October 20, 2003

Electronic Voting: What You Need To Know

The story below is as important to you as your social
security number, your passport, your health insurance
(if you have any)...Believe me, the US Constitution is
under sustained attack in more ways than one. And the
implications of what Diebold is doing are far more
dangerous than the amendment-eating Patriot Act or
even the _resident's hideous judicial
appointments...If you do nothing else for your
country, your world and your own future, read this
piece and share it with others TODAY...

"My feeling is that it is a bamboozling of the American public. We're trading away a lot of the checks and balances that we have always had in elections. We're trading this off for high-tech, for faster returns, and it's not true, what we're being told is not the full truth about what is actually going on and I think that we're giving away much more than we're getting. We're giving the opportunity to have an entire election stolen, just because of bad code, not even stolen, just screwed up, fouled up."


Electronic Voting: What You Need To Know
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Interview

Monday 20 October 2003

Author's Note | In July of 2003, I sat down for
an extended, free-wheeling interview in Denver with
three of the smartest people I have ever met. Rebecca
Mercuri, Barbara Simons, and David Dill have been at
the forefront of the debate surrounding the rise of
electronic touch-screen voting machines in our
national elections. Sufficed to say, they are three
computer scientists/engineers who are as well versed
on these matters as anyone you will ever meet. Scroll
quickly to the bottom of this interview before reading
to view their CVs.

If you are completely new to this, the issue in
brief: In the aftermath of the 2000 election, Congress
passed the Help America Vote Act. After much
wrangling, it appears the powers that be have settled
upon electronic touch-screen voting machines as the
solution. There are, however, a number of serious
concerns about the viability of these machines that
have been raised. The matter strikes to the heart of
our democracy. If the votes are not counted properly,
our democracy is broken forever. More data on this is
linked below, after the CVs.

Key: 'WP' is me; 'RM' is Rebecca Mercuri; 'DD' is
David Dill; 'BS' is Barbara Simons. These three
scientists deserve great thanks for making this
complicated and important issue so clear.


WP: The ideal voting technology would have five
attributes: anonymity, scalability, speed, audit and
accuracy. Explain the importance of these five

BS: Voting has to be anonymous; that's how we do
voting in this country. Scalability means that when
you build the system, you have to be able to use it
for however many people who come to vote. It might
work well for a small number of people, but not work
for a large number of people. Speed is pretty
clear-cut; it has to be fast and convenient, so there
are no long lines of people waiting to vote. Audit
means you must be able to know what happened after you
vote. You must be able to prove the votes.

WP: So with 'audit,' you're talking about

DD: The basic idea of audits in banks, for
example, is that you can reconstruct the results from
the original records. In voting that means being able,
even if your election system fails, or if you question
it, being able to figure out what the vote totals are
for an individual candidate from the original records.
The original records were the paper ballots.

BS: Accuracy simply means we want to be sure the
votes are accurately reported and counted.

WP: How does this Direct Recording Electronic
Voting Machine (DRE's) abrogate any of these five

BS: It doesn't necessarily abrogate all these
requirements. We are particularly concerned about
audit ability.

RM: But it's not just that. With these machines,
two of these requirements turn out to be in provably
direct conflict. You want anonymity, but you also want
audit ability. The problem you have is that those two
things cannot really coexist to the fullest extent.
The way that we do audit ability is that we track all
transactions that happen.

Say you go to a bank ATM. The entire transaction
is auditable because there's a camera, you put in a
card, you have a password, and so on. At the end of
the day, the withdrawal record matches the amount of
money that was taken out of the bank. Audit ability
and anonymity are in direct conflict because with
these voting machines you have to, in some sense, shut
off the audit capabilities during most critical part,
which is the casting of the vote. The normal audit
trail that we in computer science are used to
providing is every transaction. It is everything that
is happening. If something happened at 4:15, say,
we're involved in proving what happened at 4:15.

What we're asking for in these Direct Recording
Electronic machines is to have anonymity as well as
audit ability coexisting. What the vendors have
provided is an elaborate scheme whereby the votes are
recorded on some sort of cartridge or recording
device, but they are not recorded in sequence. They
actually randomize them. They are not recorded
sequentially, and by virtue of not being recorded
sequentially, we don't know exactly what happens in
the voting process. Something could happen in the
randomization process, and that's part of the issue.

WP: It is sounding like you have to sacrifice
either anonymity or audit ability, or else come up
with a way to have both coexist peacefully.

RM: That's exactly it.

BS: What we are talking about is in some sense a
simpler problem, which is still not done properly,
which is just making sure the vote gets accurately
recorded. Even on this simpler problem, these Direct
Recording Electronic machines fail, because they don't
have any way to verify the votes.

DD: If you look at this auditing problem, there's
an audit gap between the voter's finger on the touch
screen and the record that is made inside the machine.
With DRE's as they currently work, the voter cannot
tell what is being recorded inside the machine. What
you really need to have is a workable audit trail,
when you've got this funny anonymous system, is that
the voter, before they leave the voting booth, has to
be able to check that their vote has been properly

There's another company that has a fancy
cryptographic scheme called VoteHere. The way they
explain some of what we've said is that there are two
phases to voting where you want two guarantees. One of
them is making sure the voter's vote is correctly
recorded. The way they say it is, "Cast As Intended."
The second phase is adding up all the votes from all
the precincts, which they call "Counted As Cast."
These fancy schemes deal with the "Counted As Cast"
problem very well, and they have various ways to deal
with the "Cast as Intended" problem.

The more primitive solution that is talked about
- what is available now that we can do - is either use
a paper ballot system like an optical scan system,
where you're filling out a paper ballot and you just
put that in the ballot box, and that's the voter
verified audit record. Or, and this was Rebecca's
idea, is to take the touch screen machines and put a
printer on it - in fact, they already have printers -
and it will print the ballot, and the voter can look
at that to make sure it has the right stuff on it.
That then goes into the ballot box.

WP: It strikes me - and you can correct me if I'm
wrong about this - but it seems like these things you
are describing with the verified voting records
technologies are pretty profoundly revolutionary, over
and above whatever is going on with these DRE's. I've
been voting for a while now. My precinct in Boston
uses those old-school monster voting machines where
you yank the big lever and the curtain comes across
behind you in the booth, and you throw all the vote
switches, and you yank the handle back. I don't have a
clue if the machine recorded my vote. I get no
verification. I just haul the handle, make the sign of
the cross, and hope it got recorded.

