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The Importance of Voting

Alabama's efforts to eliminate the Voting Rights Act of 1965

❶In addition, students with part-time jobs, older students who have families and those who are going through tough personal struggles simply need help to go through all challenges they face. With mark-sense ballots it is known that if the areas for marking the ballots are printed improperly or the timing marks at the side of the ballot are skewed, votes that are cast will not be read properly by the scanning machine.

SCOTUS and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

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They also commonly contain embedded computer systems. It is well-known that all of these systems present risks. There are approximately 40, deaths annually in the U. People have also been killed by the computer programs that control radiation machines [5]. In light of such failures, why do we continue to drive cars, fly on planes and receive radiation treatments?

The reason is that testing and safety procedures are in place that reduce the risks to levels that are deemed acceptable. There is no basis for applying different reasoning to voting machines. Once we decide what a tolerable risk in such systems might be, we can require that the equipment meet that standard. Perfection is never required, expected or even possible in any real system, though it is a laudable aspiration, and perfection is not required, expected or possible in voting systems, either.

Federal Election Commission Standard 3. With a typical ballot size of positions, this is an allowed error of almost one in every ballots, or 0. When the safety procedures are found to have flaws, the flaws are ultimately corrected because of public pressure, government mandate or the relentless law of the marketplace.

We are now seeing immense public pressure being put on voting machine manufacturers, along with threats to legislate, both of which are appropriate. A secondary reason that machines presenting some risk of injury are not outlawed is that people generally have the option not to use a particular machine.

This choice is also available to a voter, who may eschew voting machines completely and cast a paper absentee ballot. While the United States has been using direct-recording electronic voting equipment for well over 20 years without a single verified incident of successful tampering, within the last year a number of people knowledgeable about computer security have questioned whether certain DRE systems in current use are sufficiently secure to be employed safely in elections.

Some criticism of these systems resulted from examination of their source code, perceived flaws in their handling and use or from consideration of purely hypothetical scenarios. A calm observer might take solace in the observation that if DREs are so dangerous, then surely at least one security hole would have manifested itself by this time. Realistically, however, hacking has been advancing at a alarming rate, and new attacks are constantly being discovered, so we are entitled only to a small bit of comfort from DRE history.

It is an error, though, to ascribe to DREs generally the bad attributes exhibited by some of them. The spectrum of available systems is broad. Some machines are excellent, some are terrible. That a machine contains a computer and the computer contains object code not readily viewable or understandable by the public is by itself no reason not to use the machine.

If it were, no one ought to own a personal computer. Neither passenger nor pilot can see or understand the software that operates the control surfaces of a jet plane. Such software could contain code, malicious or otherwise, that might send the plane into a dive at noon on a specific date from which the pilot could not recover. How do we know for a fact that such code is not present? Yet pilots and passengers continue to board planes every day. All of them apply to voting systems as well.

It is beneficial to aircraft manufacturers to make safe planes. Planes that crash will not sell and will eventually be outlawed, not to speak of the legal liability associated with such incidents. This benefit induces the manufacturer to develop internal procedures designed, but not guaranteed, to produce safe products.

It is beneficial to voting system vendors to make safe systems also. Whether they know how to do so, or have successfully implemented procedures for doing so, is somewhat questionable. The quality and reliability of particular DREs is certainly a matter of concern, and later in this paper various solutions will be suggested. I have heard it expressed that it might not be beneficial under certain circumstances for a voting system manufacturer to produce an honest machine, but that substantial gain could be achieved by distributing machines or software altered to cause the election of specific persons who may not actually be favored by the electorate.

We will discuss below the practical difficulties with such a scheme, but if a manufacturer felt that its underhanded activities would not be discovered, such a fraud might be attempted despite the possibility of severe criminal penalties [7]. Therefore any plan for the administration and use of voting machines should contain safeguards against this type of manipulation.

Planes are built to high performance and engineering standards. Voting machines, which are far simpler than airplanes, can be but are not always built to even higher performance and security standards. Planes can be tested. So can voting machines. Neither needs to operate perfectly. The argument is made that election can be stolen under our very noses and no one would be any the wiser. But that ignores the real political fact that elections are local and local party operatives have an extremely accurate sense of how the community is going to vote.

The smell of irregularity is sufficient to set off alarms resulting in investigations and recounts. DRE opponents claim erroneously that in a disputed election there is nothing useful left to recount since all the records that remain were made by the malfunctioning machine. But this argument is wrong because the software that was used in the machine survives. We can deal later with the assertion that the software might modify or delete itself to evade discovery.

The people who fly airplanes have a vested interest in their safety. The people who run voting systems are likewise committed to clean elections. Pilots have been known to crash planes deliberately and election officials have been known to manipulate votes.

Safeguards need to be built in to prevent both of these efforts from succeeding. In short, I am unable to discern any engineering difference that allows us to entrust our lives to aircraft but would impel us to avoid voting machines. Not to endorse questionable voting systems or trivialize the possibility of chicanery, but I believe I and the republic will survive if a president is elected who was not entitled to the office, but I will not survive if a software error causes my plane to go down.

