This video from the center for IT Policy at Princeton University is a crystal-clear demonstration of why purely electronic voting machines are a terrible idea for our country. The video deals with a particular kind of machine, made by Diebold. But the strong likelihood is that any electronic, software-controlled voting machine without a voter-verifiable paper trail is vulnerable to at least some of the kinds of attacks shown in the video.
I’m not the least surprised by this, and I don’t know many serious programmers who will be. Programmers and computer scientists have been raising a stink about electronic voting machines for several years, but it’s been difficult to explain to non-programmers the full extent of the danger. It’s nice to have a video that shows the complete cycle: how the machine can be subverted, how it can steal votes, and how the rogue software can cover its tracks. (The one thing about the video that did surprise me, by the way, was how quickly and easily the physical act of subverting the machine can be accomplished.)
Beyond this one example, though, are more dangers. I don’t believe that any such machine—any machine without a voter-verifiable paper trail—could be sufficiently secure for the purpose, even in principle. And that’s not just a hunch. I have good reasons for believing that it’s not possible to make such a machine secure enough to be entrusted with our votes.
The paper that’s available on the page with the video describes in detail the research that was performed, and the findings. It unavoidably contains some technical jargon, from the fields of software and security. Overall, though, it’s quite accessible, and I don’t think you need to be either a computer or a security expert to understand the issues. There’s also an executive summary that hits all the highlights.
Two years ago, when I went to vote, I was not amused to find myself having to vote on one of these very machines. In light of that, though, I most definitely was amused by the “My Vote Counted” sticker I was given as I left, and I felt compelled to augment the sticker’s message. I’ll probably have to vote on the same machines again in a couple months. But I hope we’ll turn toward more secure, reliable equipment for future elections.