Thursday, September 07, 2006

Susan Bysiewicz demonstrates new Voting Machines

This morning at the Bridgeport City Hall Annex, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz introduced the new optical voting machine that Connecticut will be using.

The Secretary discussed the machines with voting officials from neighboring towns. A complete list of the towns where the demonstrations are scheduled is available HERE.

This video clip is a short demonstration of the machine:



I like the system because it has a very simple paper trail. Tampering will be almost impossible, and if there is a large descrepancy all you need to do is count the paper ballots. It seems fairly hack-proof compared to the Diebold machines (Diebold ATM-style machines; see UPDATE at bottom).

The machines will be implemented in 20 municipalites for the November election, and the remaining towns and cities will be up and running by late SprinG (happy, Eric?) 2007 most likely, and definitely by the following Novemeber. The 20 towns have not be released yet.

A handicapped-accessable phone voting system will be implemented in all 169 towns in Connecticut by November. That means vision-impaired or otherwise handicapped individuals can vote using a touch-tone voice menu, which then automatically generates a fax version of the ballot with the candidates that the persone selected.

This is what the paper ballot looks like. The process goes like this:

Each voter is given a paper ballot. They take it to a "privacy booth" to vote for their candidates. Then they take it over to the voting machine and insert it in any direction. The machine reads the ballot, tabulates the vote, and then drops the ballot into a lock box. The ballots provide a foolproof paper trail in the event a recount is needed.

If there is an "over-vote" on the ballot (more than one person selected for a position) or no votes at all (and only ONE vote is needed anywhere on the ballot; you don't HAVE to vote for every office), the machine spits the ballot back out. A volunteer will assist you in correcting your mistake by issueing you a new ballot.

If the voter desires absolute privacy, a privacy envelope is provided, which slips over the ballot like a sleeve, and you can insert it into the voting machine so the ballot isn't exposed at all once you leave the privacy booth.

We appreciate Secretary Bysiewicz's assistance in helping people understand this new technology.

UPDATE: I found more information about the tabulating machine. It is a Diebold manufactured machine, which normally would set off alarm bells in a blue state like Connecticut. But again, the thing I like is that there IS a voter-verified paper trail (the ballot that the voter had personally filled out and placed in the tabulator) as opposed to those ATM-style fully electronic voting machines.

Here's an overview of the optical voting machine.

Here's a more detailed pdf file.

And finally, a commenter remarked on how much the new voting machine looks like a paper shredder.

Well, I hacked into the secret master computer server at Diebold, where they keep all their proprietary technical infomation, and found this inside-the-box image of the new voting machine:



(note: image may actually be something other than a Diebold machine. please don't sue me.)

21 comments:

imajoebob said...

There is nothing secure, and nothing less hackable about this sytem. It is a compuerized reader operating a computer program. There is no reasonable way to determine if the program does what the registrar or mechanic thinks it will do, nor is there a way to prevent the program from overwriting itself after it has tabulated and reported a vote.

In other words, it is an unreliable system to tally your vote. So long as the reported vote is deemed "reasonable," there will be no way to verify that the system was not hacked, and that it actually recorded and reported a true vote. If your candidate has a 5% lead in the polls and the vote has them lose by 2% there will be no recount, unless you can force a judge to order it, and you can afford to pay for it. So this system also unfairly favors the wealthy.

In addition, these machines are not verifiable under current law. There is no way enough "mechanics" can be hired to verify every line of the program performs the way it is supposed to in the time available before an election. In addition, there are not likely enough "mechanics" trained to read, decipher, and test the programs. One of the virtues of CT election laws is that every machine has to be individually verified before it can be used.

The only secure, reliable, and verifiable voting systems are mechanical. We need to keep our current machines. They need to be maintained, but they can be tested and trusted, and they can tally the vote quickly and honestly.

If it ain't broke, don't break it!

Donnarie said...

Amen, JoeBob. It's better than any of the systems "tested" throughout Connecticut last year--where you voted on a touch screen and a paper "receipt" was generated showing your vote, but who KNOWS what the machine was counted--in that the paper ballot has at least YOUR marks on it. But at the same time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with our lever machines, and there was NO reason to stop using them. None.

CT Bob said...

I agree that there aren't any better machines than the old mechanical lever ones.

But the fact is, federal law mandates that every state implement handicap-accessable voting hardware in every polling place by this November, and have modern voting machines by next year.

Listen, at least we will HAVE the paper ballots! Yes, there's always the chance that the electronics can be tampered with to throw out say 2 out of every 100 votes for the opposition guy, but in the event of massive voter fraud (like we experienced nationally in 2000 and 2004) at least we'll have actual paper ballots to recount.