You are talking about not only making sure that
the technology within these systems functions in such
a way that the votes are actually recorded, but you're
adding the extra layer - giving the voters
verification that their vote has been counted and
recorded. Given what happened in Florida, that strikes
me as one of the better ideas I've heard in a very
long time.

BS: I don't think it is all that revolutionary. I
voted on those old handle machines when I lived in New
York, and of course there was no way to verify. But
there are other systems people use to vote, like
optical scans, which have been around for a while.
With those, you do see your vote, and you do get a
piece of paper. There is no additional technology
needed. In the old days, people used paper to vote.
Actually, in some sense, the lever machines you use
are a step backwards. They took away the ability of
the voter to make sure that the vote was at least cast
the way they intended.

WP: In Massachusetts, we had an interesting
little mini-scandal with these old handle machines
after the 2000 election. They realized that the
machines, the interior works, hadn't been cleaned in
something like thirty years, and this led to
substantial vote loss.

RM: Those traditional lever machines were
actually invented by Thomas Edison. They came up with
those machines because there was so much vote fraud
going on - ballot stuffing and so forth - but the
traditional lever machine is fully mechanical. The
great thing about them is that you can crack open the
back and see how it works. If there is a question
whether one specific machine is working correctly, you
can open up and look at the gears and the odometers
like they have in cars, and you see the gears
connected to the levers. It is like looking into a
piano - you can watch the hammer strike the string and
make the tone.

The problem, and the difference between those
lever machines and these new DRE's, is that the DRE's
are basically using electrons. I actually have a lot
more faith in the old lever machines. I can't open the
DRE and look inside and see that the button I pushed
on the touch screen is being recorded inside the
device. It's invisible. You can see in the old
machines if a lever is connecting to the wrong place,
or if there was some foul play.

The other issue is that if someone were going to
do some foul play and throw an election, they'd have
to go around and mess up an incredible number of those
old machines, one machine at a time and one lever at a
time. With these DRE's, if there's some mistake in the
programming - even if it is not intentional, just some
bad code - it could affect all of them, the whole
quantity of the DRE's. It might not just be your city.
It might be your state. It might be all the DRE's in
all the counties in all the states that were provided
by the manufacturer who let the bad code get by them.

WP: Explain to me what kind of non-malicious,
general screw-up errors can manifest themselves in
these DRE's.

BS: Your readers will recall when our spaceship
crashed into Mars because one group involved was using
feet to measure things and another was using meters.
That's one example, but you might say that this was
not a software error. The point is that the code was
written such that it didn't work.

RM: Some of these problems are very simple. The
addition of a semi-colon or an equals sign in the
wrong place in a line of code can completely change
the programming. This would be someone who just
slipped up. There are plenty of examples of this
happening. In the midterm elections down in Dallas,
Texas, people tried to vote on the new touch-screen
machines. They found that, no matter where they
touched on the Democratic side, it would vote for the
Republican candidate. These people were pretty upset,
and it just kept happening and happening. In Texas
they have early voting, and this problem showed up in
the early voting. If this had happened on Election
Day, who knows what would have transpired? They might
have had to shut down voting in all of Dallas.

The Democratic Party went to court over this.
They had affidavits demonstrating that there were
machines making this error. Ultimately it was decided
that seventeen of the machines were somehow
misaligned. I don't know how that could happen, but it
was decided that they were misaligned, and those
machines were taken out of service.

WP: What are the names of the companies making
these DRE's?

RM: Diebold, Sequoia and ES&S. Those are the big

WP: What kind of testing are these three main
companies doing to ensure that the misplaced equals
sign, the misplaced semi-colon, the misaligned
machine, is not happening?

DD: I've tried to find out. What kind of testing
that goes on in these companies is something we don't
know. They won't tell us a thing about their code or
what they do to test it.

BS: Even if we could see the code, that wouldn't
be sufficient. Even if we could see the code, and even
if we could convince ourselves that the code was
correct, we still wouldn't know that it was the code
that was running on election day.

DD: That is actually a much harder technical
problem than most people would think. With current
hardware, it is very difficult to make sure that the
program running on the machine is the program we think
is running on the machine.

There is a general theme of secrecy, which is
frustrating to me. I understand some of the reasons
for secrecy. It is frustrating to be because claims
are made about these systems, how they are designed,
how they work, that frankly I don't believe. In some
cases, I don't believe it because the claims they are
making are impossible. I am limited in my ability to
refute these impossible claims because all the data is
hidden behind a veil of secrecy.

What testing do the manufacturers do? Who the
hell knows? Once it gets out of the manufacturers, we
are reassured by everyone about the qualification
process. There is something called the NASED
Qualification Process. NASED is an organization called
the National Organization of State Election Directors
which has affiliated with it something called the
Election Center, which I believe is a private
organization. The Election Center oversees the NASED
qualification process. There are Independent Testing
Authorities, though their level of independence is
unknown. There are three of them, called SYSTEST,
CYBER and WYLE. The conventional wisdom about WYLE is
that they deal with hardware and firmware. Some
vendors have found out the hard way that they actually
deal with all of the software that goes into the
voting machine. They are the ones dealing with the
software that I am most concerned about.

If you go to their web pages, it says, "If you'd
like to know something about us, please go to hell" in
the nicest possible way. They refer you to the
Election Center, which will carefully explain to you
that they scrutinize every line of code. When I was on
the California Task Force dealing with all this, along
with another computer scientist named David Jefferson,
we wanted to know what these Independent Testing
Authorities (ITA's) do. They were all invited.
Everybody else on the Task Force, which included some
election officials at both the state and local level,
and a few people of various political affiliations,
wanted to know what these Test Authorities do. So we
invited them to speak to us.

SYSTEST came and spoke to us. It turns out that
they are one of the small ones. They don't deal with
the big stuff, and they don't deal with the software
inside the voting machines. The other two, which are
apparently very close, are CYBER and WYLE. They
refused to come visit us. They were also too busy to
join us in a phone conference. Finally, out of
frustration, I wrote up ten or fifteen questions and
sent it to them via the Secretary of State's office.
They didn't feel like answering those questions,

These Test Authorities use the word 'Certified'
as if it were some magical holy blessing. It's been
'Certified.' Well, what does that mean? We didn't get
any answers. My friend David Jefferson has been
involved in internet voting and some other
election-related issues for a while now. A couple of
years ago, he got the right passwords to call up WYLE
and ask them what they do, and he got a description.
The basic description, according to David, is that
they bake the machines to see if they die. The drop
them to see if they break.

