When It Comes To E-Voting, One Bad Programmer Could Undermine Our Democracy - InformationWeek

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12/11/2006
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When It Comes To E-Voting, One Bad Programmer Could Undermine Our Democracy

Federal advisory committee votes to require software-independent audit capabilities for all new voting machines.

The movement toward paperless electronic voting took a major hit last week when a federal advisory committee on e-voting came out in favor of requiring paper or other software-independent means of auditing election results.

A technical committee that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission agreed unanimously that all new voting machines should be able to be audited either via paper trails or some new technology. The requirement wouldn't affect existing e-voting systems; it would be up to local, county, and state officials to decide whether to replace existing electronic voting systems.

The technical committee's resolution followed the release of a draft report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that says it's unlikely that e-voting systems can ever be made secure enough. Among the reasons: "A single clever, dishonest programmer in a voting machine company could rig an entire statewide election if a state uses mainly one kind of system," the report says.

Without a reliable record, paperless electronic voting can't be made sufficiently secure, NIST says. There's no effective way to ensure software is free from errors or malicious code, the report adds.

There are good, automated methods, such as optical scanning, that leave a reliable paper trail, NIST says. It recommends against software-dependent approaches and urges making paper-based backup viable. In other words, fix the chad problem, but keep the paper.

The technical committee's resolution won't become law until after a public comment period and further review as part of the Election Assistance Commission's effort to develop a set of guidelines for the 2008 presidential election.

Those guidelines could include another recommendation from a separate resolution the technical advisory committee passed last week. It calls for the prohibition of all wireless technology in machines that record, count, and report votes, except for shielded infrared signals.

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