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Challenging the assumptions we live by — Because I want to.

Posts Tagged ‘Electronic Voting’

Report: ES&S Voting Machines Can Be Maliciously Calibrated to Favor Specific Candidates

Posted by kelliasworld on November 3, 2008

[From WIRED Magazine’s Threat level blog]

By Kim Zetter EmailNovember 03, 2008 | 3:51:06 PMCategories: E-Voting, Election ’08

Touchscreen voting machines at the center of recent vote-flipping reports can be easily and maliciously recalibrated in the field to favor one candidate in a race, according to a report prepared by computer scientists for the state of Ohio.

Peb_emulation_on_ess_machine At issue are touchscreen machines manufactured by ES&S, 97,000 of which are in use in 20 states, including counties in the crucial swing states of Ohio and Colorado. The process for calibrating the touchscreens allows poll workers or someone else to manipulate specific regions of the screen, so that a touch in one region is registered in another. Someone attempting to rig an election could thus arrange for votes for one candidate to be mapped to the opponent.

“If one candidate has a check box in one place and a different candidate has it in a different place, you can set it up so that if you press on one candidate it gets recorded for another candidate,” said Matt Blaze, a computer scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who led one of three teams that co-wrote the report (.pdf) last year. “But if you press on the other candidate, it gets recorded correctly for that candidate. You can make it work perfectly normally in most of the screen, but have it behave the way you want in small parts of it.”

The report illustrates a shocking vulnerability in a charged race that’s already seen voter-fraud allegations on both sides, and an ugly spate of voter suppression tactics targeting Democratic voters in several states. The behavior described is also eerily similar to problems already observed in early voting on ES&S machines and during a 2006 race in Sarasota, Florida.

Such miscalibration, however, would affect any other candidate or race that uses the same part of the screen on a different page of the ballot; and an alert voter would likely notice the check mark appearing next to the wrong candidate’s name.

Blaze said the calibration function on the ES&S machine isn’t password-protected, making it easy for a poll worker — or even a voter — to access the calibration menu in the middle of an election using a PEB device (Personalized Electronic Ballot), which election officials insert in a port on the face of the machine. A PEB might be stolen or purchased online, or an intruder can simulate a PEB by using a Palm Pilot or other handheld device with an infrared port.

With no more than a minute’s access to a voting machine, someone could recalibrate the screen, and to observers the action would be indistinguishable from the normal behavior of a voter in front of a machine or of a poll worker starting up a machine in the morning, said Blaze, who discusses the issue on his blog.

Voters have recently complained in a number of states about vote-flipping occurring on touchscreen voting machines made by ES&S. Voters in West Virginia and Texas complained that when they tried to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, their ES&S machine registered a vote for Republican presidential candidate John McCain instead. Voters in Tennessee complained of the opposite occurring — that when they tried to vote for McCain, their ES&S machine registered a vote for Obama instead.

The problem in West Virginia was presumed to be calibration issues with the machine that can occur when the machine is moved or jostled or used for long periods of time without being recalibrated. Secretary of State Betty Ireland directed election officials in 34 counties where the ES&S machines are used to recalibrate their machines every morning during early election and on Election Day.

Voters who complained about the vote-flipping have said that after several tries they were able to get the screen to successfully register their vote for the candidate they selected. Blaze said that in a scenario involving a malicious calibration, the attacker would essentially shrink or move the region on the screen that is connected to a specific candidate so that voters hit that region only after several attempts touching areas around the candidate. But voters might also find the “sweet spot” for the candidate in the same way if the machine simply fell out of calibration naturally.

Blaze said it’s impossible to know, from the information that’s been published about the vote-flipping incidents, whether the calibration issue is a naturally-occurring one or one that has been aided.

“There is nowhere near enough information from what I’ve seen to conclude that malicious calibration is actually what’s going on, but we can’t rule it out either,” Blaze said.

A West Virginia election official recently demonstrated on video how to calibrate an ES&S machine.

A computer science professor at Auburn University has a different take on what might be occurring with the vote-flipping reports.

Juan Gilbert, who directs the Human Centered Computing Lab at Auburn University in Alabama, said he believes the problem is a usability issue coupled with bad ballot design. He said that on ballots that use a windowbox design with the candidate’s name inside a windowbox on the screen, voters tend to touch on the candidate’s name, rather than the center of the windowbox. If the windowboxes for two candidates are placed too closely together on top of each other, a voter who casts a ballot for the candidate in the lower box is likely to press on the area between the two boxes, causing the machine to register a vote for the candidate in the upper box.