And then what they do is run scripts over the
computer program to check for bugs. A script is just
another computer program to check for superficial
things. There is no human involved. They don't want
functions that are too long, and they don't want
functions with multiple exit points. They say
'Modules,' but they are basically talking about chunks
of code. It is basically nothing more than a
style-checker, like running a spell-check. The problem
with running a spell-check...

WP: ...is that you miss the homonyms.

DD: Right. The concept of running one of these
style-checkers on a program is, at the end of the day,
you know the functions are short and they don't have
multiple exit points. You don't have any clue if they
are doing the right thing at security holes or
anywhere else. After this process, there are several
other steps. There is something called an 'Acceptance
Test.' When the machines get delivered to either the
state or county government, they power them up and put
them through the paces to make sure they work.
Basically, they sign a form that says they got the
thing and it's not busted. Before each election, and
sometimes after each election, they have something
called a Logic and Accuracy Test where, to one degree
or another, they will try casting some votes on the
machine to make sure they come out right. That's
basically all there is to it.

As a computer scientist, I know that the worst
problem that could happen is that you have someone at
the company, such as a programmer who knows all the
details of the code, or a mysteriously overqualified
janitor, who could basically insert something
malicious into the code. Given the fat that they are
using the 'C' programming language, we know that such
an act can be concealed. They wouldn't even have to
change the program. They could just change some of the
results of the program. Malicious code could be
concealed in ways that are practically impossible to
detect by any means, and certainly wouldn't be
detectable given what we understand to be the
detection and inspection process.

The computer scientist who oversees elections in
Georgia told us yesterday that, by Black Box Testing,
this logic and accuracy testing, he could catch any
malicious code. It is completely ridiculous. If you go
to the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program, and go to
row 2000, column 2000 and type a specific thing, you
will get something like a flight simulator. The
Microsoft programmers, even though it is a firing
offense, can slip this stuff into the programming code
so none of the testing people can discover it. They
are called 'Easter Eggs.' If you type 'Easter Eggs'
into a Google.com search, you'll get instructions on
how to find all these things in Microsoft software

Without even knowing very much about how these
systems work, computer scientists know that you can
put malicious code into a program, you can change the
results of an election, and it can't be detected by
inspection or testing. Period.

RM: You have to give at least some credit to this
computer scientist from Georgia. He at least tests
these machines. Some states just take the things out
of the box from the manufacturer, plug it in and run
their hands over it a few times, and then send it off
for the voters to use. He, at least, takes the trouble
to try and test them out.

DD: Yes. This man does the best testing of
anybody in the country.

WP: That's not very comforting.

DD: There is just no way to test for the problems
we are worried about. He is doing the best job he can.

BS: We actually heard on Tuesday morning from one
of these software representatives that their software,
which is 100,000 lines of code, is bug-free. That is
highly unlikely.

RM: If that is true, there is a way to confirm
it. We have a thing we use in the United States called
the "Common Criteria." The highest level under the
certification process of the Common Criteria is Level
7. This means you have to have mathematical proof for
every single line of your code that it all works
exactly as specified. To date, no one has done that
with anything but the most simplest module. The claims
we heard on Tuesday are impossible. He'd have to be
super-human to accomplish this. It could be done,
theoretically, but it would take forever, for that
length of code, to achieve Level 7 certification. It
would take longer to prove it than it would to write
the code.

DD: Let me be clear. I am not a security expert,
and my voting expertise is what I have picked up in
the last six months. My research area is formal
verification, which is mathematical proofs of the
correctness of things, so I can confirm what Rebecca
just said.

RM: I am a security expert.

WP: We have talked about the non-malicious errors
and glitches that can take place in these DRE codes,
and in the machines themselves. What kind of malicious
actions could be taken by someone against these
machines? What are the security gaps? What are the
ways that this process could conceivably be subject to

DD: There are insider attacks, which we know
could be successful if someone chose to do that. What
people worry about with PCs is not so much Microsoft
hacking them, but outside people coming in over the
internet with viruses or something you download. That
is an outsider attack. In order to be confident about
your code, about a system that is security-sensitive,
you have to do a very careful analysis of the design
and the software itself. It has to be done by real
pros, and it is a very labor-intensive process. That
has not been done, to my knowledge, with any of these
voting systems. Without that kind of analysis, you can
be guaranteed that there will be gaping security
holes. People are just going to make mistakes, because
it is too hard to do otherwise.

Without a careful security analysis, you can't
know what kind of outsider attacks may be possible.
Except in the case of the Johns Hopkins paper from
last week, where they managed to get their hands on
the code through Diebold's carelessness and lack of
security. Two graduate students noticed what turned
out to be severe security blunders. I don't think it
is important to emphasize whether people can hack
these particular machines in these particular ways,
although I find the problems these grad students found
to be worrying. I think the most important thing about
that is that it disproves any claim that the
manufacturers or the independent testing authorities
are actually carefully scrutinizing this code, or for
that matter, know anything about computer security. I
think we have conclusively disproven that there is
anything in this process that guarantees these things
are secure.

BS: Diebold has claimed that the code which was
downloaded is not the code running on their machines.
There is no way to verify that this is true or not.
There is reason to believe that the code which was
downloaded is certified.

RM: One of the other problems brought out by the
Johns Hopkins report was this issue of "Smart Cards,"
the things you use to cast your vote. If you had this
Diebold code, you could manufacture your own Smart
Cards and have a pocket full of them, and maybe cast
additional votes. My issue, simply, is that it is
easier than that. You don't have to be an insider in
the vote machine company.

At the polling places, you have the people who
are making the Smart Cards. The Smart Cards are
sitting there in a pile. The interesting thing about
these Smart Cards is that the voter comes to the
polling place, and data is put on the Cards. The idea,
as the vendors have been telling us, is that the
voters take that card and go to the machine, and the
card only lets them vote once. Otherwise, you could
vote 20 times. What happens when there are no voters
in the room at the end of the day, or in the middle of
the day? What if some of the other poll workers have
walked away?

