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Election 2006 – Electronic Voting Machines Are Already Failing

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"I tried to hit the letter 'A' and instead the machine kept displaying that I had typed 'S'". Such was the experience of Allan Greene of St. Petersburg, Florida when he attempted to select write in Florida Gubernatorial candidate Omari Musa . According to Nancy Whitlock, spokesperson for Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, the culprit was machine calibration.

Pinellas County has since changed their policies from only calibrating if an issue has been detected to one where the machines are calibrated each morning. Allan Greene's problems occurred in a county that I am familiar with and whose elections personnel I respect and believe to be motivated and competent (although as of yet they have not provided another opportunity to Mr. Greene to register his vote for Governor). But this highlights many serious issues.

Elections personnel now overwhelmingly depend on computerized electronic voting machines. Anyone familiar with running a moderately sized Information Systems department, particularly on the Operations side, knows that it is a challenge to keep machines running even under the best of circumstances. I have fourteen years of experience working on the Operations side of the IS/IT departments of large and prestigious firms. I can tell all of my readers that being able to guarantee that a couple of hundred machines will definitely work on a specific day for the entire day under heavy use is a difficult task for even the best IT professionals. Yet, this is exactly the task that now faces elections staff of every county in the country every two years.

I wonder if the correct team of IT staff to perform this major miracle has been hired by every county in the country. A group called Election Online has produced a 75 page report detailing these sorts of issues with electronic voting and predicts specific and major problems in at least ten states including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. The report can be seen here - .

Up until now in this article, all highlighted issues have assumed that no persons or groups including county or state elections staff intend to manipulate machines or vote totals. If we add the threat of malfeasance into the mix the potential problems and complexity in detecting and preventing them increase exponentially. Very little if any safeguards or policies or procedures have been implemented to deal with this threat. For instance:

- I am not aware of any county or any state where the machine vendors are required to provide a copy of the programming code for inspection.

- I am not aware of any county or any state that has a system in place that would allow parties who dispute voting results to easily perform a forensic investigation of voting machines.

- I am not aware of any county or any state that has contracted one of the more reputable (or quite frankly, ANY) IT Security firms to audit and perform penetration testing of the security of the state's election systems from top to bottom.

- In several states, physical security of the voting machines is lacking. Vendors or other personnel are able to access the machines without proper signing in and signing out procedures, without those staff being fingerprinted, etc. When those vendors or other maintenance staff performs repairs on the machines, there is often no one present who can authenticate that no improper things were done to the machines.

In an article a few months ago, I proposed changes to the law to handle several of these issues. The only real response I received was ridicule that the states or counties should dare require that private firms make the programming code for the machines public. I think if the vendors of the machines want to sell to states or a county that is a reasonable requirement.

At some point, elections officials are going to have to take the necessary steps to provide everyone in the country complete assurance that their votes are being properly counted. Challenges that I mentioned earlier aside, it is doable. It requires planning and funding and the proper personnel and legislation, but it is doable. The question is, why are we still having these problems six years after the election 2000 meltdown? I cannot help but feel seriously let down by legislators of virtually every state of the union.
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A political blogger for the International Business Times, Steve Leser is a hot national political pundit. He has appeared on MSNBC's Coundown with Keith Olbermann, Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Russia Today's (RT) Crosstalk with (more...)
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