E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

Wednesday November 03, 2004

More Problems Near Princeton

Filed under: — Felten @ 1:16 pm PST

Today I asked the students in my Information Security class whether they had seen anything odd when voting. Many students voted absentee in their hometowns, so I would guess there were about twenty in-person voters present. One guy, an adult student who lives in a town a few miles from here, reported seeing something odd.

He was voting an a Sequoia AVC Advantage machine, which is computerized but interacts with the voter through a big board covered with a grid of switches and lights. The board is covered by a piece of slightly translucent paper, on which is printed the names of candidates and a box next to each candidate’s name. These boxes are aligned with switches, so that when the voter presses the box, the switch is clicked. The computer notices this and then lights up the light right next to the switch (which is also next to the candidate’s name).

When the voter enters the booth, the lights are all supposed to be off. But this man says that when he entered the booth, several lights were on all over the board. And not just the lights next to the names of candidates that might be turned on in the normal course of voting, but lights elsewhere on the board. This is not supposed to be possible. If he had found lights next to the names of candidates, those might be the choices of a previous voter who forgot to press the “Cast Vote” button. But lights elsewhere on the board are not supposed to happen, ever.

After class, I bumped into my secretary in the hallway, and she told me that something odd had happened when she voted. She then described essentially the same experience – entering the booth and seeing lights lit up at odd positions on the board, outside the places that should normally be lit.

These two people live in different towns. They voted in different polling places (both in Mercer County, New Jersey). They have never met. And I did not tell either one about the other’s report until after they had described their experiences to me.

It seems likely that this problem was more widespread around here, since it was reported independently by two people from among the relatively small population I have asked about election experiences here. Did anybody else see something like this on a Sequoia AVC Advantage machine?

Tuesday November 02, 2004

Report From My Polling Place

Filed under: — Felten @ 9:01 am PST

I voted at 8:15 this morning, at Littlebrook School in Princeton, New Jersey. We vote on Sequoia AVC Advantage e-voting machines. Turnout was heavy, and I had to wait in line for fifteen minutes.

One of the two machines assigned to our precinct was nonfunctional. The problem, according to a poll worker, was that the lock on the back of the machine would not operate, so that the poll workers couldn’t get the machine open to access the control panel inside and initialize the machine. She said they had called for service at 5:45 am but still had no idea when a service person might be coming.

My polling place had a fairly serious security vulnerability before the election. I came by the school at about 8:00 PM last night. The building was open due to a Boy Scout meeting, so I walked right in the main door. There in the school lobby were the four voting machines, completely unguarded. I hung around the machines for about ten minutes, looking them over carefully and taking pictures. The scouts were meeting in another room and they were coming and going via a side door, so I don’t think anybody saw me. In short, anybody who walked up had uninterrupted, private time with the machines.

Of course, I did not touch the machines. But it was clear that had somebody wanted to tamper with the machines last night, they could have done so.

(In keeping with the policy discussed yesterday, I did not disclose this vulnerability to the public until it was too late for any bad guys to exploit it.)

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