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Ready or not: Touchscreen voting machines await election test
[May 27, 2006]

Ready or not: Touchscreen voting machines await election test

(Record, The (Stockton, CA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) May 27--STOCKTON -- Lined up like little electronic soldiers, rows of Diebold voting machines sit in a warehouse waiting for deployment next month.

In the weeks leading up to the June 6 primary, San Joaquin County election workers have been busy inspecting electronic voting machines to ensure vulnerabilities identified in Diebold's software don't affect voters at the polls.

All 1,625 of the county's Diebold TSx touchscreen machines have been hand-checked to ensure no malicious software snuck onto their motherboards or memory cards, said Deborah Hench, the county's registrar of voters. Memory cards have been loaded into the ATM-like machines and covered with a piece of tamper-proof tape.

Hench, like dozens of other election officials who will be overseeing the use of Diebold machines, received a letter earlier this month informing her that the company had identified a potentially devastating flaw, which could let someone with access to the machine insert a virus into the system.

"It's like holding a loaded gun to your head and saying, 'Well, unless you pull the trigger there's not much risk,' " said David Dill, a Stanford computer science professor who has studied the Diebold machines. Computer experts are not reporting the specifics of the flaw, not wanting to tip off potential hackers on how to corrupt an election.

Electronic-voting opponents said the flaw could invalidate election results, but Hench said she isn't worried.

"Procedures we have in place would take care of those same issues," she said, explaining that the machines will remain locked up from now until the weekend before the election, when poll workers will have to sign out machines from their precincts.

Poll workers also will ensure machines have not been tampered with before they open the polls, checking serial numbers on the tamper-proof tape against a master list and ensuring that the tape isn't covered in white letters reading "void," indicating someone might have accessed a machine's memory card.

"You're not going to break into a thousand machines without anyone knowing," said Michael I. Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who helped examine electronic voting machines in Pennsylvania.

When that state's voters went to the polls earlier this month, everything went smoothly, Shamos said. Election workers there reinstalled software and secured voting machines before the election.

The Diebold machines to be used next month are fitted with printers to produce a paper record of the vote count. Voters will be able to see their ballot choices printed on a piece of receipt tape that is stored in the machine to ensure the vote is recorded accurately. And election workers will hand count ballots from 1 percent of the county's 507 precincts.

Shamos said voters shouldn't worry about the integrity of their ballots.

"A lot is made of this tampering thing," he said, "but with electronic machines, we don't have any evidence anyone has tampered with one."

Contact reporter Nick Juliano at (209) 546-8272 or

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