Crashes and security flaws mar e-voting test

4 March 2004 About 10 million voters in the US cast their ballots electronically on ‘Super Tuesday’, when the Democratic Party’s election candidate is chosen. But technological hitches and human error again raised concerns about the efficiency and security of ‘e-voting’.

Touch-screen voting ran into difficulties in the states of Maryland, Georgia and California, where machines failed to boot up properly. Some encoding devices also failed to activate the ‘smart cards’ used to cast votes.

These problems often meant that voters had to use alternative polling stations. But a spokesman for Diebold, the company providing many of the machines, insisted that such problems “hadn’t affected peoples’ ability to vote” — albeit by traditional methods.

Although voting machines have been attacked successfully in lab tests, a Diebold spokesman claimed that “in the real world, it’s not practical to break in”.

But although no security breaches were apparent, critics of the system claim that touch-screen terminals could be tampered with or the system hacked as votes are processed. Even accidental glitches could affect the results.

Computer scientist Avi Rubin uncovered a number of flaws in the Diebold system during his research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “I continue to believe that the Diebold machines represent a huge threat to our democracy,” he wrote on his website.

Some have also accused Diebold of a conflict of interest because the company has donated substantial sums of money to the Republican Party.

Human as well as technical errors raised security concerns, most notably machines being left in unlocked cases in one polling centre in Georgia. In January, security experts observed that all of Maryland’s machines had two identical locks.

The new voting systems are being used in several states across the US in response to the ‘hanging chads’ controversy, which reduced the 2000 Presidential election to the level of farce and brought into question the legitimacy of George Bush’s victory.

Paperless ballots are believed to save time and money on the voting and counting processes.

However, the upfront investment is not cheap. Maryland state has spent $55.6 million on 16,000 touch-screen machines. It is expected that 50 million people will vote on touch screens in the national Presidential election in November — only slightly less than the number using traditional methods.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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