Genii Weblog

A "secret 2-digit code"

Thu 9 Sep 2004, 07:16 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
This is about elections, but not about the candidates or anything specifically partisan.  Instead, it is about voting mchines.  Read this quote, confirmed by the link given in the quote to the LA Times story, from
Now some voting machine news. The state of California has decided to sue Diebold, the nation's largest manufacturer of electronic (touch screen) voting machines because the company lied about the machines' security. The machines have a special feature that creates fake vote totals when a secret 2-digit code is typed in. The LA Times article about the lawsuit does not specify whether there are separate codes to fake a Bush victory and fake a Kerry victory or whether one candidate's victory has been programmed in advance or whether election officials can enter any result they want. However, Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, has said he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president." The suit comes 6 months after the machines failed in the March primary. The machines are used in 19 California counties and many states nationwide.
Now, doesn't that give a chill?  Sure, it worries me about things like fair votes and such, but it also reminds me of Secret Agent Decoder Rings in cereal boxes.  A secret 2-digit code is all that stands in the way of electoral fairness.  Guess that will stop them, Batman!

Copyright 2004 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

211.1. Rob McDonagh
(09/09/2004 05:07 AM)

Yeah, this stuff is pretty scary. I read a detailed analysis of these "secret code" machines ( or .org, I think - they're feuding former partners). If I remember right, these are the ones built on MS Access. Yes, that's the technology I would choose to do something critically important. Sheesh. The company's idea of security is to NOT INSTALL the full version of Access on the computers running the system. See, if you open the database in Access, you have complete control over the entire system. Nice, hm? And these aren't really voting machines, they are central vote counting machines, so if you compromise a few of them you have a large impact on an election. Somebody should tell the feds to hire Charlie Kaufman to design the security for these voting systems, for Pete's sake.

211.2. Jan Van Puyvelde
(09/09/2004 16:11)

In Belgium, half of the voting is with computers (expected to increase to "all", soon).

For a voter, it works like this:

1. identify yourself (with your id card) to the chairman of the voting office and receive a magnetic voting card from him

2. go to voting booth and insert card in reader

3. vote with lightpen (the application looks like it's Turbo Pascal for DOS (I think I recognize the fonts), maybe because that makes it more stable than Windows and faster to reboot when needed.)

4. retrieve card from reader and exit booth

5. insert card in voting box

The voting box does the counting and the results are transported by diskette along with all the voting cards.

Because of the magnetic cards, no votes can go "lost" and are available for recount in case of emergency.