In the wake of Florida's recount mess, there has been a great deal of push to move the ballot from paper to electronics so that votes can be counted with ease and speed. The problem with the electronic solution is that it simply leaves a trail of 1s (ons) and 0s (offs) that can be picked up by a malicious hacker and be more readily lost than any paper trail, just as Hansel and Gretel's bread-crumb scheme got them miserably lost. I am not against technology; in fact, I intend to pursue a career in electrical engineering. However, when technology has its limits, we must recognize them and not jeopardize the political future of this great state.
Multiple studies from Princeton University, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), and independent reports commissioned by states such as Maryland, Ohio, and California have concluded that electronic voting machine, particularly the popular Diebold machines, can be hacked by a determined team. These are high-quality studies that have been performed by experts and, to varying degrees, they show the risk in entrusting any vote solely to a pattern of 1s and 0s.
The Princeton study, probably the most independent yet fairly recent study, specifically focused on one of Diebold's voting machines. It found multiple ways in which determined hackers could install malicious software on the machine that could completely alter the outcome of the election.
The very ironic thing about Diebold’s response to this study is that they nowhere claim that their new systems remove the problems these researchers found with the old ones, only that the machines are new, have the most advanced data encryption techniques, and that the old ones will not be used in another election. As explained by Professor Edward W. Felten, who lead Princeton's research team: "Diebold made the same kinds of claims about this [older] version — claims that turned out to be wrong — that they are now making about their more recent versions."
More than just three crazy computer scientists from Princeton are complaining. I found at least five other quality studies [*] which came to very similar conclusions; an electronic voting machine could be hacked by determined political activists. One such study from an independent corporation commissioned by the State of Maryland stated:
“This Risk Assessment has identified several high-risk vulnerabilities... If these vulnerabilities are exploited, significant impact could occur on the accuracy, integrity, and availability of election results.”
Because of the inherent hack-ability of a trail of 1s and 0s, it is important that Texas elections leave a paper trail; a trail that can be verified. A study from RABA, who was also commissioned by Maryland, concludes:
“Ultimately we feel there will be a need for paper receipts...” (p 3)This is the solution I propose. Allow votes to be cast electronically, but make sure that the people can verify those votes with some kind of paper receipt that voters get to look at and personally verify.
Technology is a good thing in Texas politics, but we must not get so caught up in it that we loose our trail, just as Hansel and Gretel supposedly did.
*Quotes from, citations of, and bios for these studies will be posted later for those who are interested. [edit: see my comment on this post]