A lot of the ATM-style voting machines in other states have absolutely NO paper backup. Those are MUCH MORE succeptable to hacking, because the results are the only thing the machine spits out. If you're gonna be upset, you might want to start with those states that allow them.

They're already running the optical machines in several New England states, and they are found to be equally if not more reliable than the old lever machines.

So try to relax; and be happy we're not Ohio or Florida.

Anonymous said...

While I agree the old machines are best kept until a well-validated, secure method is available, this option truly supercedes the others I've seen. It IS less hackable, to the degree that a paper trail is generated automatically. Some recount of some percentage by hand should be used to verify each machine, though.

Unfortunately(?), though Susan does not use the word, blackbox reports this is indeed a DIEBOLD system, though obviously much safer than their touch screen system.

Thanks to Susan for her hard work and careful assessment of options. Thank goodness we have a Dem in charge!

Anonymous said...

Ugh.

I hate to be a negative nancy, but these machines ARE NOT in any way legitimate, and the following article blows their integrity clean out of the water:

http://www.engadget.com/2006/09/06/diebold-voting-machine-hacked-in-four-minutes-flat/

In a nutshell, it is TRIVIAL to replace the memory cards in these machines (containing the machine's operating software) with absolutely zero trail/means of detection.

Also, the potential for tampering can be escalated dramatically assuming the machines are allowed to "sleep over" with election officials on the eve of their use. Although regardless of where the machines are, if individuals intent on making sure the output of the machines goes "the way the man wants it to", it damn well WILL HAPPEN. The paper trail feature of these machines is NOTHING more than a diversion, a strawman to make us complacent. As an earlier poster said, without a huge amount of money and effort after the "official" results are announced, the paper ballots will simply end up in a box somewhere never to be counted. We're making some naive assumptions that these paper ballots will always be counted to audit the computers, and for that matter, that the people counting those pieces of paper will be neutral parties with no skins in the game either way.

As I see it, the ONLY way to force ANY kind of legitimate electoral process in the towns these machines will preside in, will be to FIND OUT where they will be in advance, and mobilize as MANY resources as possible to those polling sites to take exit polls and educate the public as to why it is so crucial they participate truthfully in exit polling - we MUST assume these machines are going to be "cooked" and our best chance to set the record straight is going to be to broadcast far and wide the inevitable discrepancies that will appear between the Diebold "results" and exit polling data.

This is truly the most important time of our lives, and we must ALL work to ensure those in power cannot steal yet ANOTHER election.

Because the fact is, they absolutelty, positively intend on doing so if left unchecked.

Anonymous said...

Heh, it looks like a paper shredder to me.

Anonymous said...

I saw the mem-card report the other day, but I had the impression that was the TS machine, not the OS. Apparently I remain confused, but the pic in your link does not look like the same OS machine(?). The hacked link in the URL you list includes this text: ""what may be the worst security flaw we have [ever] seen in touch screen voting machines" in the company's older TS model. " That definitely is not this OS model; however, there certainly might be shared design of mem-card, etc.(?)

Thank goodness Susan is no K Harris!!

Anonymous said...

Actually even the Mechanical machines are inacurate (i.e.- last years election in Middletown when they needed to re-vote for town selectman due to a mechanical failure).

The only truly relliable system is what our friends to the north are using:

Paper ballot counted by a human being!

They count the vote by hand and get there results reasonably soon, like the same night!

Anonymous said...

...our friends to the north being Canada, that is...

Scott Tribe said...

A very reliable system we have.. thanks for giving us props.

We also have an independent non-partisan agency called Elections Canada that is responsible for making sure elections run smoothly. Voting is uniform in all provinces.. and as its federally controlled.. we have no worries about provincial governments trying to manipulate ridings for the benefit of a particular political party - Elections Canada makes that decision.

We also dont need to worry about vote registration. Anyone who is on the federal census and listed as a Canadian citizen is allowed to vote. VOting registration cards are sent out to all eligible voters prior to the election, and you present that card with your name to the local Electoral Officer, who then strikes your name off of a list of voters in that riding (which has been pre-prepared prior to this).

If you didnt get your voting card in the mail.. all you need to do is present identification that shows you're a canadian citizen and proof that you live in the riding, and they will register you at the place where you need to vote.

Canada has used this type of setup for 80+ years without any charges of bias or voting irregularities or "gerrymandering".

CT Bob said...

I like the addition of the paper shredder to the end of my article. If I was more comically shrewd, I would have included footage of a shredder cutting up some paper at the end of the video as a joke.

