E-voting activist more optimistic about voting systems

Most states have switched to paper records, Rubin notes

What is your analysis of e-voting security today? Can we even be sure that the right people won this year's primaries, based on your long-term concerns about e-voting?

I personally don't doubt that the right people won the elections. I use several factors for that. One is the fact that we seem to be getting the results that are indicated by all the polls. Remember, I'm only concerned about the potential for problems, but we are using systems that can't be audited. That's not the same statement as "Somebody is cheating." That's a different leap that I've never taken.

I just say let's avoid the potential for big problems down the road by having systems that we can audit. That's basically my thesis. I think that if let's say [Dennis] Kucinich won the Democratic primary race, then I would say yes, something went wrong [because that was not a result seen in the polls conducted through the races]. But considering the way the polls were going and the primary results, is it possible that Hillary Clinton should be the Democratic nominee? I don't think it's likely, but it's definitely possible. The kind of mistake that that would have taken wouldn't have been that big in a few key states, and then she would have had more delegates.

But haven't we always been prone to possible errors like that, even with the old mechanical lever machines, before we ever began using electronic machines?

Sure, and I've written extensively about the weaknesses of lever machines, and no way have I ever advocated going back to those. But the DREs are actually worse because if there's an error in the lever machines, it was usually because somebody set it up wrong. And on purpose or by accident, it would affect just that one machine in one precinct. If there's an error in the software of a DRE that's being used everywhere, we might not know that there's a problem there. That could be malicious or accidental as well.

But does doing better today still involve electronic voting systems? Can we use them and have secure, reliable elections, with the required checks and balances that you advocate?

Yes, software-independent systems can do that. It's a design philosophy. When you build a voting system, you try to build it so that any particular software component is not depended upon in terms of the accuracy of the election.

The easiest way to achieve that is to introduce paper ballots. Another way to achieve it, that I think is still in the research phase, is through cryptography, and I think ultimately we will be able to replace paper with cryptography. Cryptography is fancy math that can be used to test certain properties, like you can do encryption, you can do signatures and verification. And there are cryptographic techniques that can be used to achieve software independence so that even if there's a bug in the software, you'll detect if there's a problem. But those are not ready for prime time in my opinion.

So IT should still be an important part of making our election system more secure and reliable?

Yes, I wouldn't want to try to build a voting system without technology. I think if you take a different psychology, a different philosophy toward building systems, where you say we're going to use software as much as we can but we're not going to rely on it for security, you will actually design a pretty good voting system.

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Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld
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