in the legislation and HR 550 is the best of the available answers to the problem. This may not sound like a great answer, but the fact is that the issue has been studied pretty closely by the bipartisan Carter-Baker Commission and they recommended HR 550 in their final report in September (don't have a cite but if you google "Carter-Baker Commission" you should get to the American University web site where you can get a copy of the report).

And thanks, Sharon, for posting on this so much.