After the fiasco of a major digital voting failure in Carteret County, North Carolina during the 2004 elections, the NC legislature passed a particularly restrictive new law governing electronic voting systems.
The new bill establishes stringent requirements for voting technology selection, requires election officials to use voter verified paper ballots for recounts and audits, mandates random hand-to-eye audits of paper ballots, and establishes the necessity of post-election voting system tests. North Carolina’s new voting machine requirements are unique, and unusually restrictive compared to similar laws found in other states. Under the new law, which received widespread public support, manufacturers must provide the state government with complete access to voting machine source code during the bidding process so that state officials can evaluate the reliability and integrity of the technology.
Diebold, the company that manufactures a particularly notorious voting system, is fighting these new requirements. They don’t want to provide the source code for their system and have gone to court to request a permanent exemption from these new rules. Diebold seems to prefer protecting their code in the courts than they do on their servers. In 2002 a copy of their source code was downloaded from one of their ftp servers that was left wide open. Subsequent analysis showed that it was running on microsoft windows, and used excel as part of the mechanism for tallying the votes. Now anyone who has used a windows based pc in recent years knows, it is a ridiculously insecure operating system and very easy to hack. As it turns out the diebold system was so poorly designed that someone could easily go into the system and change the vote tallies, without anyone being able to trace back or detect that it had even been modified. Internal memo’s and e-mails from diebold have also documented unauthorized changes they have made to software in voting machines. More information on Diebold voting system problems can be found at BlackboxVoting.com. Well now that someone is really trying to crack down on the abuses of Diebold, they are claiming that they can’t reveal the code because it based on windows.
Well this is bullshit! These rules were put in place for the public good. They are not unreasonable. In fact I don’t think they go quite far enough. I personally believe that any software used in voting machines should be open-source. If a company can’t or won’t play by these rules they should just take a hike. They should not be given any exemptions. This goes for not just Diebold but any other company. Governments should use these rules and only purchase systems that follow these rules. Fortunately the Electronic Frontier Foundation has gone to court to try and prevent this exemption and we should all hope they are successful. If they are not and Diebold is allowed to keep there code secret we will never be able to ensure fair and honest elections in this country again. Ars Technica is a really good site and they have a good write-up about this and it is worth reading.