Friday, September 14, 2007

A Message from New Jersey: You're Not Alone, New York

In today's Times, a reminder that while New York may be the last state to move to full scale adoption of electronic voting, it is not the only state that has had trouble certifying such machines as secure or reliable enough for use in elections.

In the past,Mayor Bloomberg and others have blasted the State Board of Elections for its failure to comply with federal and state law to replace the state's old lever machines with new, electronic systems.

There's certainly blame to go around -- the state legislature took far too long to pass new voting system legislation, and then left all the difficult decisions about which systems to purchase to the counties; the federal Election Assistance Commission failed to let the State Board know that it had found big problems with the lab it was using to test machines -- but recent events in New Jersey show that much of the blame is also with the voting system vendors. They just can't seem to manufacture machines that meet basic security and reliability requirements.

David W. Chen of the New York Times reports that New Jersey will have to change the deadlines for its law requiring voter verified paper records because the voting system vendor for the electronic machines in New Jersey could not produce a reliable printer. Key graf from the article:

...the new system encountered problems like vague mechanical error messages and power cables vulnerable to tampering. In addition, Andrew Appel, a computer science professor at Princeton, said he bought the New Jersey machines on a Web site for $17 and had students demonstrate how easily they could hack into them.

As a result, New Jersey voters will have to vote in the next primary on electronic voting machines without any independnet paper record of their vote. Given all of the security and reliability problems identified with paperless electronic voting systems, New York's cautious, halting moves toward electronic voting don't look quite so bad.

When it comes to New York's move to electronic voting, we'd like to see accessible units in every polling place, and a move toward optical scans as soon as possible. But we concur with New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram's statement in the Times that we don't want to purchase and deploy a crummy product: “You do it once, you do it right, and you get a product that the voters can have confidence in. That’s the priority.”

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