But Susan B. and a bunch of people up at the Secretary's office did check out the video and told me they liked it, so I guess it's better I didn't do that.

Although, it would have been WAY funnier!

s p a z e b o y said...

Bob,

For once, my home-state of Iowa isn't 6 years behind Connecticut. I can't say how long they've been using optical voting machines, but it's how I cast my first ballot in the 2000 election for Gore/Lieberman.

Can you believe that even as someone who once voted for Joe, I won't be let near him? :)

CT Bob said...

You voted for Al Gore, not Lieberman...you probably would have voted for Gore no matter who he had running with him.

Well, except somebody like Dick Cheney maybe.

I almost wish they'd run Presidential elections the same way they ran the Governor's primary here in CT; you can vote for Governor and Lt. Governor SEPARATELY!

That's how Malloy's Lt. Gov. candidate Mary Glassman got on the ballot with John DeStefano.

If that was the case, we'd probably have gotten Pres. Bush and VP Lieberman in 2000. Because NOBODY could have voted for Cheney!

ratney said...

"As I see it, the ONLY way to force ANY kind of legitimate electoral process in the towns these machines will preside in, will be to FIND OUT where they will be in advance, and mobilize as MANY resources as possible to those polling sites to take exit polls and educate the public as to why it is so crucial they participate truthfully in exit polling - we MUST assume these machines are going to be "cooked" and our best chance to set the record straight is going to be to broadcast far and wide the inevitable discrepancies that will appear between the Diebold "results" and exit polling data.

This is truly the most important time of our lives, and we must ALL work to ensure those in power cannot steal yet ANOTHER election.

Because the fact is, they absolutelty, positively intend on doing so if left unchecked."

Hear, hear! And I'm marking that card HARD with a SHARPIE no matter what they say. No pencils!!! -lakezoarian

John Blossom said...

Yes, it IS a Diebold machine, a fact that was covered up very quietly by trying to say that they came from a Massachusetts company. The Mass. company is a Diebold DISTRIBUTOR.

Don't be reassured by the paper trail. The memory cards on these machines are easily manipulated. If nobody does a recount of the paper ballots nobody will be the wiser. We are being set up for the same type of corruption as found in other states such as Florida and Ohio. Question this move to Diebold DEEPLY. Our democracy depends on it.

Ken Hajjar said...

My name is Ken Hajjar. I am the Sales Manager for LHS Associates,Inc. We are the provider of the AccuVote optical scanner for the State of CT. With all due respect, most of you don't know what you are talking about in two very important respects; the supposed vulnerability of the scanner, and the supposed accuracy of the lever machines. Regarding the AccuVote system, the obstacles against getting access to the memory card, and changing its characteristics without being discovered are astronomical. A "hacker" would first need access to the equipment. In CT specifically, and in New England generally, where we do business, that access is nearly impossible. The program is tested in an open area and verified against a hand count of the same ballots. The card is then sealed in the tabulator, and the tabulator is stored, under lock and key in the vaults at town or city halls, not leaving until election day, in the custody of sworn election officials, or, in the case of Massachusetts, police officers. Even if one could get access, he/she would then need an identical memory card, with markings and labels that are identical to those we use, then would have to possess a device for coding the card. This same person would then need to know the eventual vote differential and enter a value to offset that differential withot being obvious, etc.... As Robert DeNiro might say if confronted with these obstacles?...fuggedaboutit.
What I find most amusing is the blind faith in the lever machine. For those of you who claim to be against "black box" type voting, insisting on a "paper trail", I can't think of a bigger, heavier, more vulnerable black box, although they are mostly green. I challenge anyone to prove to me that when the lever is flipped, the counter in the back increments by one...It can't be done and I've spoken to dozens of mechanics who, in good conscience, can't disagree with my challenge.There is no paper trail and thus, no way to reconstruct the election. Just talk to the people in Bridgeport, Middletown or any of a number of CT communities that have had lever machine failures. Where are those votes? Oh, it's in the green box. I think it would be a good idea for most of you "conspiracy theorists" to put your energy into volunteering to work at the polls, instead of sitting on the sidelines trying to impress everyone with how smart you are.

CT Bob said...

Ken, you were the man who demonstrated the machine in Bridgeport, is that correct?

Thanks for posting here. Please keep in mind that everyone here is working in the best interest of Democracy. We are also aware of the statements made by the official at Diebold during the 2004 election which said in effect that he would do anything to see George Bush elected. There's no small amount of distrust with the Diebold company.

