Bill Amend is my hero

Thank you, Mr. Amend, for giving the dangers of electronic voting machines some much-needed press. The more people who are informed about such a frightening threat to our democratic process, the better.

In an attempt to convince a complacently skeptical public of just how much a problem that direct-recording electronic voting machines pose, Jon Stokes of Ars Technica has written a guide, How to steal an election by hacking the vote, which illustrates just how easy it is to hijack an election conducted entirely over electronic media.

If nothing else, watch this video by the security researchers at Princeton University’s Center for IT Policy, wherein researchers demonstrate how to load a malicious payload onto a Diebold voting machine in under one minute. Come election day, this payload, a computer virus which spreads to other machines through normal memory card exchange, silently skews the vote toward its preferred candidate; these alterations are made untraceable by the fact that these voting machines provide users with no voter-verifiable paper trail. Such a virus could even delete itself once the election has concluded, leaving behind no evidence within the machine itself.

In concluding his article, Mr. Stokes sums up the problem nicely:

  • Bits and bytes are made to be manipulated; by turning votes into bits and bytes, we’ve made them orders of magnitude easier to manipulate during and after an election.
  • By rushing to merge our nation’s election infrastructure with our computing infrastructure, we have prematurely brought the fairly old and well-understood field of election security under the rubric of the new, rapidly evolving field of information security.
  • In order to have confidence in the results of a paperless DRE-based election, you must first have confidence in the personnel and security practices at these institutions: the board of elections, the DRE vendor, and third-party software vendor whose product is used on the DRE.
  • In the absence of the ability to conduct a meaningful audit, there is no discernable difference between DRE malfunction and deliberate tampering (either for the purpose of disenfranchisement or altering the vote record).

Although researchers have been warning us of the dangers of direct electronic voting for a long time, by now it is too late to change this state of affairs before next month’s elections. However, afterwards - if you are as troubled as I am about these challenges to the transparency and verifiability of our democratic process - contact your congresscritters and tell them to support voter-verified paper record legislation.