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Public and experts split over e-voting security
By William Jackson
Despite the concerns of security professionals, the general public has a high level of trust in electronic voting.
More than half of those polled in a recent survey had a favorable
opinion of e-voting, and three quarters had confidence in the
But a majority of computer professionals attending
recent IT security conferences expressed concerns. Nearly half said
they had no confidence in the technology and 60 percent had an
unfavorable opinion of it.
The survey underscored differences in opinion about
whether touchscreen computers are ready to replace paper ballots in the
“That’s a gigantic schism between the two groups,”
said Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, which conducted
the survey last month. “That’s the largest difference I’ve ever seen in
Touchscreen voting systems, also called direct
electronic-recording systems, have gained popularity as states look for
alternatives to flawed punch card machines that created problems in the
2000 presidential election. The Help America Vote Act has provided
federal funding to help replace those machines, and a number of states
are turning to DRE.
But some experts have raised concerns about the
software development process, the security and reliability of the
systems, and the lack of a paper audit trail for recounts of DRE
balloting. California has decertified the machines for the November
election and Missouri will require some form of paper audit trail.
Several Congressional hearings have been held on
the subject and legislation requiring paper audit trails has been
introduced in the House.
But nearly 80 percent of the public feel that
e-voting machines are at least as likely to accurately record their
votes as traditional paper ballot machines.
The survey reflects the responses of 3,798 people
and was presented Saturday at the Defcon hackers’ conference in Las
Vegas. A group of 101 security professionals was surveyed at Defcon and
at last week’s Black Hat Briefings, also in Las Vegas.
The survey explored people’s perceptions of the technology rather than the technology itself.
Ponemon cautioned that the expert group did not
constitute a scientific sample. The results illustrate the differences
in awareness of security and reliability issues.
The largest concerns for security professionals
were system and programming errors and attempts to swing elections. The
major concern of the general public was voter turnout. About 35 percent
of those polled were afraid distrust of the e-voting systems could
dissuade people from voting.
That might not be an idle concern. Although most of
the public sample said they trust electronic voting machines, a
significant minority expressed reservations. Twenty-five percent said
they had little or no confidence in the machines.
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