In their rush to avoid a repeat of the controversy that plagued the 2000 presidential election, and to meet the requirements of Congress's hastily mandated 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), states and counties flocked to electronic voting systems they hoped would eliminate hanging chads and other flaws inherent in paper-based systems. Six years later, with another presidential election less than three months away, many e-voting systems are fraught with security glitches, and the technology has yet to prove itself as the solution voters were looking for.
Such systems could allow voters and poll workers to place multiple votes, crash the systems by loading viruses, and fake vote tallies, according to studies commissioned by the states of California and Ohio within the past year. Makers of these systems have countered that the test settings were unrealistic. But that is not helping election officials sleep better at night.
One of the reasons e-voting systems turned out to be such a failure is that the only people involved in checking these systems were the vendors, who wanted to sell their technology, and the local election officials, who were ill-equipped to understand the security issues, says David Dill, a Stanford University computer science professor and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit organization pushing for the implementation of voting processes that can more easily be verified and audited. "There was a certification process in place," Dill says, "but it had very little to do with security."
Dill is the author of Attackdog, threat modeling software that can examine more than 9,000 potential ways a voting system can be attacked, including computer hacking, ballot tampering and voter impersonation. Attackdog is part of a larger effort called A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections (ACCURATE) , which was launched in 2005 by the National Science Foundation with $7.5 million in funding. "Nothing we do now will affect the November election," Dill says. "We don't know how to make secure paperless voting."
This sentiment is echoed in many places throughout the U.S., most prominently in the hotly contested state of Ohio, where Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has commissioned a series of tests over the past year to determine whether e-voting systems are secure enough to be trusted. Based on these tests Brunner has concluded that they are not secure, a decision that Premier Election Solutions, Inc., in Allen, Tex., took exception to. Premier sued Brunner and one Ohio county board of elections in May in a move to get the courts to rule that the company had fulfilled its contractual obligations to the state.
Brunner struck back August 6 by countersuing Premier, formerly Diebold Election Systems, Inc., and maker of the touch-screen voting systems into which Ohio has invested more than $62 million since 2005. Brunner's suit accuses Premier of, among other things, breach of contract and breach of warranty, and seeks court acknowledgement that Premier did not honor its contract. The countersuit also asks for damages of at least $25,000 against Premier for voting system malfunctions that have caused problems in at least 11 of the 44 counties using Premier's technology during elections since 2005. "We believe that Premier's equipment has failed to perform as required by its contracts and according to state law," Brunner says. "We have taken this action to recover taxpayer funds spent for voting systems used in half of the state's 88 counties."