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Activists Question the Security of Electronic Voting

Mills College Weekly

Many states have decided to switch to electronic voting systems
for the Nov. 2 election, leaving the paper ballot behind and
instigating widespread resistance among voters.

Almost 50 percent of states have purchased new touch screen
voting machines in response to legislation requiring them to
replace outdated voting systems. The Help America Vote Act of 2002
made over $3 billion available to help update the voting

Alameda County has purchased new voting machines from Diebold, a
company that manufactures technology products, including the swipe
machines used at Founders and the Tea Shop, in time for the
upcoming presidential elections.

Critics argue that switching to computerized voting is not the
best way to update these systems. Web sites like
argue that votes may be altered within the computer program and
that this system is unaccountable because it provides no evidence
of votes.

“There is no way to prove that those votes have been recorded,”
said Rebecca Mercuri, Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced
Study at Harvard.

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003,
not yet passed in Congress, would require that all voting machines
produce paper receipts of each vote to be saved for a possible
manual recount and give voters an opportunity to ensure that the
machine accurately counted their vote.

The “voter verifiable paper trail,” a term Mercuri coined, is
only being used in Nevada for the November elections. Secretary of
State Kevin Shelley, California’s elections head, has set a
requirement for all electronic voting systems in California to
produce a paper receipt, although this will not take effect until
July 2005, according to MSNBC news.

“Receipts, tickets-everything else we do uses paper and we have
that for evidence if we need it for future actions, but there’s no
need for those machines,” said Mercuri. “Why not just use paper
ballots to begin with?”

Although voter verification with paper would be a big step in
helping the electronic voting problem, critics say it’s not

Voting activist Bev Harris of Black Box Voting evaluates and
points out major problems within Diebold’s GEMS program, which
counts up to two million votes at once for about 30 states and
1,000 voting locations.

Although GEMS is supposed to be secured by passwords, this step
can easily be bypassed, according to Harris. She said that hackers
can use the Internet and Microsoft programs such as Access and
Notepad to access and alter GEMS without anyone noticing. She said
that Diebold has a system where tallies from precincts can be
telephoned in, and the dial-in protocols are widely known among
poll-workers, technicians, and anyone who found them posted on the
Internet within the past several years. This allows people to phone
in false tallies of votes.

Diebold issued a statement saying that “any attempt to hack,
edit, or otherwise tamper with the election results will introduce
obvious, well-defined inconsistencies into the system that will be
detected by election administrators.”

In a consumer report released by Harris, she noted that GEMS
apparently becomes unstable with high volume input. According to
Diebold, this problem resulted in thousands of votes being
allocated to the wrong candidate in San Diego County in March,

When Florida recently tried to test their new electronic voting
machines, a power outage caused the machines to crash. On their
second trial, everything seemed to be working fine, but there are
still concerns that something similar could happen on Election

Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore told the
Associated Press that after this, they will hopefully be able to
recover more quickly in the event that there was a crash.

Many voters are voting as absentees, some to guarantee that
their votes are counted. In the 2004 primary elections, over 34
percent of Californians voted absentee, according to Shelley’s Web
site, and up to 19 percent of all U.S. voters are expected to vote
absentee, according to a Pew Center for the People and the Press

District 6, the voting district that Mills falls under, has
fewer than 250 voters registered. Because voting districts must
have at least 250 voters to set up polling sites, voters in this
area will be required to vote absentee.

Voters can turn in their absentee ballots on Election Day in the
Cowell Conference Room on campus, or mail them in time to be
received no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 2