[ISN] More glitches trigger halt in testing of new county voting machines

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Fri Mar 31 01:25:29 EST 2006


By Tracie Mauriello
Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
March 30, 2006

HARRISBURG -- A state voting-machine examiner yesterday halted testing 
of the machine Allegheny County intends to use in the May primary, 
saying it was pointless to continue until a critical software problem 
is resolved.

"It's not useful to continue because [the software] clearly is not 
stable," said Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University professor.

Sequoia Voting Systems, the Oakland, Calif.-based manufacturer of AVC 
Advantage voting machines, will have a chance to fix the software and 
have it retested in a week or two. Otherwise, it's unlikely the 
machines will be certified for use in Pennsylvania.

If they aren't, Allegheny County must scramble for new ones before the 
May 16 primary and might lose a $12 million federal grant for the 
replacement of its lever-style machines.

Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes will discuss the issue today in a 
conference call with Allegheny County Manager Jim Flynn.

"We're going to see what he has to say," Mr. Flynn said. "No matter 
what, we're going to have a primary here on May 16."

The problem also could affect Montgomery County, which has been using 
the Advantage machines since 1996 and is in line for a grant to make 
them accessible to the blind.

Dr. Shamos encountered yesterday's problem during a test for vote 
tampering. In an instant, he said, he was able to transform a handful 
of votes into thousands.

Developers quickly fixed the problem by replacing a file in the 
tabulation software, but that didn't alleviate Dr. Shamos' concerns. A 
malicious hacker could easily make the same switch, allowing votes to 
be changed, he said.

"What control is there over the software package if different files 
can be swapped in and out?" he asked.

Also yesterday, Dr. Shamos uncovered a series of unusual error 
messages and a fluke that causes the program to shut down when the 
"print" button is used.

A day earlier, he detected a problem transferring data between voting 
machines and the tabulation software. That problem has since been 

Larry Tonelli, Sequoia's state manager for Pennsylvania and New York, 
said he was confident the latest problem can be resolved, too.

"We know the hardware is fine. It's been out there for eight or nine 
years so we're moving ahead with training and shipping machines [to 
Allegheny County]. The software doesn't need to work until just before 
the election so we've got time. It's no big deal," he said.

Sequoia has been under scrutiny because of tabulation problems last 
week in Chicago and surrounding Cook County. Those problems involved 
two different kinds of voting machines and may have been caused by 
poll workers rather than the equipment, Sequoia officials said.

"The problems are not necessarily inherent in the equipment itself, 
but in the initial intersection of the new technology and the people 
who use it," said Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle Shafer.

She said -- and Dr. Shamos agreed -- that the Chicago-area problems 
aren't relevant to the Pennsylvania certification process.

The process involves casting dozens of mock ballots, verifying vote 
totals, reading thousands of lines of computer code and even checking 
the brightness of illuminated indicators on voting machines.

One goal is to ensure that disabled voters can easily participate in 

Department of State employee Jim Criss, who is visually impaired, 
helped test the equipment. Instructions and candidate names were given 
verbally and Mr. Criss voted using a keypad with four large buttons, 
one shaped like a triangle, one like a circle and two like triangles 
with points in opposite directions.

The process was simple and the instructions were straightforward, Mr. 
Criss reported after casting a mock ballot while 11 observers huddled 
around him.

The onlookers included state employees, Sequoia representatives and 
three members of voters' rights groups that oppose the use of 
Advantage machines because they don't provide paper records that can 
be verified by voters before they leave the polls.

"We're not confident that these machines have a clear track record and 
today doesn't make us feel any better," said Stephen Strahs, founder 
of the Election Reform Network based in Montgomery County. "We've been 
told, 'Don't worry. It will all be taken care of.' Well, it's almost 
April and there are still questions."

The testing is required as part of the Help America Vote Act, which 
provides grants to municipalities that replace old voting machines 
with new ones that meet federal standards. 

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