Yalies consider risks of electronic polling



It is once again the time of year when Yalies rush to send out their absentee ballots and prepare for their traditional trips to the polls on the first Tuesday of November. But within the near future, many Yale voters may be voting electronically — either online or with a digital polling machine. This future promises convenience, but comes with uncertainties for voting security and fraud.

There are two varieties of electronic voting. The first is voting over a network, such as the Internet, which allows voters to cast ballots from their own computers. An example of such a system is Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, which began as a pilot program for overseas citizens and military personnel to replace the absentee ballot.

Nirupam Sinha ’05, president of the Yale College Democrats, said that he thinks such systems would make voting easier for students and there would be a “significant difference in vote turnout on campus.”

The second variety of electronic voting is conducted with a digital polling machine — a replacement for the typical mechanical adding machines and punch card ballots used in many polling centers.

Network voting systems have been under intense scrutiny regarding their security. A report on the SERVE system published by the Association for Computing Machinery suggested that malicious individuals could deny users the ability to vote, “spoof” the machines with false identities, buy votes, or switch votes previously cast.

Because of this report and others, the Department of Defense pulled the program, stating that they would prefer to stop the project “rather than potentially bringing the integrity of the election results into doubt.” According to Federal Voting Assistance Program’s Web site, “given the current security vulnerabilities of the Internet and voters’ personal computers, no Internet voting system could be 100 percent secure.”

The SERVE program was to be used by up to 100,000 voters in this November’s election, so any potential negative ramifications could have had a large impact.

“I believe that the security concerns related to electronic voting are worrisome,” president of the Yale College Republicans, Al Jiwa ’06, said.

However, Jiwa said he places faith in those overseeing electronic voting systems.

“If they believe the risks associated with electronic voting to be insignificant, I feel that the system can be regarded as a solid option to cast a ballot,” he said.

Despite the risks, electronic polling machines are being implemented in many states. Diebold Election Systems, which has deployed over 75,000 electronic voting stations in the country, recently came under fire for security concerns about their product. Sinha said that the security issues need to be addressed and that such concerns are on everyone’s mind.

In an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Symposium on Security and Privacy 2004 publication, Diebold machines were suggested to be susceptible to attacks including voting multiple times; viewing cast ballots; adding, deleting, or changing votes; and tampering with election and audit logs.

Adding to the concern, Walden O’Dell, CEO of Diebold, said in a fundraising letter that he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” Ohio was one of the states considering the use of Diebold electronic voting stations.

Sinha said that the Diebold machines do not compromise the integrity of the election, and his Republican counterpart shared his optimism.

“I am confident that electronic voting will produce valid results and sufficiently address concerns regarding the auditing of votes,” Jiwa said.

Diebold has responded to attacks on their platform with a paper entitled “Reality vs. Fantasy” which suggests that opposing claims are false. However, the paper does not go into specific detail about why the claims are untrue.

New Haven Democratic Registrar of Voters Sharon Ferrucci said that New Haven’s polling centers are not electronic voting machines but traditional adding machines that she considers “very accurate.”

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