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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Will your vote count?

Republicans frequently lobby for legal changes that would require voters to present photo identification in order to vote. They do not argue that Democrats have conspired to commit large-scale fraud through this method, but they know that the poor, elderly, and minorities are less likely to have government-issued ID. Those groups tend to vote Democratic, of course, so the Republican efforts are consistent with their self-interest.

Democrats, in contrast, worry about the security of voting boxes (Republicans tend to own the companies that make the vote-counting machines) and the scope of absentee voter fraud.

In response to these legitimate worries, Republicans accuse Democrats of peddling mindless "conspiracy theories."

Yesterday, primary day in many places, voters in Maryland were reminded what can happen when all-electronic machines are put in use: computer glitches, voting list errors, long delays, etc.

This, however, was not the worst voting news of the day -- or event the worst news for Maryland voters. Consider this tidbit from a group of Princeton computer scientists:
they created demonstration vote-stealing software that can be installed within a minute on a common electronic voting machine. The software can fraudulently change vote counts without being detected....

The researchers obtained the machine, a Diebold AccuVote-TS, from a private party in May. They spent the summer analyzing the machine and developing the vote-stealing demonstration.

"We found that the machine is vulnerable to a number of extremely serious attacks that undermine the accuracy and credibility of the vote counts it produces," wrote [Edward] Felten [director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton] and his co-authors, graduate students Ariel Feldman and Alex Halderman.
This fall, 10% of voters around the US will use this machine or a newer version. Half that total, including every voter in Maryland and Georgia, will use this exact machine.

In the mock election featured on their website, the scholars demonstrate how the loser of an election can easily be made the winner using their software.

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