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Published:November 13th, 2006 03:54 EST
Florida Elections Arena/A Question Of Balance

Florida Elections Arena/A Question Of Balance

By Justin Brandt

For the past six years every election has turned it’s attention to the state of Florida anticipating trouble, and hoping for a free and clear determination of what Presidential or Senate or House candidate has won the seat. No one really wants the confusion or the hassle they saw in November of 2000.

The advent of electronic voting machines has erased some old criticisms, while raising a whole set of new ones. It is no longer in question whether these machines are unclear or too confusing to use, but whether they can be tampered with, faulty, or if the lack of a paper-trail can lead to outside corruption of the vote.

Are they a danger? Is it safe to switch to these digital machines that leave no solid evidence?

Unfortunately there is no clear-cut answer. In fact, it appears to be a completely case-by-case scenario. It turns out that the real issue at hand is making sure that the country maintains nonaligned, capable security over these machines before and during the election process.

Can touch screen machines be hacked?

Five separate third party reports (SAIC, Princeton, RABBA, Hopkins/Rice, and Compuware) tell us; YES. The machines can be infected with malicious viruses that change the count of the vote on both memory cards and paper, while appearing to function normally.

This is done with an infected memory card. Florida intends to deal with this by giving each individual memory card and any other media for vote counting its own serial number and make sure it is accounted for. Unfortunately, since the hacking procedure requires putting the original memory card back into the machine, this does not solve the problem of single machine infection. At best this simply reduces the chances of a spread of infection from one machine to the next as there is no point in which the machines are ever to switch or share digital media.

The transfer of custody from storage all the way through the election, and then back into storage is designed to be secure, but nothing is perfect. The idea is that the machines are never left alone with one person at a time. This is very good in theory, but not foolproof for every single machine. The good news is that this will greatly reduce tampering risks.

Can touch screen machines be faulty?

Any machine can be faulty, whether or not any Diebold machines have ever faltered is up for debate. It depends more on whether you prefer to believe the machines that have been reported to make mistakes are faulty, or if you are skeptical and believe they were hacked.

The hacking procedures that were tested make the machine appear to have voted correctly to the user, and then later during counting. All complaints received have been about machines that registered the wrong vote in a way that was clear to the user when presented with the review page after they had voted.

This is an excerpt from a written statement received on November 8, 2004 by a source from the statewide voter protection hotline in Ohio, regarding involving such incidents:

“Touch screen voting machines in Youngstown OH were registering "George W. Bush" when people pressed "John F. Kerry" ALL DAY LONG. This was reported immediately after the polls opened, and reported over and over again throughout the day, and yet the bogus machines were inexplicably kept in use THROUGHOUT THE DAY.”

The fault in this machine cannot easily be determined as either a hack, or good clean old fashioned buggy software, but it should be noted that this is not a completely isolated incident, and therefore the possibilities of fraud and fault involving these machines cannot be ruled out.

This past midterm election has shown us that there has been some definite improvement, though coupled with frustration on all parts (including a man in Pennsylvania who smashed voting machines claiming conspiracy from the Republican Party to steal the vote, as well as reports of machines being taken off of the premises by individual people)

It appears that Florida will not be the arena of voting catastrophe any more than another state is likely to become. The only real conclusion that can be drawn from all this is that this upcoming 2008 presidential election needs to be guarded and secured more thoroughly than the previous elections have. Florida has taken some of its shame from earlier disasters, and used the lessons constructively, but it will be necessary for all states to increase security from where it is right now, in order to have truly safe elections.