card ballots led to a contested vote recount in Florida during
the 2000 presidential election, Congress approved a $3.9 billion
initiative to help states and localities update antiquated voting
machines with electronic voting devices in time for the 2004 elections.
The plan offered the hope that the ballot controversies of 2000
would not happen again, by providing Americans with more efficient
and accurate computerized voting machines.
advantages of computerized voting, several academic researchers
and security experts have questioned the integrity and reliability
of the machines being marketed to states ahead of the deadline
outlined in the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
In March 2001,
scientists from the California Institute of Technology and the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a pioneering investigation
into why so many problems arose in Florida's ballot count in the
2000 election, voting technologies and recommendations to prevent
a repeat occurrence.
study concluded that the widely used "punch cards and lever
machines should be done away with," calling "the performance
of punch cards alarming." The report also ruled out Internet
voting in the near future because of the threat of computer hacking.
But the study
by the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project also warned that
newer electronic technologies did not automatically improve the
situation. According to their statistics, touch-screen machines
have performed almost as poorly as punch card machines over the
past 12 years, though scientists noted the newer touch-screen
voting devices -- such as direct recording equipment (DRE) --
showed signs of improvement. The report determined optical scanning
as the most "reliable method of voting."
In July, researchers
from Johns Hopkins and Rice University published a report detailing
numerous security vulnerabilities with the widely used touch-screen
systems from Diebold Election Systems, one of the largest vendors
of DREs in the United States.
the report's chief author and an associate professor of computer
science at Johns Hopkins, warned that because Diebold's voting
systems -- and similar devices from other vendors -- lack proper
encryption technology, they were vulnerable to even amateur hackers.
analysis shows that this voting system is far below even the most
minimal security standards. ...We conclude that, as a society,
we must carefully consider the risks inherent in electronic voting,
as it places our very democracy at risk," Rubin's study warned.
Just one week
later, Diebold Election Systems released an official response
discounting Rubin's study as based on "false technical assumptions."
Diebold said the study relied on inadequate data from an older
model of its touch-screen machine. Moreover, Diebold charged,
the computer scientists lacked a deep or professional understanding
of how elections work in real life.
alleges scenarios that could not occur within an actual election
process due to the checks and balances within the actual equipment
and those found in accepted election procedures. ... The authors'
expressed assumptions include fundamental misunderstandings of
the overall election process -- whether making use of modern electronic
voting systems or traditional paper ballots," the company's
In the wake
of these troubling scientific reports, a growing number of election
officials, politicians and states seem to be reevaluating plans
to implement the voting machines in time for the 2004 presidential
the Johns Hopkins report, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) announced
his state would wait on its pending purchase of Diebold's machines.
In Georgia, the only state to use electronic voting machines in
every county, Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) in August demanded Secretary
of State Cynthia Cox test the reliability of the 22,000 Diebold
machines used in the 2000 and 2002 elections. Cox expressed full
confidence in the integrity of Diebold's machines.
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley mandated that all
electronic voting machines produce a voter-verifiable paper receipt
by 2006, making California the first state to require that computerized
voting systems leave a paper trail.
By early December,
Ohio, Nevada and other states took official steps to reevaluate
the security of the voting devices.
not the only company whose voting machines yielded poor marks
from independent academics and security experts.
Ohio, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican, commissioned
two companies, Compuware Corp. of Detroit and InfoSENTRY Services,
to conduct an independent security review of electronic voting
machines from the four top vendors: Diebold Inc., Election Systems
& Software Inc., Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic
results turned up enough security flaws for Blackwell to request
a deadline extension to comply with HAVA, so vendors could remedy
the identified risks. Ohio originally planned to roll out the
electronic voting machines in March, but as a result of the state's
review, Blackwell's office said the devices would not be used
until the August 2004 special elections, at the earliest.
analysts concluded there were no "show stopping" security
concerns to halt the introduction of computerized voting systems,
the researchers did identify a list of security risks, ranked
from low to high. Of the high-risk areas, Diebold's AccuVote-TS
(touch screen) had five, Hart InterCivic's eSlate 3000 had four,
Sequoia Voting Systems' AVC Edge had three and ES&S' iVotronic
for all the companies' machines included potential accessing of
supervisor functions and tampering with election results, and
the ability to disrupt voting and close the polls early.
recommended that the secretary of state implement information-technology
(IT) and security policy standards for any election using the
DRE system. They also urged the state to consider creating a new
security director position to oversee procedures and security
concerns in any election in which a DRE system is used.
concluded that all vendors generally passed the federal Independent
Test Authority's requirements regarding the security of their
voting machines, and that those vendors found to have security
flaws "expressed willingness to improve."
