New Jersey e-voting coverup

Princeton's Andrew Appel writes on Freedom to Tinker about an illegal cover-up of New Jersey e-voting irregularities. The Princeton team have done amazing technical and investigative work on electronic voting machines, and Appel's piece (the first of three) demonstrates exactly the sort of dangers that e-voting critics have long warned of.
1 New Jersey court-ordered election-security measures have not been effectively implemented.

2 There is a reason to believe that New Jersey election officials have destroyed evidence in a pending court case, perhaps to cover up the noncompliance with these measures or to cover up irregularities in this election. There is enough evidence of a cover-up that a Superior Court judge has referred the matter to the State prosecutor's office.

3 Like any DRE voting machine, the AVC Advantage is vulnerable to software-based vote stealing by replacing the internal vote-counting firmware. That kind of fraud probably did not occur in this case. But even without replacing the internal firmware, the AVC Advantage voting machine is vulnerable to the accidental or deliberate swapping of vote-totals between candidates. It is clear that the machine misreported votes in this election, and both technical and procedural safeguards proved ineffective to fully correct the error.

NJ election cover-up


  1. I have been utterly confounded for over a decade about our apparent inability to create a foolproof voting machine.  Even in a quadrennial Presidential election, you have fewer than a dozen candidates for each of the twenty or so offices on the ballot, plus a couple handfuls of ballot measures (each of which gets one “yes,” or possibly one “no,” vote).  And as far as the math goes, that’s all the damned abacus has to keep track of.  If somebody tries to vote for too many people for the same office, or wants to write in a “maybe” on a ballot measure, or otherwise does something to potentially invalidate their vote, the machine just needs to honk and squeak and light up with a big flashing “Does Not Compute” sign, so a proctor can come over and assist.  At the end of the day, the machine needs to spit out a reliable record of All That Super-Complicated Arithmetic.  And throughout, it just needs to be secure from tampering, information loss, temporary power failure, and all that assorted security-related what-have you.

    the AVC Advantage is vulnerable to software-based vote stealing by replacing the internal vote-counting firmware.

     What foolishness is this?  “Vote-counting firmware”?  Do we have to resort to purely mechanical counting apparati like an actual abacus?  Am I speaking from a position of complete ignorance to wonder why voting machinery needs to have vulnerable field-replaceable firmware in order to count straight?  Can’t these things be certified by an independent authority like the U.S. Department of Weights and Measures, sealed at the factory and shipped to the precincts like so many IROC racecars?

    I now suspect a new reason why we don’t go to the moon anymore.  Not because it isn’t cost-effective.  We simply aren’t smart enough.

    1. In fact, lots of evoting researchers have an eminently reasonable solution to this: have the voting machine produce a paper audit trail that is verified by the voter before it is whisked into a strongbox. When there’s a question about the machine’s integrity, all you need to do is count the paper. Every evoting manufacturer already makes large numbers of machines with paper audit trails (ATMs, cash registers, EKGs, etc). The fact that they argue violently against the inclusion of an auditible system is, at best, an indicator of gross incompetence, and at worse, indication of conspiracy to commit vote-fraud.

      1. Now that is, indeed, a reasonable solution, and one I had thought they’d hasten to implement immediately after Bush v. Gore.  Surely it would be trivial for the machine to spit out two identical receipts, one for the voter and one for the strongbox, which would be compared and verified by the voter before she leaves the polling booth, just as you suggest.  Do the manufacturers really present a non-comical argument against this?

        That’s just so weird.  As you say, we have a long history of mathematical machines that generate paper trails and whose reputations for accuracy and reliability are unassailable, simply because the manufacturers wouldn’t be able to sell them if they were otherwise.  Are NCR and Diebold et al. so hellbent on influencing election outcomes that they’d risk their corporate reputations for robust accounting hardware just to make sure that J. Corporate Republican triumphs over Dishonest W. Democrat?

