It may be tempting to think that the United States, the land of smartphones and supercomputers, would have commensurate levels of technology when it came to voting. Dispelling this, sadly, does not require us to look very far. Meet the WINVote touchscreen voting machine. Created and implemented in the early-2000s (and without any form of update since 2004), the WINVote machine is essentially a glorified laptop running Windows XP that also features a touch display. Its USB ports are physically unprotected, the wireless encryption key is set to “a-b-c-d-e,” the administrator password to access the machine (which is unchangeable) is “admin,” and there exists no auditable paper trail after an individual has voted. Oh, and it’s prone to crash. A lot. All of these, among other concerns, combined to lead security experts to term it “the worst voting machine in the U.S.” Despite these documented flaws, when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe cast a ballot in 2014 at a Richmond-area precinct, he — like many voters in the city and in other parts of the Commonwealth — encountered the problematic WINVote machine. Multiple complaints over crashes and slow voting led the Governor to call for an investigation by the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA).
Pennsylvania: Lackawanna County’s old voting machines dropped off at recycling center | The Times-Tribune
Lackawanna County’s 525 touchscreen voting machines only tallied results for three elections before the state decertified them in 2007. Now, parts of them will find new life in other machines. The county dropped off the defunct voting machines at Lackawanna County Recycling Center on Wednesday, taking advantage of the operation’s free electronics recycling that runs through the end of the month. “I had hoped to find a buyer over the years, but I was unsuccessful,” Director of Elections Marion Medalis told commissioners before they approved disposing of the system.
For the past six years, Volkswagen has been advertising a lie: “top-notch clean diesel” cars — fuel efficient, powerful and compliant with emissions standards for pollutants. It turns out the cars weren’t so clean. They were cheating. The vehicles used software that cleverly put a lid on emissions during testing, but only then. The rest of the time, the cars spewed up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide emissions. The federal government even paid up to $51 million in tax subsidies to some car owners on the false assumption of environmental friendliness. … Computational devices that are vulnerable to cheating are not limited to cars. Consider, for example, voting machines. Just a few months ago, the Virginia State Board of Elections finally decertified the use of a touch-screen voting machine called “AVS WinVote.” It turned out that the password was hard-wired to “admin” — a default password so common that it would be among the first three terms any hacker would try. There were no controls on changes that could be made to the database tallying the votes. If the software fraudulently altered election results, there would be virtually no way of detecting the fraud since everything, including the evidence of the tampering, could be erased.
If you voted in a Virginia election any time between 2003 and April of this year, your vote was at serious risk of being compromised by hackers. That’s the assessment reached by Virginia’s board of elections, which recently decertified some 3,000 WINVote touchscreen voting machines after learning about security problems with the systems, including a poorly secured Wi-Fi feature for tallying votes. The problems with the machines are so severe that Jeremy Epstein, a computer scientist with SRI International who tried for years to get them banned, called them the worst voting machines in the country. If the WINVote systems weren’t hacked in a past election, he noted in a recent blog post and during a presentation last week at the USENIX security conference, “it was only because no one tried.” The decision to decommission the machines, which came after the state spent a decade repeatedly ignoring concerns raised by Epstein and others, is a stark reminder as the nation heads into the 2016 presidential election season that the ongoing problem of voting machine security is still not taken seriously by election officials. Virginia officials only examined the WINVote systems after Governor Terry McAuliffe tried to vote with one during the state’s general elections last November.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Virginians, I’ve been casting ballots for over a decade using Winvote voting machines. I now have physical proof of how catastrophically insecure those machines are. It’s a tiny key that opens the plastic door hiding the USB port on every Winvote terminal. This keepsake came my way at an eye-opening presentation about voting-machine security at this past Tuesday’s Usenix Security Symposium in Washington. Jeremy Epstein, a security scientist with SRI International, has spent years investigating the weaknesses of these and other electronic voting systems. But even he didn’t know how bad Winvote terminals were untilthis past April.