Blaze said that Gilbert’s theory is entirely plausible.

“This may not be a tech problem at all,” Blaze said. “It may in fact be that some of what is being reported may be usability and user interface issues. In order to figure out what’s going on in a particular case, though, you have to look at the exact ballot design and exact machine configuration in each case.”

Blaze added that due to the recent reports from voters who have experienced problems with machines, other voters are very much on alert and may have a tendency to attribute any problem they experience with the machines to vote flipping. But that shouldn’t keep them from reporting it.

“If it is a calibration problem — whether malicious or not — it’s important that a voter who thinks that that is going on report it and not just go home and complain about it later. If there is a miscalibration, it can be fixed right then and there … in the field.”

ES&S did not immediately return a phone call on the issue Monday.

Image of voting machine from EVEREST report courtesy of Ohio Secretary of State

Posted in Election '08, Electronic Voting | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

NBC Nightly News: Clearing up Misconceptions about Voting

Posted by kelliasworld on October 31, 2008

If you are eligible to vote and registered, call 1-866-ourvote toll free, if you are challenged. Cast a provisional ballot.

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Monitor Election Problems Nationwide with OurLiveVote.org

Posted by kelliasworld on October 31, 2008

Search by State or County for Real-Time Voter Reports on Election Day

San Francisco – Reporters, bloggers, and voters across the country can monitor problems at the polls on Election Day on OurVoteLive.org, a project built and hosted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, and its toll-free voter-assistance hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE.

OurVoteLive.org collects and analyzes reports from calls to the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, which is staffed by hundreds of volunteers across the country. Tested during the presidential primaries, the site is already documenting over a thousand examples per day of voters needing information or reporting problems such as registration and identification issues, difficulties with voting machines, and polling place accessibility issues. Over 200,000 calls are expected to come into the hotline and be documented on OurVoteLive.org through Election Day.

“Improved transparency in all aspects of the electoral process is critical to ensuring accurate results as well as diagnosing systemic problems and helping voters,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. “OurVoteLive.org is helping the Election Protection Coalition make that possible.”

In addition to call incident data, OurVoteLive.org also features maps, nationwide trend information, and an active election issues blog that will highlight important election incidents as they develop.

“OurVoteLive.org will allow us to help more voters more effectively,” said Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which leads Election Protection. “We — along with election officials and the media — will be able track trends and identify problem areas quickly so that we can remove any barriers that voters face as they cast their ballots.”

Election Protection has more than 100 partners at the national, state and local level and is providing live voter protection services now through Election Day across all 50 states. On November 4, Election Protection will mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers, including 10,000 legal volunteers to monitor polling places, educate voters, facilitate a dialogue with local and state officials, provide legal support to poll monitors, and answer the 1-866-OUR-VOTE voter services hotline — a monumental undertaking designed to ensure smooth voting in November.

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W. Virginia Gives E-Voting VP an Award While Machines Malfunction

Posted by kelliasworld on October 27, 2008

Article from Wired Magazine’s THREAT LEVEL blog:

By Kim Zetter

A day after West Virginia secretary of state Betty Ireland held a press conference to address vote-switching problems with touchscreen voting machines made by Election Systems & Software, she presented an award of merit to an ES&S vice president, who had abruptly and mysteriously left the company in May after 11 years of service, according to the Charleston Gazette.

The rest of the article.

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It is both amazing and disturbing to see the lengths to which elected officials will go to try to convince the public that electronic voting is OK. Is it that Americans can’t admit that “high” technology is not always better than simpler methods (e.g. paper ballots), especially when that technology has cost the taxpayers a fortune? Or is it that the Demoblican Party is hell-bent on making this technology acceptable so that it can continue its thieving ways, and those who object to a generally accepted technology will be considered tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists worthy only of pity or contempt?

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How to hack an electronic voting system

Posted by kelliasworld on October 25, 2008

For more information, read the article “E-Voting made scary”,

and visit the website Black Box Voting

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Practice “Safe Voting”

Posted by kelliasworld on October 25, 2008

UPDATE: Check out the ACLU’s Voter Empowerment Cards for specific information about voting in your home state. Go to www.aclu.org/vec.

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Video the Count: What to do Election Night

Posted by kelliasworld on October 25, 2008

Even if you don’t have a camera, you might want to go to your polling place with a still camera, a notebook at pen, or just watch.

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