Sunday, October 31, 2004

ridiculous secret, inadequate testing for evoting machines

So here are the great things about voting machine testing.

Most of it is based on mechanical testing concepts.
So they do shake and bake tests, to see how the machines survive harsh conditions.

In terms of testing the actual machines, at the most they might do some functional testing in ... wait for it... test mode.

So that's great. The advanced machine software testing consists of tapping onscreen buttons in test mode and having the machine say "I counted a vote".

All it would take would be a few hours with Visual Basic and you could fake that up pretty well.


The three companies that certify the nation's voting technologies operate in secrecy, and refuse to discuss flaws in the ATM-like machines to be used by nearly one in three voters in November.

Despite concerns over whether the so-called touchscreen machines can be trusted, the testing companies won't say publicly if they have encountered shoddy workmanship.

They say they are committed to secrecy in their contracts with the voting machines' makers -- even though tax money ultimately buys or leases the machines.

"I find it grotesque that an organization charged with such a heavy responsibility feels no obligation to explain to anyone what it is doing," Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist and electronic voting expert, told lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The system for "testing and certifying voting equipment in this country is not only broken, but is virtually nonexistent," Shamos added.

Although up to 50 million Americans are expected to vote on touchscreen machines on Nov. 2, federal regulators have virtually no oversight over testing of the technology. The certification process, in part because the voting machine companies pay for it, is described as obsolete by those charged with overseeing it.

The testing firms -- CIBER and Wyle Laboratories in Huntsville and SysTest Labs in Denver -- are also inadequately equipped, some critics contend.


"Four years after the last presidential election, very little has been done to assure the public of the accuracy and integrity of our voting systems," Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., told members of a House subcommittee in June at the same hearing at which Shamos testified.

"If there are any problems, we will spend years rebuilding the public's confidence in our voting systems," Udall said. "We need to squarely face the fact that there have been serious problems with voting equipment deployed across the country in the past two years."

In Huntsville, the window blinds were closed when a reporter visited the office suite where CIBER Inc. employees test voting machine software. A woman who unlocked the door said no one inside could answer questions about testing.

Shawn Southworth, a voting equipment tester at the laboratory, said in a telephone interview that he wouldn't publicly discuss the company's work. He referred questions to a spokeswoman at CIBER headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colo., who never returned telephone messages.


Also in a sprawl of high-tech businesses that feed off Redstone Arsenal and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville is the division of Wyle Laboratories Inc. that tests U.S. elections hardware, including touchscreens made by market leaders Diebold Inc., Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. and Election Systems & Software Inc.

Wyle spokesman Dan Reeder refused to provide details on how the El Segundo, Calif.-based company, which has been vetting hardware for the space industry since 1949 in Huntsville, tests the voting equipment.

"Our work on election machines is off-limits," Reeder said. "We just don't discuss it." He did allow, though, that the testing includes "environmental simulation...shake, rattle and roll."

Carolyn Goggins, a spokeswoman for SysTest Labs, the only other federally approved election software and hardware tester, refused to discuss the company's work.


critics led by Stanford University computer science professor David Dill say it's an outrage that the world's most powerful democracy doesn't already have an election system so transparent its citizens know it can be trusted.

"Suppose you had a situation where ballots were handed to a private company that counted them behind a closed door and burned the results," said Dill, founder of VerifiedVoting.org.

"Nobody but an idiot would accept a system like that. We've got something that is almost as bad with electronic voting."

CTV.ca - AP - Aug. 23 2004
U.S. e-vote machine certification criticized
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