The Virginia Board of Elections on Tuesday voted to scrap a type of voting machine used by dozens of local governments, including Fairfax City and Arlington County, after identifying security concerns. The move leaves 30 counties and cities scrambling to replace hundreds of voting machines. Ten of those local governments have primary elections scheduled for June 9. During a public meeting, the Board of Elections voted 2 to 0, with one member absent, to decertify WINVote touchscreen voting machines. Edgardo Cortés, commissioner of the state Department of Elections, said continuing to use the aging machines “creates an unacceptable risk to the integrity of the election process in the commonwealth.”
State elections officials expressed concern Monday that some of the voting equipment used in November balloting is outdated and does not meet requirements under state law. Don Palmer, secretary of the State Board of Elections, said at a board meeting that some of the voting machines are not able to flag overvotes or undervotes, which would allow those ballots to be inspected manually. Republican Mark D. Obenshain hopes that the proper count of such ballots in the upcoming recount will sway the election result of the attorney general’s race, in which Democrat Mark R. Herring was certified the winner by 165 votes. An undervote would be one in which a selection would be made in at least one race, but not others. Overvotes include ballots in which two candidates were originally marked for a race, but one was crossed out. “The code requires in a recount situation that undervotes, overvotes and write-ins be rejected so they can be analyzed personally by the recount teams and observers of each party,” Palmer said. If there is a dispute over a particular ballot — meaning if the voter’s intention isn’t immediately clear — it would go to the recount court in Richmond, a panel of three judges headed by Richmond Circuit Court Judge Beverly W. Snukals.
Mississippi: Hinds County voters to use new optical screening machines this fall | The Clarion-Ledger
Hinds County this fall will use a digital voting system in which residents mark a paper ballot, but officials say that’s not a step backward. The optical scanner machines made by Omaha-based Election Systems and Software, used by the state’s 81 other counties, will replace Hinds County’s decade-old, touch-screen system. County leaders say it will make precinct check-in and voting quicker and more foolproof. But just as importantly, they say, the new process will restore confidence to a Hinds County system plagued in recent years by machine malfunctions and accusations that absentee and affidavit ballots were lost or mishandled. The machines will be delivered by July 1, not quite in time for spring municipal primaries and the June general election, but in time for any special elections in August. Jackson residents, though, will use the system via leased equipment in municipal elections this spring. “This will put you with a state-of-the-art system that exceeds many counties,” Frank Jackson, the county’s consultant for procurement and master agent with Electronic Option Services Inc., said of the $1.2 million system. “Our hope is that this project will be modeled throughout the state.
Last November, some Fairfax County residents reported long lines and wait times of more than three hours to cast their vote at the polls; some abandoned voting all together. But some 50 recommendations from Fairfax County’s new election commission — many of them focused on technology that will speed up parts of the voting process — could solve the problem. How quickly changes are made, though, depends on how much room officials can find in this year’s budget to implement new programs in time for the next presidential election. … The commission, which Chairman Sharon Bulova formed in December 2012, also recommended officials make electronic scanning voting machines – which scan paper ballots – available countywide. The commission argued the optical scanning machines were both faster and more reliable than the county’s touch-screen voting machines. Virginia’s General Assembly placed restrictions on the touch-screen voting machines in 2007 because of performance issues, and the commission noted in ots report that vendor has since gone under. “The [touch screen machines] are old and sometimes unreliable, taking time to reboot frequently or to get a replacement machine,” the report reads. Read the Report
Hinds County is poised to purchase an all-new electronic voting system that some supervisors say will be more efficient and less costly to maintain than the decade-old, touch-screen system now in use. The $1 million investment would be paid for with federal Help America Vote Act dollars. Hinds County has about 200 voting precincts and about 146,000 registered voters. Of the state’s 82 counties, Hinds is the only one using its particular type of voting equipment, Advanced Voting Solutions with WINvote. Seventy-six other counties are using the Diebold/ES&S TSX voting machine, which has an optical scanner and its own tabulation system.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to create a special commission to examine problems on Election Day, namely long lines that forced some voters to wait hours to cast their ballots. “The fact that so many people came out to exercise their right to vote is a good thing,” said Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), who proposed the commission. “That so many people had to wait in long lines for several hours was not. We’ll never know how many people gave up.” The commission’s mandate will be to study a range of issues suspected of contributing to the lines — from equipment and staffing shortages to reports of poorly trained poll workers — and to return with findings and recommendations.
