Palm Beach Post
Election officials dismiss report on touch screens
By George Bennett,
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida elections officials say their confidence in electronic voting hasn't been shaken by a Johns Hopkins University report that claims a touch-screen system used in other states is vulnerable to fraud and hackers.
The July 23 report -- which focused on a Diebold touch-screen system and is disputed by that company -- has heated up the national debate among elections administrators, voting machine makers and academics over the trustworthiness of computerized voting.
The criticisms are disputed by many elections officials and by Diebold, which issued a 27-page response to the 24-page report.
In general, Diebold says the Johns Hopkins critics examined the system in isolation, without considering other checks and balances or the realities of the way elections and polling places are run.
Critics of electronic voting say that since the Diebold system had generally received high marks from government regulators, the Johns Hopkins report raises concerns about all touch-screen systems and the criteria state and local governments use to evaluate them.
"If the standards are weak and the authorities aren't finding glaring security holes, are the other systems any better?" said Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer science professor and member of that state's Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems.
"Computer technology is not advanced to the point where you can do safe, paperless, electronic voting," asserts David Dill, a Stanford computer science professor and a leader of national efforts to require a ballot-by-ballot paper audit trail to accompany electronic voting.
Florida voters should feel confident in any system approved for use in the state, Division of Elections Director Ed Kast said.
"Florida, I think, leads the nation in our systems evaluation and certification," he said. It would be "very, very difficult, if not impossible" for anyone in Florida to create the kinds of problems outlined in the Johns Hopkins report, he said.
The division's chief of voting systems certification, Paul Craft, said the Johns Hopkins report "evaluated the (Diebold) system outside of its environment, outside of election procedures.... I don't think it's a valuable study."
Nevertheless, Craft said that as part of the state's review of Diebold's system, he has asked his staff to come up with a detailed list of each claim in the Johns Hopkins report so the division can assure the public that each issue has been addressed before Diebold is certified.
Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, a longtime critic of touch-screen voting because of its lack of a paper trail, called the Johns Hopkins report flawed but constructive.
"I think this will lead to heightened security, and that's a positive thing," Sancho said. "This is now going to force the vendors to release more information and have independent testing to make sure these devices are working as advertised. And that's good."