The New York Times

August 5, 2007


California Restricts Voting Machines



California’s top election official on Friday decertified three voting systems widely used in the state but said she would let counties use the machines in February’s presidential primary if extra security precautions were taken.


The official, Debra Bowen, the secretary of state, said she made the decision in response to studies showing that the machines could be hacked.


In a sense Ms. Bowen’s decision amounts to barring the machines, then reapproving their use under strict new conditions.


The decision comes amid growing concerns nationally about the security and reliability of electronic voting machines. It affects systems made by three of the four largest voting machine companies.


Ms. Bowen took her toughest action against touch-screen machines, in which a voter’s ballot is generated by a computer. She said the machines made by Diebold Election Systems and Sequoia Voting Systems could be used only in early voting and to meet voting-access requirements for the disabled.


Another touch-screen model, made by Hart InterCivic, can be used more broadly, she said. But all three of the systems can be used only under rigorous security procedures, including audits of the election results.


Ms. Bowen said optical-scanning systems, in which voters mark their choices on paper ballots that are then counted by computers, also were barred but re-certified under the new security procedures.


Many critics of the voting machines favor the optical scanners. And in announcing her decisions late Friday night, Ms. Bowen said she also thought that those systems made it “easier for voters to see and understand” how their ballots were being tallied.


Voting-industry executives have been critical of how Ms. Bowen’s office has handled a six-month review of the machines, and Sequoia issued a statement early Saturday morning expressing disappointment and insisting that its machines were safe.


Computer scientists from California universities, working at Ms. Bowen’s request, recently released reports saying that they had hacked into machines made by all three of the vendors and found several ways in which vote totals could be altered.


But industry executives complained that the tests had not taken account of security precautions, including surveillance cameras and log-in sheets, that limit access to the machines in most counties and could prevent hacking during an election.


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company