There is nothing to prevent a poll worker from
manufacturing some more Smart Cards, sticking them
into the machine, and voting several times? There is
absolutely nothing to stop some corrupt poll workers
from doing this. In fact, what this whole thing was
trying to prevent - they say we are using DRE's
because we don't want to have these problems with
paper ballots, with people taking the papers out and
substituting another ballot - these same crooked
people who would tamper with ballots are the same
people who would make a few more Smart Cards and vote
extra at the end of the day.

BS: One of the things you can do, and you don't
have to be all that clever to do it, is change a small
percentage of votes one way. If you're really smart,
you'll change an even smaller percentage of votes the
other way, so it won't be obvious. If you're smarter
still, you'll do this randomly. If you're smarter
still, you have something called a Random Number
Generator, and maybe every hundred votes you make sure
is Republican, and every five hundred votes you change
to Democrat. If you try to repeat this, if you run the
code again on the same input, you'll get different
results, because you randomly decide what to change.
Because it is random, it is different each time. You
will still do the changing of 100 in one column and
500 in the other, but it will be different.

RM: These are parts of the basic underpinnings of
computer science, but in actual fact, the more simple
things are the ones we have been able to observe.
There have been precincts where vote totals for entire
candidates on these machines have come up to zero.
This has happened to Republicans and Democrats. There
is something wrong there.

When these vendors are asked by the newspapers
about this, the vendors claim those votes were never
cast. The vendors say those voters chose not to vote
in those positions. All of them? In every other
machines, those candidates had votes. These are simple
malfunctions. Once it's done, it's done, and there's
no way to go back and reconstruct it.

DD: Election officials love to believe that
people go into the voting booth just for show, just to
convince their friends that they are going in to vote,
and then they don't vote for anybody. This is how they
explain missing votes.

RM: They now have a fancy word for this:
"Undervoting." They believe that, in huge numbers,
people go in by the hundreds of thousands and
deliberately choose not to vote.

WP: Sounds like faking an orgasm.


DD: With something as important as elections, the
government and the sellers of the machines ought to
have the burden of proof on them to prove to us that
the machines are working correctly, and that the
election results are accurate. All of democracy is
founded on the idea that the loser of an election
understands that they lost fair and square, that the
election represents the will of the electorate, and
that they have to deal with that. If you have a
situation where there is any doubt about the election,
you have the kind of lasting bitterness that there is
from Florida in 2000, and from Georgia in 2002. If we
get into elections with outcomes that people don't
believe in, where the candidates challenge the honesty
of the machine, people are going to feel less and less
confident in the results of elections run on these

BS: I want to get back to those undervotes
quickly. I think it is very unlikely in major
elections, when there are only one or two candidates
or positions on the ballot that people would go in
with the intention of not voting. But when you have a
long ballot, like you get in California, and you get
to the point where you have to vote for judges, and
you've never heard of any of them, many people may not
vote for them. That kind of undervote is frequently
legitimate. It is when there are major races, races
that are pretty much what the election is about, and
you don't get votes. That's when you have to be

BS: I think that most of the comments we are
making about security apply to the big three
companies: Diebold, Sequoia and ES&S. What we see
these three companies doing is not adequate at all.

DD: I don't see the smaller companies being much
better than the big three. The basic problem is that
they all float down to the lowest level, because doing
everything right costs more money and takes more time.
They want to get the machines out as quickly and
cheaply as they can get away with, while still
satisfying their customers. They have a certain set of
regulations they have to satisfy. They know what the
independent testing authorities are going to look at,
and they don't do anything they don't need to beyond
that. We can pretty much count on the security of most
of these machines not being good. There are a few very
computer-science-oriented companies. VoteHere is the
only one I can think of. They have a different
attitude on security because that is their selling

RM: Now that there is increased interest in
voter-verified systems, there are companies coming out
with new systems. You can still stick with the
"mark-sense" systems, the optical scan systems, the
paper ballots. The problem with those is that there
are many people, blind or otherwise handicapped
people, who cannot use the mark-sense system. They
want to be able to vote, too. They don't want to just
vote at home, or vote with assistance. They want to
vote on their own in the polling places, and they
should be entitled to do that. That is what the Help
America Vote Act has granted them. It says people with
disabilities should have the same access. We believe
this completely, and also believe they should have the
same access to reliability.

WP: I suppose you talked about the insider
tampering, but I haven't heard you talk about the
outsider, and there's a couple of them, aren't there?
The judges or the poll workers. Are they able to tap

DD: Let me comment about that. So what I've said
about outsiders is that without a careful security
analysis, we don't know. Right? We don't know enough
about the machines, and you have to know about the
machines, you know, and what the outsider attacks are
going to be, except in the case of this Johns Hopkins
paper from last week, where they managed to get their
hands on the code through Diebold's carelessness.

WP: Lack of security.

DD: In a half an hour, two graduate students in
that group had noticed what turned out to be severe
security blunders. Now I don't think it's important to
emphasize whether people can hack these particular
machines in these particular ways, although I find the
problems they found to be worrying. I think the most
important thing about that is that this proves any
claims that the manufacturers or the independent
testing authorities are actually carefully
scrutinizing this code or, for that matter, know
anything about computer security. I think we've
conclusively disproven that there's anything in the
process that guarantees these things are secure.

BS: One quick comment. Diebold's response is that
the code that was downloaded is not the code that's
running on their machines; but, of course, they are
not willing to let us look at the code that's running
in the machines to verify whether or not that's true.
And there's reason to believe that the code that was
downloaded was certified.

RM: Well we believe that, though we've never
really confirmed that. But we do have someone who did
certification in Iowa for many years, and he saw
earlier versions of the code. And he said it was the
same and it had the same problems that he had told
them five years ago. So we really don't know for a
fact with that code, but what we can say is that one
of the problems with the Diebold code that was pointed
out by the Johns Hopkins Report was this business
about the Smart Cards. Pretty much, if you had this
code, you could manufacture your own Smart Cards and
have a pocket full of them and maybe cast additional
votes. But my feeling about that is that it's easier
than that. And it is to your question about not having
to be an insider in the voting machine company.

