By Tracie Mauriello
Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
March 30, 2006
HARRISBURG -- A state voting-machine examiner yesterday halted testing
of the machine Allegheny County intends to use in the May primary,
saying it was pointless to continue until a critical software problem
"It's not useful to continue because [the software] clearly is not
stable," said Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University professor.
Sequoia Voting Systems, the Oakland, Calif.-based manufacturer of AVC
Advantage voting machines, will have a chance to fix the software and
have it retested in a week or two. Otherwise, it's unlikely the
machines will be certified for use in Pennsylvania.
If they aren't, Allegheny County must scramble for new ones before the
May 16 primary and might lose a $12 million federal grant for the
replacement of its lever-style machines.
Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes will discuss the issue today in a
conference call with Allegheny County Manager Jim Flynn.
"We're going to see what he has to say," Mr. Flynn said. "No matter
what, we're going to have a primary here on May 16."
The problem also could affect Montgomery County, which has been using
the Advantage machines since 1996 and is in line for a grant to make
them accessible to the blind.
Dr. Shamos encountered yesterday's problem during a test for vote
tampering. In an instant, he said, he was able to transform a handful
of votes into thousands.
Developers quickly fixed the problem by replacing a file in the
tabulation software, but that didn't alleviate Dr. Shamos' concerns. A
malicious hacker could easily make the same switch, allowing votes to
be changed, he said.
"What control is there over the software package if different files
can be swapped in and out?" he asked.
Also yesterday, Dr. Shamos uncovered a series of unusual error
messages and a fluke that causes the program to shut down when the
"print" button is used.
A day earlier, he detected a problem transferring data between voting
machines and the tabulation software. That problem has since been
Larry Tonelli, Sequoia's state manager for Pennsylvania and New York,
said he was confident the latest problem can be resolved, too.
"We know the hardware is fine. It's been out there for eight or nine
years so we're moving ahead with training and shipping machines [to
Allegheny County]. The software doesn't need to work until just before
the election so we've got time. It's no big deal," he said.
Sequoia has been under scrutiny because of tabulation problems last
week in Chicago and surrounding Cook County. Those problems involved
two different kinds of voting machines and may have been caused by
poll workers rather than the equipment, Sequoia officials said.
"The problems are not necessarily inherent in the equipment itself,
but in the initial intersection of the new technology and the people
who use it," said Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle Shafer.
She said -- and Dr. Shamos agreed -- that the Chicago-area problems
aren't relevant to the Pennsylvania certification process.
The process involves casting dozens of mock ballots, verifying vote
totals, reading thousands of lines of computer code and even checking
the brightness of illuminated indicators on voting machines.
One goal is to ensure that disabled voters can easily participate in
Department of State employee Jim Criss, who is visually impaired,
helped test the equipment. Instructions and candidate names were given
verbally and Mr. Criss voted using a keypad with four large buttons,
one shaped like a triangle, one like a circle and two like triangles
with points in opposite directions.
The process was simple and the instructions were straightforward, Mr.
Criss reported after casting a mock ballot while 11 observers huddled
The onlookers included state employees, Sequoia representatives and
three members of voters' rights groups that oppose the use of
Advantage machines because they don't provide paper records that can
be verified by voters before they leave the polls.
"We're not confident that these machines have a clear track record and
today doesn't make us feel any better," said Stephen Strahs, founder
of the Election Reform Network based in Montgomery County. "We've been
told, 'Don't worry. It will all be taken care of.' Well, it's almost
April and there are still questions."
The testing is required as part of the Help America Vote Act, which
provides grants to municipalities that replace old voting machines
with new ones that meet federal standards.
InfoSec News v2.0 - Coming Soon!