- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Election officials need to have voting machines analyzed, provide more thorough training for election workers and carefully monitor the process to ensure the security of votes in the November election, a report released yesterday recommended.

“[Ensuring] the security of every American’s vote is no less important than having the right to vote,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, one of the groups that released the recommendations.

The report’s focus is on Direct Recording Election (DRE) machines, computerized voting devices that have replaced punch cards and lever machines in 675 counties nationwide.

Lee Page, associate advocacy director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the machines increase “the ability to have an independent and accessible ballot” for voters who have physical disabilities or cannot speak English.

Computerized voting machines, however, also have brought concerns about vote security and the potential for technical malfunction.

Avi Rubin, the technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University, who helped develop the recommendations in the report, said lack of security in the voting process could leave the losing presidential candidate in 2004 with a legitimate claim that votes were miscounted.

“I think, in the wake of the 2000 election, ‘trust me’ is not the answer,” he said.

Deborah Goldberg, director of the other organization behind the report, the Democracy Program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center, said election officials can improve voter confidence by following the recommendations in the report.

“We have specifically designed the recommendations to be limited in scope so that they can be implemented in the short span of a few months,” she said.

Michael Wertheimer, director of the Innovative Solutions Cell at Maryland technology-consulting firm RABA Technologies, recently led an assessment of DRE machines for Maryland at a cost of about $80,000.

The analysis involved a weeklong review of the software and the setup of the machines, and the team found flaws ranging from easy removal of the machines’ memory cards to lack of password protection.

Donna Duncan, director of the election-management division for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the state has made a lot of changes as a result of six studies conducted on the DRE machines in the past year. Maryland also has a system to verify the vote count.

“We use what we call a voter-authority card, which … is tied to an actual machine so there is an accounting during the course of the day,” Ms. Duncan said.

“The election judges are periodically doing, throughout the day, a verification that the number of voter-authority cards matches the number that have voted on the machine. … If there is a discrepancy, the machine is immediately isolated and removed from use.”

But Mr. Wertheimer, who spent 21 years as a mathematician at the National Security Agency, said even when systems appear secure, it is important to be vigilant.

“There’s no such thing as a completely secure system that’s idiot-proof, because they keep coming up with better idiots,” he said.

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