Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Governor backs election overhaul in '08; critics say no way

Tuesday, December 18, 2007 3:14 AM

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Key conclusions of a security assessment of Ohio voting systems by both corporate and academic computer experts conducting independent, parallel testing:

MicroSolved Inc.

  • All three vendors (providing machines used in Ohio) have "failed to adopt, implement and follow industry-standard best practices in the development of the system."
  • Experts were able to identify vulnerabilities in all voting systems that could allow attackers to introduce an infection or malicious programming (malware) into the system.
  • Ohio election officials have failed to establish or implement clear and effective security policies and processes, and many counties do not have the resources to seek out security solutions on their own.

Academic teams

  • All state voting systems "failed to adequately address important threats against election data and processes," including a "failure to adequately defend an election from insiders, to prevent virally infected software ... and to ensure cast votes are appropriately protected and accurately counted."
  • They allow the "pervasive misapplication of security technology," including failure to follow "standard and well-known practices for the use of cryptography, key and password management, and security hardware."
  • They exhibit "a visible lack of trustworthy auditing capability," resulting in difficulty discovering when a security attack occurs or how to isolate or recover from an attack when detected.
  • Software maintenance practices are "deeply flawed," leading to "fragile software in which exploitable crashes, lockups, and failures are common in normal use."

Source: Ohio secretary of state

Ohio needs to make changes to its election system in time for the presidential election next fall, Gov. Ted Strickland says, even as some county elections officials and others worry it's impossible to do that and still have a smooth election.

Responding to a study last week that concluded all voting systems used in Ohio have critical security flaws, Strickland said yesterday that although there might not be enough time to address the findings before the March 4 primary, the state must act by the time voters go to the polls in the fall.

"This country has gone through two presidential elections where there have been, I believe, legitimate concerns raised about the fairness and the integrity of those elections," the governor said. "I don't think we should go through a third presidential election and have those questions out there."

When asked whether he thinks the current voting machines should be replaced, as Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has proposed, Strickland said, "Unless (the problems) can be corrected in a way that is verifiable by objective analyzers, I think they ought to go."

Brunner has proposed moving to a system in which all voters mark a paper ballot that is counted at a central location. She also recommends scrapping voting in precincts and establishing regional vote centers with five to 10 precincts each where voters can go to cast their ballots starting 15 days before an election.

But some county officials said although they want to improve elections long term, there realistically is not enough time to train poll workers, educate voters and take the other steps needed to incorporate major changes in the short term.

"The biggest thing we have to do is prepare for the election," said Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections and president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.

Keith Cunningham, the Allen County elections chief and a past president of the association, was more blunt.

"It just strikes me as totally off the wall to suggest that between now and November, we change Ohio's voting system this dramatically," said Cunningham, who also sits on the board of advisers of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Some critics also disagree with Brunner's recommendations, saying they are the wrong moves to make in response to the report.

They're advocating a middle ground, possibly with stricter security policies that are consistent statewide, more recounts and other short-term measures as a way to address the security risks identified in the study.

Brunner said yesterday that her proposals were reviewed by a bipartisan panel of 12 county election officials. She thinks her recommendations to Strickland and the legislature need to be followed "if we want to have the best, most reliable election."

But she also said she is aware of the concerns and is "taking that into full account and keeping my mind open so that we proceed with the best interest of the voters in mind."

Brunner said she has spoken with Attorney General Marc Dann about having forensic scientists at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation analyze possible ways to adapt existing machines to address any flaws.

"I'm clearly open to different ways to do it and concerns of the public, the legislature, the election officials, the voting activists," Brunner said. "It has to be a collaborative effort."

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