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E-voting Critic Recounts Maryland Primary Woes

By Marc L. Songini
October 2, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

Avi Rubin is at the forefront of the e-voting issue. He is a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University specializing in e-voting security issues and an elections judge in Maryland’s Baltimore County. Rubin also wrote Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting, a book released last month that is critical of electronic voting. In an interview with Computerworld late last month, Rubin recounted his experience in Maryland’s September primary election and lists what he sees as problems with e-voting machines.

Avi Rubin
Avi Rubin
How bad were the e-voting problems during Maryland’s primary on Sept. 12, which included a widespread lack of access cards in Montgomery County? The problems weren’t as bad in Baltimore County. The e-poll books were crashing a lot, and some precincts didn’t get their voter access cards. We had 10 minutes of waiting time, and at some point, up to an hour, and that was too long. One voting machine crashed. One froze up when tallying the votes and then 10 minutes later came back online.

What are e-poll books? They are like a laptop with a smart card and a soft keyboard on the screen where you touch the letters. They control whether or not you get to vote.

Did the security seal, which is used to prevent tampering, work as promised? The tamper tape is on the inside of the machine over the bay that holds the memory card. I noticed one machine had frozen, and I couldn’t get it to work, so we decided to reboot it. To get at the on/off switch, we pulled off the tamper tape and opened the bay. Inside, I could see the memory card. I couldn’t believe the tape was that easy to get on and off.

Can the problems you saw with the primary be fixed in time for the November election?We’re a model of democracy, and we have one of the worst voting systems in the world. We’re doing everything in this country to create doubts in the voters’ and candidates’ minds.

What can voters do to ensure that their votes are counted? First, we should ditch electronic polling books and get voter registration cards. When the voter is done, they put in an envelope taped to the machine. We put something in place in the next seven weeks.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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