Texas Sticks With Problem Voting Machines - Pacific Standard

Texas Sticks With Problem Voting Machines

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In May, Miller-McCune.com reported on how different states have reacted to scientific evidence showing that the nation's most widely used voting machines are prone to failure and easily hacked.

The vote counting machines in question include both the optical scanners that read paper ballots and touch screen/direct-recording electronic voting machines. Florida, Ohio, California and other states have either decertified or thrown away millions of dollars worth of election equipment in light of this scientific evidence.

Texas was named as a state that relies heavily on the most problematic DRE voting machines, but has chosen to vastly ignore the scientific data.

Last month, it appeared as though the Texas legislature was about to intervene. During a recess hearing of the House Committee on Election, lawmakers watched as computer programmer Clint Curtis showed how 24 lines of code inserted into one of the computers that tabulate the votes could allow a corrupt election official to flip the outcome.

But alas, Texas will not be making any changes after all, instead choosing to stick with the vote-counting system it already has in place.

Texas Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler), chair of the election committee, told Miller-McCune this week that it's just not feasible to throw away hundreds of millions of dollars in election equipment.

"The vast majority are very happy with the electronic voting machines we are using right now," Berman said. "In our last election in March, according to the Secretary of State, there were very few mishaps."

Election integrity activists contend that voters would never know whether their vote was counted correctly even with a voter-verified paper trail, which Texas does not require. Malfunctions, they say, have occurred all across the country.

As to the evidence presented to the committee by computer scientists, Berman said he took it with a grain of salt. "There were vocal groups who wanted to bring back paper ballot voting," he said. "I gave them an opportunity to say what they had to say. I believe what our election administrators have to say. They know better than anyone else. I'm pretty satisfied that we have a good, valid process."

Each of the top four manufacturers of voting machines -- Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold), Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia, all of which have had their products largely debunked by computer scientists -- have dismissed the studies mainly by saying they don't represent "real-world" situations. Researchers, they say, had unfettered access to the computers, something that just doesn't occur with actual election equipment.

Dan Wallach, a Rice University associate professor of computer science, who worked on California's assessment of Hart InterCivic machines, said that the industry's claim about the scientific research is just wrong. Wallach also testified before the Texas committee.

Yes, researchers had the source code, Wallach said. But all a real hacker would need to do is reverse engineer the code using a debugging tool that's easily available. Either that, or someone hired to service the machines could insert the corrupted source code.

The most disturbing discovery, said Wallach, was that one attacker, corrupting one machine, could spread the virus to every machine to which it's connected.

"That's a big deal," Wallach wrote on Alternet last month. "At this point, the scientific evidence is in. It's overwhelming, and it's indisputable. The current generation of DRE voting systems has a wide variety of dangerous security flaws. There's simply no justification for the vendors to be making excuses or otherwise downplaying the clear scientific consensus on the quality of their products."

For now, close to 90 percent of Americans will be casting ballots this November by way of the exact machines that computer scientists at leading universities say are untrustworthy, whether hacked or not. To date, no case alleging anyone directly hacked a voting machine in an actual election has been prosecuted.

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