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Calif. tightens voting machine standards

By STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press WriterSat Aug 4, 10:54 AM ET


California's top elections official placed rigorous security conditions on voting equipment used in dozens of counties and limited the use of two of the most widely used machines statewide.


Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced the measures minutes before midnight Friday, making good on a promise to tell counties at least six months before California's Feb. 5 presidential primary if their voting equipment would be decertified.


The announcement leaves the most affected counties with little time to find alternate equipment in time for the primary. The decision follows an eight-week security review of voting systems used in all but a few of California's 58 counties.


University of California computer experts found that voting machines sold by three companies Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting Systems were vulnerable to hackers and that voting results could be altered.


Bowen said she had decertified the machines, then recertified them on the condition they meet her new security standards. She also limited the Diebold and Sequoia machines to one per polling place. That will force some counties to find replacement equipment on a tight schedule.


Bowen ordered the review, which was released last week, to ensure California would not face the same doubts about the accuracy of its voting systems that hit Florida after the 2000 election and Ohio in 2004.


The additional requirements she imposed included banning all modem or wireless connections to the machines to prevent them from being linked to an outside computer or the Internet. She also required a full manual count of all votes cast on Diebold or Sequoia machines to ensure accuracy.


Bowen said the study revealed some vulnerabilities that would allow hackers to manipulate the systems "with little chance of detection and with dire consequences." Her review also found that the machines posed problems for disabled voters.


Company officials have downplayed the results of Bowen's review, saying they reflected unrealistic, worst-case scenarios that would be counteracted by security measures taken by the companies and local election officials.


Officials with Sequoia said they were disappointed with Bowen's withdrawal of the company's certification but would make necessary improvements. They said their equipment is accurate and secure.


Hart InterCivic issued a news release defending its equipment and promising to comply with Bowen's requirements.


A message left with Diebold early Saturday was not immediately returned.


Machines made by a fourth company, Election Systems & Software, were not included in the review because it was late providing information the secretary of state's office needed, said Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for Bowen.


The secretary of state launched a separate review of that company's Inkavote Plus system, which is used only in Los Angeles County. On Friday, Bowen said she had decertified that equipment but would review and reconsider it.


A message left for an ES&S spokesman early Saturday morning was not immediately returned.


Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Voting-machine costs add up


By Deborah Lohse

Mercury News

San Jose Mercury News



Santa Clara County's registrar of voters says the last-minute decision by the state secretary of state to curtail electronic voting next year could cost the county as much as $500,000, create lines up to three hours long on Election Day and slow voting results by as much as three days after the polls close.


The decision "put us into a delayed mode for informing the public," said Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Jesse Durazo.


Durazo's frustration was echoed by registrars around the state, in the wake of Secretary of State Debra Bowen's decree late Friday that - because of security concerns - most voting machines would be "decertified" for use starting with the Feb. 5 presidential primary.


That primary, of course, is shaping up to be part of the most closely contested presidential election in decades. With California's first February primary, the state's voters could have extra sway in the national race. But elections clerks around the state are warning of impending chaos.


About 5 million California voters who previously used electronic voting machines will have to cast their votes on paper ballots. The 21 counties using touch-screen machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems or Diebold Election Systems, including Santa Clara County, will be permitted to have only one such machine per polling place, to accommodate disabled voters.


Durazo said he already has told County Executive Pete Kutras he'll need two extra "optical scanning" machines, at $100,000 apiece, to process the extra 150,000 or so paper ballots he estimates will be necessary for the February primary.


But even with those machines, the county expects to be able to process no more than 8,000 ballots an hour on the Feb. 5 election night. That means it probably will take an extra 18 hours or so longer than normal to get an initial tally of all votes, Durazo said.


"That assumes no `whoops,' no mistakes, no one taking an extra-long bathroom break," he said. "If there is, it will take even longer."


And while the county will provide the results from early absentee ballots and as many as 1,000 touch-screen machines on election night, said Durazo, he expects results from the new batch of paper ballots to take far longer - possibly even until Friday at 5 p.m., he said.


Touch-screen machines will be used in November's local elections, Durazo said, because the state must give six months notice before decertifying the machines.


Statewide, the minimum cost of adding new optical-scanning machines will be about $35 million, said Steve Weir, the registrar clerk for Contra Costa County and president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.


Where that money will come from is anybody's guess. Most counties have used up the federal funding under the Help America Vote Act to buy the very equipment they're being asked to scrap. Bowen is trying to find out if state revenue is available, but her spokeswoman said Bowen also is hoping Diebold and Sequoia will provide counties optical-scanning equipment.


Security precautions


Bowen's order actually decertifies most optical scanners as well, but she said those machines could be recertified for full use if vendors or county voting officials took a series of security precautions.


Even with security fortifications, Bowen believes Sequoia and Diebold touch-screen machines are not secure enough for widespread use.


For the foreseeable future, the decree means Santa Clara County's 800 to 1,000 polling places will go from having five voting machines apiece to having only one. Non-disabled voters will be allowed to use such machines if the line is not too long, said Durazo. But most voters who show up at the polls on Election Day will have to go back to old-fashioned paper ballots.


San Mateo County is resting a bit easier than many of its counterparts in the state. "We are breathing - and you can quote me - a sigh of relief," said Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum. San Mateo is one of just three California counties that use electronic-voting machines made by Hart InterCivic, whose machines Bowen approved for use provided additional security and post-election auditing measures are undertaken.


Slocum called those extra measures - which include reinstalling software - "doable."


