E-Republic or B-Republic?

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Michael Brewer
May. 27, 2004 04:16 AM

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URL: http://petition.democracyforamerica.com/verify...

This week Democracy for America started a petition requesting that polling agencies require a paper trail for any electronic voting machine. This week, I also had an opportunity to speak with someone that participated in some local tests of the Diebold machines. Below is my retelling of some of the details of the local equipment and procedures. It's really quite ridiculous.

The electronic voting machines are running un-patched versions of either Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 98 on 400 to 500 Mhz PCs with 128 MBs of RAM. The machines are not networked at the polls, but instead have a floppy disk drive. They have a built in uninterruptible power supply, use a touch-screen LCD panel, and sport neither a mouse nor keyboard. There are locks on the floppy drive and power switch.

Polling uses a card that is similar to a credit card. After voting, the user is presented with an opportunity to change their votes and is even asked to confirm their vote before the card is marked as used and the votes are recorded. A standalone laptop then reprograms the card for additional use. The votes are copied from the polling PCs to the laptop by floppy and then sent to a central computer via modem.

My source also confirmed that Diebold is still using a Microsoft Access database on the polling computers and presumed that the file copied to floppy is most likely a CSV (comma separated values) file.

Just the reliance on floppy disks seems like a disaster waiting to happen. They aren't the most reliable of storage media, nor are the drives tolerant of harsh environments. Then, there's the fact that Access is used on the polling systems and the central tabulating computer. The votes and audit log can both be manipulated without a trace.

Unless you support the United States of America as a Banana Republic, be sure to sign this petition, get involved, spread the word, and explain just how flimsy current electronic voting systems are to your less technically inclined friends and family.

Michael Brewer is a developer based near Charlotte, North Carolina. His interests include web development of various flavors, databases, and Java. One of the off-shoots of these activities is his website Brewed Thoughts.