ITAA goes on e-voting offensive

An information technology industry trade group is calling for the use of electronic voting technology after several months of defending its security against critics.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) today hosted a meeting for reporters with two election supervisors, an attorney and an advocate for the blind who defended the machines.

The devices, made by several companies, allow voters to make their selections using a touch screen. The votes are then recorded electronically and no paper trail is created. During the past few months, some computer scientists have raised alarms about the security of the machines, saying that malicious activity, poll workers' mistakes or machine malfunctions could result in votes being miscounted or lost.

ITAA has been a staunch defender of electronic voting. "Clearly, technology and democracy are becoming more interwoven every day," ITAA President Harris Miller said in opening the presentation today.

Computer scientists who have criticized the machines, including Aviel Rubin at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and David Dill at Stanford University, don't understand how elections are really conducted, e-voting advocates argue.

In Lee County, Fla., election officials test every machine before each election, and the public may come watch, said Sharon Harrington, the county's supervisor of elections. A team of poll workers verifies that no votes have been recorded on any machine at the start of the day, and at the end of the day, they make sure the total number of votes recorded matches the number of voters who came to a given polling place, Harrington said.

Rigging an election would take a conspiracy of a lot of people with specialized knowledge about computer programming and polling procedures, said Linda Lamone, administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

However, Rubin, who was not at the ITAA event, volunteered to work as a poll worker in Baltimore County for the March 2 Democratic primary in Maryland. He said that although the experience showed him that one potential attack would be far more difficult to pull off than he and his colleagues had assumed, it also confirmed his fears about other weaknesses and revealed vulnerabilities he had not anticipated.

For example, at the end of the day, all of the votes at the polling place were transferred electronically to a single machine. That would be an ideal time for someone to tamper with vote tallies, Rubin said.

However, he said, it would be difficult for someone to make a smart card at home that would allow multiple votes to be cast -- one of the key risks his team had feared -- because of the polling place's procedures.

"Every hour we would count the cards that had been voted and compare them to the counts on the machine," he said. He said that although he later got phone calls from other poll workers saying that wasn't done in all the polling places, it served to limit the likelihood that such fraud would go undetected.

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