Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vulnerabilities of Maryland's Online Registration System Put Voters at Risk


SAVE our Votes (SOV) recommends that Maryland voters check their voter registration information to make sure that no one has tampered with it, following revelations that hackers could easily gain access to Maryland’s new online registration system. 

According to several nationally prominent computer security experts who recently wrote a letter to Maryland’s State Board of Elections (SBE), the new online voter registration system has “severe security vulnerabilities” that “leave the system open to large-scale, automated fraud, and make the Maryland system among the most vulnerable of all states’ new online voter registration systems.” Voters could have difficulty voting on election day if their registration information was altered in certain ways.

SOV first alerted the State Board of Elections about the problem in August and then worked with computer security experts and election advocates from other states to develop recommendations to prevent, detect, and recover from potential attacks. The computer experts wrote a letter to the SBE in late September suggesting specific remedies election officials could put in place, both immediately and after the election. The SBE has never formally acknowledged receipt of nor responded to the letter, though it was discussed at the agency’s September 27 meeting.

According to an article published last Friday in the New York Times, the SBE says it has checks in place to detect fraud. But the SBE does not acknowledge that legitimate transactions may be nearly impossible to distinguish from fraudulent ones, and that if problems are discovered in the polling place, procedures for resolving them must be outlined in advance. 

SOV has held off from publicizing this vulnerability until after the close of Maryland’s voter registration on October 16. Now the group urges voters to check their registration records onlineAny registration changes not authorized by the voter, especially changes of address, should be reported immediately to the ACLU of Maryland's Election Protection Hotline at 1-888-496-2258, which will help voters work with election officials to ensure that problems are resolved.

SOV also urges election officials to put in place the following safeguards:
1)    For all address changes submitted online, send voter notification cards to both the old and new addresses. Currently notification cards are sent only to the new address, so a voter might not know that his or her address has been fraudulently changed.
2)    If a fraudulent address change causes a voter to vote by provisional ballot, use the “Other” reason code to flag the problem. During canvassing, count the entire ballot as if it was cast in the correct precinct.
3)    Take the system offline now that the registration deadline has passed until improvements can be made to better secure it against tampering.

We sincerely hope that no one has taken advantage of this vulnerability to gain political advantage. But unfortunately Maryland has a history of deceptive leaflets, fraudulent robocalls, and other election malfeasance, so it is surprising that the SBE is not taking this threat more seriously.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flawed Wisconsin Race Proves Need for Transparency, Accountability in Election Procedures

When Wisconsin voters flocked to the polls on April 5, one of the factors driving the high turnout was the State Supreme Court contest between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Prosser, whose term ends July 31, often casts the deciding vote on the seven-member court. He is a conservative Republican former Speaker of the Assembly seen as closely allied to Wisconsin's controversial Gov. Scott Walker. Kloppenburg, a virtual unknown who was given little chance of success when she entered the race several months ago, was buoyed by the high passions stirred by Walker's actions to strip government employees of their collective bargaining rights. Though the race is officially nonpartisan, it was seen as both a referendum on Walker and a chance to affect the Supreme Court's ruling on Walker's actions, which are likely to be reviewed by the Court in its next term.

Election night results were considered too close to call, but the next day when seemingly all the votes had been tallied, Kloppenburg claimed victory with a margin of 204 votes of the more than 1.4 million total votes cast. A recount seemed inevitable.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Protecting Elections from
21st Century Threats

Would Futurama’s wise-cracking robot Bender be a better DC mayor than Vincent Gray? That might well have been the outcome if the District had gone forward with its internet voting pilot last fall. When the election board invited hackers to test the system, computer scientists from the University of Michigan were easily able to change the votes to elect evil science fiction robots. Election reform advocates from across the U.S. gathered last month in Chicago to discuss this and other high-tech threats to elections at the annual conference of the Election Verification Network (EVN).

Keynote speaker Rev. Jesse Jackson said the civil rights struggle that brought about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 continues today, with those hard-won rights now imperiled by new threats including the voter ID laws currently sweeping state legislatures. He pointed out that the right to vote does not necessarily include the right to have your vote counted fairly and accurately.


Monday, February 28, 2011

The High Cost of High-Tech Voting

by Rebecca Wilson


This year, as in the past two years, a bill is making its way through Maryland's General Assembly that would delay the purchase of a new voting system until 2016. While the intention behind it is to save money, the legislation (SB21 and HB174) would accomplish exactly the opposite.


At a 2009 hearing on a previous version of the bill, the Maryland Association of Election Officials (MAEO) turned out in full force, protesting that they couldn't afford to pay for a new voting system while they were still paying off the purchase loan on the current one. One election official from a small county testified that his county already was paying $50,000 and they could not afford to pay any more.


"Does that include operating expenses?" asked a senator on the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing the bill. The man said that he didn't know.

The senator then questioned the second election official on the panel, who admitted that he had no idea what his county was currently paying.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Quick! What's the difference between a voting machine and an ATM?

There are many, of course, but the most fundamental difference is: anonymity.

Many people have said to me, "I don't have a problem with electronic voting. I live my life online, I do my banking on my computer, why shouldn't I vote electronically?"

It's a fair question. I also do my banking in cyberspace. But what if there was no way to reconstruct a record of your transactions and you had to blindly accept the bank's statement of your balance? That's essentially the case with electronic voting.

American democracy is -- wisely -- built on ballot secrecy, which helps to deter intimidation, coercion, and the buying or selling of votes that could quickly corrupt our form of governance. But it also means that the only person who knows whether a vote was counted correctly is the voter. And once the ballot is cast, there should be no way to reconnect that voter with that ballot. So what kind of safeguard can we build into the system to help ensure that the ballot is interpreted and counted as the voter intended to cast it?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Passion for Democracy

The urge for freedom and self-determination beats strong within the human heart, as recent events in Egypt and Tunisia attest. But democracy is fragile and can fall prey to powerful forces that seek to suppress or undermine it. Those threats can ride in on horseback brandishing whips or they may come in more subtle guises.