Election Day Storm Clouds: Is Your Vote Being Counted?

Electronic voting machines are a controversial topic. They really should not be, but due to the inept implementation of this method of voting by vendors like Diebold and Sequoia, there are serious questions about their accuracy and resilience to fraud.

In 2005, Bruce Schneier wrote of some of the problems at http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2004/

In January 2008 the New York Times ran another article http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/06/magazine/
. In fact, at http://nytimes.com/ref/opinion/making-votes-count.html?pagewanted=all> there is an archive of problems with electronic voting machines.

Some states have effectively outlawed electronic voting machines due to these problems.

Consider that the space shuttle used computers less powerful than those on our desktops 10 years ago. They didn’t need powerful computers, they had computers that were simple and designed for a specific purpose and for high reliability. There is a lesson to be learned here.

Quite frankly, the companies making the electronic voting machines are less interested in the security of our democracy than NASA is in the lives of the astronauts.

With 4 years since the last election to get things right, it is obvious that the vendors of electronic voting machine shave been sitting on their profits instead of increasing reliability. See http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9118983
for up-to-date issues with electronic voting machines.

If electronic voting machines are to be properly implemented, they will have to use dedicated hardware and securely-hardened software, both for the voting and for the tabulation of the results. When that day comes, electronic voting machines may finally be secure enough to justify using them.

Is your vote being counted? It is impossible to tell if you use the current generation of electronic voting machines. That said, traditional voting methods have also always been susceptible to fraud as well.

For more on the topic, I have recorded a podcast titled “How Safe Are Electronic Voting Machines?” 

Randy Abrams
Director of Technical Education

Author , ESET

  • In the Netherlands, where I have voted about ten times, voting computers* have been used in most places since the mid 90s. No one ever gave it much thought, until a group of computer and security experts claimed that it runs against the principles of voting, which should be secret yet easy to verify. They argued that we could not be sure whether voting computers actually gave the correct result (they were not open source – and even if they were, how would people be able to verify that that source code was the one on the computers?) and that results could relatively easily be read remotely. They were successful in their campaign and the entire country has returned to the pencil and the ballot. They claimed, rightly I think, that pencil-voting had never been considered a problem; hence voting computers did not solve any problems. Computers have many great uses, but just like most people carrying private company/customer data on USB sticks have no strict need in doing so, there is no need for voting computers.

    More here:

    * the same people claim that the name “voting machines” is misleading, suggesting that in some kind of mechanical way the votes are unambiguously stored.

  • Thanks, Martin. I guess the argument would be that automation is supposed to make the process cheaper and less error-prone, but I think I’m with Ludd on this one. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ned_Ludd, for those who aren’t so hot on English social history :)]

  • Not sure if it says on their English site, but the same people have calculated that using voting computers is actually more expensive.

  • The English site keeps timing out for me, but that might well be the case. In the UK, at any rate, an awful lot of the process is carried out by volunteers.

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