You Can't Patch An Election

from the but-that-won't-stop-them-from-trying dept

Tim Lee points us to e-voting security researcher Avi Rubin talking about how California Secretary of State Debra Bowen took part in a workshop on e-voting this week, right after the whole decertification/recertification of e-voting machines in California. Rubin notes that Bowen made some insightful comments about how the traditional voting machine certification process doesn’t make any sense when it comes to software. Certifying an old mechanical voting machine was pretty straightforward, because you tested it out and if it did what you needed it to do, you expect it to pretty much do that every time. However, we all know that software doesn’t quite work that way, and software is always being changed, patched and upgraded, especially as new vulnerabilities are found. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work so well with the old certification process. Of course, that leaves open the question of what do you do about it. It’s unclear from the wording of the post whether the following statement is from Rubin or Bowen, but it’s worth repeating either way:

“Software is designed to be upgraded, and patch management systems are the norm. A certification system that requires freezing a version in stone is doomed to failure because of the inherent nature of software. Since we cannot change the nature of software, the certification process for voting machines needs to be radically revamped. The dependence on software needs to be eliminated.”

However, perhaps the best insight into this comes in the simple statement that Tim Lee used as the headline for his post on the subject, which was so good that we’re reusing it here as well: You Can’t Patch An Election.

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Comments on “You Can't Patch An Election”

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helen conly (user link) says:

e-voting machines

We are a California grassroots organization whose purpose is to engage and register Democratic voters, to create a powerful data base with local voter information, to deliver electronic and printed materials to educate voters, to develop media tools for organizing, to provide leadership training for local activists, and to engage the community about progressive issues.

A Political Action Committee
P.O. Box 1114
Ventura, CA 93002-1114

Op Ed Article

August 7, 2007

Are electronic voting systems secure, transparent and reliable?

Ventura County voting rights activists are concerned about the tepid response of local election officials to the recent ruling by Secretary of State Debra Bowen which calls for sweeping security measures to assure the validity of votes cast in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and across the state. The Secretary of State said, “Our very existence as a democracy is dependent on our having voting systems that are secure, reliable and accurate.”
Helen Conly and Sue Broidy, spokespersons for Vote Blue – Central Coast, an organization working for increased voter participation and engagement in our electoral process, stated, “The American public, and particularly new young voters, must be confident that their vote will be recorded and counted accurately and that the voting system is beyond reproach.” The public must stay vigilant, while the Secretary of State and computer scientists continue to test the integrity of voting systems until we can definitively answer the question: Are electronic voting systems secure, transparent and reliable? The media has been quick to respond to this challenge, for example, in the August 7th LA Times, Richard L. Hansen, professor of election law at the Loyala Law School, praised Secretary of State Bowen for doing the right thing while we debate the best way to cast and count votes, and referred to the Florida debacle of six years ago.
Yet Ventura County Registrar Phillip Schmit publicly downplayed the computer scientists’ findings as being conducted “under laboratory conditions” and therefore questioned their validity. The UCSB computer scientists, who have answered all Sequoia criticisms on the UCSB Computer Science web site said the machines were analyzed at different levels from the point of view of an attacker, and while conceding that any electronic system cannot be 100% invulnerable, they found seven areas of immediate concern. For example, no source code was needed to establish the vulnerability of the Sequoia machines to overwriting firmware and the boot loader, and the machine’s function could be changed from test to election mode, distorting results on Election Day. The audit trail could be maliciously modified and voter and cartridges could be forged.
While we realize Ventura County has security measures to physically protect the voting machines we hope they will be reviewing some of their security measures in light of these findings.

Additionally, Schmit criticized the Bowen’s timing of the review, saying it was political. Yet the law is clear that any changes to election systems must be announced six months before an election. On March 15 of this year Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law moving the Presidential primary to February 5, 2008 and by default made August 3rd the last day for changes to be established. Subsequently, the review has taken five months to prepare because the vendors, Sequoia and Diebold, were very slow in providing the necessary information for the tests.

Vote Blue notes that in the November 2006 General Election, Ventura County had a three week delay in the final report of votes because of the extensive work involved in verifying electronic votes in several close races and having to count over 26,000 absentee ballots dropped off at polling stations on Election Day throughout the County. Ventura County election officials and workers do a laudable job serving the public interest, answering questions and assisting voters and voting rights groups. But it is clear that cautious and appropriate oversight is needed of all electronic systems provided to our counties by software vendors who have a huge vested interest in promoting their products.
Matt Bishop is the University of California computer scientist and co-principal of the study that tested the three electronic voting systems, and he has stated that the study results should be used as a constructive exercise for election officials and software vendors. Vote Blue activists wholeheartedly agree and reiterate that the purpose of Bowen’s study is to reassure California voters as to the security and secrecy of their vote and to have immediate shortcomings rectified in time for the next election.
The history of our franchise in this democracy has evolved from colonial times when the Founding Fathers granted the right to vote only to adult white males (and some widows) who owned property. We went on to fight the Civil War to refashion the US Constitution to fulfill the freedoms of African Americans and their right to vote. Even then it was more than a century later when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and the grip of the disenfranchising southern states was finally broken. History shows us that our voting rights must be reaffirmed and strengthened whenever there is the possibility of threat to these basic democratic rights.
Professor Bishop says that the fundamental question is not yet answered as to which system is more accurate, verifiable and transparent in a scientific comparison of a paper ballot method or the electronic e-voting. But many experts feel that the latest study results make the voting machines unacceptable. Avi Rubin, Professor of Computer Science, John Hopkins University and author of Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting states; “…the source code team reports for the California Top to Bottom review of Diebold, Hart and Sequoia’s voting systems should mark the end of the use of these voting machines in public elections.”

The Secretary of State’s report raises many questions regarding the physical security and the technology of the electronic machines themselves which have been examined and found vulnerable. The vendors for Sequoia machines (used in Ventura County) and Diebold (used in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo), now have 30 days to answer to the Secretary of State’s rulings, and must have a modification plan in place within 45 days, to rectify the shortcomings in software security, at their own expense.

Vote Blue supports Debra Bowen in her bid to make our voting systems tamper proof and incorruptible. There must be better ways of achieving integrity in our voting systems and all other methods should be reviewed. We are fortunate to have a vigilant Secretary of State who is applying herself to the problems until we can satisfactorily answer the question: Are our electronic voting systems secure, transparent and reliable? “Trust but verify.” Ronald Reagan’s oft quoted saying captures it all. In the meantime ,Vote Blue continues, in the name of democracy, to try to persuade a skeptical public that every vote counts and that every vote will be counted.

Prepared by:
Chairwoman: Sue Broidy

Phone: 805 640-7340

Treasurer: Helen Conly

Phone: 805 746-0199

Project Blue – Youth Engagement Director: Heather Schmit
Phone: 805 340-4642

|333173|3|_||3 says:

Re: e-voting machines

>We went on to fight the Civil War to refashion the US Constitution to fulfill the freedoms of African Americans and their right to vote.

No, the USA invaded the CSA after the CSA seceded from teh USA owing to the trade barriers put in place by the northern states to protect northern industry, which crippled the southern economy. THE Emancipation Proclamation was a tool to make it politically impossible for the British (and to a lesser extent French) governments to aid the CSA. The non-recognition of the independent southern states right to firstly secede and later form a new confederacy was a violation of the US Constitution, as well as being hypocritical, as the CSA seceded for the same reasons as teh Thirteen Colonies rebvelled against the Crown.

Othert constituional violations include the imprisonment without charge of the Maryland state governemnt (done to prevent Maryland seceding and leaving D.C. a small island in the CSA.

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