Worries mount about voting machine security

Critic says new software problem is so bad that he won’t detail the vulnerability


May 17, 2006

Thomas Dennison

Annapolis Notes


ANNAPOLIS — A computer scientist at Johns Hopkins University warned Monday that Maryland’s touch-screen voting machines are so vulnerable to hacking that he is holding back some of the details in the name of election security.


Avi Rubin, the Johns Hopkins computer scientist who has been raising security concerns about Maryland’s Diebold elections system since 2003, said a new software vulnerability is more serious than previous threats.


Diebold designed the machines to be easily upgraded, making the software susceptible to tampering, Rubin said.


‘‘I challenge the state board of elections to find a single computer scientist to say that these machines are now safe,” he said Monday. ‘‘This is just more justification to get rid of these machines.”


Ross Goldstein, deputy director of the Maryland State Board of Elections, said Rubin’s ‘‘sky is falling” concerns are being addressed.


Calling the software vulnerability a ‘‘minimal threat,” Goldstein emphasized that there are strict rules about who has access to the voting machines. There are also procedures that govern the removal of ‘‘tamper tape” on the voting machines that allow access to the machine’s memory card and other software, he said.


‘‘We’ve taken steps to address these security issues,” Goldstein said, adding that a security assessment will begin this week.


Vulnerability of the state’s voting machines was a hot topic during this year’s General Assembly session, which ended April 10.


With the support of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), the Democrat-led House of Delegates voted to scrap the Diebold machines in favor of another system, but the bill died in the Senate.


U.S. Senate candidate Kevin B. Zeese, co-founder of, chastised the legislature for its failure to pass the bill replacing the touch-screen system.


‘‘Maryland did not have to be in this position if the Democratic-controlled Senate of Maryland had allowed a vote on a bill to replace the Diebold paperless system with a system that produces a voter verified paper ballot,” Zeese (I) said in a statement.


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