September 12, 2003

Fraudulent or intentional?

I wrote a bit about electronic voting machines below. Now comes a Detroit News story about a serious voting machine snafu which took place in California during a March primary (last year!)

During San Luis Obispo County's March 2002 primary, absentee vote tallies were apparently sent to an Internet site operated by Diebold Election Systems Inc., the maker of the voting machines used in the election.

At least that's what timestamps on digital records showed.

County election officials say the unexplained gaffe probably didn't influence the vote, and Diebold executives -- who only recently acknowledged the lapse -- say voters should have confidence in the election process.

But computer programmers say the incident is further evidence that electronic voting technology could allow a politically connected computer hacker to monitor balloting and, if the vote was going the wrong way, mobilize voters to swing the election.

"If you're at the state party headquarters and you know how the vote is going in a county, you can allocate scarce resources to the county where you're losing by a close margin," said Jim March, a computer system administrator from Milpitas who examined ballot results that ended up on a Diebold site without password protection. "This data is incredibly valuable to a campaign manager."


March questioned why San Luis Obispo County's server connected to a Diebold server at all -- particularly if it dialed out while polls were open. He said the "phone home" incident could have been the work of an incompetent or malicious Diebold insider, or an outside hacker. Any astute campaign manager could have profited, he said.

Yeah, I wonder that too; why did that machine send any data to the manufacturer?

Folks, I strongly suggest calling your election officials and objecting to the use of these machines; the optical scanners which have a paper trail are far better and less subject to potential manipulation than the touchscreen ones Diebold makes. You'll no doubt hear objections that the scanners are slower for voters to use (true: they're like SAT answer sheets) and require more poll workers, but your vote should be sacrosanct. It shouldn't be endangered by questionable equipment.

Posted by Linkmeister at September 12, 2003 12:01 AM