Simons House Administration TestimonyDownload PDF
Electronic Voting Machines
September 28, 2006
My name is Barbara Simons. I am retired from IBM, where I was a Research Staff
Member at the IBM Almaden Research Center for many years. I have been working
almost exclusively on voting technology issues since 2000, when I was a member of the
National Workshop on Internet Voting. The workshop, convened at the request of
President Clinton, produced a report in 2001 in which we strongly recommended against
Internet Voting. I also participated on the Security Peer Review Group for the US
Department of Defense's Internet voting project (SERVE) and co-authored the report that
led to the cancellation of SERVE because of security concerns. More recently I cochaired
the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) study of statewide databases
of registered voters. I am also co-authoring with Professor Doug Jones a book on voting
machines to be published in 2007 by PoliPoint.
I was President of ACM from July 1998 until June 2000. ACM is the oldest and largest
scientific and educational society of computer professionals, with approximately 80,000
members. I founded ACM's US Public Policy Committee (USACM) in 1993 and have
served for many years as the Chair or co-Chair of USACM.
We all want elections that are reliable, secure, accessible, and trusted by the public.
Given known security risks, the possibility that software bugs could generate incorrect
election results, or that computerized voting machines may fail during an election, we
cannot trust that the results recorded in a paperless voting machine accurately reflect the
will of the voters. Providing a voter verified paper trail is a significant step toward
mitigating these risks, restoring transparency to the election, and ensuring the public's
Because paperless Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) devices cannot be audited, many
states have mandated that DREs produce a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) or
voter verified paper ballot (VVPB). We have seen that careful and well engineered
implementation of this requirement is critical. Some of the most widely used DREs have
retrofitted their machines by adding reel-to-reel thermal printers. Unfortunately, there
have been a number of problems with these continuous roll printers, including jamming,
privacy concerns, and difficulties conducting a manual count of the paper.
There are high quality printers that are much more reliable, that produce easy to read text,
and that could print VVPBs that are easy to count manually. Our voting systems should
not depend on mediocre equipment.
Precinct based optical scan voting systems also produce VVPBs, since by definition the
optical scan ballot is verified by the voter when he or she marks the ballot. Accessible
optical scan ballots can be produced using tactile ballots or electronic ballot marking
systems. Optical scan ballots can be manually counted and used to audit elections.
As a defense against malicious or buggy software, we must have:
- reliable, well engineered, accessible VVPBs;
- policies and procedures that guarantee the integrity of the paper, control of
custody, legibility, etc.; and
- routine mandated random manual audits of the VVPBs that instill voter
confidence and that verify the accuracy of elections.
If the manual count does not match the count produced by an optical scan system or by a
DRE, then all of the paper ballots must be manually counted in an open and transparent
fashion. Unless there is evidence that the VVPBs have been compromised, the paper
ballots should be used to determine the election results.
We can consider alternatives, such as cryptographic based systems, if and when voting
technology is commercially available that is demonstrably secure, reliable, easy to use,
accessible, believable, and understandable to the average voter.
Computer scientists have been generally skeptical about computerized voting machines,
because we know that they are not transparent. You cannot simply look inside a machine
and clearly see if it is performing in a trustworthy manner. Computerized voting has a lot
of advantages, but all computerized voting systems currently available carry risks. We
recommend VVPATs or VVPBs not to eliminate fraud, but rather to increase the safety
of voting systems and to allow for routine election audits.
Two years ago ACM issued the following statement1 calling for well engineered voting
machines that provide every voter with the ability to verify that his or her vote has been
accurately cast by inspecting a physical (e.g. paper) record.
Virtually all voting systems in use today (punch-cards, lever machines, hand counted
paper ballots, etc.) are subject to fraud and error, including electronic voting systems,
which are not without their own risks and vulnerabilities. In particular, many electronic
voting systems have been evaluated by independent, generally-recognized experts and
have been found to be poorly designed; developed using inferior software engineering
processes; designed without (or with very limited) external audit capabilities; intended
for operation without obvious protective measures; and deployed without rigorous,
To protect the accuracy and impartiality of the electoral process, ACM recommends that
all voting systems - particularly computer-based electronic voting systems - embody
careful engineering, strong safeguards, and rigorous testing in both their design and
operation. In addition, voting systems should enable each voter to inspect a physical
(e.g., paper) record to verify that his or her vote has been accurately cast and to serve as
an independent check on the result produced and stored by the system. Making those
records permanent (i.e., not based solely in computer memory) provides a means by
which an accurate recount may be conducted. Ensuring the reliability, security, and
verifiability of public elections is fundamental to a stable democracy. Convenience and
speed of vote counting are no substitute for accuracy of results and trust in the process by
In addition to the technical community, good government organizations have expressed
concerns about the security of paperless voting machines. For example, at its 2006
national convention the League of Women Voters passed a resolution on voting machines
calling for a voter verified paper ballot or record that would be used for audits and
recounts. The League also urged that routine random audits of these paper
ballots/records be conducted in every election. Here is the resolution2:
Whereas: Some LWVs have had difficulty applying the SARA Resolution (Secure,
Accurate, Recountable and Accessible) passed at the last Convention, and
Whereas: Paperless electronic voting systems are not inherently secure, can
malfunction, and do not provide a recountable audit trail,
Therefore be it resolved that:
The position on the Citizens' Right to Vote be interpreted to affirm that LWVUS supports
only voting systems that are designed so that:
1. they employ a voter-verifiable paper ballot or other paper record, said paper being
the official record of the voter's intent; and
2. the voter can verify, either by eye or with the aid of suitable devices for those who
have impaired vision, that the paper ballot/record accurately reflects his or her intent;
3. such verification takes place while the voter is still in the process of voting; and
4. the paper ballot/record is used for audits and recounts; and
5. the vote totals can be verified by an independent hand count of the paper
6. routine audits of the paper ballot/record in randomly selected precincts can be
conducted in every election, and the results published by the jurisdiction.
