About a year from now, Americans will cast votes for the candidates of their choice. Or at least they will think that’s what they’ve done, having little awareness of concerns about the security of electronic voting machines, a “national security issue” in the view of scientists who easily hacked a widely-used device.
Others, even before they get the chance to vote, will discover that the rules for registering and voting itself have changed in their state; changes so controversial that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School recently proclaimed that a “War on Voting Rages Nationwide.”
There is debate over the extent of voter fraud, arguments about whether there is a greater problem with accurately registering people than in people actually voting who should not. Nonetheless, 13 states last year amended their voting rules and another two dozen are at various stages of doing likewise. Chief among the changes are photo identification requirements, reduced opportunities to vote early and restrictions on how and when voter registration is conducted.
Experts on voting system recently gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for a meeting titled “Election Integrity: Past, Present, and Future.” Pamela Smith, president of VerifiedVoting.Org, ticked off two issues of concern to her group: the use of Internet voting systems that cannot be audited and the inability of Direct Recording Electronic voting machines to recount ballots in a close election. Smith favors optical scanning of paper ballots, which produce a paper trail that can be checked later and are required in 38 states.
“Although major machine-based errors are rare, they do occur,” Charles Stewart III, Professor of Political Science and MIT’s voting technology project director, said. “When they occur, it undermines the integrity of elections. In political times like today, the last thing we need is something that inaccurately calls into question the integrity of elections.”
Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, part of the federal Energy Department, have done just that, calling into question the integrity of Direct Recording Electronic voting machines used by as many as 30 percent of voters – which they say can be hacked with parts costing just $10.50 and an 8th grade science education (not that an 8th grader would try such a thing).
Roger Johnston led the lab’s Vulnerability Assessment Team, which warned that voting results could be changedwithout leaving a trace of manipulation behind. “We believe these man-in-the-middle attacks are potentially possible on a wide variety of electronic voting machines. We think can do similar things on pretty much every electronic voting machine,” Johnson said. And they did it without having the voting machine’s source code. The same group also demonstrated a similar attack on a voting system made by another company a couple of years ago. “This is anational security issue,” Johnston told the online magazine Salon, in a piece written by Brad Friedman, whose BradBlog.Com frequently criticizes voting machine security. “It should really be handled by the Department of Homeland Security.”