Memo Shows ES&S Knew Its E-Voting Machines Were Buggy

from the whoops dept

Remember those missing votes in Florida? The ones where a judge decided that the source code didn’t need to be revealed and where a very, very limited test showed all sorts of problems (even if the press pretended it said the machines were fine)? Yes, those same machines that an (anonymous) representative from an e-voting company (hint: it’s the one in question here) insisted was perfectly fine and that all of these complaints were just fear mongering. Well, now it turns out that, not only did those machines have some pretty big problems, the e-voting company ES&S that made them knew about the problems and had even sent a memo to election officials in Florida about it.

The memo noted that the machines had a flaw that sometimes would make the machines respond very slowly — requiring voters to push on their voting choice for much longer than would normally be expected. They had a fix, but admitted the fix wasn’t certified so it couldn’t be used. ES&S recommended that election officials post signs telling people to make sure to keep pressing on the screen until the vote was recorded — but Florida election officials decided that wasn’t necessary. Even better, during the court case looking into the missing votes, Florida officials conveniently “misfiled” that memo and did not turn it over to the court. Not surprisingly, the elections officials claim that it’s no big deal and are falling back on the examination of the source code — though, as other experts point out, simply examining the source code alone wouldn’t spot this kind of problem. That’s exactly why Ed Felten said that just examining the source code wasn’t sufficient in figuring out what the problem was. All in all, this repeats the same exact pattern we’ve seen over and over again with e-voting systems. The machines are tremendously flawed, and those who work at the companies (and many elections officials) respond to attempts to do serious research into their security and accuracy by stonewalling and misleading people. That’s not healthy for democracy and it’s not healthy for this country.

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Comments on “Memo Shows ES&S Knew Its E-Voting Machines Were Buggy”

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William says:

Re: How Hard

How hard is it to create a program to select a user input & record the results in a database ?
And even offer a printout ?

The complexity comes in when everything on the machine has to be easily customizable so that you can use them on multiple elections.

You would have to be able to add and remove screens and even tables in the database. And still Maintain the integrity of the votes counted. It can get very tricky I’m sure I heard that some of the Diebold machines have over 50,000 lines of code.

But yes you are right anyone could make a verifiable throwaway Java application to do this job it’s just that you would have to make a new one for each election in every district in the country and there are thousands of districts.

Murphy says:

Re: Re: How Hard

Your right. But the question here is not how hard, but to open the code so that a lot of eyes can review and make recommendations until they get a solid piece of code. There will always be room to improve and everyone will have confidence in the open source program. As a programmer, even though I believe my code is the best, I still have others review for error correction, performance, etc… And everytime, I come back to improve the application with items I did not think of before and suggestions that solidify the code.

William says:

Re: Re: Re: How Hard

I’m sure your the Zen master programmer. And I know that the internet is resplendent with people who don’t trust e-voting machines but the fact remains that they have been proven to be much more accurate than paper ballots.

Companies that have spent 10’s of millions developing their own software have on desire to share it. There is no good answer to this problem; perhaps someone will start a voting machine software project. If the software were better and free some company might adopt it.

Jean Camp (user link) says:


In response to “the fact remains that they have been proven to be much more accurate than paper ballots.”

There is no study showing direct recording electronic voting machines, the ones under discussion here, as more reliable. They are less reliable, prone to lose votes, to screen misalignment, and to denial of service attacks.

This is why the ACM (where the master zen programmers gather) has released the following statements on e-voting: in 2004 in 2005

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