California eVoting: Push Here to Vote (Again)
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Voting systems activists in California have revealed a little-known feature of AVC Edge electronic voting machines that allows a single person to vote multiple times.
The feature, a yellow button located on the back of the units, is supposed to be used as a back-up for use by poll workers in case their smart-card activators fail to boot the machine.
It can be used at any time while the machine is in operation.
Once the yellow button is pressed, poll workers -- or, activists claim, anyone intending to electronically stuff the ballot box -- can switch the machine to manual operation and then vote as often as they like.
The unit will be widely in use in California, as well as in other states throughout the country, in next week's general election.
California election officials acknowledged the problem and said they have asked the vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, Calif., to address this issue.
A Sequoia official told internetnews.com that it would address the problem after next week's election, and then resubmit the system for certification.
But Michelle Shafer, vice president of communications for Sequoia, said it was wrong to characterize the feature as a flaw.
"It's a deliberate back-up feature to prevent the Edge from having a single point of failure -- an inoperable card activator -- at a polling location and preventing voters from casting their ballots."
Shafer added that the machine issues a loud beep when the yellow button is pressed, which would alert poll workers that someone was trying to hack the machine.
She also said that jurisdictions can disable this feature if they want to.
"This flexibility has always been present in Sequoia's election management system and gives our customers options to activate or not activate per their determination and election procedures."
Ashley Giovannettone, a spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, said that her office had issued instructions telling poll workers to listen for the tell-tale beeping sound.
Giovannettone added that the jurisdictions running the polling places confirmed that they are implementing safeguards to make sure voters couldn't abuse the system by using the button during the election on Nov. 7.
"Using that button is not a simple task for ordinary voters, and the loud beeping makes it impossible to have it go unnoticed," Giovannettone told internetnews.com.
She said that the electronic voting machines offer tremendous improvements over traditional paper-based machines.
"They provide the opportunity for voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently for the first time," she said.
According to Bev Harris, president of Black Box Voting, an activist group favoring more stringent standards and testing of e-voting machines, the fact that the Edge machines were certified demonstrates the problem with the certification process.
"Why is this noticed by citizens and not the people who certify the machines? It's an example of the failure of the testing and certification process," she told internetnews.com.
Harris said she chose to bring the issue to light because other states using the Edge machines are also at risk.
"Other states haven't issued security warnings," she said.
Colorado, Florida and New Jersey are other states using the Edge machine, according to Harris.
Another activist group, Voters Unite, provides a more comprehensive list of which units are in use in various states.
According to Shafer, Sequoia is the third-largest vendor of voting machines in the country, and the second largest vendor of electronic touch screen machines such as the Edge.