Insecure storage and handling of voting machines.
Professor Ed Felten, who is testifying today, recently released a very important study of
fundamental security vulnerabilities of Diebold TS machines. The study illustrated how
having physical access to one of the machines for even a minute was sufficient to allow a
malicious individual to install fraudulent software.
There already has been a fair amount of press about the risks of voting machine "sleepovers."
This practice involves having a poll worker take a machine home prior to the
election and bringing it in on Election Day. Decentralizing the physical security of
machines significantly increases the number of people with access to a machine before an
election. But even if machines are not delivered to poll workers' homes, there still can be
significant security threats stemming from pre-election deliveries of machines, as I
observed while serving as a Santa Clara County polling station inspector in the
November 2004 election.
The county delivered five paperless DREs to our polling station - a commons room in a
Stanford University dorm - about a week before Election Day. When the woman who
made the space available for the election arrived at work, she moved the machines from
the insecure commons room into her office, where they remained under lock and key
until the night before the election.
My fellow poll workers and I set up the voting machines in the public commons room the
night before the election so that the batteries could be fully charged. For the rest of the
night the machines remained unattended.
When initially delivered, the machines were "protected" by two levels of numbered
tamper evident tape. The first level was removed the night before the election, when we
did the initial set-up. The second level was removed on Election Day. All of the
removed tapes were included in the material that we returned to the county election
I had no idea before the election as to what the tamper evident tape should look like,
because I had never seen any. Even if I had been shown a tape, without additional
training I doubt that my memory would have been adequate for me to know if a
counterfeit tape had been used.
There are multiple security risks, depending on the goal of the attacker. Here are a few:
1. Hacking the voting machine software without being detected. This could have
been done either by someone who had access to the machines while in the
commons room, or by someone who had access to the office where the machines
were stored. To avoid detection with certainty, it would have been necessary to
acquire identically numbered tamper evident tape, for example by ordering it on
the Internet or obtaining it from an insider working for the county.
2. Hacking the voting machine software and risking detection. Since we poll
workers had never seen the tamper evident tape and had no idea of what the
numbers on the pieces of tape should be, we would not have been able to
determine that someone had hacked the software and replaced the original tapes
with different tamper evident tapes. Such an attack might have been detected by
election officials if they had reviewed the tapes that we returned. However, since
the election would have been over, it's not clear what election officials would
have done. Furthermore, if the attacker had acquired identical or nearly identical
tape and used the numbers from the original tapes on the counterfeit tapes, it's
likely that even diligent election officials would not have detected the fraud.
3. Targeting specific precincts to depress turnout favorable to one candidate (a
denial of service attack). This would have been a very easy attack, since the
machines were left in a publicly accessible location the night before the election.
All the attacker had to do was to remove the second level of tamper evident tape,
since poll workers had been instructed to request new voting machines if the
tamper evident tapes had been removed. Since we were barely ready by opening
time, bringing in new machines would have delayed the opening of the polling
station by at least an hour or two. If there were a widespread attack that removed
the tamper evident tape from machines in many voting places, it is highly likely
that the county would have been incapable of replacing all of the suspect
Fortunately, there is a possible fix if tampering has been detected or there is a denial of
service attack, namely emergency paper ballots. Every polling place should have a large
supply of emergency paper ballots that can be used in emergency situations.
Furthermore, a manual count should be made of the emergency paper ballots in all
suspect polling places in addition to any manual counts that are done to satisfy a random
Voters with disabilities.
While HAVA was passed in response to problems with the 2000 elections, much
emphasis has been given to the HAVA requirement that voting be made accessible for
people with disabilities. However, security and accessibility are not mutually exclusive
goals. We can and should have secure accessible elections.
