Ohio Study: Voting Systems Vulnerable

December 13, 2007

By Ohio Secretary of State Jenniefer Brunner MEdia Release     

EVEREST Report of Findings (PDF)
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio’s electronic voting systems have “critical security failures” which could impact the integrity of elections in the Buckeye State, according to a review of the systems commissioned by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

“The results underscore the need for a fundamental change in the structure of Ohio’s election system to ensure ballot and voting system security while still making voting convenient and accessible to all Ohio voters, “ Secretary Brunner said Friday in unveiling the report.

“In an era of computer-based voting systems, voters have a right to expect that their voting system is at least as secure as the systems they use for banking and communication,” she said.

THE REPORT

The Evaluation & Validation of Election-Related Equipment, Standards  & Testing report, known as EVEREST, is a comprehensive review of voting systems revealing startling findings on voting machines and systems used in Ohio and throughout the country.  The Ohio study tested the systems for:

-  risks to vote security,
-  system performance, including load capacity,
-  configuration to currently certified systems specifications, and
-  operations and internal controls that could mitigate risk.

The $1.9 million study, paid for using federal funds, was structured to allow two teams of scientists, corporate and academic, to conduct parallel assessment of the security of the state’s three voting systems - Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Hart Intercivic and Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold) - in both voting and board of elections environments.  Separate research was conducted on each voting system’s performance, configuration and operations and internal controls management.  A bipartisan team of 12 election board directors and deputy directors advised the study and evaluated all reports, participating with the secretary in making recommendations for change.

While some tests to compromise voting systems took higher levels of sophistication, fairly simple techniques were often successfully deployed.

“To put it in every-day terms, the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote count could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet and a personal digital assistant,” Brunner said.

The researchers in the Ohio study didn’t address the issue of probability of attack, leaving that to the determination of state and local officials.  The researchers commented that with the lack of technical measures in voting system design, its integrity “is provided purely by the integrity and honesty of election officials.”   (p. 20, Final Report of Academic Researchers.)

“It’s a testament to our state’s boards of elections officials that elections on the new HAVA mandated voting systems have gone as smoothly as they have in light of these findings,” Brunner said.

Testers looking at the performance of the voting systems used in Ohio and in many locales throughout the country, identified numerous risks to election integrity ranging from minor to severe, according to the review.

Also, those examining how voting systems were configured in the field found risks such as the use of materials like memory storage and printer paper that had not been certified by the voting system manufacturers; a lack of standardized equipment testing and that revisions to voting system software for all systems and counties were not documented or tracked, the review said.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Secretary Brunner has presented recommendations and options to address these findings to Gov. Ted Strickland and legislative leaders for their consideration. Among the top recommendations are:

  • Eliminating points of entry creating unnecessary voting system risk by moving to Central Counting of Ballots
  • Eliminating Use of Direct Recording Electronic (DREs) and Precinct-based Optical Scan Voting Machines that tabulate votes at polling locations
  • Utilizing the AutoMark voting machine for voters with disabilities (This machine “reads” the bar code on a blank ballot and acts solely as a ballot marking device, allowing voters, especially those with disabilities, to mark ballots with little or no assistance, preserving the secrecy of their ballot selections.)
  • Requiring all ballots be Optical Scan Ballots for central tabulation and effective voter verification
  • Maintaining “no fault” absentee voting while establishing Early (15 days prior to the election) and Election Day Vote Centers (of the size of 5 to 10 precincts), eliminating voting at individual precincts or polling places of less than 5 precincts
  • Requiring all Special Elections (issues only) held in August 2008 to be voted by mail (no in-person voting, except at the board of elections, for issue-only elections held in August 2008)

CUYAHOGA COUNTY PRIMARY ELECTION REMEDY

With a swift indication for state funding assistance, Cuyahoga County could move to a central-count optical scan voting system in time for the March 2008 primary election by using leased DREs for precinct- based voting by persons with disabilities and purchasing high-speed optical scanners (with compatible server and software and voting booths) for optical-scan voting. 

This option has been estimated to cost between $2 million and $2.5 million. All purchased equipment could transfer to a vote center voting system for use in November 2008, and extra voting booths not needed for vote centers could be redistributed to other counties migrating from DRE to optical scan central count vote centers.  The county would be responsible for printing a sufficient number of ballots for the March primary election.  If this option were approved, purchases would need to be made immediately, with reimbursement applied for by the secretary of state to the Ohio General Assembly to reimburse the Cuyahoga County commissioners for equipment purchases.

CONCLUSION

The EVEREST study builds upon previous studies conducted around the country on voting systems, the Ohio secretary of state’s office said. The study of the ES&S systems, however, is the first of its kind, officials said.

The Ohio study used testing done by both researchers from academic institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University and University of California at Santa Barbara, as well as corporate security personnel from firms such as Systest Labs of Denver and MicroSolved, Inc. of Columbus, Ohio. The Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus served as project manager.

 
Researchers in the Ohio study had access to the computer source code provided by voting machine manufacturers as well as access to much of the equipment and documentation, the secretary of state’s office said.

List of Appendices
Compuware Corporation 2004 Security and Validation Study (PDF)

Request for Proposal and Addenda

Controling Board Operating Request (PDF)

Board of Elections Participants (PDF)

EVEREST Testing Reports

Glossary of Relevant Technical Terms (PDF)