Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Hack The Vote
Thanks, I'll opt for the #2 pencil over the fancy gadgetry.

John Wildermuth reports for the SF Chron that, according to a UC study, state-sanctioned teams of hackers were able to break into virtually every model of California's voting machines and change the results or take control of some functions:

The researchers "were able to bypass physical and software security in every machine they tested,'' said Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who authorized the "top to bottom review" of every voting system certified by the state.

Neither Bowen nor the investigators were willing to say exactly how vulnerable California elections are to computer hackers, especially because the team of computer experts from the UC system had top-of-the-line security information plus more time and better access to the voting machines than would-be vote thieves likely would have.

"All information available to the secretary of state was made available to the testers,'' including operating manuals, software and source codes usually kept secret by the voting machine companies, said Matt Bishop, UC Davis computer science professor who led the "red team" hacking effort, said in his summary of the results.

The review included voting equipment from every company approved for use in the state, including Sequoia, whose systems are used in Alameda, Napa and Santa Clara counties; Hart InterCivic, used in San Mateo and Sonoma Counties; and Diebold, used in Marin County.

Election Systems and Software, which supplied equipment to San Francisco, Contra Costa, Solano and Los Angeles counties in last November's election, missed the deadline for submitting the equipment, Bowen said. While their equipment will be reviewed, Bowen warned that she has "the legal authority to impose any condition'' on its use.

Bowen said in a telephone news conference Friday that the report is only one piece of information she will use to decide which voting systems are secure enough to use in next February's presidential primary election.

If she is going to decertify any of the machines, she must do it by Friday, six months before the Feb. 5 vote.

California residents contact Debra here to express your opinion.

Posted by aalkon at July 31, 2007 9:46 AM


#2 Pencils? How will ES&S, Diebold, Sierra and their lobbyists make money with pencils?

Posted by: jerry at July 31, 2007 5:35 AM

Sadly, Connecticut will not have the option of using #2s:

Posted by: Flynne at July 31, 2007 7:20 AM

Uh, Flynne - you might want to read again.

Those optical scan ballots? Remember the small print on the SAT? You'll see it on your ballot.

"Use #2 Pencil only. Fill oval completely."

That said, I've been programming computers in one way or another for almost 30 years. If it can be compromised, it WILL be compromised.

Better to go with a fully paper system. It can be mechanically counted, but paper verification is essential.

I don't like Bysiewicz, but I will give her props for cleverness. She managed to hack the federal law requiring electronic balloting to have what may be the only unquestionably sane system in the US for the 2008 elections.

If they ever try to bring touchscreens here, I will vote absentee.

Posted by: brian at July 31, 2007 8:03 AM

For the time being we still use our #2 pencils in Montana (thank goodness), but I'm sure that will change within the next few years as soon as the right politicians buy into the touchscreen hype or get the necessary campaign contributions.

Posted by: Rebecca at July 31, 2007 8:31 AM

oooops! my bad! o_O

Posted by: Flynne at July 31, 2007 8:32 AM

I voted absentee in the 2004 election, Brian. It was great. There were several statewide constitutional initiatives on the ballot that year, in addition to a few local ones. I was able to read all the materials, pro and con, pertaining to each issue at my leisure. I didn't have to wait in a line or find a parking place at the local elementary school. Best of all, I was able to have a glass or two of a nice Pinot noir while I filled in the ovals with my #2 pencil. You can't get away with that in the voting booth.

I highly recommend absentee ballot voting.

Posted by: Rebecca at July 31, 2007 8:47 AM

I like the idea of absentee voting, but I have this sneaking suspision that my vote wouldn't be counted unless it's a close race.

Posted by: meshaliu at July 31, 2007 9:03 AM

We have pencil voting which is scanned and the paper copy is kept as backup. How do other countries conduct their elections I wonder? But I can see eyes glazing over as I ask this question, as usual.

Posted by: Chrissy at August 1, 2007 6:50 PM

Your blog is always fascinating to read.

Posted by: Kelly at August 1, 2007 11:13 PM

TO: Amy Alkon
RE: Not Good Enough!

"Thanks, I'll opt for the #2 pencil over the fancy gadgetry." -- Amy Alkon

Even the #2 is not an effective deterrent to voter fraud.

Last general election (2006), we had interesting reports of people going through neighborhoods distributing BOTH voter registration forms [which is not against the laws of this state] AND absentee voter ballots [which IS against the laws of this state].

The indication was that they were only focusing on certain households. Three guesses. First two don't count.

The bottom line is that we need tighter controls than merely elimination of computerized/hackable and mere #2 pencils, if we want honest election processes.



Posted by: Chuck Pelto at August 12, 2007 8:10 AM

Leave a comment