Friday, August 10, 2007

Elections - Ledger - NJIT says paper trail unreliable

Published in the Star-Ledger, Saturday, July 21, 2007

Study: 2008 election paper trail unreliable

Electronic voting records can fail, NJIT says

Star-Ledger Staff

Computer scientists have identified 33 flaws in three printer models intended to ensure the accuracy of electronic voting machines used across New Jersey.

The problems, found by the New Jersey Institute of Technology and posted online yesterday by the state elections division, potentially could compromise voter privacy and election security, according to the experts' reports.

Vendors of the gear contend the problems are easily fixed and stem largely from NJIT misinterpretations of new state guidelines for the printers.

"They're all very workable. A lot of things were taken out of context," said Michelle Shafer, spokesperson for Sequoia Voting Systems.

By January, all electronic voting machines are required by state law to include printers so voters can verify that their ballots are recorded accurately, and so officials have a "paper trail" to recount.

At the state's request, NJIT has spent several weeks scrutinizing printers for the Sequoia AVC Advantage and Sequoia AVC Edge voting machines, along with a printer for the Vote-Trakker, a machine from Avante International Technology Inc. in Princeton. The printers were tested against criteria devised by the state, and simulated both a 14-hour election day and a 1,200-vote election.

The public can examine the printers during hearings next week, from Tuesday to Friday at the New Jersey National Guard Armory in Lawrenceville. If a state panel rejects the printers, New Jersey could face the costly task of replacing touch-screen voting machines statewide with devices that scan pen-and-ink ballots.

According to NJIT, all three printers run out of paper too fast and do not properly conceal printer cables. The printers fail to alert poll workers to malfunctions and the paper storage reel of the Edge is easily accessible. The Advantage lacks tamper-proof seals, and lost 56 simulated vote records because of a paper jam. NJIT noted such an event was unlikely under real election conditions, however.

In one scenario, the Advantage could compromise the privacy of visually impaired voters. And observers taller than six feet, standing "directly next to the left or right side of the curtain," might spy a voter's printed selections.

Sequoia countered that any system would be vulnerable to snoops allowed too close to voters. And the Oakland, Calif., company said it provided security seals to NJIT.

Avante President Kevin Chung said his company has addressed most of NJIT's concerns. "They did a reasonably thorough job," Chung said. "Nothing in there is totally out of line."

Kevin Coughlin may be reached at

No link to online story. Archived here.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.