I cannot stress enough that I strongly agree that people with disabilities should be able to
vote privately and independently and that they should be able to verify their votes. I do
not know a single computer security expert who opposes non-visual access for blind
voters or access to the ballot by any person with a disability.
It bears repeating that HAVA does not mandate the exclusive use of electronic voting
machines to meet accessibility requirements. HAVA states accessibility can be met
"...through the use of at least one direct recording electronic voting system or other
voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities..." [emphasis added].3
There is a growing body of evidence that people with disabilities - blind and visually
impaired voters, voters who have limited mobility and dexterity, and people with other
disabilities - are finding that DREs or touchscreens are not meeting their accessibility
needs and are in fact preventing them from securing a private and independent ballot.
Aleda J. Devies, a retired systems engineer, and member of Handicapped Voters of
Volusia County, made the following statements in her August 01, 2006 article, Touch
Screens Are Not The Best Choice For Disabled Voters:4
A key point has been lost in the various arguments for and against touch-screen voting
machines. The spirit and intent of the accessible voting law are to allow every disabled
person the opportunity to cast his or her [sic] privately and independently. The key word
in the preceding sentence is "every." It is not acceptable to accommodate some
members of the disabled population and expect the rest of us to live with "business as
usual." That is discrimination, which is not legal.
Accommodating people with different disabilities requires great flexibility in a voting
system. What works for and is preferred by certain members of the blind and visually
impaired community does not accommodate people with mobility or motor impairments.
That is one specific shortcoming with touch screen machines. People with limited use of
their hands and arms may not be able to use the touch screen machines. People with
spinal cord injuries or similar disorders may require binary devices such as such as "sipand-
puff". (Other binary devices include foot pedals, joy-sticks and gel pads.)
Devies also observes that, "Touch screen machines with telephone-like keypads do not
meet Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requirement that keypads must be
operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the
Kelly Pierce, a nationally-known advocate for people who are blind and visually
impaired, reviewed four voting machines in his March 15, 2005 report for the Cook
County State's Attorney's Office, Accessibility Analysis of Four Proposed Voting
Pierce analyzed tactilely discernable controls, spoken prompts, visual display, poll
worker assistance, volume control and normalization, and ballot review. He found all
four machines deficient in one or another of these areas.
Pierce stated, "Unfortunately, if any one of the four machines were to be deployed in
Chicago or suburban Cook County as exhibited on March 15, many voters with
disabilities, particularly blind voters, would not be able to cast a ballot independently and
In his conclusion, Pierce remarks, "This review and those conducted by the American
Foundation for the Blind, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields with The
Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, and a blind computer scientist and
electrical engineer all have found that while the electronic machines represent a
significant advance in accessibility from the current poll worker assistance system they
often fail to effectively communicate the voting process to audio voters or are physically
designed in a way that does not meet the current consensus on accessible design as
crafted by the technology industry, the disability community, and leading national
Pierce's observations appear to have been born out by the voting experience of Noel
Runyan, a blind computer scientist. Runyan, who has worked in human factors for well
over thirty-five years, started his own company to supply access technologies for the
visually impaired. Quoting just a small portion of Runyan's essay in frustration from his
65 minute voting experience in the 2004 Presidential election:6
It took me 30 minutes to work my way through the ballots and make my selections. After
that, I had quite a bit of trouble getting into the review mode, to get a full list of all my
selections. When I did, it went on and on, for 23 minutes, like a long uncontrolled drink
from a fire hose. The review function read each item, and then, at the very end, said what
my selection was for that item. It even threw in the details of what the fiscal impact would
be, and took forever. This is completely backwards. It should announce the name of the
item, then state my selection, and then read the rest of the information for that item. Also,
I should have the control to press the arrow key to move forward or backward through
the items, without having to listen to all the text about an item.
When I did find that I had made a mistake in my selections, I had to wait until the end of
the whole review process to correct it, instead of being able to stop, make the change,
and then continue with the review where I left off.
I did not want to abort the ballot verification review, to make a correction, and then have
to start the 23 minute review all over again. When I later attempted to change one of my
selections from "no" to "yes", the machine would not let me just select "yes", until I had
first gone to the "no" entry and deselected it. This was very awkward and confusing. My
wife said that she also had the problem when she was voting visually on her DRE
Blind and disabled voters want and deserve secure voting systems. Natalie Wormeli, a
lawyer who is completely blind, has manual dexterity issues, and uses a wheelchair7, is
far more eloquent than I could ever hope to be in her in her 2004 testimony before the
California State Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee, :
I deeply regret that I am unable to testify in person at today's hearing because of serious
health problems. Please consider the following as my written testimony. I am writing this
letter as a concerned California voter, an attorney, and a woman with multiple
disabilities. For purposes of this letter, I am only representing myself, and I do not claim
to speak for anyone else.
