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National Issues

Holt: Brennan Center Report Highlights Need For Auditable Voting Machines PDF  | Print |  Email
By Pat Eddington   
June 28, 2006

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) today said that the most recent report on the vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines should be a wake up call for the Congress and the nation.

"This nonpartisan report by the Brennan Center confirms what many of us have believed for years: electronic machines are all vulnerable to error or manipulation that could change the outcome of elections," said Holt. "We ignore this possibility at our peril."

The Brennan Center Task Force on Voting System Security (an initiative of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law), surveyed hundreds of election officials around the country; categorized over 120 security threats; and evaluated countermeasures for repelling attacks on voting systems. The study examined each of the three most commonly purchased electronic voting systems: electronic machines ("DREs") with a voter verified paper trail, DREs without a voter-verified paper trail, and optical scan systems ("PCOS"). The report, The Machinery of Democracy: Protecting Elections in an Electronic World, is the first-ever systematic analysis of security vulnerabilities in each of these systems.

The report's findings include:

* All of the most commonly purchased electronic voting systems have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities. All three systems are vulnerable to an attack involving the insertion of corrupt software or other software attack programs designed to take over a voting machine.

* Automatic audits, done randomly and transparently, are necessary if paper records are to enhance security. The report calls into question basic assumptions of many election officials by finding that voter-verified paper records without automatic manual audits are of "questionable security value."

* Wireless components on voting machines are particularly vulnerable to attack. The report finds that machines with wireless components could be attacked by "virtually any member of the public with some knowledge of software and a simple device with wireless capabilities, such as a PDA."

* The vast majority of states have not implemented election procedures or countermeasures to detect a software attack, even though the most troubling vulnerabilities of each system can be substantially remedied.
Rep. Holt's Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2005 (H.R. 550) would address the key issues raised by the Brennan Center report. H.R. 550 currently has 192 bipartisan co-sponsors and is awaiting a hearing by the House Administration Committee. Holt called for rapid action on the bill.

"The vulnerabilities outlined in this report are serious, but they are also correctable," said Holt. "Time is of the essence -- the Brennan Center urges action in time for the November elections. H.R. 550 provides us with the
means to make these machines less vulnerable to manipulation and their results truly auditable in recount situations. Congress should pass this bill and help end any doubts about our commitment to transparent and auditable elections."



H.R. 550 has been called the "gold standard" of verified-voting bills. If passed, the bill would:

* Require that voters have the opportunity to verify the accuracy of their recorded vote.

* Require that all voting systems produce a voter-verified paper record for use in manual audits commencing in 2006 in accordance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) deadline. (Funding of $150 million is authorized to help states meet the cost of implementing this requirement.)

* Preserve HAVA's existing access requirements for voters with disabilities; clarifying and enhancing the security requirements demanded of systems to be used by voters with disabilities; and adding the requirement
that an accessible voter-verification mechanism be provided.

* Ban the use of undisclosed software and all wireless and concealed communications devices in voting systems, and prohibiting the connection of any voting machine component to the Internet.

* Require random, unannounced, hand-count audits of the voter-verified paper records in 2% of all precincts, including at least 1 precinct per county. Such funds as may be necessary are authorized to fund the expense of the audits.

* Require manufacturers and election officials to document the chain of custody with respect to the handling of software; prohibit the use of software or software modifications that have not been certified or re-certified; and prohibit political and financial conflicts of interest among manufactures, test laboratories, and political parties.

* Establish procedures to be followed if there is a discrepancy between reported results and audit results, and preserving the rights of individuals and the Attorney General's authority to pursue legal resolution of the discrepancies.
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