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Schneier on Security by Bruce Schneier

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Chapter 6. Election Security

Voting Technology and Security

Originally published in Forbes.com, 13 November 2006

Last week in Florida's 13th Congressional district, the victory margin was only 386 votes out of 153,000. There'll be a mandatory lawyered-up recount, but it won't include the almost 18,000 votes that seem to have disappeared. The electronic voting machines didn't include them in their final tallies, and there's no backup to use for the recount. The district will pick a winner to send to Washington, but it won't be because they are sure the majority voted for him. Maybe the majority did, and maybe it didn't. There's no way to know.

Electronic voting machines represent a grave threat to fair and accurate elections, a threat that every American—Republican, Democrat or independent—should be concerned about. Because they're computer-based, the deliberate or accidental actions of a few can swing an entire election. The solution: Paper ballots, which can be verified by voters and recounted if necessary.

To understand the security of electronic voting machines, you first have to consider election security in general. The goal of any voting system is to capture the intent of each voter and collect them all into a final tally. In practice, this occurs through a series of transfer steps. When I voted last week, I transferred my intent onto a paper ballot, which was then transferred to a tabulation machine via an optical scan reader; at the end of the night, the individual machine tallies ...

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