Questions Remain About Voting Machine Software Integrity

Voting Integrity Groups Issue Mixed Verdict After Firmware Investigation

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - April 6, 2008. As Pittsburgh approaches a contested mayoral primary and school districts across Allegheny County prepare to elect new directors, questions remain about the software controlling our voting machines. PA Verified Voting and VoteAllegheny have released their analysis of the December 22, 2008 post-election firmware examination carried out by SysTest Labs and the County Elections Division. The citizen groups commend Allegheny County and Commonwealth officials for improving election integrity and public confidence by examining a sample of machines. However, due to procedural limitations, the software coverage was incomplete and too few machines were examined. VoteAllegheny and PA Verified Voting hope Allegheny County's verification efforts in 2008 are improved on and can serve as a stepping stone toward election integrity efforts across Pennsylvania.

Because the ES&S iVotronic voting machines used in Allegheny County provide no way for voters to personally verify that their votes have been correctly and accurately recorded, voters must trust the iVotronic program code to be correct. The voting machine inspection and certification process carried out by the Secretary of the Commonwealth is meaningless unless the County ensures the machines run exactly the same program the Secretary certifies. Determining whether an iVotronic is running the right software requires dismantling the machine and removing it from service. On December 22, 2008, twenty Allegheny County iVotronic voting terminals were examined according to a process designed by the County and SysTest Labs, a Colorado-based software testing company. According to the PA-VV/VoteAllegheny report, the process did not examine the software controlling the hand-held "PEB" electronic keys which activate the iVotronics, did not examine all of the software controlling the iVotronics, and did not examine enough machines.

According to report co-author Dr. David A. Eckhardt (right), "As a computer scientist I am concerned that in Allegheny County we trust our votes to software we know is vulnerable to attack - especially because we can't check that it's all uncompromised." Findings by research teams in other states, cited in the report, demonstrate that iVotronics left unguarded, perhaps in a school or community center, can plausibly be hijacked.

Co-author Kami Vaniea (left) adds, "I was surprised at how labor-intensive the process was. To be effective, computer security must be easy to verify at every stage of deployment. The procedure for verifying the integrity of the devices should be published when the Secretary of the Commonwealth certifies them for use."

The sample-size issue concerns Collin Lynch, President of VoteAllegheny. "Based on last month's indictments in Kentucky, the idea that people - inside or outside of the system - would try to subvert elections run on iVotronics can't be treated as fiction. This just increases the need for software verification, and all other testing, to be statistically robust."

The report concerns iVotronic firmware verification efforts in Allegheny County. Across Pennsylvania, voters face not only iVotronics but also other paperless electronic voting machines manufactured by Danaher, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Premier Election Solutions. According to Marybeth Kuznik (right), Executive Director of VotePA, a state-wide voting integrity umbrella group, "The way things are going, a lot of votes will be cast on machines we don't know how to check. Other counties, with machines that can be only partially verified, don't have a plan in place. The pressure is a lot lower in counties with voter-marked paper ballots, since they can be audited by hand after an election is over."

Dr. Richard King, president of PA Verified Voting, agrees. "The gold standard for Pennsylvania is voter-verified paper ballots with routine post-election audits. Until we can achieve that for all our voters, we've got to know these paperless machines are running the software they're supposed to be. We appreciate the activism of citizen groups who worked with us to make this event possible, including especially
the League of Young Voters."

The full text of the report is online at .

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