Monday, October 02, 2006

More on Electronic Voting

Continuing Bryce's campaign against electronic voting, courtesy of Slashdot, we have a Washington Post story on questions that still exist surrounding Brasil's use of electronic voting machines. Here's a couple of choice quotes:
Some Brazilians are lobbying the tribunal to switch from Windows CE to an open-source operating system for the voting machines, since Microsoft Corp., citing trade secrecy, won't allow independent audits to make sure malicious programmers haven't inserted commands to "flip" votes from one candidate to another.
Further, Brasil also does not use a "paper trail" which would allow users to see that their vote was processed correctly and would allow allow for a paper recount of electronic tallies when fraud is suspected.
Paper receipts that appeared behind glass - so voters could confirm their choices but not walk off with the evidence - were tried on 23,300 machines in 2002, with plans to install them nationwide two years later. But the machines' maker was resolutely opposed to this system, and the tribunal decided to rely instead on "ballot box bulletins."

These bulletins - printouts of each machine's overall votes, made after the polls close - serve as a backup record of the tallies transmitted electronically over a secure network. But they can't show whether a programming flaw or malicious hack deleted or changed votes inside the machine before the printout was made, computer scientists say.
I find it amazingly strange that Diebold (which makes the Brasilian machines) would be "resolutely opposed" to paper voting receipts. I really can not think of a reason for the manufacturer to be oppposed to it, other than the increaesd cost. However, I'm sure that they could pass this cost on to the governments that are purchasing the machines, especially if the feature was requested. So they would probably make even more money per machine if they added this feature.
And Diebold has said that voters should trust its equipment, more than any paper record, to deliver fraud-free elections.
Why should we just trust them? I'm not saying that Diebold has any reason to tip elections themselves (maybe they do, maybe they don't), but why in the world should we just "trust" election results that can never be verified? The incentive for someone to cheat is just so high that it seems perfectly rational to do whatever you can to increase the cost of cheating. Part of increasing the cost of voting fraud is to make it as difficult as possible to cheat, within reasonable budget constraints. Since I can't believe that the cost of adding paper trails which can be used to random paper checks against electronic voting totals would be very expensive, this seems like a great way to help fight cheating. Diebold, for some reason, disagrees, continuing to ask voters to "trust" them. That seems dangerous and very, very wierd to me. I, of course, am not the only one with this concern:
"The problem is not that elections have been rigged necessarily _ it's that you can't say for sure that they weren't, because rigging is possible on these systems," said Dr. Avi Rubin, who directs the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Given the choice of picking a system where wholesale rigging is easy, versus one where it's impossible, why has Brazil gone with the system where it's easy?"
Indeed, and why are we moving in the same direction? Excuse me, why are we moving in the direction of even less-secure voting machines? Brasil does perform audits on the voting software before the elections, and hours before the election start, randomly chosen machines are tested that they process votes correctly. That's not all though:

Each step of the count also is monitored onsite by representatives of the political parties, the Brazilian Bar Association and the federal prosecutor's office, Fontoura said. And the entire election process is overseen by the tribunal _ an independent, nonpartisan agency legally empowered to combat fraud as it happens and overturn elections if necessary.

That's far different from the U.S., where private voting software companies refuse to allow independent audits, elections are managed by partisan politicians with inherent conflicts of interest, federal courts are reluctant to intervene in state-run elections and the federal agencies involved have little power to investigate, let alone resolve disputes.

Someone please give me a good reason why the manufacturer telling me "trust us" should be good enough. Even more, tell me why the manufacturer rejects additional security features that would allow it to earn more profit on each machine it sells to the government. I don't get this one.

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