At the polling places, you have the people, who
are making the Smart Cards. The Smart Cards are
sitting there in a pile. What happens is the voter
steps up, they put some electronic stuff on the Smart
Card, which the idea the vendors have been telling us
is that the voter can take that card, they go to the
machine and it only lets them vote once. Otherwise you
could keep sticking it back in and vote 20 times.
Without the card you could just step up and vote 20
times. So they give them this card to enable them to
do that. What happens when there's no voters in the
room at the end of the day, or in the middle of the
day when there's no voters in the room? And maybe some
of the other poll workers have walked away?

There's nothing that prevents a poll worker from
manufacturing some more Smart Cards, walking around to
the machine, sticking a couple of them in, and then at
the end of the day, oh, there was these three guys who
didn't vote. Well, we'll just sign them in. Now you
have the numbers are even. So it's a perfect attack
and there's absolutely nothing that stops corrupt
coworkers. And, in fact, what this whole thing was
trying to prevent, these same crooked people who would
want to do that would be the same crooked people who
would make a few more Smart Cards, stick them in the
machine and vote extra at the end of the day. I don't
see why that wouldn't happen.

DD: There's sort of a hierarchy of potential
security problems, and you can look at who might be
the bad guy. Having the voters be the bad guys, that
has its plusses and minuses. You've got a whole
variety of voters you can't control, can't do
background checks. They're not necessarily people you
know. So it's perhaps more probable that they would be
bad guys. Having them be able to fool with the machine
would be especially bad. Pollworkers are somewhat the
same. It's very hard to get good pollworkers, you
know. You're really not going to do background checks
on them. There may be stuff where pollworkers have
access that voters don't have access. And there is a
difference between some voter like me making some fake
Smart Cards and a pollworker using their little
machine to make some fakes in Smart Cards. So there's
some subtle differences.

WP: So at the end of the day, basically, when
Snieder in The Denver Post today says "I have security
in my office. It's not like I let any Tom, Dick and
Harry into my alarmed, cameraed and locked server room
said Snieder. He uses 220 Diebold optical scanners for
elections in Adams County." That does not fill you
with warm and cuddly comfort.

DD: Well, first of all, I'm talking about the
insider attack, which is somebody changing the code in
his machines before he gets them. Secondly, you know,
I'm glad that he has physical security on his
machines. That's a good thing. How hard is it to bribe
the night watchman or whatever you need to do? It's
not that hard. On the other hand, people don't have to
work that hard to find some way to subvert these

DD: We talk about how lousy the security with
these machines is. That's really kind of a side issue.
I think it's very true and it's a big problem but it's
kind of a side issue. This problem with the insider
attacks, even with the best security, cannot be
stopped. We'd like to improve the security, but that's
not the main thing we want. The main thing we want is
this audit trail on the side to double check it, so if
there is a problem with the security, we can catch it.

RM: Or a malfunction.

DD: Yeah. Or a simple malfunction.

RM: Any problem, we're going to know it. At the
end of the day there's going to be a box of paper
ballots and if this secured properly and we're talking
about not just being secured by being in a locked
paper box. We can also put codes on the bottom using
all the pictographic schemes so that somebody can't
substitute it. It would be demonstrated that that had
to be the ones that were in the box on election day.
So you can't just take one out and put another one in
like people thought, you know, might be going on in
Florida or in places where the punch cards are in with
the optical scanning ones. If we make it a better
ballot box then we'll add additional code that would
make sure that that paper is actually secure.

WP: I have a multi-tiered question in which we'd
cover a couple of different issues. The sort of real
left wing progressive activist types are the ones who
are really worried about the problems with these newly
conceived voting systems, and one of the main things
that bugs them is some very simple research into who
the Board of Directors are for a number of these Big
Three companies. That simple research reveals these
Boards as being comprised of some serious hard-core
conservative Republican activists. How much you might
know about that? I also want to get into the fact
that, despite the uproar that this has caused within
the ranks of the left wing, there are some very
interesting groups of people who are having trouble
accepting the information that you are bringing to
them. I also want to talk a little bit about how this
is not some sort of bipartisan, one sided partisan

DD: So the first thing is, is it a right wing
conspiracy? It bothers me deeply that there are major
conservative contributors running these companies. On
the other hand, if you think about it, everybody has a
conflict of interest. You wouldn't want your pavement
company running a voting machine company because they
have a real interest in who gets elected, because
they're going to get pavement contracts from them. And
that's true of everybody. Everybody has political
opinions. Everybody has economic interests that deal
with the government. So there is no way to get some
sort of independent, super-objective neutral voting
machine company. It's always suspect, regardless of
the sterling character of people in the companies
which is why you need an independent check on
everything. So trust is not a good thing in election
systems. The only people you should be trusting are
groups of people with opposing interests, such as
election observers from different political parties.

Now in terms of the political realities of this,
it seems that progressives are the people who are most
energetic and passionate about it . I suspect that
there would be a general rule that people who have
lost a lot of elections lately are inclined to be more
passionate about this than people who have won a lot
elections lately.

On the other hand, this is a cause that seems to
have a tremendous amount of grass roots appeal. I've
been probably doing more grass roots activism than any
other people in this room. Unfortunately, I am an
incompetent activist. But people just come to me. They
read the web page and ask how they can help. They are
so concerned. On the other hand, most of the
opposition to what we are talking about is coming from
what you would think of as progressive and good
government groups. A lot of these groups have taken an
official position.

They have a bunch of very pragmatic concerns
about, is it going to disrupt plans to buy equipment
that will be replacing equipment that they hate? Will
the equipment be unreliable? Will it add expenses to
things? Will people buy what they feel is inferior
equipment? They have legitimate concerns.
Unfortunately, they're missing a legitimate concern
which is the computer reliability and security issue.

WP: It sounds a little bit like the decision has
already been made to commit to this course, and they
just don't want to hear about anything that's going to
disrupt that decision.

DD: I think that's exactly right. These people
have been working on this issue for a very long time.
They've made bunch of deals that were very hard to
hammer out. They think they've got something
satisfactory and they don't want people coming in and
changing the rules.

RM: Some people are also afraid, like the League
of Women Voters. I believe that they are actually
afraid that if people think that we have to have a
piece of paper, then we shouldn't trust the computer
and we shouldn't trust elections, and that makes us
even more afraid. What we're saying is the opposite.
If you have just the computer, then we know people are
going to have questions in their minds. If, on the
other hand, you have these pieces of paper and the
people can see the pieces of paper and there are poll
workers who can see the pieces of paper, and when we
all play an active role in making sure that those are
counted correctly and that the procedures are done
correctly, it's all a visible and open process and
we've now opened it back up to the people, so that we
the people, the citizens, are the ones who are
conducting the elections, not the election officials.

