Turns Out New Jersey E-Voting Problems Even Worse Than Originally Thought

from the care-to-explain dept

You may recall that last month, the state of New Jersey asked some top notch computer security researchers, including Ed Felten, to do an independent study of Sequoia’s e-voting machines. That’s because there were some worrisome discrepancies in the voting totals that the machines released. When Sequoia found out about this it threatened to sue, which seems fairly odd. If the company were confident in the quality of its e-voting machines, why wouldn’t it want well-respected security researchers to take a look? However, Sequoia’s legal threats worked, and the state of New Jersey nixed plans for that independent review. Sequoia also offered an explanation, claiming that it was all a minor bug, where the machine merely got mixed up about party affiliation — but the vote totals would match up in the end. Guess what? That turns out to not be true.

Ed Felten has received a bunch of “summary tapes” from the last election in New Jersey, and while many of them do have the vote totals matching up correctly at the end at least two of the summary tapes simply don’t add up, meaning that Sequoia’s explanation of what went wrong is incorrect. Given how often the company has denied or hidden errors in its machines, despite a ton of evidence, we shouldn’t be surprised that it was inaccurate in explaining away this latest problem as well. However, we should be outraged that the company refuses to allow third party researchers to investigate these machines. It’s a travesty that any government would use them when they’ve been shown to have so many problems and the company is unwilling to allow an independent investigation.

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Companies: sequoia

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Comments on “Turns Out New Jersey E-Voting Problems Even Worse Than Originally Thought”

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28 Comments
Overcast says:

I still think it’s worse. It’s likely intentional ‘adjustments’ to the vote. But then, I’m pretty cynical… or maybe pretty realistic.

However, Sequoia’s legal threats worked, and the state of New Jersey nixed plans for that independent review.

I think it’s about time that the American People bring up a class action suit against them. There shouldn’t be these kinds of issues in a ‘production’ voting machine. If they can’t even do this right – they have NO BUSINESS making machines that keep vote tallies – at least in a real Government. Maybe these machines can find a good home in a school somewhere, where kids can vote on lunch for the next day.

me.g33k (user link) says:

eVoting

I can’t understand why a PUBLIC system should be free from independent scrutiny. Do our laws and other normal government function not undergo some third party scrutiny? Why then should the tools used in the performance of those processes be immune?

Contacts should be written for any such system that demands the vendors make the tool open to public scrutiny.

If the fiasco of closed source encryption has taught us anything, it should be that the more eyes on the code and the system, the better it can be. The vendors should focus their business models on providing better hardware and support (what a concept!!! A business that actually bases its success on supporting its customers!!!). And not the crazy code that they try to foist as the system!

DCX2 says:

Re: eVoting

Do our laws and other normal government function not undergo some third party scrutiny?

The Bush Administration is pretty good at classifying everything and/or citing Executive Privilege in order to minimize oversight. There have also been several signing statements by Bush modifying laws with oversight provisions (“every year the FBI shall provide a report to Congress detailing…”) with a statement saying “If this interferes with my War on Terror, I don’t have to do it.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Unless the govt. is willing to stop going with the lowest bidder, what do you expect? No one is willing to make major investments into something that is used every other or every four years.

Unless NJ starts electing Republicans, I tend to think bad voting machines are just bad, not because someone is trying to fix elections.

AnonyMouse says:

Re: Democrats, not Republicans

“Unless NJ starts electing Republicans, I tend to think bad voting machines are just bad, not because someone is trying to fix elections.”

Check your history. It is the Democratic Party which has a history of fixing elections. You’re confused by their squealing that the others are doing it.

Paulie Walnuts says:

Re: Re:

Ask the IT group over at the State of NJ about the latest version of their criminal systems that was rolled out this weekend. They outsourced the entire system to people from out of state who didn’t know the business and needed their hands held by the employees to convert the old one, rather than letting the employees and in-house consultants, who understand it, do it. From what I know and heard, the selected vendor wasn’t the lowest bidder. It could have been done by people who knew the system for less and it would have had a better chance of working when the switch went on. The system practically came to a halt statewide. CIO should be made to answer for this one, but he won’t. Business as usual in NJ. Bada bing.

Gabe says:

How hard is it?

Come on people? How hard is it to create a program that will keep track of a couple variables, and then delivery the results? The calculator I bought 20 years ago could do it. It could even graph out an equation. I just don’t see how these companies can keep screwing this up! Maybe I am naive as to how hard coding a project like this is, but it seems to me that a team of a dozen competent programmers could have a good application built, with encryption bolted on inside of a month. The only difficult part would be purchasing the hardware for a reasonable cost.

Anonymous Coward says:

However, we should be outraged that the company refuses to allow third party researchers to investigate these machines.

No, what we should be outraged about is that our government bodies would even consider using these systems. Sequoia has ever right not not allow their machines to be investigated – however this simple fact alone should preclude them from being used in public elections.

