NEWS

Despite Widespread Security Problems, Ohio Will Use Electronic Voting Systems This Election

By Matthew Harwood

With voting irregularities in 2004, a report last year critical of the state's e-voting machines, and Ohio's reputation as kingmaker in this year's presidential election, you better believe all eyes will turn to the Buckeye State on November 4.

Today, ComputerWorld.com published blogger Brad Friedman's interview with Ohio's secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner—the state's chief election official—to see how the state is preparing for the biggest presidential turnout in its history after a review last year discovered the Ohio's electronic voting systems, such as touch-screen voting machines, had "critical security failures."

Known as Project EVEREST (pdf), the review's report discredited all three vendor electronic voting systems—Premier Elections Solutions Inc., a subsidiary of Diebold Inc.; ES&S; and Hart InterCivic—used by Ohio. "Red team" penetration tests performed by MicroSolved found that:

“[a]ll three vendor systems reviewed have serious gaps in compliance with even the most basic set of information security guidelines used by systems in industries such as finance, insurance, medical care, manufacturing, logistics and other global commerce. Given the extremely valuable data that these systems process and the fact that our very democracy and nation depend on the security of that data, much work remains to be done by all three vendors.”

This led the report to conclude:

Unfortunately, the findings in this study indicate that the computer-based voting systems in use in Ohio do not meet computer industry security standards and are susceptible to breaches of security that may jeopardize the integrity of the voting process. Such safeguards were neither required by federal regulatory authorities, nor voluntarily applied to their systems by voting machine companies, as these products were certified for use in federal and state elections.

Then in March, Ohio officials discovered that some Premier voting systems simply dropped votes. (In August, Premier admitted as much.)

The problems, however, were not contained to electronic voting machines, according to Friedman. "Because the problem is in the tabulator system, it affects votes cast on both Diebold's direct recording electronic (DRE) systems, which are usually touch screen, and paper ballot optical-scan systems." The same central tabulators, wrote Friedman, will be in use in 30 other states come election day. Premier has issued customer alerts with safeguards to implement.

Despite these problems, the same systems criticized by EVEREST will be in use once again in Ohio this November, although Brunner has issued directives to inform Ohio's voters that they can choose to vote on a paper ballot if they mistrust touch-screen voting.

Friedman asked Brunner if it would be possible to set up a pilot test to hand count paper ballots, like 20 percent of precincts in New Hampshire do.

"[Hand counting] may be worth it to try as a pilot [program]," she said. "I'm not so sure I'd want to experiment during the presidential elections."

She did, however, say Ohio should do a hand-counting pilot test next year.

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