Sides spar over voting machine rule

Push to change the law pits need to prevent fraud against desire to protect proprietary software rights


By RICK KARLIN, Capitol bureau

Saturday, June 16, 2007


ALBANY -- Activists wary of the state's plan to shift to electronic voting machines are growing alarmed at what they fear will be a last-minute push next week to prevent analysts from looking closely for vulnerabilities in the devices' software.


Under so-called "third party escrowing," which is now part of the state's regulations, the underlying software codes used by voting machines would be held in escrow so, in case of a hacking incident or other problem, a third party expert could try to sort out how the hacking occurred.


Software firms, however, don't want to give out what they say are these proprietary codes. Software giant Microsoft is especially insistent on not making its codes available. At least two voting machine makers seeking state certification, Sequoia and Avante, use that software and would be barred from selling their machines if the escrow rule remains in place and Microsoft refuses to release the codes.


"The vendors have really been anxious about this escrow issue," said Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a group that is policing the state's efforts to replace its aging lever-action machines with electronic devices as mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act.


Activists like Lipari and Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters, though, want the escrow rule to stay in place, arguing it provides some protection from voter fraud.


They fear an amendment to remove the rule could come as soon as Monday when lawmakers take up some technical bills needed to complete their earlier decision to move the state's presidential primary voting day to February 5 next year.


Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, said he hadn't heard of any bills or amendments offered regarding the easing of third party escrow. Skip Carrier, spokesman for Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said that chamber wants to keep the escrow rule.


Both, however, confirmed there has been a lot of talk about a possible move to change the escrow rule. "It's buzzing out there," said Carrier.


"There might be some legislation out there. I don't know what the status is," added Jonathan Freedman, a spokesman for Sequoia, which also wants the rule eased.


The legislation making the rounds among state elections commissioners and lawmakers would override the 2005 election law changes that mandate the escrowing of source codes, according to a person familiar with it.


As a result, Lipari and others are urging their members to call their lawmakers and tell them not to tinker with the law.


Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or by e-mail at

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