Ohio Elections Official Calls Machines Flawed
By Bob Driehaus
The New York Times
Cincinnati - All five voting systems used in Ohio, a state whose electoral votes narrowly swung two elections toward President Bush, have critical flaws that could undermine the integrity of the 2008 general election, a report commissioned by the state's top elections official has found.
"It was worse than I anticipated," the official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said of the report. "I had hoped that perhaps one system would test superior to the others."
At polling stations, teams working on the study were able to pick locks to access memory cards and use hand-held devices to plug false vote counts into machines. At boards of election, they were able to introduce malignant software into servers.
Ms. Brunner proposed replacing all of the state's voting machines, including the touch-screen ones used in more than 50 of Ohio's 88 counties. She wants all counties to use optical scan machines that read and electronically record paper ballots that are filled in manually by voters.
She called for legislation and financing to be in place by April so the new machines can be used in the presidential election next November. She said she could not estimate the cost of the changes.
Florida, another swing state with a history of voting problems, is also scrapping touch-screen machines and switching to optical scan ones for the election. Such systems have gained favor because experts say they are more reliable than others and, unlike most touch screens, they provide a paper trail for recounts.
Ms. Brunner, a Democrat, succeeded J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who came under fire for simultaneously overseeing the 2004 election and serving as co-chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio.
She ordered the study as part of a pledge to overhaul voting after problems made headlines for hours-long lines in the 2000 and 2004 elections and a scandal in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, that led to the convictions of two elections workers on charges of rigging recounts. Ms. Brunner's office temporarily seized control of that county's board of elections.
The study released Friday found that voting machines and central servers made by Elections Systems and Software; Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold; and Hart InterCivic; were easily corrupted.
Chris Riggall, a Premier spokesman, said hardware and software problems had been corrected in his company's new products, which will be available for installation in 2008.
"It is important to note," he said, "that there has not been a single documented case of a successful attack against an electronic voting system, in Ohio or anywhere in the United States."
Ken Fields, a spokesman for Election Systems and Software, said his company strongly disagreed with some of the report's findings. "We can also tell you that our 35 years in the field of elections has demonstrated that Election Systems and Software voting technology is accurate, reliable and secure," he said.
The $1.9 million federally financed study assembled corporate and academic teams to conduct parallel assessments. A bipartisan group of 12 election board directors and deputy directors acted as advisers.
The academic team, made up of faculty members and students from Cleveland State University, Pennsylvania State, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Pennsylvania, said systemic change was needed. "All of the studied systems possess critical security failures that render their technical controls insufficient to guarantee a trustworthy election," the team wrote.
In addition to switching machines, Ms. Brunner recommended eliminating polling stations that are used for fewer than five precincts as a cost-cutting measure, and introducing early voting 15 days before Election Day.