Viewpoint: Colorado narrowly avoids Internet voting trap
By Joe Baker
Colorado narrowly avoids Internet voting trap
By Joe Baker
Out in Colorado the other day, a couple of legislators tried to slip through a pilot program that would have established computer network and Internet voting throughout that state. The rest of the lawmakers threw out the bill after hearing testimony from a couple of computer experts and honest elections activists.
A few weeks before this, some folks in Kentucky had similar results in blocking legislation to establish this type of voting system in that state.
Now, here we are in the midst of a municipal election and using computerized voting machines. Illinois is on its way to the very kind of system about which these experts warned the Coloradoans.
One who testified was Charles Curry, Ph.D., an expert on computers and computerized voting machines. Here are some of the things he told a committee of the Colorado Legislature:
I have used computers, large and small, since 1960 in many international and defense programs, both classified and unclassified. Additionally, I have helped develop one of the first 100 websites in 1992, and for the past five years have earned my living as a relational database consultant, frequently developing sites similar to what will be required for computer voting.
Dr. Curry sees several problems with the proposed system. The first is security. He told the lawmakers the easiest and cheapest way to win an election in this system is to pay off the programmer. Even though the proposed legislation would make that a felony, it means nothing because it is almost impossible to detect or prosecute such action.
Then there is the issue of accuracy. Voting machines must demonstrably produce accurate results, Curry said. Manufacturers claims are worthless without independent and repeated testing, he stated.
Curry added: Access to the hardware for testing by an independent authority before or after any election also must be provided for with the results made public. By this, I
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mean each machine, not the entire network as a whole.
We have no independent testing in Rockford or Winnebago County, and so, no test results are publicized. Local officials will say: Hold on, we run tests for logic and accuracy. Computer expert Howard Strauss of Princeton University responded this way: That doesnt prove a thing. Any system that was designed with a trap door or a Trojan horse or any kind of fraudulent thing in it could pass that test easily. There are hundreds of ways you could do this.
Curry calls for the software programs used to tabulate the votes to be made public. Today, in every state, the source codes for the voting machines have been ruled proprietary information by the courts, who also are part of this scam. Nobody in Rockford or Winnebago County can see these codes. Therefore, they have no idea what the tabulation programs are doing. We only see the totals.
Another very important point that Curry notes about networked voting systems is that there must be restrictions on who can program these machines and who may access them. The widespread use of foreign nationals for software coding and hardware configuration in the computer industry ensures such individuals will have access to the voting programs and machines without such restrictions, he said.
As the doctor observed, a felony offense in programming in Colorado or Illinois or any other state means nothing to a programmer in China. It makes little difference how well the hardware is tested, or the source code for the programs controlled if the computer is on a public network such as the Internet, Curry said.
We all know that Rockford now uses optical scanner-type voting machines. Our particular machines reportedly do not have modems, but they do contain silicon chips. Dr. Curry suggests using these machines to count paper ballots at each precinct. Totals would be printed out after the polls close and phoned in to the central computer. They also could be posted at the precinct. The central counting station then would send back the totals for each precinct for verification. At present, there is no way to verify the totals in local elections.
The OCR machine must be free of any communication device if there is to be any security. Once programmed and tested, these machines should be sealed until after the election.
In order to have electronic voting, the computer will have to contain information on the identity and address of the voter; if he is eligible to vote and is registered; what issues he can vote for; that he has correctly filled out the ballot; how he voted and other information.
There goes your secret ballot and the constitutional safeguards associated with it. Dr. Curry says such a system will inevitably lead to demands for a national database. The potential for abuse of such a database is staggering.
Here are some other scary things about this kind of voting system. In a network or Internet system, there is no ballot preserved outside the computer. No hard copy that can be checked. A recount of computer ballots means nothing.
Colorados proposed bill required that tabulation and audit trails be kept in the computer, not on paper. With no external audit trail, verifying the election is an impossibility.
Who can vote and for what depends on where the voter lived at the time of registration. That may not be where he lives now. That means that with Internet voting, some camel herder in Iraq could manipulate your vote and your election. Communication links can be rigged in Internet voting to change votes in transit. The data may pass through 20 or more machines en route to its destination.
Some other items pointed out by these two experts: few poll watchers can verify the accuracy of the voting, even if they have access to the source code for the programs, because they lack expertise in this area. Now all they would see is tabulation of ballot cards, but no vote totals.
The experts say it is very easy for the computer to present one listing of the code for verification while it actually is running a different version of the same program.
OCR machines, reading paper ballots, are subject to errors or manipulation if they are connected to a network or if their software or firmware is corrupt.
Conducting all vote counting through a central computer makes it impossible to determine local balloting errors and increases the opportunities to manipulate the count. Thats what we have locally.
Programmers generally leave themselves back doors or trap doors when writing the computer code to make it easier to test or debug the program. These features also can facilitate later manipulation of the code, either by accident or design.
Secret vote counting is not compatible with democracy. But that is what weve got in Illinois, and it only will get worse unless the public wakes up and demands it be corrected. We need to lean on our legislators and let them hear loud and clear that we want honest elections, not the high-tech scams that are now in place.
Dr. Phillip OHalloran, editor of Relevance magazine, put it pointedly when he said: The computer voting system in this country is a veritable can of worms, so open to tampering that if there is no organized election fraud going on, the criminals are falling down on the job. Computer vote fraud is not only feasible but, by its very nature, undetectable. It is hard to conceive of an organized criminal enterprise with such a favorable combination of high-profit potential and low risk.
The rock was partly turned over last November, to the great shock and dismay of many Americans. The question now is: what are we going to do about it?