RealTime IT News

E-Voting Group Unites on Security Concerns

Stung by criticism over whether its e-voting technology is sound, Diebold Election Systems joined with five other electronic voting machine manufacturers Tuesday to "identify and address security concerns" about the industry.

Under the auspices of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a Washington-based technology trade group, Diebold, Advanced Voting Systems, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, Sequoia Voting Systems and Unilect formed the Election Technology Council (ETC) to "raise the profile of electronic voting."

With the presidential election less than a year away, the group also plans to develop a code of ethics for companies in the electronic voting sector and to make recommendations in the areas of election system standards and certification.

"Electronic voting is the logical next step in the evolution of voting systems," said ITAA President Harris N. Miller. "The American people expect voting machines to be fast, accurate and reliable. They do not expect the technology itself to raise questions or cast doubt on election results. We look forward to working with the members of the ETC to help this industry find its collective voice and to bring the benefits of electronic voting to every citizen."

Earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Rice University said they uncovered vulnerabilities in the Ohio-based Diebold's system that could be exploited by an individual or group intent on tampering with election results. In particular, they pointed to the use of a "smart card," containing a tiny computer chip, that each eligible voter receives.

The card, inserted into the electronic voting machine, is designed to ensure that each person casts only one ballot. The researchers believe a voter could hide a specially programmed counterfeit card in a pocket, withdraw it inside the booth and use it to cast multiple votes for a single candidate.

Aviel Rubin, a Johns Hopkins computer professor and one of the researchers, told internetnews.com he was "highly skeptical" of the new voting industry initiative.

"It sounds like an attempt to put together a unified public relations front," Rubin said. "They've always shown an interest in saying whatever they can do to get past public relations problems."

Last year, approximately 33,000 Diebold voting stations, which allow ballots to be cast via a 15-inch touch-screen monitor, were used in elections in Georgia, California, Kansas and other locations. The researchers stressed there was no evidence that anyone has used the flaws in the program to tamper with an election.

Last month, Diebold was again in the news when it issued cease and desist orders to stop Web sites from publishing some or all of 13,000 stolen company e-mails that indicated vulnerabilities in Diebold e-voting machines. The company withdrew the cease and desist orders on Dec. 2.

Rubin said Diebold did not have a "good faith" record regarding security issues.

"They haven't engaged anyone in the security industry about possible vulnerabilities in their machines," Rubin said. "All I've heard from them is a threat to sue me and a demand to stop talking to the media."

Hart InterCivic Chairman David E. Hart, who will serve as chairman of the ETC, said "it is time for election systems companies to join together as an industry to address the many challenges we face in this vital work."