Computerized Voting Machines: Who is Counting your Vote?

Posted in Conferences, Companies on December 12, 2007

Google Tech Talks
December, 7 2007

As a result of Florida 2000, some people concluded that paper ballots simply couldn't be counted, even though businesses, banks, racetracks, lottery systems, and other entities in our society count and deal with paper all the time. Instead, paperless computerized voting systems (Direct Recording Electronic or DREs) were touted as the solution to "the Florida problem."

Election officials were told that DREs in the long run would be cheaper than alternative voting systems, a claim that ignored the costs of testing and secure storage, as well as very expensive annual maintenance contracts. They were told that DREs had been extensively tested and that the certification process guaranteed that the machines
were reliable and secure. They were also told that DREs would allow people with disabilities to vote independently. In some cases officials were threatened with lawsuits or actually sued by certain disability rights groups if they expressed hesitation at purchasing DREs.

However, recent results from California's "Top-to-Bottom Review" have revealed that the DREs that were tested -- all of which had been federally qualified and state certified -- are poorly designed, badly programmed, insecure, unreliable, and at times impossible for people with disabilities to use. As a result the California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified all of the tested systems. While she recertified them, her conditional recertification orders, which contain long lists of detected problems, have still longer lists of conditions, some quite arduous, that must be met if the machines are to be used in the upcoming primary election.

We will examine some of the technical issues relating to DREs and Internet voting, discuss the advantages of optical scan + ballot marking systems, review some horror stories, and discuss ongoing legislative efforts aimed at making voting systems more secure and mandating random manual audits for all federal elections.

Speaker: Barbara Simons
An expert on electronic voting, Barbara Simons was a member of the National  Workshop on Internet Voting that was convened at the request of President Clinton in 2001. She participated on the Security Peer Review Group for the US Department of Defense's Internet voting project (SERVE) and co-authored the report that led to the cancellation of SERVE because of security concerns. Simons also co-chaired ACM's study of statewide databases of registered voters. Simons and Doug Jones are co-authoring a book on voting machines to be published by PoliPoint.

Simons was President of ACM from July 1998 until June 2000. She founded ACM's US Public Policy Committee (USACM) in 1993 and served for many years as the Chair or co-Chair of USACM. In 2005 Simons became the first woman to receive the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award from the College of Engineering of U.C. Berkeley. She is also a Fellow of ACM and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She received the Alumnus of the Year Award from the Berkeley Computer Science Department, the Distinguished Service Award from Computing Research Association, the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Outstanding Contribution Award from ACM, and the Pioneer Award from EFF.

She is on the Board of Directors of, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, as well as the Advisory Board of the Oxford Internet Institute. She has testified before both the U.S. and the California legislatures and at government sponsored hearings.

Simons earned her Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1980, she became a Research Staff Member at IBM's San Jose Research Center (now Almaden). In 1992, she joined IBM's Applications Development Technology Institute as a Senior Programmer and subsequently served as Senior Technology Advisor for IBM Global Services. She is retired from IBM.

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