office also stated that all vendors were fixing the problems identified
in the independent review, after which Compuware and InfoSENTRY
will carry out additional verification testing.
says the "onus" is placed solely on the electronic voting
machine vendors to "detect, correct and report system defects"
to state and local election officials. It recommends the vendor
submit weekly reports of system defects to election officials,
who can then track problems and order repairs to the equipment.
and InfoSENTRY strongly suggested the state "establish a
relationship" with its selected vendor to create and implement
security policies. The secretary of state's office should also
provide and coordinate vendor-specific security awareness and
technical training programs for election officials as well as
the vendor's employees.
the Paper Trail
Ohio secretary of state's study, the Johns Hopkins-Rice Study
and the Caltech-MIT study all recommended that voting machines
should produce a paper trail to verify votes.
a researcher at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who originated
the "paper trail" concept, said she believes in a "voter-verified
paper trail" requirement because of "a lack of candor
in the electronic voting industry."
fact they did not want all this security and openness was the
reason I came up with it," she said. "More recently
I realized you can have as much security and openness as you want,
and you'd still need it. It's important for every voter to look
at the ballot and see if that's how they voted or not," Mercuri
told the Tri-Valley Herald of the San Francisco Bay area in November.
top manufacturers and election officials question the point of
computerized voting if hard copies of votes are necessary. They
also argue that the trail mechanism could be prohibitively expensive.
computer scientists and election officials focused on the security
glitches of electronic voting devices, several advocacy groups,
journalists, tech-activists and Internet writers have doggedly
worked to expose the political bias of executives heading the
top manufacturers of voting machines.
One case concerns
Sen. Chuck Hagel's involvement with one of the largest manufacturers
of voting machines, Election Systems & Software. According
to Bev Harris, author of "Black Box Voting: Vote Tampering
in the 21st Century", Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska,
served as chief executive of American Information Systems, a voting
technology firm that later merged with another company to become
resigned a year before running for the U.S. Senate, Hagel continued
to be invested in ES&S through a holding company, the McCarthy
Group, part of which he headed until early 1996.
reported she found no evidence of tampering with the Nebraska
votes in 1996 or 2002, the year Hagel ran for reelection, she
still questioned the possible conflict of interest of a U.S. senator
owning part of the company that supplied all the vote-counting
machines in his state.
treasurer, Michael McCarthy, who also serves as chairman of the
McCarthy Group Inc., explained the senator's indirect ownership
of ES&S was minor because Hagel owned less than 2 percent
of McCarthy. McCarthy, in turn, only owns 25 percent of ES&S.
accusations of impropriety and calls by some for an ethics investigation,
the senator's staff informed The Hill, a Washington D.C.-based
newspaper covering Congress, in January 2003 that the Senate Ethics
Committee had reviewed and approved Hagel's election filings,
clearing the Nebraska senator of any wrongdoing.
cases of partisan politics have raised similar concerns of apparent
conflicts of interest and fueled Web-based conspiracy theorists.
2003, Diebold, which has installed some 33,000 touch-screen voting
machines in the United States, came under fire after its chief
executive, Walden O'Dell, sent letters to central Ohio Republicans
asking them to raise $10,000 in donations in time for a Sept.
26 Ohio Republican Party fundraiser at his home.
he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes
to (President Bush) next year." The Cleveland Plain Dealer
also reported that O'Dell was one of President Bush's top fund-raisers,
ranked in the elite "Pioneer" echelons for collecting
a minimum of $200,000.
-- including several presidential candidates for the 2004 election
-- protested the Diebold CEO's overt political bias, and petitioned
Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to drop O'Dell's company
from the list of potential vendors, saying his presence could
undermine Ohio's entire election system.
Diebold released a statement in which O'Dell expressed regret
about the letter, saying he would curtail his political activism.
a year of mixed reviews and political questions have helped make
voters aware of the issue of poll technology, says voter activist
Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.
it's been a year of widespread awakening among the American public
about the risks of computerized voting," Alexander told CNet
News in December. "A huge movement has developed across the
nation, with citizen activists joining computer scientists, academics,
lawyers and nonprofits to demand verifiable voting systems."
David Bear has suggested other reasons to explain the intensified
scrutiny of electronic voting systems.
say I think there's heightened awareness as a result of HAVA,"
Bear said. "All the states are addressing the issue of how
they're going to come into HAVA compliance and, doing the right
thing, they're involving the general public in that process. Most
people did not think about elections except for the dedicated
folks who work on election day-- or day in and day out as elections
officers. But the Florida (2000) vote and the subsequent HAVA
act put a spotlight on this as an issue."
By Elizabeth Harper, Online NewsHour