Computer Scientist who prefers paper. That is how the American magazine The Atlantic described her earlier this year. Having worked at IBM for long, Barbara Simons (76) is among the pioneers in computer science. When, therefore, she began saying that electronic voting was not safe, people took her to be a ‘crank’. But undeterred, Simons became one of the founders of American organization Verified Voters, which has been in the forefront of the movement to replace machines with paper ballots in American elections. … Simons is skeptical about steps taken by tech companies to enhance cyber security. Pointing out that all 50 states in the USA use computerised scanners for vote counting, she claimed that few states had a system of post-editing auditing to detect manipulation. “Mandatory audits, in the form of hand counts of randomized samplings of ballots, are essential to protect against invisible vote theft,” Simons said, adding, “in an unaudited system, malicious code could easily go unnoticed. “It’s not rocket science,” she said. “Any halfway-decent programmer could do it.”
“In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, and states were awash in money to invest in new systems … Security was a secondary concern—even though many of the new machines had wireless features and left no paper trail. They were viewed as easier to use, and seemed to have little downside. Each state “wanted to get the newest and greatest shiny object,” said Simons. It was “a gold-rush mentality.”
The secret ballot presents a paradox: How can the validity of each vote be confirmed without being traceable to any individual voter? Ballots must be “anonymous and yet verifiable, secret and yet accountable,” says Eric Hodge of CyberScout, a security-services company.
“Paper, Simons said, is the best answer to this riddle. Marked clearly and correctly, it’s a portable and transparent record of voter intent, one that voters themselves can verify, at least while the ballot is still in their possession. It’s also a permanent record, unlike computer memory, which can always be overwritten. “There’s no malware that can attack paper,” Simons said. “We can solve this. We know how to do it.”
“The technical community has a responsibility to inform policy makers of the limitations as well as the benefits of technology,” she said. “That is part of engineering.”
Full Article: Voting machines without safeguards | National Herald.