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EPIC's Public Information Requests on DRE Voting Technology

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Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.-- James Madison

EPIC makes frequent use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information from the federal government about cryptography and privacy policy. Public disclosure of this information improves government oversight and accountability. It also helps ensure that the public is fully informed about the activities of government.

In our efforts to bring transparency to the state administered public elections the following records were obtained. The state public records requests were submitted to the states of Ohio, Maryland, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas. Federal Freedom of Information Act requests were submitted to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The replies thus far can be found on this page. The state replies are found at the bottom of the page. This information is provided as a service to those who would like to learn more about the effort to transition voting technology from punch card and lever voting systems to direct recording electronic (DRE) voting systems. EPIC was successful in gathering information from several states on their acquisition and use of paperless DRE voting technology. The effort continues to seek information from other states on their deliberation and acquisition process for making the switch to paperless DRE voting machines.

With no independent means for voters to verify that their vote is counted as cast a proactive approach already begun by many activists around the nation ask probing questions of policymakers and decision makers about paperless DRE voting technology.

Knowledge is the best defense against fear that voting technology that is deployed for use in the November Election may be flawed. Support for this project would expand on the groundwork already begun for increasing civic and electoral participation by arming citizens with easy to understand descriptions of typical malfunctions found in currently deployed electronic voting technology and effective means for addressing these problems should they arise.

We have accomplished some success in gaining access to these public records and hope that they will be useful to local, state, and national efforts to bring transparency to the process of election administration. However, more needs to be done, and EPIC will continue to seek public records from those states, which have adopted paperless DRE voting systems.


Lack of Standards

New standards for voting technology were to be developed by the HAVA law by establishing a 14 member Technology Guidelines Development Committee (under the leadership of the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which unfortunately received no funding for this effort. The Technical Guidelines Development Committee was named in June 2004, and is in the process of developing voluntary standards for voting technology. Until these new standards are developed the old standards process applies. The current voluntary system of standards established by the Federal Election Commission in 2002, was an update of their 1990 standards, and is viewed as inadequate.

Inadequate Testing of Software

The method of testing paperless DRE voting machines has not been released to the public, but it is known that the process allows for the inclusion of secret code and the use of commercial software products without certification. Computer scientists and engineers, including the California Touch Screen Task Force and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, have criticized this method as being extremely inadequate for ensuring election integrity when paperless DRE voting machines are used.

Prone to Defects, Errors, Poor Programming, and Architecture Configuration

While it is nearly impossible to write bug-free software, and studies conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers, Science Application International Corp. and the Raba Technologies each found glaring serious security flaws prior to the State of Maryland finalizing the purchase of the machines from Diebold. Unfortunately the Governor and Secretary of State for Maryland went forward with the purchase of the voting machines.

Vulnerability to Fraud

The Johns Hopkins study found that DRE machine security safeguards are "far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts." As a result, these systems are vulnerable to both insider and outsider attacks. While improved use of cryptography and security measures could improve some of these flaws, even thorough testing cannot reveal some types of malicious code.

Lack of Auditability

The threat of bugs and security failures are magnified by the fact that none of the DRE machines currently on the market create a hard copy of voters' results, also known as a "paper trail." The lack of a paper record of one's vote makes it impossible to verify if the computer has, indeed, recorded your vote in the system as it is shown on the screen. Furthermore, lack of a paper record makes meaningful recounts or audits impossible because any recount would simply corroborate the same count the computer made the first time and would not catch any errors. Efforts to add a physical audit capacity have been resisted not just by election administrators, but voting rights advocacy organizations

Lack of Transparency

DRE makers such as Diebold, Sequoia and ES&S refuse to make their software code available to the public to assess, nor are they willing to publicize the kind of testing they perform. California Secretary of State Kevin Shelly testified before the Election Assistance Commission during its first hearing held on May 5, 2004, that Diebold had made the claim that their DRE voting system had passed federal certification, which was later found to untrue. Secretary of State Shelly further stated that when he contacted the certifying laboratory they would not disclose any facts regarding the state of Diebold's application for certification of their DRE voting machines to him, but referred him to the company to respond to his questions.

Not all state Election Administrators are elected, most positions are appointed by the Governor of the state. On the county or local level election administrators are often filled by elected clerk positions. These election officials are often not barred from engaging in partisan political efforts, some going so far as to serve in statewide campaign positions or actively campaign for candidates. Election Administrators' relationship with voting technology vendors raises issues The communities of voters and non-voters have the right to a voting system and public election process whose honesty, accuracy, and integrity are without question. Today these fundamental rights are under assault by the local and state governments offices that are responsible for the administration of public elections. It is NCVI's goal to restore integrity in our nation's election system by arming citizens and voting advocacy groups with the knowledge that will empower them to be effective agents of change.

EPIC's DRE Public Information Requests to States

Ohio [EPIC Open Records Request Letter]

New Mexico [EPIC Open Records Request Letter]


Texas [EPIC Open Records Request Letter]

Related Links

EPIC Privacy Page | EPIC Home Page

Last Updated: February 27, 2008
Page URL: http://www.epic.org/privacy/voting/prr_guide/default.html