Paper trail needed to safeguard voting system

Letter to the editor

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2004

I thought with our Accu-Vote optical scanner voting system Alaskans were safe from the dangers of touch-screen voting machines, but I was wrong. In order to comply with the accessibility requirements of the Help America Vote Act, every polling location is to get at least one Accu-Vote TS - the very Diebold machine found to have security vulnerabilities that could endanger the integrity of our elections. A study commissioned by the Maryland Division of Elections noted, "it is readily possible to have a precinct unwittingly download its results (and password) to an anonymous laptop which could modify the results and upload them to the appropriate GEMS server - in real time."

This is only one of many exploits the study's authors successfully perpetrated against the Diebold system. If Alaska is to use these machines, it is imperative that the many security measures recommended by the study be implemented in our state.

One measure that we must insist on is a paper audit trail. The Maryland study says, "While it is our belief that a secure system without paper receipts can be built, it would require not only better software, but also a higher level of sophistication and understanding by those who run our elections. It may never be possible to administer 16,000 autonomous touch screen terminals, 44 plus servers, 32,000 locks and keys, thousands of voter cards, supervisor cards, and security key cards with perfect fidelity. ... The introduction of voter-verifiable paper receipts is absolutely necessary in some limited form. The number of software vulnerabilities such receipts mitigate, the amount of savings they introduce by lowering the procedural requirements, and the trust they garner are likely to be just as cost effective in the long run as a fully locked-down all-electronic system."

State election officials in California, Nevada, Missouri and West Virginia have already protected their citizens by requiring a voter-verified paper trail. We must insist that Alaskan democracy gets the same safeguards.

Nathan Borson

Gustavus



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