Elmus Stockstill and Edward Course surely have no devious intentions in wanting to get the external printers off Leflore County’s touch-screen voting machines. But the county’s two top election officials are just wrong — and obviously not well-schooled — on how susceptible electronic voting machines are to hacking and why these printers are the only safeguard against it. Just 10 minutes on the Internet will turn up a decade worth of studies and reports showing that all it takes is access, a basic knowledge of electronics and a few minutes to rig voting machines like those used in Leflore County. I recommend the Board of Supervisors spends 30 minutes reading the study summaries or watching the videos produced by university and government researchers demonstrating the vulnerabilities of so-called “direct recording electronic” (DRE) voting equipment made by Diebold or any of the other touch-screen manufacturers. If the supervisors educated themselves the tiniest bit on this subject, they would see how comical it was of Stockstill, the circuit clerk, to talk — in response to a column I wrote last Sunday — of the memory card inserted in the machines as some kind of fail-safe against hacking. The memory card is actually one likely conduit for introducing a vote-stealing virus.
… Pamela Smith is the president of the Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded 13 years ago by a Stanford University computer science professor concerned with the reliability and accuracy of voting systems. Smith tells the story about an overtaxed DRE machine in North Carolina that in 2004 reached a memory threshold and did not record the last 4,000 votes cast on it. That year, one of the statewide elections was decided by less than 2,000 votes. Because the faulty voting machine did not have an external printer, there was no way to recreate who got those missing 4,000 ballots. Eight months later, North Carolina passed a law requiring voter-verified paper records and post-election audits of their voting systems to ensure their accuracy, Smith said.
“Things go wrong. That’s going to happen. It’s Murphy’s Law,” she said. “But there’s a big difference between an election where if something does go wrong, you could solve for it, versus an election where something goes wrong, there’s no way to resolve it legitimately. “I’m afraid that Mississippi has put itself in that latter category.”
Because of all the problems with DREs, most states are moving away from them. Smith’s organization says the optimal voting systems are those in which physical ballots are marked by the voters and counted by an optical scanner. If the scanner malfunctions or is tampered with, the ballots can be counted by hand. More jurisdictions throughout the country use these paper ballot/scanner systems than any other type of voting set-up. In Mississippi, however, only a handful of counties do.