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California Voting Machine Review Has Implications for Iowa PDF  | Print |  Email
By Iowans for Voting Integrity   
August 08, 2007
State Orders Strong Security Measures for Voting System Used in 71 Iowa Counties
 
A review by the Secretary of State of California has determined that the computer voting systems used in 71 Iowa counties are comparable to “an oceanliner built without watertight doors.”  

The voting systems from Diebold Election Systems are widely used throughout the U.S. The review found fundamental weaknesses that could allow malicious software to go undetected, pass pre-election testing, and corrupt election results throughout a county. A complete re-engineering may be required. Tighter controls on the chain of custody of voting equipment are unlikely enough to secure these systems, the report said.  

“Some are saying that the risks noted in the report aren't realistic,” said Sean Flaherty, co-chair of Iowans for Voting Integrity.  “This is not true: there are so many weaknesses that the team that reviewed the computer code couldn't think of practical chain of custody procedures strong enough to run secure elections on these systems.”

The review team included experts from the University of California and Princeton University, and private sector experts who have led research for NASA, the National Institute of Health, and the Department of Defense.

For California's February primary election, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has ordered new security measures, including greatly reducing the use of electronic touchscreen voting machines, and conducting complete manual audits of paper trails.   

Iowa does not yet conduct manual audits of vote tallies, and is gradually phasing out direct-recording electronic touch screens.

“The report shows how wise the General Assembly was to move Iowa toward voter-marked paper ballots,”  said  Flaherty.  In May, Governor Culver signed legislation to transition voting methods gradually to paper ballots that are marked by the voter and optically scanned.   Existing touchscreens can be used as long as they have a paper trail, but eventually they will be replaced by optical scan systems.  The paper trails for the touchscreens may not be checked by a large number of voters, are prone to printer jams, and print all the votes on a continuous roll, raising concerns about ballot secrecy. Optically scanned paper ballots lack these flaws.

“We need to get funding to replace these touchscreens as soon as possible, “ Flaherty said. Last year $2 million was allocated for new voting systems, not enough to convert the state to optical scan. A full conversion could cost up to $10 million.

“Old security flaws reported in recent years are still in Diebold's code, and the California team also found even worse problems,” said Flaherty.  Diebold voting systems have been severely criticized by computer scientists in recent years.

Last year, University of Iowa computer scientist Douglas Jones and two other computer experts wrote of the security of the Diebold touchscreen voting machine, “Most computer scientists have long viewed Diebold as the poster child for all that is wrong with touchscreen voting machines. But we never imagined Diebold to be as irresponsible and incompetent as they have turned out to be.”            

The problems with Diebold equipment are stark, but there are more fundamental issues,  such as the use of computer voting systems without random manual counts of paper ballots to verify the vote tallies. Over 2000 computer professionals, among them top computer scientists at universities and technology companies, have endorsed the Verified Voting Foundation's resolution that states, “All computer systems are subject to subtle errors. Moreover, computer systems can be deliberately corrupted at any stage of their design, manufacture, and use. “

“Voters should not have to trust every person who has written and had access to the software, and then everyone who has had access to the machines, in order to be confident of election results,” Flaherty said.
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