In the upcoming Nov. 2 election, Orange County voters will be among the 20 to 30 percent of voters nationwide to use a new, controversial electronic voting system to cast ballots.
Manufactured by Hart InterCivic, the eSlate, is Orange County’s Direct Record Electronic voting system. It is roughly the size of a legal pad. Using a rotary wheel, voters navigate through the ballot, pressing an ‘enter’ button to make a selection. After all choices have been made, a screen summarizing the voters’ choices appears before they cast their ballots into an electronic ballot box.
According to the Orange County Registrar of Voters Web site, ‘The eSlate has won acclaim for its ease of use, accessibility to disabled voters and fast, efficient ballot tabulation.’
Although e-voting may prevent over-voting and provide a faster way to tabulate votes, critics claim that DRE voting systems are not as secure as the public has been led to believe.
To explore this claim, on Oct. 13, ASUCI Office of Academic Affairs hosted ‘The Secrets of E-Voting Exposed,’ an e-voting information session featuring guest speaker Jeremiah Akin, a Riverside-based computer programmer.
Geoffrey Enriquez, a fifth-year aerospace engineering major and ASUCI academic affairs vice president, explained that ASUCI felt that it was important to educate students on e-voting deficiencies.
‘We decided to have this event because of all of the controversy behind e-voting machines over the past year and because students trust the voting system so much,’ Enriquez said.
Akin focused mainly on the Sequoia voting system, which is utilized in Riverside County and some areas of Orange County. Hart InterCivic’s system, which is used in more areas of Orange County, poses similar threats.
‘The biggest flaw with Hart InterCivic is that there’s no voter-verified paper trail,’ Akin said.
A voter-verified paper trail is a voter’s paper record, one that has been correctly verified by the voter and used to confirm the results of an election. California won’t require an e-voting paper trail until 2006.
Akin revealed that because voters cannot view the printed version of their ballot, computer errors often go undetected. Without an accurate paper trail, a printout is simply a printed version of the computer’s erroneous data. Additionally, it is impossible to perform a satisfactory recount if software fails.
Akin cited several statewide e-voting malfunction cases including an e-voting system crash during the March 2004 elections in Alameda County, Calif.
To demonstrate how easy it is for individuals to hack into Sequoia’s code manipulation, Akin plugged a malicious code into Sequoia’s election software and ran it within minutes.
‘Code manipulation can be done by anyone who works at the voter registration office,’ Akin said.
However, Akin stressed that software bugs, inevitable in all computer systems, pose a greater threat to e-voting than code manipulation.
‘The biggest threat is from software bugs, the second biggest is an internal threat from the voter registrar or a company that manufactures the software, and the third is an external threat from someone hacking into the system,’ Akin said.
Akin explained that e-voting is tested by the county; however, the test is completed using special ‘test’ settings rather than the settings that are used during an actual election.
‘Logic and accuracy tests are performed on e-voting machines for the public to see,’ Akin said. ‘But the public watches the software get tested, and after they leave, the settings are changed.’
As an alternative to e-voting, Akin encourages voters to sign up for an absentee ballot or request a paper ballot at the polls.
However, Brett Rowley, legislative analyst and public information officer for the Orange County Registrar of Voters, assures voters that Hart InterCivic’s eSlate voting system is accurate.
‘The eSlate has been certified by the federal and state government, has passed logic and accuracy tests, and has undergone parallel monitoring,’ Rowley said. ‘The [California] secretary of state reported that our system is 100 percent accurate.’
Parallel monitoring is a system that randomly tests e-voting machines by entering data and verifying the correctness of the results.
Rowley explains that votes are saved in three different places within the e-voting system, ensuring that they cannot be lost. A Cast Vote Record also shows which votes are cast on each DRE if a recount is necessary.
The shift from punch-card ballots to DREs began after the 2000 presidential election, when Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002. HAVA required each state to reform voting systems, providing the funds to do so.
Orange County implemented the eSlate voting system during the primary election in February 2004, and intends to continue its use in future elections.
Enriquez assures UCI students that while e-voting may present concerns, it shouldn’t dissuade anyone from voting.
‘This presentation is to remind everyone that even in our oh-so-great society our voting rights can be tampered with, but do remember to vote!’ Enriquez said.