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The Australian

US e-votes could be more trouble

February 02, 2004
By Ken Dermota

THOUSANDS of Americans who go to the polls on Tuesday will vote using computers instead of casting paper ballots, but experts warn the high-tech systems could cause more problems than they solve.

After the botched 2000 presidential election, when confusing ballots in Florida and legal wrangling left the nation in political limbo for 36 days, the US federal government set aside billions of dollars to buy modern voting machines.

But experts say the computers - which leave no paper records of ballots - have gaping holes in their security that would allow hackers to tamper with or alter the vote count.


"The machines are in use with what I consider extremely serious security flaws," University of Iowa computer professor Douglas Jones said.

He said he told the machines' manufacturer, Diebold, about the security problems five years ago, but nothing has been done to fix it.

It's very clear that, despite public scolding, the company has never repaired the security flaw and the company was continuing to sell the machine with the flaw and many other flaws," he said.

... Another study at Johns Hopkins University uncovered other problems with electronic voting.

Professor Aviel Rubin said the voting machines were equipped with modems and could be instructed to do nearly anything over the telephone line. A hacker could give a candidate extra votes or disrupt an entire election, in the same way the Mydoom virus has interfered with computers around the world.


What really concerns Mr Rubin is that machines leave no paper record of votes, making recounts impossible.


New Jersey Representative Rush Holt and New York Senator Hillary Clinton have sponsored bills that would require a printed receipt.

"They can do paper trails, but they are not currently on the market and no jurisdiction currently has paper trail machines," said Rashad Robinson, national field director for the Center for Voting and Democracy, a non-partisan electoral reform organization.

In addition, he said, a confidentiality agreement prevents state governments from reading the computers' software.

"There's no way of checking to see if this software doesn't have some sort of bug in it," he said.