How secure is your vote?

The e-voting issue has now moved beyond the level of a few geeks to a national news story. Last night 60 Minutes reported on the issue (I missed the show, but they’ve got a nice article up on their website summarizing the report). While 60 Minutes doesn’t actually use the term “open source,” they do mention the inherent problems with the fact that the code for these machines is kept secret:

The software in electronic voting machines is unbelievably complex, and it’s supposed to meet federal standards. But the computer manufacturers don’t let just anyone look at it. They pay testing labs to certify the software, and neither election officials nor the public typically gets to see the thousands of lines of computer code that make up the software itself.

Even the Daily Show got into the act on Tuesday with a hilarious video clip showing the West Palm Beach early voting on hold because their new computers couldn’t connect to the mainframe.

The New York Times has an editorial on how e-voting can compromise elections because the new machines are so expensive that election boards are ordering fewer of them:

The St. Petersburg Times reports that three counties in its area – Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco – will have far fewer machines than in 2000. The counties are betting that it will take each person less time to vote on their new electronic voting machines, but it may well take more.

So not only are the machines insecure, but they can slow the election process to a snail’s pace, in the process sending thousands of frustrated voters home without casting their votes.

Now USA Today has added its voice to the conversation, with an article yesterday about the difficulties voters will face next week when they arrive at the polls (unfortunately their website is so impenetrable that I’m unable to find a link for you).

Before we get completely incensed about the accuracy of these machines, there is a note of optimism: Chris Suellentrop of Slate points out that the computerized voting machines in Nevada have been modified to provide a paper trail. Guess what: the votes the machines recorded matched the paper trail exactly.

Of course this observation is like pointing out that the Empire State Building didn’t collapse on September 11. Just because the election wasn’t tampered doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been. And what idiot would try to distort election results with a computer that would provide printed evidence of his crime? Why not save those dirty deeds for Florida, where there will be no printed backups?

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