Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 4, 2008

Tuesday 4th November 2008 – 9:18AM,

by Matthew Sparkes

Doubts over the security and accuracy of electronic voting machines have surfaced once again, as several US states report ballot mistakes in the final and most crucial leg of the presidential election.

So far there are reports of complaints from voters in West Virginia, Colorado, Tennessee and Texas, with some claiming that their vote was registered for the wrong candidate.

The Princeton University Center for Information Technology Policy recently released a report outlining a flaw in the AVC Advantage voting machine from Sequoia.

The flaw in the machine, which is used in many states, allows it to be compromised in just seven minutes. Simply replacing one ROM chip is enough to change the outcome of the election by recording fraudulent votes.

Researchers are questioning the accuracy of machines, as well as their security. With touchscreen voting machines, the angle at which the screen is viewed

can affect its calibration, potentially leading to accidental mis-voting. There are also reports suggesting screens could be maliciously calibrated to deliberately favour one candidate over another.

“If one candidate has a check box in one place and a different candidate has it in a different place, you can set it up so that if you press on one candidate it gets recorded for another candidate,” says Matt Blaze of the University of Pennsylvania’s computer science department, speaking to Wired.

In the 2000 presidential election, one of the closest run in many years, it was estimated that more than a million votes were lost. Since then these machines have been replaced at great cost, but doubts over accuracy and security remain.

Some US states have already dismissed electronic voting machines altogether. Florida, for example, switched to optical scanners where voters mark paper ballots with a pencil, following a largely unsuccessful general election which saw 18,000 votes go unrecorded.

Optical readers have the benefit of leaving a paper trail of ballots which can be manually rechecked in the case of a dubious electronic result.

It has been estimated that the error rate when using touchscreen electronic devices is 1%, while optical scanners reduce this to 0.7%.



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