Can Dead People Still Vote on an Electronic Voting Machine?

ballot box.JPG

With close votes apparently the norm for now and recounts causing all sorts of upheaval, one group has claimed that a certain electronic voting machine can easily be manipulated to change votes.

According to the Open Voting Foundation (OVF), Diebold’s TS voting machine has a major security flaw. (Note: The group and site are quite new. The link is to a press release on the home page, so it may move). OVF asserts that “with the flip of a single switch inside, the machine can behave in a completely different manner compared to the tested and certified version.”

OVF’s President has stated “Diebold has made the testing and certification process practically irrelevant,” … “If you have access to these machines and you want to rig an election, anything is possible with the Diebold TS — and it could be done without leaving a trace. All you need is a screwdriver.”

In addition, OVF claims that the model in question lacks a verified paper trial against which votes could be cross-checked. For those who want to see the innards of the machine OVF has posted pictures and the most important one is of the boot configuration.

Why does this matter? If this assertion is correct, “in the TS, a completely legal and certified set of files can be instantly overridden and illegal uncertified code be made dominant in the system, and then this situation can be reversed leaving the legal code dominant again in a matter of minutes” it appears that dead people can again vote and entire groups of votes can be excluded. As VerifiedVoting details the Help America Vote Act may have great potential to eliminate punch cards and other dubious voting systems but just because new technologies are available that does not mean that we should blindly assume the dangers of voter fraud and election rigging are gone. They may indeed simply be harder to detect.

HT: Slashdot

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4 Responses

  1. Joe Schmoe says:

    Dead people have rights too!

  2. John Armstrong says:

    I’m looking at their picture and I think they’re pushing the envelope a bit with their phrasing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a horrible design open to all sorts of dirty tricks, but it’s not “just a flip of a switch”.

    Think of it this way: say your computer has two hard drives in it. One has OS X and one has Windows XP. There’s a switch on the motherboard of your computer that says which drive to load from when you first turn on the computer. To change involves shutting down, opening up the box, flipping the switch, closing the box, and rebooting.

    So in practice the exploit goes as follows: one valid set of voting instructions goes on one drive and one suitable for the malicious interloper is on the other. The valid one is booted, which the verifier checks. Now the interloper has to turn off the machine, flip the switch, and turn the machine back on, all without anyone not sympathetic to his methods seeing. Possible? Of course, but not nearly as surreptitious as the press release seems to indicate.

  3. Deven Desai says:

    John, thanks for the input. I wondered about the claims and your insights help see the issue better. As for how easy it is to go through such acts, from the little bit of politics I saw in northern New Jersey, I think that yes, one could accomplish the changes without too much trouble.

    Also slashdot has been on fire on the topic. A new post has the highlights

    An interesting point was made about the way Nevada regulates gaming machines. It seems that Nevada has a better system for securing and preventing tampering than our voting machines.

    But another reader notes that sooner or later even with tamper proof machines you have to trust someone (software maker and so on). I think that point is true yet somehow I am less concerned about the programer and few narrow points of trust (who could affect the outcomes but I would think be easier to track) than any election official being able to play with the machine.

  4. Kaimi says:

    I realize it’s likely to be less efficient, but why not print out the vote? I.e., I go to the machine, and vote for Candidate A. It prints out a piece of paper. I look at the piece of paper, and it says “Candidate A” on it. I nod, and drop the paper into a box.

    That way we use electronic machines, but if there’s any question, then we’ve got a paper backup available.