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Trading Alphabet Soup for Code Words

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Trading Alphabet Soup for Code Words

By Michael Richardson

Three dozen "election integrity" groups have joined together to urge Congress to mandate paper ballots in federal elections. The self-congratulatory praise for the newfound unity amongst the previously splintered movement has been buzzing on the internet. Finally, there is some agreement about the worst security aspects of electronic voting machines and maybe some relief from the jargon that surrounds the machines.

The mess in Florida's 13th Congressional district seems to have flagged attention to the DRE (Direct Record Electronic) machines, which lack a VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) and instead rely on an ECVR (Electronic Cast Vote Record) which is part of the EVCS (Electronic Vote Capture System) which could have been tested by an ITA (Independent Test Authority) except that they only report to the machine vendors.

Now the Florida machines will undergo testing. Will there be a FCA (Functional Configuration Audit) or only a PCA (Physical Configuration Audit). And what about HASH? A trip to the NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology) explains all about electronic voting machine HASH.

"Algorithm that maps a bit of string of arbitrary length to a fixed-length bit string. Approved hash functions satisfy the following properties: (a) it is computationally infeasible to find any input that map to any prespecified output, and (b) it is computationally infeasible to find any two distinct inputs that map to the same output."

Got that? And what about SSVSS or DVSS (Semi-Static Voting System Software or Dynamic Voting System Software) none of which sounds reassuring. The NIST defines DVSS as "Software that changes over time once it is installed on the voting equipment."

Of course we all want to avoid CSF (Catastrophic System Failure) which NIST warns, "Total loss of function or functions, such as the loss or unrecoverable corruption of voting data or the failure of an on-board battery of volatile memory."

Maybe the ICS (Implementation Conformance Statement) will help protect us from all these HAVA (Help America Vote Act) gadgets. Looks like the DRE's will be gone before the electronic voting machine vendors can hook up the PNDREVS (Public Network Direct Record Electronic Voting System). The VVPAT crowd now thinks that OSS (Optical Scan System) might be the way to go even using EBP's (Electronic Ballot Printers).

Paper ballots sound pretty good after swimming in the voting machine alphabet soup. The only problem is that the "election integrity" groups are not asking Congress for hand counts of paper ballots. They still will be happy with OSS electronic vote counters and audit protocols.

Make no mistake about it. The paper ballots being advocated are still to be counted by electronic voting equipment capable of being rigged by self-deleting malicious software. The supposed integrity will come from hand counted audits of sampled precincts.

The new found unity of the reformers would be much better directed to actually advocating for an accurate count of the ballots on the first count. A secure hand counted paper ballot system is the best way to regain election integrity.

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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