It is pointless to discuss the security of a computer system in the absence of a well-articulated list of threats. Isolated attacks on individual machines. There are any number of ways of interfering with the operation of any computer system, such as pounding on it with a sledge hammer or the slightly more sophisticated technique of exposing it to several watts of radio-frequency emission. Such efforts fall into the class of mischief rather than tampering because they cannot be used to cause a predetermined result.

A different form of attack is to gain access the hardware or software of an individual machine or small number of such machines and alter them, either by connecting to ports and interfaces or by opening the machine by force or with the help of an insider who may have the keys, along with manuals, plans and source code listings for the machine.

It should be obvious that no machines should be used that allows any voter to connect to it electrically to during an election and any device that permits this should be decertified immediately. The question is how to prevent people from modifying the machines offline or at least to be sure the tampering will be detected before the machines are used.

One solution is to ensure that all software needed to operate the machines, including the operating system, is not installed in the machine until election day.

The authorized, certified software, distributed from a central authority not the manufacturer , can be brought up at the time the polls are opened. In this way no advance modification of any software would be fruitful.

If it is deemed undesirable to do a full machine boot, a portion of the code can be loaded on election day and verify through message digests and encrypted checksums that none of the prestored files has been altered. Attacks by hackers or insiders at a polling place. The tendency to use networked voting machines at polling places for ease of administration also increases the risk that an insider could use a computer connected to the network to distribute malware to the voting machines after the election has begun.

The miscreant would presumably remove the malicious code or restore the original at some time before the end of voting so that no trace would remain of the misdeed. This sort of attack presupposes that the insider is able to erase evidence of his deed during the election, for if the altered software is still present in the machine at the close of polls it can be detected.

It also is a highly localized manipulation that affects the results at a single precinct only. Attacks by hackers or insiders at a central count facility. Now the magnitude of the problem grows because the number of votes that are potentially affected can be extremely large.

There are 35 counties out of a total of in the United States with populations exceeding 1 million [8]. A successful attack on central count systems in these 35 counties, representing just 1. Fortunately, in most states the results produced at central count stations are informational only, and are not the official election returns.

All of these memories are cryptographically linked so substitutions and cracking are not feasible. A manipulation of the central count computer would not be to any avail since the totals produced there would not correspond to the canvass of individual precincts. Insertion of malicious code by the machine manufacturer. There are two subcases. In the first, the manufacturer delivers software to a jurisdiction with prior knowledge of the ballot layout, candidate names, etc.

The machine is programmed to behave perfectly before and after the election but to switch votes to favored candidates during the election.

This manipulation is possible if the manufacturer is able to distribute software directly to specific precincts prior to an election. Countermeasures are discussed in sections 3. In the second subcase, the manufacturer has no foreknowledge of the details of any specific election but distributes master software that causes candidates of a particular party to win in all future elections. The practical possibility of such a scheme is nil.

It is not possible to move a constant fraction of votes from one party to another in each jurisdiction without it being obvious that manipulation is going on because the political demographics of the precincts are too individualistic and distinctive. Therefore the software would have to be distributed with a database telling it how to alter the vote for each relevant candidate in each precinct.

The database would have to contain at least the names of political parties and possibly candidates and would have to know in advance the precise hours during which all future elections are to be conducted so the machine would know when to behave properly.

This nightmare scenario, in which a small number of programmers manipulate the politics of the United States by injecting undetectable malicious software into voting machines has more in common with spy novels than it does with reality. For example, in the movie Goldfinger , a crazed collector of gold apparently uses nerve gas to kill the entire garrison of troops guarding Fort Knox, then enters the vault where U.

When the film appeared, did the Army close Fort Knox out of fear that the plot was realistic? The reason is that adults eventually develop the ability to distinguish fact from fiction, a critical intellectual facility that should not be abandoned simply because we are talking about voting.

Did the Pentagon evaluate the plot to determine whether there were security weaknesses that ought to be remedied? Were some security procedures modified to reduce the probability that such a plot would succeed? Is breaking into Fort Knox in such a manner absolutely impossible? Why, then, if there is some nonzero probability that a person could do it, do we allow our gold to remain stored there? We balance the risks rationally against the cost and other detriments of preventing the risks and make a reasoned determination.

Just because a novelist or a computer scientist can dream up an entertaining doomsday plot involving voting machines does not mean we should toss them on the junk heap. The argument I have with DRE opponents is that they insist that any conceivable risk of any kind of manipulation is unacceptable.

That standard is never applied anywhere in human affairs, and there is no reason it should apply to voting, despite appeals to patriotism and pious claims that our very constitutional system is in jeopardy.

I do not propose that machines or software ought to be trusted just because they use advanced technology. The technique involves corrupting the C compiler so that it recognizes certain patterns in the source program and compiles them into object code that performs not as written but as the malicious intruder intends. Efforts to test the compiler to reveal its misbehavior would be frustrated unless one knew the signal string, since if the string were missing the compiler would always perform properly.

Theoretically this hack enables arbitrary amounts of code to be inserted into any program at the cost of introducing but a short sentinel string to tell the compiler to start its dirty business. The Thompson Trojan horse is frequently cited by opponents of electronic voting [10] as a reason not to rely on voting machines.

