E-Voting Undermines Public Confidence In Elections Even Without Evidence of Wrongdoing

from the conflict-of-interest dept

Are Republican operatives scheming to steal the election in Maryland this fall? Threat Level is reporting that the contract for transporting e-voting machines in the state has been contracted to a company whose president was the head of the state Republican party until 2006. I think the answer is almost certainly "no": while this certainly looks like a conflict of interest, I suspect it's no more than an honest oversight that will be quickly corrected. Still, it's troubling that we even have to worry about who transports voting machines. With ordinary paper ballots, it doesn't matter who transports them because there's nothing a moving company can do to undermine the election. But with e-voting machines, a moving company really could install malicious software that would undermine the election. And once an e-voting machines has been tampered with, there's no reliable mechanism for detecting the problem. Again, there's no evidence anything untoward has occurred in Maryland. But no matter who transports those e-voting machines, the public is being asked to take it on faith that they won't be tampered with. In a well-designed voting system, voters shouldn't have to take anyone's actions on faith. The entire process should be simple and transparent, so that anyone can observe it and verify that it was carried out correctly. The complexity and opacity of e-voting machines makes effective public scrutiny impossible, and so it's a bad idea even in the absence of specific evidence of wrongdoing.
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Filed Under: e-voting, maryland


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  1. identicon
    Dave Marney, 31 Jan 2008 @ 10:30am

    Voting machines have tamper seals

    I am a volunteer Officer of Election in the city of Fairfax, VA. We use electronic voting machines. The machines arrive at the polling place completely sealed in plastic cases. There is a tamper seal on the lid embossed with a serial number.

    The procedure for putting the voting machines into the cases and sealing them involves multiple people, and multiple, hand-written copies of the serial numbers. These are all verified during the un-packing operation by a different group of people.

    The machines themselves have additional seals and safeguards with serial information (such as the number of votes cast at the last election). These values are written down in hand from election to election, and the are cross-checked and compared to the values in the machine during the un-packing operation.

    The ballot is electronically stored on data cards separately supervised. Besides being cryptographically secured, the physical access to these cards is secured.

    Anyone interested physical tampering with the case would have to duplicate the tamper seals and deal with the encryption, software updates, and ballot card access issues.

    I guess this could be done, but my take is it probably couldn't be done by a single person or group. You'd have to have insider help.

    People have thought this problem through. Just saying something is possible doesn't mean it's likely.

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