BS: I'd like to comment a bit on the League of
Women Voters and some of these other groups. I think
there's something else that's going on. The people
making these decisions don't have a good technical
background and I think, in some cases, they are a bit
afraid of technology. They want to believe. When they
are told that you can trust these systems, they
initially did believe it and they want to believe it
because it makes life so much easier. And these
machines are so much nicer compared to the punch
cards. You don't have to worry about hanging chads and
they can be made very easy to use and they can figure
out how to operate them because they've done ATM's.
And then we come along, the sort of spoil sports, and
say, wait a minute, you can't trust these machines.
And people don't like that.

BS: I personally have been in battle with The
League of Women Voters. I joined the League of Women
Voters a few months ago over this, because I was
concerned about voting. Shortly thereafter, there was
a letter in The Times from the president basically
saying paper ballots aren't really necessary, which
got me very nervous. I wrote to her, and almost
immediately thereafter a statement appeared on their
website saying you don't need voter verifiable paper
ballots, that paper's not a good idea, it has all
these problems, blah, blah, blah. Their statement is
so bad it actually has a claim about something being a
way of doing security which is just a joke. I mean,
you'd flunk a student for making a claim that you get
security through this method of keeping the
information in different parts of the machine and in
different formats. That doesn't give you the security.
They refused to take it off their website.

DD: My first reaction to these things was simply,
it's OK to disagree with me. But go get some competent
technical advice. Don't produce things that are just
embarrassing. And they're not hearing it.

RM: They're saying that they are speaking to
computer scientists and yes, there are some computer
scientists who believe that the paper ID is not the
way to go and that there are some flaws with the way
that we're doing things. But those people have yet to
demonstrate that any of the things that we've said are
incorrect because, in fact, all the things that we say
are based on computer science theory which they, of
course, have to subscribe to as well. But they have
their own reasons for saying that. One of the
interesting things in California is that when the
vendors were asked about the printers, first some of
the vendors said, well, putting in printers would be
expensive. Turns out, they already have printers in
the machines because they print out zeroes at the
beginning of the day and totals at the end of the day.
So it's no more expensive. Just have a little bit more
different printers to do the paper stuff.

Then they said, well, how about buying the paper?
And then they had this whole issue about, oh, we're
going to have to archive the paper and it's going to
cost us all this paper, there'll be paper jams. Turns
out, California has a law that says that you have to
print out the paper afterwards. They've got to print
it out anyway. That's the way they audit it. They
audit it by taking the stuff that's inside the
computer, that we don't really know how it got in
there and whether it's correct, and they actually
print it out on pieces of paper.

BS: And then they count some of it.

RM: And they count some of it. Why don't they, if
they're printing it out anyway, why don't they print
it out and let us see it when we vote and they're
going to print it out anyway. It'll save them a lot of
time. No, they want to print it out after the fact and
the voters will know that theirs are the ones that are
being counted.

BS: Without these voter verifiable paper ballots
or some equipment, which we don't yet know how to do,
there is no way to do a recount. You do a recount, you
go up to the machine and say, "Dear machine, would you
please tell me what the numbers are?" and the machine
says back to you, "They're the same numbers I gave you
before, you dummy." Right? So what does it mean to do

DD: What people have done is redefine recount to
mean something other than what you think it means. So
I've taken to saying, there's no way to do a
meaningful recount.

RM: Or an independent recount. The recount is
dependent upon the vendor. You have to take the vendor
cartridges, put them in the vendor machine, and they
have to be read using software provided by the vendor.
There's no way for me, a computer scientist, to read
those cards, even if they gave me a card which they
say I cannot have because it's proprietary and it's
owned by the county. But even if they could give me a
card and I was allowed to read it, that would be
illegal because I would have to use the secret code
that is allowed to read the card. This is terrible.
There is no independent way to do a recount.

BS: We basically are handing over our elections
to a small number of private corporations. I mean,
there's something kind of scandalous about this.

DD: Somebody coined a phrase that I liked:
Instead of voter verified elections we have vendor
verified elections. One point is about voter
confidence. There are people and I worry about this
myself, that by raising these concerns will undermine
voter confidence. What they really mean there is we'll
undermine voter participation. Particularly on the
progressive side. People understand that voter turnout
has been a tremendous problem. They need to get people
out to vote and they don't want them to feel that
their vote doesn't count, even if they're using these
touch screen machines.

I don't believe there's any reason not to vote.
For example, if you want to have politicians see
common sense and stop buying touch screen machines,
the only way to make yourself be heard is to vote,
right? I don't subscribe to the idea that there's been
any election that's necessarily been stolen using
touch screen machines. It's a risk for the future. I
don't know what's happened in the past but I don't
think there's wholesale election fraud going on at
this time.

BS: But you can't prove it.

DD: But I can't prove it, which is the whole

WP: And that's the inherent risk of that
possibility hanging over this whole process that
really is the ultimate point.

DD: So when people speak about voter confidence,
they need to think about it in this other way: It's
the voters having confidence that the results of the
election are sound. It's not just a voter
participation problem; it's a question of accepting
the results of elections.

The second point is that what we're noticing is
that the grass roots have a lot of sympathy with the
position we're expressing. They understand it
intuitively and they share the same fear that we have.
The civil rights organizations, I think, don't
necessarily have the support of their base.

BS: Like the LCCR.

DD: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
It's a consortium of 180 civil rights organizations.


DD: Many of which are huge. The NAACP, also. But
many of those individual organizations have not taken
a position. I have a feeling that if they went and
explained it objectively to their membership that a
lot of their members would say, yeah, I think we'd
better do something about this problem. So I'm not
sure that these progressive groups have that much
support from their membership. It's more the
specialists in voting rights and whatever who have
been working on this particular problem.

There's one last thing that I wanted to say. I
think it's a great quote and it never gets into
anything I ever say and probably for good reason.
Albert Einstein said, "Make everything as simple as
possible but no simpler." I think we're violating that
when we try to simplify elections too much with this
equipment. I think it should be as simple as possible,
but when you start sacrificing integrity and cutting
corners in order to simplify it more than it can be
simplified, you've made a serious mistake.

