Feds to Toughen E-Voting Standards?

A federal agency is set to recommend significant changes to specifications
for electronic-voting machines next week, internetnews.com has
learned.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is recommending
that the 2007 version of the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines (VVSG)
decertify direct record electronic (DRE) machines.

DREs are currently used by more than 30 percent of jurisdictions across the
U.S. and are the exclusive voting technology in Delaware,
Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and South Carolina.

According to an NIST paper to be discussed at a meeting of election
regulators at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., on Dec. 4 and 5,
DRE vote totals cannot be audited because the machines are not software
independent.

In other words, there is no means of verifying vote tallies other than by
relying on the software that tabulated the results to begin with.

The machines currently in use are “more vulnerable to undetected programming
errors or malicious code,” according to the paper.

The NIST paper also noted that, “potentially, a single programmer could
‘rig’ a major election.”

It recommends “requiring SI [software independent] voting systems in VVSG
2007.”

The NIST is also going to recommend changes to the design of machines
equipped with paper rolls that provide audit trails.

Currently, the paper rolls produce records that are illegible or otherwise
unusable, and NIST is recommending that “paper rolls should not be used in
new voting systems.”

The lack of software independence has reared its ugly head in Sarasota’s
Congressional race, where 18,000 fewer votes were cast than in other races
on the same ballot.

A recount was futile in that election because Sarasota uses a DRE-type
machine.

This has provoked concerns that someone tampered with that election.

County officials told internetnews.com that the machines themselves
are now being examined by a team of computer security experts and that they
will finish their work by Friday.

Congress has also been on the case.

Hearings
were held throughout the summer and fall, and legislation was
introduced that would require the use of some form of voter-verified paper
audit trail (VVPAT).

These efforts have gathered steam in response to reported machine
malfunctions during the March 2006 primaries, as well as studies by the Brennan Center and Princeton University professor Ed Felten, as well as pressure from advocacy groups such as VotersUnite.org.

But evidence is emerging to the effect that paper trails may not be of much
help.

For instance, a study of the 2006 primaries in Ohio commissioned by Cuyahoga County, Ohio, showed
that the results of that election could not be verified despite the presence
of VVPAT.

The study concluded that “the election system, in its entirety, exhibits
shortcomings with extremely serious consequences, especially in the event of
a close election.”

Many former advocates of VVPAT, including John Gideon, executive director of
VotersUnite, now favor requiring that all votes be recorded on paper
ballots.

“DREs are unacceptable as voting devices and … the addition of a VVPAT on
a DRE is only a placebo to make some voters feel more comfortable,” Gideon
said in an e-mail.

Computer scientists and election experts such as Roy Saltman disagree with the
idea of going back to paper ballots. “If you insist on paper you’re tying
elections to an old technology,” he told internetnews.com.

Doug Jones of the University of Iowa suggested that election officials
consider implementing new technologies that enable independent auditing of
votes.

He pointed to a system devised by Ted Selker, co-director of the Caltech-MIT
Voting Technology Project. “The state of the art systems aren’t even on the market.”

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