Bowen's restriction on machines used by Santa Clara County and other counties stems from a controversial study done for her office by researchers at the University of California. They found that Sequoia and Diebold machines could be vulnerable to hackers under certain circumstances.


Company officials have said the researchers were given unusual access to the machines that real-world hackers could never gain. But Bowen prescribed a list of measures - 38 in the case of Santa Clara's Sequoia Edge Model II machines - that counties or vendors would have to take to ensure security.


Durazo said Santa Clara County already employs "most" of the 38 measures, such as prohibiting installation of non-voting software on the machines or prohibiting poll workers from accessing certain audit records.


Besides the extra $200,000 for two additional scanning machines, Durazo said the county faces paying an additional $75,000 or so to buy 140,000 extra paper ballots, plus a cushion of extra ballots. And paying workers to work 24 hours a day for three days - rather than 10 hours after election night - could cost $100,000 or more, he said.


Durazo said the secretary of state's office has paid in the past for such ballots when it required counties to use them. But he's not sure that will happen this time.


Absentee ballots


Bowen spokeswoman Nicole Winger said the transition shouldn't be that difficult. More than 75 percent of California voters still use paper ballots that are optically scanned - including the 40 percent who vote by absentee ballots.


"We've been voting on paper for 157 years, and touch screens have only been used by some voters for three years," Winger said.


Electronic-voting critics have largely praised Bowen's effort, though some think it did not go far enough. And some voters said they have moved to absentee ballots out of fear of the exact same security risks Bowen cited.


"If those voting machines can talk to the main center where they count the votes, then they can be hacked," said Bob Blaine, a retired test engineer in Morgan Hill, who said he's been using absentee ballots for about 10 years.


Indeed, Durazo hopes the e-voting restrictions will encourage more people to vote by mail, which helps mitigate the election day crush. He plans a major marketing push this election season.


"We now have a good case for the voters to realize there is an alternative," he said, "and that is to vote by mail."


Contact Deborah Lohse at or (408) 275-0140.

MediaNews Staff Writers Steve Harmon and Rebekah Gordon contributed to this report.


Copyright 2007 San Jose Mercury News


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This story is taken from Sacbee / News / AP State News.


Companies say California voting-machine review is unrealistic

By STEVE LAWRENCE - Associated Press Writer

July 30, 2007


Representatives of three voting machine companies on Monday criticized a state study that found their machines could be breached by hackers, saying it had reached unrealistic conclusions.


Their testimony was countered by a University of California professor who helped lead the review and said it revealed "very real" vulnerabilities.


"It may be that all of them can be protected against. It may be that some cannot," said Matt Bishop, a computer science professor at UC Davis.


Bishop discussed the study during a hearing held by Secretary of State Debra Bowen as she weighed whether to prohibit use of any of the machines during the Feb. 5 presidential primary. State law requires her to make that decision by Friday.


"I intend to go through a methodical process to determine what to do next," she said.


The study, conducted by the university under a contract with Bowen's office, examined machines sold by Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting Systems.


It concluded that they were difficult for voters' with disabilities to use and that hackers could break into the systems and change vote results.


Most of the conclusions were released last week. A third part of the study looking at the complicated computer codes that control how electronic voting systems operate has yet to be released.


A spokeswoman for Bowen, Nicole Winger, said the secretary of state's office wanted to be sure release of that portion of the study did not reveal sensitive or proprietary information.


Machines made by a fourth company, Elections Systems & Software, were not included because the company was late in providing information that the secretary of state needed for the review, Bowen said.


Winger said the secretary of state's office has launched a separate review of ES&S's Inkavote Plus system, which is used only in Los Angeles County.


Because of the looming Friday deadline, there is a "very real possibility" that Bowen would impose tougher controls on the continued use of that system until her office can verify that it is secure and accurate, Winger said.


Bowen's office also is reviewing an application by ES&S for certification of a new version of its Automark voting system, which is used in 10 counties.


Sequoia, in a statement read by systems sales executive Steven Bennett, called the UC review "an unrealistic, worst-case-scenario evaluation."


"None of the attacks described in the ... report are capable of success," Bennett told a panel of officials from the secretary of state's office. "All would be prevented or detected through use of (a paper trail) and legally sufficient audit."


As of 2004, all voting machines used in California are required to produce a paper trail that will allow elections officials to see ballot results.


Nevertheless, Sequoia said it was taking additional steps to ensure that the "few system vulnerabilities" found by the study could not be used to alter vote results provided by its machines.


"Voting system reliability is something we're always working at improving," said Michelle Shafer, a Sequoia spokeswoman. "Security is never finished."


The company said election officials should consider buying new, updated machines if they think any of the study's conclusions are valid.


"The versions of the hardware, firmware and software systems evaluated were developed several years ago," Sequoia said. "While it cannot be guaranteed that all of the extremely improbable vulnerabilities identified are prevented by subsequent product development and updates, many are specifically addressed."


Diebold also complained that the study didn't look at its most recently developed software, which was designed to deal with some "low-risk issues" identified in a 2006 UC Berkeley study. But that equipment has yet to be certified for use in California.


Hart said it found "several inconsistencies, alternate conclusions and errors" in the report.


It also complained that the university's review didn't take into account "the well-designed security aspects of the Hart Voting System." As an example, the company said its machines store votes in three different locations, making it difficult for hackers to change results.


The companies also complain that Bowen's review was performed under artificial conditions, with the examiners having access to computer coding, manuals and other information that is not available to the public.


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