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Calif. E-voting Ban Challenged

County plans to ignore secretary of state's directive

By Dan Verton
May 17, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The battle over electronic voting systems took an unexpected turn last week when election officials in San Bernardino County, Calif., announced plans to defy a state-imposed ban on the systems in the upcoming November presidential election.
In a statement on May 11, county officials said they plan to use touch-screen voting systems developed by Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. The decision is in direct defiance of an April 30 directive by the California secretary of state that stripped the systems of their certification in 10 counties, pending security improvements. The directive also banned the use of touch-screen systems from McKinney, Texas-based Diebold Election Systems in four other counties.
The controversy over the use of the systems stems from research and public statements by independent IT security experts who uncovered glaring security vulnerabilities in the hardware and software used in many of the e-voting systems on the market .
System Was Certified
"The California Secretary of State certified this system in its current form prior to the March 2, 2004, election, and absolutely nothing has occurred since that certification to call the system's performance or reliability into question," the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors said in the statement.
The county said it reserves the right to join Riverside County officials in a lawsuit filed in federal court against the state on May 6 seeking to overturn the ban. "[Secretary of State Kevin] Shelley's ban on electronic voting systems is based on conjecture, supposition and what-ifs," said Roy Wilson, chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

The AVC Advantage voting machine from Sequoia Voting Systems
The AVC Advantage voting machine from Sequoia Voting Systems
Doug Stone, a spokesman for the California Secretary of State, said Shelley's office is "cautiously optimistic" that it will reach an agreement with San Bernardino County before the November election.
Two prominent security experts said the decision by county officials is misguided.
"If Sequoia had chosen to rig the outcome of the election in March, nobody could have known it," said Avi Rubin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute in Baltimore.
Jeremy Epstein, senior director for product security at Fairfax, Va.-based WebMethods Inc., agreed with Rubin's assessment of electronic voting systems and said that Rubin isn't alone in his concerns. Epstein is one of thousands of private-sector executives who have signed an online petition at that calls for vendors to provide voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPAT) for their systems.
"The bottom line is that no [e-voting] system without a VVPAT is ever going to be reliable," Epstein said.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

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