I am particularly offended by the reoccurring claim that people with disabilities are
disenfranchised. This is highly inflammatory rhetoric, ignoring the definition of
enfranchisement, which is a person's right to vote. When I turned 18, I became
enfranchised. Not having the ability to vote without another human being's assistance is
the reality that I deal with, but does not make me disenfranchised. I rely on other people
to help me with tasks that I am not physically able to do, but I remain in control and
independently thinking the entire time. When voting, I can choose to bring a friend, a
family member, or ask one of the well-trained poll workers for assistance.
Providing flawed DRE systems would erode trust among voters with disabilities as well
as able-bodied voters in California and throughout the country. If Californians depend
on flawed systems, and California has problems in November, the headlines throughout
the country will undoubtedly reflect this horrible fact.
Other disability rights advocates claim that decertification would be a step back, treating
people with disabilities as second class citizens. I argue that requiring California voters
to use dangerously flawed DREs will be forcing second rate technology on us all.
I know that DRE system developers are working tirelessly to create dependable secure
systems, and I am confident that one day I will be able to vote privately without
assistance. However, I refuse to act as a complaining passenger in the backseat asking,
are we there yet? I know I will be there soon enough, but I only want to arrive safely and
with everyone on board. I know that when SB 17238 is passed, you will be heroes for all
the citizens of California, especially voters with disabilities.9
For many people with disabilities, using a VVPB presents no accessibility difficulties
whatsoever and does not in any way prohibit private and independent voting.
Fortunately, we do not have to settle for voter verified paper ballots that are not
accessible to blind and visually impaired voters. It is not difficult to integrate audio
capabilities into the design stage of voting systems. Tactile ballots and tactile voting
systems allow blind voters to vote privately and independently and to verify their votes.
New technologies can and should be developed. For example, hand held text-to-speech
reading devices, such as the one recently announced by the National Federation of the
Blind, might be modified for use in elections.10
It's time for us to demand of our voting systems that, in addition to being accessible, they
must be safe, accurate, reliable, secure, and audited. For now that means that we need
voter verified paper ballots, routine random manual audits, improved policies and
procedures, increased transparency, and a national mandate that voter verified paper
ballots shall be the official ballots used and the final authority in all cases of recounts,
challenges, random manual audits, equipment malfunction, and suspect polling places.
As President Reagan said: Trust, but verify.
It is part of our nature to rely on technology to improve our institutions. Voting and voter
registration are no different. Technology, if engineered and tested carefully and if
deployed with safeguards against failure, can reduce error rates, provide more
accessibility, increase accountability, and strengthen our voting system. However, we
have rushed to put technologies in place without careful regard as to how they must
perform. We are now seeing questions raised about the security, reliability, accessibility,
and usability of these machines. We can take immediate steps to address security
concerns by ensuring that we have voter verified paper ballots and routine random
manual audits. Beyond this, the technical community and the election community need
to work together to develop computerized voting and electronic registration systems that
truly deserve the public's trust.
Appendix: Electronic Voter Registration Databases
While beyond the scope of this hearing, we are seeing serious problems with statewide
electronic voter registration databases. One of HAVA's key provisions requires all states
to have statewide electronic databases in place by the beginning of this year. Some states
already had these systems in place; others were faced with difficult decisions on how to
consolidate or synchronize disparate local databases into a statewide system. Like all
technology, these systems are complex and require careful engineering so that they are
accurate, private, secure, usable, and reliable. Otherwise, voters can be rejected at the
polls and disenfranchised, or the systems could be exposed to fraud from unauthorized
access. USACM released a study earlier this year11 that provides 99 recommendations
for state and local officials to follow when implementing electronic voter registration
6 Voting experience in November 2004 Election in Santa Clara County California -
Using Sequoia Voting Machines, by Noel Runyan,
7 Wormeli's description of herself given in testimony at the Meeting of the State of
California Secretary of State Voting Systems and Procedures Panel, April 28, 2004,
Sacramento, CA., http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/vsptranscript0428.pdf
8 SB 1723, which would have required that all voting machines produce an Accessible
Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (AVVPAT) by some deadline. Later in 2004 SB 1438,
which essentially prohibited the deployment of voting machines that did not produce an
AVVPAT by 2006, became law.
9 Testimony before the California State Senate Elections and Reapportionment
Committee, by Natalie Wormeli, Esq., May 5, 2004. Wormeli's complete written
testimony can be found at http://www.wheresthepaper.org/NatalieWormeli.htm or
10 The Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader: The Revolution Is Here!, by
11 Statewide Databases of Registered Voters: Study of Accuracy, Privacy, Usability,
Security, and Reliability Issues, February, 2006, www.acm.org/usacm/vrd.