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US: Californian eVoting machines fail test

07 August, 2007
By Allison Orr

In a recent study undertaken by University of California computer experts, state-sanctioned hackers were able to bypass the software security of every model of California‚Äôs voting machines, allowing them to overwrite firmware, install viruses, forge voter cards and gain access to the inside of the machines.  This would allow hackers to take control of the systems and change results.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who instigated the review, has said that the team of "hackers" had better access to the voting machines and their software code, and more time than real hackers would have, so further evaluation of the data is required to determine how vulnerable the system is.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bowen said "Voting systems are tools of our democracy,  We want to ensure that the voting systems used in the state are secure, accurate, reliable and accessible to all.  It's a big deal for everyone in the country."

Representatives from the machine companies have replied, arguing that the tests were unrealistic, and that any error in the machines during a vote count would be identified through an audit.

In other eVoting news from the US, a Senate bill called the Ballot Integrity Bill has been forward by a group of Democrats Senators, including Clinton and Obama, that would ensure that all electronic voting machines produce a verified paper record that would serve as the official ballot of record.  It would also ban undisclosed eVoting software source code.  While it originally called for this to be in place for the 2008 presidential election, it is now looking like being ready for the 2010 mid-term elections.  Pushing back the date allows Senators more time to try to reach a bipartisan consensus for the bill.

If passed the bill would bring an immediate halt to the purchase of any new paperless machines and put $600 million towards the purchase of new machines or the retrofitting of old machines.

At the committee hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein who proposed the bill, said "No matter what your political party, if you are committed to a democratic form of government, you have to be concerned about the accuracy of the vote and the ability of all citizens to cast their ballots without being hindered by machine breakdowns and computer hacking."

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