However, I'm sold on the idea that the lever voting machines do need updating, and the laws concerning handicapped voters need to be addressed. Change is inevitable, and I'd like to see that it's done in as foolproof a manner as possible.

I'm very interested in learning more about the University of Connecticut's testing the machine's software. Is there a website that the progress of the testing is being reported? I think people would feel better if they knew more details of the software and what it is, and isn't, capable of doing.

The more information you can provide to the voters, the better.

Thanks again, Ken.

Bob (Adams)
futuredv@yahoo.com

John Blossom said...

Regarding Ken Hajjar's post, in addition to the Engadget post demonstrating that a Diebold voting machine can be hacked in four minutes, an article indicating that a memory card can be replaced without any integrity checking:
http://www.osvdb.org/17203

Also, interesting posts at MIT indicating various problems in ACTUAL USE - not theory - for Diebold memory cards, including a high rate of corruption during use:
http://web.mit.edu/AFS/athena.mit.edu/activity/m/mit-rnr/www/lists/support.w3archive/200003/msg00109.html

and the ability to make copies of AccuVote OS memory cards during a voting day:
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~matth/lists/support.w3archive/200208/msg00015.html

Specific to some Hajjar's comments some observations:

"Regarding the AccuVote system, the obstacles against getting access to the memory card, and changing its characteristics without being discovered are astronomical."
- So was the likelihood that both towers of the World Trade Center would be attacked by airplanes in the same day. And yet where there's a will there's a way. Judging by the manipuation of Diebold products in Ohio and Florida and the unresolved use of them in San Diego, there appears to be a will.

"A "hacker" would first need access to the equipment. In CT specifically, and in New England generally, where we do business, that access is nearly impossible. The program is tested in an open area and verified against a hand count of the same ballots."
- Tested against ballots BEFORE an election? Since there are not votes before an election, how can any counts be valid? Unless there are ballots or memory cards already marked...

"The card is then sealed in the tabulator, and the tabulator is stored, under lock and key in the vaults at town or city halls, not leaving until election day, in the custody of sworn election officials, or, in the case of Massachusetts, police officers."
- With no disrespect to any public servants in New England, elections in Ohio, Florida and now San Diego, California call into question the integrity of motives of local elections officials. All politics is local, a Massachussets politician once said. Again, where there's a will there's a way - and it can all be taken care of either before or after a voting machine leaves central storage, as proven in Ohio elections. I suspect that the gene pool in our own local states is not all that different, so I suspect that human motives could be just as questionable at times.

"Even if one could get access, he/she would then need an identical memory card, with markings and labels that are identical to those we use, then would have to possess a device for coding the card. This same person would then need to know the eventual vote differential and enter a value to offset that differential withot being obvious, etc..."
- BlackBoxVoting.org was able to get a Diebold memory card by rumaging through the trash of a county courthouse:
http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/09/05/160251
Given that the MIT support forum shows that there are known reliability problems with Diebold memory cards, then the general availability of these cards in unsecured locations has to be assumed. Witnesses to Diebold technicians manipulating voting machines AFTER elections and BEFORE recounts in Ohio seem to indicate that any number of people can have access to adjust voting totals at any time. Moreover, if you are NOT recounting paper ballots but going only against machine totals nobody will be the wiser.

I agree that mechanical voting machines have problems, but they are relatively random problems that are far less likely to be liable to undetectable malicious tampering. It seems to me that a secure counting system for paper ballot counting is the best solution - IF there is no way to create a total that would differ from an accurate hand count. Decentralized, non-secure and unauditable electronic voting machines do not seem to provide that capability.

mui said...

Ummmm, I believe it's good to ask a *lot* of questions concerning new voting machines from Diebold in the midst of some hotly contested elections. In the very least it's not sensitive or politic to introduce these machines. The name of Diebold is reviled, damaged goods, etc.

Anonymous said...

Remember when nuclear plants were built without any means of disposing of the wasttes? Decades later, they're still not fixed.

Installing these machines in the name of speedy vote counts and "ballpark accuracy" at a time when the electorate is divided and elections can be decided on very narrow margins seems to me to be a form of technological brinksmanship.

I for one would like Connecticut to step back from the brink.

Anonymous said...

Well, here we are on election day and I just spoke with my wife in Guilford, CT. The ONE scanner that was available at our voting location (Calvin Leete School) broke early this morning (around 7 AM)....Her written ballot was placed in a pile with the hope that it will be appropriately counted in some fashion. One vote scanner used for less than one hour for an entire voting district...and it is broken....Not a good sign for product reliability.

Bob-Guilford