California working on e-voting test

Harri Hursti report on optical scan memory card

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California officials want to run more tests on a Diebold Election Systems electronic voting system that has been submitted for state certification.

They hope to get Harri Hursti, a Finnish security expert, to conduct the tests. Nghia Nguyen Demovic, a spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, said no date has been set.

Recent press reports and communications from voting activists have caused confusion about two Diebold systems.

Hursti would test Diebold’s AccuVote-OS, an optical-scan voting machine. Unlike touch-screen machines, optical scanners require users to record their votes on paper cards, which the scanner reads and electronically tallies. The test would involve the security of the system's memory card, Demovic said.

California officials have recommended that the state restore certification for another Diebold system, the AccuVote-TSX touch-screen machine. In a test conducted earlier this year to simulate the stresses the machines must endure during an election, several experienced screen freezes and printer jams. The company made some modifications and the machines fared better in a subsequent test, said Diebold spokesman David Bear.

Black Box Voting, a nonprofit group that challenges the accuracy and security of e-voting, has been meeting with state officials to arrange to test Diebold’s optical-scan machines. To date, the two parties and Diebold have not agreed on the terms of those tests.

The group’s leaders “are making the allegation that if they’re given complete and unfettered access, they can manipulate the vote," Bear said. However, in a real-world setting, a hacker seeking to change vote totals would not have such access, he said.

“I want to emphasize that this is not the first time the [optical-scan] system has been tested," Demovic said. "The secretary is doing due diligence to make sure that this updated version of the memory card is working and that every vote cast is secured.”

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