So, the Chavistas say, we have the safest electronic voting system in the world, sure, ask the experts, they don’t believe such an animal exists:
Pull the Plug by Avriel Rubin in Forbes
I am a computer scientist. I own seven
Macintosh computers, one Windows machine and a Palm Treo 700p with a
GPS unit, and I chose my car (Infiniti M35x) because it had the most
gadgets of any vehicle in its class. My 7-year-old daughter uses
e-mail. So why am I advocating the use of 17th-century technology for
voting in the 21st century–as one of my critics puts it?
The 2000 debacle in Florida spurred a rush to
computerize voting. In 2002 Congress passed the Help America Vote Act,
which handed out $2.6 billion to spend on voting machines. Most of that
cash was used to acquire Direct Recording Electronic voting machines.
Yet while computers are very proficient at
counting, displaying choices and producing records, we should not rely
on computers alone to count votes in public elections. The people who
program them make mistakes, and, safeguards aside, they are more
vulnerable to manipulation than most people realize. Even an event as
common as a power glitch could cause a hard disk to fail or a magnetic
card that holds votes to permanently lose its data. The only remedy
then: Ask voters to come back to the polls. In a 2003 election in Boone
County, Ind., DREs recorded 144,000 votes in one precinct populated
with fewer than 6,000 registered voters. Though election officials
caught the error, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where such mistakes
would go undetected until after a victor has been declared.
Consider one simple mode of attack that has already proved effective on a widely used DRE, the Accuvote made by Diebold.
It’s called overwriting the boot loader, the software that runs first
when the machine is booted up. The boot loader controls which operating
system loads, so it is the most security-critical piece of the machine.
In overwriting it an attacker can, for example, make the machine count
every fifth Republican vote as a Democratic vote, swap the vote outcome
at the end of the election or produce a completely fabricated result.
To stage this attack, a night janitor at the polling place would need
only a few seconds’ worth of access to the computer’s memory card slot.
Further, an attacker can modify what’s known
as the ballot definition file on the memory card. The outcome: Votes
for two candidates for a particular office are swapped. This attack
works by programming the software to recognize the precinct number
where the machine is situated. If the attack code limits its execution
to precincts that are statistically close but still favor a particular
party, it goes unnoticed.
One might argue that one way to prevent this
attack is to randomize the precinct numbers inside the software. But
that’s an argument made in hindsight. If the defense against the attack
is not built into the voting system, the attack will work, and there
are virtually limitless ways to attack a system. And let’s not count on
hiring 24-hour security guards to protect voting machines.
DREs have a transparency problem: You can’t
easily discover if they’ve been tinkered with. It’s one thing to
suspect that officials have miscounted hanging chads but something else
entirely for people to wonder whether a corrupt programmer working
behind the scenes has rigged a computer to help his side.
My ideal system isn’t entirely Luddite. It
physically separates the candidate selection process from vote casting.
Voters make their selections on a touchscreen machine, but the machine
does not tabulate votes. It simply prints out paper ballots with the
voters’ choices marked. The voters review the paper ballots to make
sure the votes have been properly recorded. Then the votes are counted;
one way is by running them through an optical scanner. After the polls
close, some number of precincts are chosen at random, and the ballots
are hand counted and compared with the optical scan totals to make sure
they are accurate. The beauty of this system is that it leaves a
tangible audit trail. Even the designer of the system cannot cheat if
the voters check the printed ballots and if the optical scanners are
Aviel Rubin, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University and author of Brave New Ballot: The Battle To Safeguard Democracy In The Age Of Electronic Voting.