U-M helps expose vulnerability in electronic voting system

Earlier this month, I told you about a University of Michigan team headed by Professor J. Alex Halderman that successfully hacked their way into a new electronic voting system launched by the D.C. Board of Elections. By altering vote counts, and having the electronic voting machines in D.C. play the Michigan fight song every time a ballot was cast, the U-M team not only exposed serious vulnerabilities inherent to the system, but, in the process, they discovered evidence that hackers in Iran and China were likewise attempting to manipulate the code. (It should be noted that computer programmers in the U.S. had been encouraged to hack into this particular system in order to prove its security.) Well, today, with our midterm elections less than a week away, the story was back in the news. Following is a segment that aired this morning on CNN, on the topic of electronic vote tampering. It features an interview with Halderman and video of his students.

And, while we’re on the subject of electronic voting, I just received the following invitation to witness Ypsi’s scanning vote tabulators in action tomorrow.

City of Ypsilanti

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the Public Accuracy Test of optical scan voting tabulators, equipment, and accessible voting devices for the November 2, 2010 General election has been scheduled for Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. in the Ypsilanti City Council Chambers located at One South Huron Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The Public Accuracy Test is conducted to demonstrate that the program and tabulators that will be used to tabulate the ballots of the election, and the accessible voting devices that aid in marking ballots have been prepared in accordance with the law (R168.778).

For further information, please call the City Clerk’s Office at (734) 483-1100 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Frances McMullan
City Clerk

I’ve said it before, but our elected officials should, if they’re really serious about preserving our democracy, do two things immediately. They should get the money out of American politics by passing comprehensive campaign finance legislation that provides for the public funding of elections, and, at the very least, they should require that all electronic voting systems produce a voter-verifiable audit trail. These two relatively simple things would make a world of difference.

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  1. Robert
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    I remember election eve in 2004. I saw hundreds, if not thousands of raw precinct totals in Ohio which were absolutely impossible. It was stunning. There was a mountain of evidence and it really didn’t seem like something that could just be smoothed over, but of course it was. Those initial totals were routed through a “tabulating” system at SmartTech in Tennessee, and what came back were completely different numbers which looked believable on the surface but which still gave Bush votes he simply could not have gotten. After witnessing in real time all that shit going down and seeing and hearing the responses from most people regarding it, I simply have no confidence whatsoever in any electronic voting system, nor with my fellow citizens’ capacity to think critically about even the most obvious manipulations. The vast majority of people are simply too stupid to be able to handle or solve the problems which new technology is creating for our critical institutions, let alone what steps would be necessary to maintain them. We have crossed that threshold and I just don’t see any way we will be able to get back. That doesn’t mean I’m not all for trying. I mean, what else are we going to do?

  2. John Galt
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I trust corporations to run our voting system more than I trust our elected officials. Both fix elections, but corporations do it with the best interests of the country in mind.

  3. Edward
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I’m exceedingly happy to see UM doing this. For all that we talk about their football team, it’s good to know they have students who are actually contributing toward making the world a better place.

  4. Robert
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Edward…Go Blue!

  5. Kim
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Hacking Our Way to Freedom

    It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

  6. Robert
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    There have been some indications that there might be an attempt to electronically rig the US Senate race in Nevada in favor of Harry Reid.

    Something similar looks like it could be happening in Ohio again. There have been some very suspicious incidents.

  7. Meta
    Posted December 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Haldeman was recently held in India because of this.


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