BS: As far as these organizations that have taken
public positions against voter authenticated paper
ballots, one of the interesting things that we hear
is, we find the same arguments coming at us from
different people. It just makes me think that there's
a small number of individuals who are going around
lobbying these groups before we get to them,
basically, and convincing them that this paper ballot
is a bad idea, that people will have trouble with it.
We heard yesterday that African Americans can't deal
with it, they can't deal with this stuff. They can't
read the paper ballot. It's going to disenfranchise
them. This guy said, this is in front of several
African Americans, I was thinking, my God, this is
really insulting. It's insulting.

DD: There are studies by social scientists,
particularly political scientists and on voting
behavior, where they can show statistically there's
certain things like punch cards, and maybe central
optical scan, where you send your ballots into the
central office and they run it through a scanner in
batch mode.

RM: 'Batch mode' means running them all together.

DD: The studies show that this has a
statistically discriminatory effect. It's not
explained how that happens. Maybe the African American
voters or whatever minority they're looking at are
voting for the first time and aren't as familiar with
the ballots. They can't really explain the phenomenon.
But when you come to some of the better paper-based
technologies, like precinct-based ones, the data is so
thin that they can't prove that there's any
discriminatory effect. I think that the advantages of
touch screen machines to minority groups are being
vastly overstated. At least there isn't strong
evidence for it.

RM: I think that it's very, very important for
people to start lobbying. If they're concerned about
this, they must start lobbying all these groups. Rush
holt, my congressman in New Jersey, has a bill in
Congress on this. People need to get their Congressman
to endorse that bill and make sure it also gets a
compromise bill in the Senate and gets pushed through.
We need to have these things being pushed through.

BS: I completely agree with everything Rebecca
just said. What happens in 20 years when there's a
major crisis? What worries me is in 20 years or less,
there'll be an election where people will believe that
something wrong was done and they won't be able to
prove it. They will not be able to prove it and that
gets back to the whole notion about competence that
David was talking about before, the feeling that some
of these progressive organizations are opposed to what
we're pushing because they're afraid that we are
raising doubts in the voters' minds. I think nothing
will raise doubts in the voters' minds more than an
election which they feel has been stolen by these
machines and there's not a damned thing they can do. I
mean, even in Florida, you could see what was going
on. You can't see what's going on when these machines
are counted.

When we talk about dealing with minorities or
people with disabilities and talk about problems with
these machines, it's all well and good to make sure
that someone gets to vote. You know, people are
concerned. They don't want these long lines, they
don't want to make it too hard. I want to be able to
vote. But you know, there's no point in your voting if
your vote ain't going to be counted. Or it's not going
to be recorded right. So it makes no sense to focus on
voting if you don't know what's going to happen to
your vote.

DD: I don't feel bad about raising the alarm. I
think we have a moral obligation to tell the truth and
I don't think that someone else could say that if
somebody sees a serious problem they should be quiet
about it so people won't worry. I mean, people have to
worry or else, obviously, the problem's not going to
get fixed. It's been going on too long and people like
Rebecca have been complaining about it too long to
believe that suddenly it's just going to get fixed
unless we raise a real fuss.

WP: Tell me about House Resolution 2239.

RM: Well, Rush holt is my Congressman and he's
actually a physicist. He was at Princeton, PhD. in
physics before he went to Congress and his bill is
really an important one because he's raising four
points which people have completely misinterpreted.
They think that by having voter verified ballots we're
going to make it longer before the disabled will be
able to vote. His bill actually says, we want verified
ballots. They need to be required, but he also
accelerates the time in which the disabled are going
to get the new machines. He wants to push that
forward, sooner, not later. That is an important
reason for his bill.

Also in his bill is that he wants the code to be
opened. He says there should be no secret code. Of
course, the vendors can protect their stuff with
copyrights and patents. That way, if somebody tries to
copy their code and sell it in their machine, they can
sue them just like anybody else. But that the voters
and the people need to have the ability to actually
see the code and be able to verify that and I'll get
back to that in another second.

The last part of it is that he's concerned about
these modems, these telecommunications devices,
because they're saying that they can use those devices
to send the data at the end of election date to the
main precincts. If those are connected up to phones it
can come in. He does not believe that there should be
any especially wireless communications where anybody
could be sending in packets.

Getting back to point number three, the business
about verifying the code and being able to do that.
Unfortunately we have a new trend in this country that
was started in 2000. If you protest an election and
you want a recount, you're now called a sore loser and
it's unfortunate but it is your legal right. If you're
a candidate you have the legal right to ask for a
recount if you have very strong reason to believe, and
you have to demonstrate this, reason to believe that
there's something wrong. Well, now, the recount is
just push a button, it prints out the same thing,
that's the same totals and you can't go any further to
see if the machine was really working

WP: This is the stuff that Rush holt's bill is
aiming to try to deal with?

RM: Yes. Why do we even have laws on the books in
all the states that say that you can have a recount
when what they're respectively saying is, sorry you
lost, sore loserman, just shut up and go away and
don't bother me any more. And that's exactly what's
going on.

DD: I agree with Rebecca. I'm sick of hearing
this stuff. We're not talking about baseball games
here. This is the foundation of democracy. I think a
candidate has a duty to his supporters, if he believes
there's anything wrong with an election, to go in
there and find out if there's anything wrong. And in
fact, he or she has a duty to democracy to do that. We
all want to believe that election is fair. Unless we
go in and audit those things occasionally, we're not
going to know that.

BS: I also want to make a comment on the Rush
holt bill. I think, the Rush holt bill is the only
chance we have for the '04 elections, because these
machines are already in widespread use and being
purchased. As we know, Maryland just purchased some
DRE's and other places from Diebold. Georgia has them,
and so these machines are in widespread use already.
And they are going to be used in the '04 election and
the only hope we have that get something, get these
things fixed.

One of the things that worries me about Rush
holt's bill is, as of now, I don't know about today
but I think probably still today, all of the endorsers
are Democrats. One of the pleas I would make to the
people who read your article is to really work at
making this, to fight it, and keeping this a
non-partisan issue. Try to bring more Republicans into
the Rush holt bill and whatever they do, don't make
this into a partisan issue because if it becomes
partisan, that's the kiss of death, in my opinion.

DD: Because the Democrats are already pretty much
outnumbered so if it's something with a big D stamped
on it, it's going to get killed.

