Congress Debates E-Voting Security

Congress is considering action to reform electronic voting machine
guidelines only days before its members go home for the election season.

At issue is whether local officials will be able to hold elections properly
using direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, and whether or not
election results will be reliable.

Testifying at a Committee on House Administration (CHA) hearing today,
Princeton University professor of technology and public policy Ed Felten
said that the risks of vote tampering on DREs is much greater than with
paper ballots.

“With paper ballots you can affect a few hundred votes, whereas with
electronic voting you can affect the outcome of an entire election,” he

Felten then demonstrated for the committee how someone could hack an
election by inserting a memory card into a slot in the side of a Diebold
AccuVote TS DRE.

The slot is protected by a locked door that Felten said he was able to open
by purchasing a key from an online jukebox supply store.

Felten recommended that Congress require DREs to come equipped with
voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) technology so that voters could
check to make sure that their votes are properly recorded.

The CHA hearing is but one a flurry of activities taking place as the result
of a well-publicized fiasco in Maryland on September 12, when poll workers
were unable to start up newly-implemented DREs.

Many jurisdictions have only recently rolled out DREs as a result of new
Federal guidelines published pursuant to the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin
introduced a resolution yesterday calling on states to have back-up procedures in place
in time for the November 2006 elections.

“A back-up plan as simple as having emergency paper ballots on hand is
essential to preventing election day disasters,” said Feingold in a

“Some of the problems we saw this year, like voters in Maryland being told
to come back later because the machines weren’t working, are simply
unacceptable,” he said.

These incidents have also put wind in the sails of a bill introduced last
year by New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt requiring electronic voting
machines used in Federal elections to be equipped with paper trail

During the hearing, Representative Zoe Lofgren said she supported the Holt
bill but was not a co-sponsor because she wanted to keep an open mind about
VVPAT technology.

She said that it was critical to make sure that voters have confidence in
the electoral system.

“The integrity of the election is paramount,” she said. “It goes to the core
of the spirit of our nation and the future of our democracy.”

Vernon Ehlers, the former physicist who chairs the CHA, invited Holt to sit
in on the hearing and allowed him to question witnesses.

Earlier this month, Felten published a study demonstrating gaping
security vulnerabilities
in the Diebold AccuVote TS model DRE.

Another witness, Michael Shamos, a professor of computer science at Carnegie
Mellon University, opposes the use of VVPAT.

He agreed that “some vulnerabilities are severe and need to be repaired.”

But he argued that paper-based solutions are also flawed, and urged Congress
to wait for better high-tech solutions to emerge.

Felten’s response was, “I don’t think we can afford to wait.”

News Around the Web