        It’s gotta be a conspiracy.  Of all the thorny enigmas that have confounded mankind for the last eleven years, this one has to be the least enigmatic.  It’s simple addition.  We barely need transistors and vacuum tubes to do it automatically, and we find ourselves stumped by firmware insecurities.

      2. A capital suggestion and a design that’s been in use in municipal elections in Ontario, Canada for over a decade now.

        1. A capital suggestion and a design that’s been in use in municipal elections in Ontario, Canada for over a decade now.

          Wait. What? The ballots for my municipal election are just paper mail-in ballots (which have their own set of issues). There was no machine involved. There was one election before we switched to mail-in ballots where we used a vote by telephone system.

    2. I have been utterly confounded for over a decade about our apparent inability to create a foolproof voting machine.

      Isn’t that like being confounded by the United Council of Foxes failing to produce a secure hen house?

  2. We have trillion dollar wars, men on the moon, and voting systems that would make the ancient Greeks shake their head in disbelief. When I vote, I am not even asked to show ID. Clear evidence that our notions of democracy are just window dressing. I don’t know where the decisions are really made in this country, but I’m pretty sure they serve caviar.

  3. Pah, we don’t need no new-fangled, electrivized envotin’ machinerators. Paper ones, neither!
    Here, in whatever-country-I-am-from, during votin’ season we publically pepper the candidate we want least with 100% our very own all-natural, cheap and portable “human leavings”. When votin’ season concludes, least poopish candidate wins.
    It’s democracy in action. One man, one steamer!

    1. …And 99% of people are registered independents so they don’t have to be involved in washing their party’s candidates off after the “election”.

  4. There are Federal and state agencies which certify voting machines.  You can read more about it here .  The members of these agencies don’t know beans about computers.  The New Jersey examiners consist of an “expert in patent law” and two “mechanical experts”.  They have never rejected a machine.  The Legislature passed a law a few years ago requiring voting machines to produce a “voter verified paper record”.  This would effective turn the machines into very expensive pencils for making paper ballots.  It has yet to be implemented.  There is a way out for the voter.  N.J. allows any voter to vote by mail using a paper ballot.

  5. You know how America borrowed the Australian technology for making paper money more secure, and our idea for anonymous voting way back in the day? Perhaps you should borrow our idea of the AEC, a completely non-partisan organisation which takes it’s mission very seriously. My father who lives in the USA made a joke about ballot-tampering to his Australian brother-in-law, and got a 5-min lecture about how seriously they take their jobs. I happily vote every year or so, and campaign for my choice of officials, knowing that some people who Really care about impartiality are taking care of things (and they get audited by representatives from Both major parties, and often the minor ones as well). You don’t need a CS degree to determine voter intent when all you need to do is look for a mark in a box

  6. When ever I was reading stories about e-voting or other voting systems including some kind of machine, I was smugly thinking how here in Germany voting still means making some crosses on a ballot and in the end some people a counting them by hand. Then I realized this only works if people volunteer to do this, so this year I called my town and volunteered, much to their surprise. If you don’t like electronic voting measures, because they make it really difficult to prove fraud and think are still handled differently where you live, my advice is, do the same, volunteer as a poll worker.

  7. First, we have to get rid of all the lawyers.  Seriously, if we had not broken our Constitution so as to give the federal government so much power to take money out of the hands of the people and the states (only to give some of it back with strings attached), there would perhaps be less reason for such massive voter fraud.  How many ACORN officials have been indicted?  How many people vote in national elections in more than one state?  How is it possible that Oregon votes by mail and people cannot even know if their ballot got counted?  Break the power of Washington over people’s lives and we will be on the road to greater freedom and prosperity.  But also break the power of corporations and unions and BILLIONAIRES like George Soros and Jeff Immelt  to buy votes with both money and fear ..

    1. ACORN, corporations (I assume like Big Ethanol and GE), unions, George Soros*, Jeff Immelt? Did you forget to take your meds again?
      * SOROS!

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