Diebold e-voting flaws could compromise elections

Vendor must must fix optical scan machines by mid-August, say Florida officials

Optical scan voting devices slated to be used in presidential primary elections in Florida next year are significantly flawed and could compromise the outcome of the contest, according to a report released yesterday by Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

The report (download PDF) was compiled by researchers at Florida State University who were hired by Browning in May to conduct an independent review of optical scan and touch-screen devices made by Diebold Election Systems, one of the largest voting machine vendors in the country and a major supplier of gear to Florida.

The report cited a number of security gaps in the Diebold systems.

For example, it said, Diebold's Accuvote OS optical scan machine is vulnerable to vote manipulation by illicitly inserting a preprogrammed memory card into a voting terminal. The report said that the card could be coded to flip votes from one candidate to another without detection.

In a letter (download PDF) sent to Diebold Election Systems President David Byrd on Tuesday, Browning said the vulnerabilities cited in the report must be fixed by Aug. 17 or the vendor's certification would be denied.

Browning cited a number of changes that must be made, including security upgrades that would prevent the surreptitious insertion of preloaded memory cards.

This was a fairly routine test of a new version of the optical scan system, said Mark Radke, director of marketing at Allen, Texas-based Diebold.

This is a way for the state to proactively catch and address any security issues. "We have received the summary," Radke said. "There are a few items to tighten as far as security goes, and those are being developed. These are minor changes to the system, and we expect those changes to be submitted by the August deadline."

A spokesman for Browning stated on Wednesday that Diebold had made assurances that the flaws would be addressed and that he was confident the vendor would in fact do so. And, as some of the problems have to do with voting processes, not technology, Browning would issue special advisories to election officials to address those procedural gaps.

Browning also said he intends to have the Florida State researchers conduct similar studies of machines from other voting system vendors, including Elections Systems & Software Inc. "We expect all voting systems to be certified and complete by the end of the year," he said.

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