This ignores the fact that jurisdictions themselves do not compile voting software, and that even though the source code may not be revealing, the object code contains all the evidence necessary to detect the intrusion. For example, FOR-loops that do not modify the index variable or its limits and contain only straight-line code do halt. These are precisely the type of loops that are used for iteration in vote tabulation.

Assuming that one believes it is necessary for voting system vendors to produce mathematical proofs that their software is correct an unreasonable proposition , one can easily imagine structuring a program that reads a finite number of ballot images and produces vote totals to be amenable to such a proof.

I therefore must brand references to undecidability in the context of electronic voting simply as sophistry. The hypothetical omniscient hacker is able to insert arbitrary amounts of malware into a voting system in such a way that it can never be detected by any amount of code reading source or object or testing before, during or after the election , yet is able to alter the votes to achieve any predetermined result in any jurisdiction for an arbitrary numbers of years into the future.

By the very premise of the statement the malware cannot be detected, so no amount of evidence of its non-existence can disprove the statement. In this way belief in the omniscient hacker is indistinguishable from belief in a Supreme Being. There is simply no argument one can give that will dissuade a true believer, yet when the believer is asked for a demonstration he is unable to produce one.

That said, here is an adversary argument that demonstrates that the omniscient hacker cannot exist, though for the reason just stated I do not expect true believers to accept it. If we test the machine during the election by feeding it votes in a manner indistinguishable from regular voting, the malware must decide whether it is going to tell the truth or lie about the vote count.

If it tells the truth, it has disabled itself and we need not be concerned that it is present. If it decides to lie, we will catch it, since we are casting a set of ballots whose totals are known.

It is of course possible that there are ballot combinations we may not have tried that will cause the malware to enter lying mode, but there is little risk that ordinary voters will happen upon those combinations either and the malware is either effectively silenced or it will be caught.

But then activating this feature on every voting machine, or even a substantial number of them, would require a conspiracy of huge proportions. By its very definition there can be no defense against the omniscient hacker, since we would never be able to tell whether he has been thwarted.

We might as well postulate the existence of an omniscient tamperer who is able to substitute an arbitrary number of voter-verified paper trails without detection. Belief in omniscience is a matter of faith.

Those who really accept the possibility of an omniscient hacker will never be satisfied with DREs. The current version of these standards is now several hundred pages long. They deal with hardware, software, telecommunications, security, qualification, testing and configuration management, among other issues.

They are voluntary in that any state may, but is not required to, adopt the standards as part of its voting system certification process. As of this date, 36 states and the District of Columbia have done so. The standards are clearly a step in the right direction and obviously enjoy widespread state support, although one wonders whether the states have really evaluated the standards and found them to be meritorious or have adopted them for convenience.

It is difficult, however, for a standards-making body to keep up with developments in computer security, develop countermeasures for newly-recognized threats and document them in the form of precise standards. Thus Volume I Standard 6. Vendors shall develop and document the procedures to be followed to ensure that such protection is maintained in a current status. It also appears to pass the burden to vendors, who are the very parties against whom we seek protection. While the Congress may make rules concerning elections for senators and representatives [15] , it has no power to specify standards for presidential elections.

Constitution reads in part: No one seems to have noticed this unconstitutionality, but more probably the states simply do not care, since HAVA allocates billions of dollars to them for acquisition of voting machines — a case of not acknowledging that the gift horse even has a mouth. In any case, HAVA does not deal at all with the problem of malicious software. DRE opponents argue that DRE software may contain up to 50, lines of poorly-written code that is impossible to read or test [16].

It is true that complete voting software systems, including ballot setup and printing components, may reach that size, but the portions of code that accept input from the voter and record ballot images — the very portions suspicions about which have given rise to calls for paper trails — are tiny by comparison.

While it is surely true that not every logic path of a computer program of any size can be exercised, this is obviously not a reason not to use software. Otherwise no commercial software would ever be used, and surely not in any situation in which human life were at risk. The issue is whether any combination of code reading, program testing, open source code publication and other techniques can give us adequate assurance that the software does not contain malicious code or logic errors that will cause votes to be altered.

The answer is certainly yes. If code is too obscure, or contains portions that are not readily understandable, it should not be used. Only if the relevant programming is transparent and available to the public should we be confident about using it. One should realize that the basic loop that interrogates portions of a touchscreen and interprets them as votes is not very complex, although an entire election administration system might be.

When the user touches the screen the processor is notified through an interrupt and receives the geographic coordinates of the point that has been touched.

A search is made to determine which box on the screen has been touched. Any code that is present that treats candidates differently based on their ballot positions should not be there. By far the most justifiable criticism of DRE machines is that they fail during service or in some cases cannot even be brought into service on election day.

There are numerous documented instances of such failures. These incidents are real. In Conclusion, Political parties are a very important aspect of modern governance and democracy. Parties operate under the law of the land, their own set of rules and by virtue of being electoral vehicles; they also operate under electoral process regulations. The idea therefore is for parties to come up with strategies to influence voting patterns by taking into account the dynamics of the interrelationships.

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