Hearing Examines Digital Voting Security

Is computerized voting the best option in California? A hearing was held at the Menlo Park City Hall Thursday afternoon to debate on whether or not the state should explore other possibilities besides electronic voting.

The hearing titled “Are California’s voting systems accurate, reliable and secure? A critical look at the Federal testing and certification process” was directed by Debra Bowen, chairwoman of the Senate Menlo ParkElections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee.

Four experts attend the meeting: David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford University and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation; Peter Neumann, principal scientist at the computer science lab at SRI International in Menlo Park; Aviel Rubin, professor of computer science and director of the Information Institute at Johns Hopkins University; and Dan Wallach, professor of computer science at Rice University.

“California requires vendors to come to California to be tested by an independent panel of experts,” said Rubin. “Is it federally qualified? What are the limitations of testing? “Results should be made public, and all tests should be available to the public. We can’t compromise on transparency. An ounce of audit is worth a pound of prevention.”

While some experts argued that there should be more regulations others argued that security systems will always be flawed.

“There is no such thing as perfect security,” said Neumann. Even ATMs have security problems.” With voting machines, he warned, there’s “no real incentive to do it right, but it’s essential to have full openness in the process.” Whatever machines are built should be built for “long-term life,” he says. “There are no easy answers. We’re dealing with a flawed process.”

Part of the engineering problem is controlling costs. “Paper has a long-term history of election fraud – but paper can be checked by machines,” said Wallach. The voting system is a “terrible business to be in, because every state has a different system,” he says. “We need openness, reliable and secure systems. We must design systems capable of solving all problems – and California has to initiate the process.”

The “most important thing is an independent audit of elections,” said Warren Slocum, assessor, county clerk and record of San Mateo County. “Election workers,” he added, “should be recognized for their importance, just as police and health workers are.” He notes that 13 million voters in 16 counties currently don’t have certified voting systems.

Protesters Outside City Hall
Protesters Outside City Hall

After the experts testify, 28 members of the public speak. Many of them say they find the computerized voting frightening.

“If machines are used, they should be totally public, and have parallel testing,” said Ron Crane of Santa Cruz. “Rip them to shreds. If there is a discrepancy, why did it happen?” Machines, he says, cost $3,000 to $4,000 each and are “not necessary for most people.”

“A voting-certification process should be established in California,” said Alan Dechert of Granite Bay, Calif. president of the Open Voting Consortium.

One Alternative to computerized voting is voting by mail. It is done statewide in Oregon but has been approved only in eight California counties.

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