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RealTime IT News

House Seeks Further E-Voting Research

With national elections less than six months away, two key committees of the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into the security and reliability of electronic voting machines.

In a May 14 letter to the GAO, the chairmen and ranking members of both the House Government Reform Committee and the Judiciary Committee asked the GAO to "identify the significant issues" that could "potentially allow unscrupulous individuals to alter the vote count."

In the aftermath of the 2000 controversial presidential vote count in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 to help states fund the replacement of punch card or lever voting machines with electronic voting systems. The transition is proving to be as controversial as the Florida hanging chads.

"While the existing data indicate that these machines can be more accurate than outdated punch card machines, experts are becoming increasingly concerned that many of these electronic voting machines have other flaws," the letter states.

Last year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Rice University claimed they uncovered vulnerabilities in Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems' electronic voting equipment. In particular, they pointed to the use of a "smart card," containing a tiny computer chip, that each eligible voter receives to ensure that each person casts only one ballot.

In December, officials at Bellevue, Wash.-based VoteHere admitted an intruder had gained access to the e-voting manufacturer's files through a known vulnerability in the network's operating system that wasn't patched with the latest security updates.

According to the House letter signed by Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and 11 other House members, "a number of other incidents in recent presidential primaries and local elections raised concerns about the performance of the machines."

With electronic voting expected to account for almost half of all ballots cast in the upcoming presidential election, March's Super Tuesday primaries provided the first widespread test of touch screen systems developed primarily by Diebold, VoteHere, Sequoia Voting Systems and Electronic Systems & Software.

Most complaints over e-voting reported that Tuesday centered on human error and erratic enforcement of security standards by polling officials. Other voters in California, Maryland and Georgia were forced to use traditional ballots when the voting machines didn't boot up properly.

Davis and Sensenbrenner asked the GAO to describe the "operational plans" of federal and state agencies in the security and reliability of electronic voting systems. They also asked the GAO to "identify best practices that can be implemented to improve the security and reliability of the electronic voting process."

Most e-voting machine manufacturers use their own proprietary software on a hardware platform. In the case of VoteHere, it uses Compaq's iPAQ machines after a deal struck between the two companies in 2000. In 2001, Compaq and Cisco Systems took a $10 million investment stake in the VoteHere company.

Diebold uses a touch-screen station running its own Global Election Management System (GEMS) software.



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