Chronicle of Higher Ed. Letter

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January 26, 2007

The Chronicle of Higher Education
1255 23rd Street, N.W., Suite 700
Washington, D.C. 20037

To the Editors:

Your article "Georgia's Unusual 'Electoral College'" misses several reasons why the

computing community has expressed concerns about e-voting machines and called for

independent verification of votes. The article also has statements that were simply quoted

without verification or critical analysis.

Although the article focuses on direct recording electronic (DREs) machines'

vulnerability to hacking, hacker access is only one issue facing election officials.

Elections can be undermined by undetected errors, unforeseen complications, or insiders

seeking to commit election fraud. Some of the known problems from the November 2006

election occurred not because of hackers, but because the technology failed in unexpected


The security, reliability and usability issues around these threats must be addressed

responsibly. Based on decades of experience in building complex systems, experts in

security and reliability have concluded that voters need a method of determining their

votes independent of software to ensure the integrity of elections. Paper systems are

currently the only way to provide this independent verification. ACM, our parent

organization, formally adopted this position in 2004. In December 2006, National

Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) personnel reported that there is no way to

write testable security requirements that will guarantee secure, reliable DRE's. They

concluded that paper trails are needed for voters to verify their votes independent of the

underlying software.

Your article quotes Mr. King as suggesting that adding continuous roll paper rolls onto

DREs represents the best practice for paper-based independent verification. To the

contrary, these solutions undermine privacy, are unreliable, and represent an ad hoc

approach rather than a carefully engineered audit system. Instead of indicting paper

trails, we urge further research into verification systems. We also note that robust paper

audit trails are produced by existing precinct-based optical scan machines and ballot

marking systems, thus providing paper-based independent voter verification. Mr. King is

also quoted as contending that paper systems cannot be used by the blind, or by those

who cannot read English. In fact, several systems are available for use by the visually

impaired, and ballots can be printed in other languages.

Mr. King's assertion that the Georgia machines cannot be hacked is not verifiable. His

claim contradicts decades of research showing that such determinations cannot be made

for significantly-sized software artifacts and numerous independent studies revealing

serious security flaws in e-voting machines. Additionally, voting machine vendors have

continually erected legal barriers to prevent competent, independent researchers from

gaining access to their source code so that it may be critically evaluated. Rather than have

closed investigations of e-voting machines with potential conflicts of interest, such as at

Kennesaw State, research should be done in an open and transparent way.

The public's confidence in fair elections is crucial. Articles that fail to research and refute

fallacious statements; that equate conclusions by internationally-known technology

experts with statements of an undergraduate student; and that repeat pejoratives about

respected professionals do a disservice to your readers and to the information technology


Eugene Spafford, Ph.D.
Barbara Simons, Ph.D.
On Behalf of the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing

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