Will Your Vote Count in 2006? 'When You're Using a Paperless Voting System, There Is No Security,' Says Stanford's David Dill

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Levy

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the voting booth, here comes more disturbing news about the trustworthiness of electronic touchscreen ballot machines. Earlier this month a report by Finnish security expert Harri Hursti analyzed Diebold voting machines for an organization called Black Box Voting. Hursti found unheralded vulnerabilities in the machines that are currently entrusted to faithfully record the votes of millions of Americans.

How bad are the problems? Experts are calling them the most serious voting-machine flaws ever documented. Basically the trouble stems from the ease with which the machine's software can be altered. It requires only a few minutes of pre-election access to a Diebold machine to open the machine and insert a PC card that, if it contained malicious code, could reprogram the machine to give control to the violator. The machine could go dead on Election Day or throw votes to the wrong candidate. Worse, it's even possible for such ballot-tampering software to trick authorized technicians into thinking that everything is working fine, an illusion you couldn't pull off with pre-electronic systems. "If Diebold had set out to build a system as insecure as they possibly could, this would be it," says Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer-science professor and elections-security expert.

Diebold Election Systems spokesperson David Bear says Hursti's findings do not represent a fatal vulnerability in Diebold technology, but simply note the presence of a feature that allows access to authorized technicians to periodically update the software. If it so happens that someone not supposed to use the machine--or an election official who wants to put his or her thumb on the scale of democracy--takes advantage of this fast track to fraud, that's not Diebold's problem. "[Our critics are] throwing out a 'what if' that's premised on a basis of an evil, nefarious person breaking the law," says Bear. …