According to PotomacLocal.com, Prince William County has decided to use paper ballots in elections, following long lines at the polls on Election Day. The local-news website tweeted the news Tuesday night: “Breaking News: Prince William County Board of Elections to institute use of paper ballots following long lines at polls Nov. 6.” On Election Day, some voters in the county waited for up to four hours to vote. The long lines attracted some press reports – including from News4’s Voter Patrol – and even national attention. But it also prompted concern for the Board of Elections.
Virginia: Long voting lines blamed on high turnout, too-few poll workers and voting machines | The Washington Post
In the District, there were technical glitches with equipment at polling places. In Montgomery County, budget constraints led to about 1,000 fewer election judges than during the previous presidential election. But there’s no question about it: Some precincts in Northern Virginia held the dubious distinction of having the most brutally long lines for voters in the Washington region on Tuesday. In Prince William and Fairfax counties, hundreds waited for more than three hours — and long after polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m. The problems were blamed on high voter turnout, unusually long ballots, a shortage of poll workers and a limited number of touch-screen machines.
Long lines and glitches greeted voters at several places from Florida to Virginia as technologically advanced America began voting Tuesday to choose between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. In scenes rarely witnessed back home in India, voters waited hours on end as lines stretched out the door of polling sites in Central Florida Tuesday, according to Orlando Sentinel. Long lines and some glitches were also reported at precincts in Virginia with power breakdowns briefly disrupting voting in at least three polling places in Eastern Henrico,
Fairfax Democrats issued a warning Thursday about reports that touch-screen voting machines were malfunctioning during early voting, switching ballot selections to the opposing candidate. Jessica Tripp and Penelope Nunez move a table at Arlington Art Center, a polling center, in preparation for Super Tuesday. (Melina Mara – The Washington Post) Fairfax County elections officials said they were aware of two instances in which voters claimed the machines had changed their votes. But officials expressed confidence that both were cases of user error.
In this November’s presidential election, Virginia voters will cast ballots on machines that use wireless technology state lawmakers barred five years ago to protect voting machines from hackers. Continued reliability and security concerns over electronic voting are not unique to Virginia, or to machines that use wireless technology, but the case illustrates the credibility issues that have plagued electronic voting machines in use across the country in the aftermath of the messy 2000 presidential election, when the federal government mandated changes to election systems and processes. Virginia’s election workers in some precincts use the wireless technology to upload ballots and tally vote totals from multiple machines at a polling station. The wireless electronic tallying is an effort to avoid the human error possible in a manual count. Fears that wireless transmission capabilities could present an opening to hackers led Virginia lawmakers to ban the use of the technology in voting machines in 2007. “It makes it easier to hack systems when you have an open interface that can be accessed remotely from outside the polling place, like in a parking lot,” said Jeremy Epstein, a computer researcher who helped draft the state’s legislation to bar wireless from polling stations. “It magnifies any other vulnerability in the voting system.”
The Democratic primary runoff is set for Tuesday. There were some issues reported during the primary election earlier this month. Hinds County Election Commissioner Connie Cochran said the only voting machine problems were at the Wynndale precinct and that was because they weren’t programmed correctly. But Cochran’s fellow commissioner, Jermal Clark, said he thinks the machines need to be replaced.
The machines were bought in 2002. The commission has $1.3 million set aside to buy new machines or upgrade them. It would cost more than that to replace them, Cochran said. Each voting machine has its own red bar code, which is the number they were programmed at the warehouse with and then sealed. During the primary election there were complaints about wrong ballots or not enough paper ballots at several precinct sites in the city.
The loser in the Hinds County House District 73 Democratic primary is formally contesting the results. Terry resident Gay Polk said she hand-delivered a notice of contest Thursday afternoon to Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee chairman Claude McInnis. She lost by 90 votes to attorney Brad Oberhousen, also of Terry.
Polk, a registered nurse, wants a review and recount of all ballots – paper, electronic, affidavit, absentee and disqualified – plus poll books, sign-in registries and signature counts in the 13 precincts that are part of District 73.
While several other candidates have complained about election irregularities in the Democratic primary in Hinds County, none has taken the same step as Polk. Polk’s notice puts into motion what could end up as a court challenge.