America's "worst voting machines" dropped in Virgina (at last)

AVS Winvote machines are so insecure that if they weren't hacked in the last election, "it was only because no one tried."

So wrote Jeremy Epstein, who has campaigned for years to get the ghastly devices put out of service. Their vulnerabilities are many and deep, and they include tallying votes over insecure wifi (!). They dropped one vote for every 100 cast. They crashed if someone streamed music over a shared wifi network. When the machines were configured to disconnect from the wifi network, they reported that they had done so — but stayed connected. The machines stored votes in an Access database with a shared master password ("shoup" — the name of the machines' original manufacturer) that could be guessed in 18 seconds by a password-guessing system. The systems had no internal logging and no paper audit trail.

Epstein's work — and advocacy from his allies, such as Verified Voting — finally led to Virginia's election board decertifying 3,000 of the machines after a decade of stark refusal to listen to the experts who told them that Virginia elections were trivial to hack. Pennsylvania dropped the machines in 2007; Mississippi (which only used the machines in one county) dropped them in 2013.

The machines were finally investigated and decommissioned by Virginia officials after the governor found that he could not cast a senate vote using the machine at his local polling place.

No one knows whether any of Virginia's election outcomes were falsified by exploiting the machines.

The WINVote touchscreen machines, made by the now-defunct Advanced Voting Solutions when it went by its original name, Shoup Voting Solutions, were used in about 30 counties in Virginia before they were decommissioned this year. The machines were also used in Pennsylvania and Mississippi to a lesser degree, but Pennsylvania eliminated its systems in 2007, and Mississippi, which only used them in one county, replaced them in 2013.

Virginia first began using the WINVote machines in 2003 in Fairfax County, the largest county in the state. Problems with the systems emerged immediately. In a race for the Fairfax School Board, the machines inexplicably subtracted one vote for every 100 votes cast (.pdf) in favor of incumbent school-board candidate Rita Thompson, which resulted in a 2 percent reduction in votes for her overall. Thompson lost the race by 1,600 votes. More than 77,000 votes were cast for her countywide, so two percent of the vote was 1,540.

Despite this initial problem, other Virginia counties proceeded to purchase WINVote machines over the years, until some 4,000 were in use across the state by 2014. Fairfax County replaced its WINVote machines last year, but about 3,000 remained in use when the state recently banned them.

Virginia Finally Drops America's 'Worst Voting Machines' [Kim Zetter/Wired]

(Image: The Guardian)