BS: I don't want to put this in a negative way
and say, we don't know. We know that there are
Republicans who feel this way and so the main thing is
that we've got to get them to sign up. That's all.
We're not asking anybody to do anything which is
un-American. In fact, this is sort of quintessential
American. This is what the country's all about. But
people need to contact their Congressman and let them
know that they need to sign onto this bill. And

WP: I'll ask the obvious stupid question. Are you
trying to drag the electoral process back two
centuries by bringing this stuff up? Because that's
the charge that has been made against you.

DD: No. I just want an electoral system I can
trust. And I think everybody else in this country
wants it, too. I happen to have the technical
background to be quite confident that there's no
reason to trust the machines that we're deploying now.
So I'm raising the concern. I think there may, in
fact, be super-high-tech solutions to this problem in
the not too distant future that provide much better
election security than we have now. And are
significantly less difficult to deal with than maybe
some of the solutions we're talking about. So I'm
certainly not against technology since I marinate in
it to the exclusion of all other activities.

BS: We are also all doing this pro bono, and you
can't believe how many hours this stuff takes. We are
the ones out there fighting to preserve our democracy.
That's what I think we're doing. We are the ones
fighting to preserve our democracy.

DD: You know, being an engineer involves making
choices about the appropriate use of technology. It is
not using the highest tech solution to every problem,
whether it's appropriate or not. It's focused on
solving the problem by the best means that are
available. The best engineers will use the best means
that are available even if they don't involve any
significant technology at all. I think it's the
responsibility of everybody in technology to weigh in
with their opinions about the appropriate use of
technology and the inappropriate use of technology.
And I think it's particularly important for academics
and educators to do that. I think part of our job in
universities is to try to advise the rest of society,
and the policy makers, of what the right things to do
are. And to share our expertise and that's really what
we're trying to do.

My greatest worry is really an erosion of
confidence in the elections. When people can no longer
trust the elections I think that that will undermine
the legitimacy of everybody in government and I
wouldn't like to see that happen.

BS: The confidence is very important. I also fear
that if there is the capability of undermining
elections sooner or later. Somebody will exploit this
technology to steal an election. And to me, our
democracy and our right to vote and our right to
choose the people who run this country is fundamental
and if I feel we've lost that then what makes this
country special is gone.

RM: My feeling is that it is a bamboozling of the
American public. We're trading away a lot of the
checks and balances that we have always had in
elections. We're trading this off for high-tech, for
faster returns, and it's not true, what we're being
told is not the full truth about what is actually
going on and I think that we're giving away much more
than we're getting. We're giving the opportunity to
have an entire election stolen, just because of bad
code, not even stolen, just screwed up, fouled up.

DD: We're driving too fast along the side of a
mountain road with no guardrail. And maybe you won't
go over the side or maybe you will. Do you want to
risk it? If you do it long enough you'll eventually go
off the mountain.


David L. Dill is a Professor of Computer Science
and, by courtesy, Electrical Engineering at Stanford
University. He has been on the faculty at Stanford
since 1987. He has an S.B. in Electrical Engineering
and Computer Science from Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (1979), and an M.S and Ph.D. from
Carnegie-Mellon University (1982 and 1987). His
primary research interests relate to the theory and
application of formal verification techniques to
system designs, including hardware, protocols, and
software. He has also done research in asynchronous
circuit verification and synthesis, and in
verification methods for hard real-time systems. He
was the Chair of the Computer-Aided Verification
Conference held at Stanford University in 1994. From
July 1995 to September 1996, he was Chief Scientist at
0-In Design Automation. Prof. Dill's Ph.D. thesis,
"Trace Theory for Automatic Hierarchical Verification
of Speed Independent Circuits" was named as a
Distinguished Dissertation by ACM , and published as
such by M.I.T. Press in 1988. He was the recipient of
an Presidential Young Investigator award from the
National Science Foundation in 1988, and a Young
Investigator award from the Office of Naval Research
in 1991. He has received Best Paper awards at
International Conference on Computer Design in 1991
and the Design Automation Conference in 1993 and 1998.
He was named a Fellow of the IEEE in 2001 for his
contributions to verification of circuits and systems.

Rebecca Mercuri is the founder of Notable
Software and Knowledge Concepts. Her management skills
have been applied to day-to-day operations as well as
product development. As a computer scientist, she has
been employed by and consulted for many Fortune 100
firms, including AT&T Bell Labs, Intel, Merck, and
RCA. Her specialties are interactive systems
(multimedia, digital audio, computer graphics),
microprocessor applications (real-time and distributed
systems), computer security and forensics. An avid
educator, Rebecca has taught in various capacities at
colleges and universities in PA, NJ and NY, and she
has written and presented training courses for
industry and government agencies, including the
Federal Aviation Administration, the Philadelphia
Stock Exchange, and SRI's Sarnoff Center. She
publishes extensively, and is interviewed and quoted
frequently by the media (including the Associated
Press, National Public Radio, New York Times, Wall
Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, The
Economist). Dr. Mercuri holds Ph.D. and M.S.Eng.
degrees from the University of Pennsylvania as well as
a M.Sci. from Drexel University.

Barbara Simons received her Ph.D. in 1981 in
computer science from the University of California at
Berkeley. In 1980 she joined the Research Division of
IBM, and she is currently a member of the Application
Development Technology Institute in the IBM Software
Solutions Division. Her main areas of research are
compiler optimization and scheduling. Her dissertation
solved a major open problem in scheduling theory, and
she has received an IBM Research Division Award for
work on clock synchronization. She has authored or
coauthored many papers and two books. She is a
National Lecturer for the ACM. Dr. Simons is a Fellow
of both the American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS) and ACM. In 1992 she was awarded the
CPSR Norbert Wiener Award for Professional and Social
Responsibility in Computing, and she was recently
selected as one of Open Computing's top 100 women in
computing. Dr. Simons chairs USACM, the ACM U.S.
Public Policy Committee. She was ACM secretary in 1990
- 92, and prior to that she was chair of the ACM
Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights. She
was also vice-chair of SIGACT, the ACM Special
Interest Group on Computer Science Theory, and she
served as the Project Advisor to the Project on
Funding Policy in Computer Science, which she
organized. Dr. Simons was a co-founder of the U.C.
Berkeley Computer Science Department Re

Posted by richard at October 20, 2003 09:57 PM