Etch says:

OUTRAGEOUS

How can something that effects the results of an election be taken this casually??

And what is the complexity in Creating a client machine that sends Requests, and a server that receives requests and sends back an Acknowledgment????

It seems to me to be the most BASIC kind of Client-server relation!! Am I wrong??
I worked in designing Kiosks almost 7 years ago that did the same thing using Java and it worked flawlessly! Doesn’t Amazon’s website do hundreds of thousands of transactions a week?? Possibly even in a day?
Wouldn’t anyone here with any idea about business systems say that Amazon’s website is 10X more complex than a simple e-Voting machine??? What’s the complexity? Amazon does more traffic in a week than a “Flordia” voting machine will do in a month(assuming the people will vote everyday for a whole month.. very unlikely)! So what is the complexity here?

It seems to me that there should be at least ONE company out there who could have built this system properly, tested it out and had rolled out by now??
Maybe I should submit a proposal??
The only complexity would be in the security scheme, but that is HARDLY uncharted territory!!

Something is very very fishy!

Anonymous Coward says:

Etch, build your machine and then have the govt. offer you 30% of the initial price you quoted them. How do you like that one?

Why do you think everyone bitched about their initial SAP installation? SAP and their consultants told them what they needed to spend, then companies told them it was too expensive, so they cut back on things that were needed. Of course the companies didn’t like what they paid for. Too bad they didn’t pay for what they needed.

Etch says:

Re: Re:

Are you claiming that the government paid 30% of the quoted price? And what exactly was “needed” that they cut back on?
And what does that have to do with the machine miscalculating or “mis-counting” or whatever its mis-doing??

Any project manager worth his salt would anticipate what cut-backs can do to a project and would “cut back” on features, not necessities!!
You won’t cut back on security to save some money, you wouldn’t cut back on adequate Q/A before releasing a voting machine to production!!

And what do SAP and their consultants have to do with this?

You are not making any sense.

Tack Furlo (user link) says:

Estonia, Anyone?

In the last national election in Estonia, everyone voted by cell phone. Over 84% of the population registered to vote and they had over 98% voter “turnout” with a 0% error rate. When they registered, each citizen had to provide a cellular phone number. Each phone number registered had just one vote and if multiple votes came in from the same number the votes were dropped and the person registered was called and notified and asked to come vote in person. They never made one call. Even with caller ID spoofing freely available, people were so glad to be able to vote from anywhere in seconds that nobody wanted to screw it up so nobody spoofed anything. It went off flawlessly without any hitch.

Can someone explain to me why anyone would want to pay $4,000 for a voting machine that can’t count and has a miscalibrated touch screen (even if it wasn’t totally being hacked by the company that made it) when over 60% of the US population is carrying around a cheap voting machine in their pocket? Transportation to the polls would be a non-issue. It would give kids a way to help their parents learn how to text message and even give kids a voice in the election by having meaningful political discourse with their parents before they send in their vote. Hell, cell phone companies could even market it by giving people unlimited SMS messages on election day – which if everyone didn’t do it would obviously make that carrier seem more patriotic and gain them business. It would help everyone. It’s a total win-win and it has already been proven in a real world election (in a country which, if I may say so, isn’t exactly the world’s least corrupt, no offense intended.)

I’m just wondering if somebody, somewhere can explain to me why we DON’T use this system in the US?

Tack Furlo (user link) says:

Re: Estonia, Anyone?

I should just add before someone else rebutts that in the Estonia election, using a cell phone was not required. People could still come and fill in a paper ballet if they chose to do so. However, if you wanted to use a cell phone you had to provide a cell phone number when registering, and if you didn’t provide a number, you couldn’t vote via SMS. 84% of the people who registered a cell phone number used it instead of a paper ballet to vote, though they had both options available. Of the 2% of registered voters that did not vote, only 14 people provided a cell phone number and didn’t vote. 2% was roughly 3,600+ people so the percentage of people who registered a cell phone number and decided not to vote anyway is so unfathomably small it doesn’t bear mentioning, except that someone will no doubt try to give this as a possible counter argument. People like to vote without getting up and driving to a polling place with no line to wait in. Duh.

Boris says:

Re: Estonia, Anyone?

The main problem with this setup is that your vote is not anonymous, so you get possibilities for vote-buying and worse yet threatening people with, say, bodily harm if they don’t vote like you tell them to.

Hard to vote what you want on your cellphone if a guy with a lead pipe is peeking over your shoulder and telling you who to vote for.

Perhaps this is not an issue in Estonia, but there is a history of such issues in the US, so people are pretty worried about any system where anyone but the voter could possibly tell what the voter voted for.

Philip Pease says:

Criminal Investigation is warrented

When tests show inaccuracy and the company responsible is actively blocking investigation a criminal investigation should be launched immediately. It seems to me that all sorts of laws may have been broken. If government officials do not take action these officials should also be investigated.

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