September 28, 2023

NJ Voting-machine trial update

Earlier this month I testified in Gusciora v. Corzine, the trial in which the plaintiffs argue that New Jersey’s voting machines (Sequoia AVC Advantage) can’t be trusted to count the votes, because they’re so easily hacked to make them cheat.

I’ve previously written about the conclusions of my expert report: in 7 minutes you can replace the ROM and make the machine cheat in every future election, and there’s no practical way for the State to detect cheating machines (in part because there’s no voter-verified paper ballot).

The trial started on January 27, 2009 and I testified for four and a half days. I testified that the AVC Advantage can be hacked by replacing its ROM, or by replacing its Z80 processor chip, so that it steals votes undetectably. I testified that fraudulent firmware can also be installed into the audio-voting daughterboard by a virus carried through audio-ballot cartridges. I testified about many other things as well.

Finally, I testified about the accuracy of the Sequoia AVC Advantage. I believe that the most significant source of inaccuracy is its vulnerability to hacking. There’s no practical means of testing whether the machine has been hacked, and certainly the State of New Jersey does not even attempt to test. If we could somehow know that the machine has not been hacked, then (as I testified) I believe the most significant _other_ inaccuracy of the AVC Advantage is that it does not give adequate feedback to voters and pollworkers about whether a vote has been recorded. This can lead to a voter’s ballot not being counted at all; or a voter’s ballot counting two or three times (without fraudulent intent). I believe that this error may be on the order of 1% or more, but I was not able to measure it in my study because it involves user-interface interaction with real people.

In the hypothetical case that the AVC Advantage has not been hacked, I believe this user-interface source of perhaps 1% inaccuracy would be very troubling, but (in my opinion) is not the main reason to disqualify it from use in elections. The AVC Advantage should be disqualified for the simple reason that it can be easily hacked to cheat, and there’s no practical method that will be sure of catching this hack.

Security seals. When I examined the State’s Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines in July 2008, they had no security seals preventing ROM replacement. I demonstrated on video (which we played in Court in Jan/Feb 2009) that in 7 minutes I could pick the lock, unscrew some screws, replace the ROM with one that cheats, replace the screws, and lock the door.

In September 2008, after the State read my expert report, they installed four kinds of physical security seals on the AVC Advantage. These seals were present during the November 2008 election. On December 1, I sent to the Court (and to the State) a supplemental expert report (with video) showing how I could defeat all of these seals.

In November/December the State informed the Court that they were changing to four new seals. On December 30, 2008 the State Director of Elections, Mr. Robert Giles, demonstrated to me the installation of these seals onto the AVC Advantage voting machine and gave me samples. He installed quite a few seals (of these four different kinds, but some of them in multiple places) on the machine.

On January 27, 2009 I sent to the Court (and to the State) a supplemental expert report showing how I could defeat all those new seals. On February 5th, as part of my trial testimony I demonstrated for the Court the principles and methods by which each of those seals could be defeated.

On cross-examination, the State defendants invited me to demonstrate, on an actual Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machine in the courtroom, the removal of all the seals, replacement of the ROM, and replacement of all the seals leaving no evidence of tampering. I then did so, carefully and slowly; it took 47 minutes. As I testified, someone with more practice (and without a judge and 7 lawyers watching) would do it much faster.

Optical-scan voting extremely accurate in Minnesota

The recount of the 2008 Minnesota Senate race gives us an opportunity to evaluate the accuracy of precinct-count optical-scan voting. Though there have been contentious disputes over which absentee ballot envelopes to open, the core technology for scanning ballots has proved to be extremely accurate.

The votes were counted by machine (except for part of one county that counts votes by hand), then every single ballot was examined by hand in the recount.

The “net” accuracy of optical-scan voting was 99.99% (see below).
The “gross” accuracy was 99.91% (see below).
The rate of ambiguous ballots was low, 99.99% unambiguous (see below).

My analysis is based on the official spreadsheet from the Minnesota Secretary of State. I commend the Secretary of State for his commitment to transparency in the form of making the data available in such an easy-to-analyze format. The vast majority of the counties use the ES&S M100 precinct-count optical-scanners; a few use other in-precinct scanners.

I exclude from this analysis all disputes over which absentee ballots to open. Approximately 10% of the ballots included in this analysis are optically scanned absentee ballots that were not subject to dispute over eligibility.

There were 2,423,851 votes counted for Coleman and Franken. The “net” error rate is the net change in the vote margin from the machine-scan to the hand recount (not including change related to qualification of absentee ballot envelopes). This was 264 votes, for an accuracy of 99.99% (error, one part in ten thousand).

The “gross” error rate is the total number of individual ballots either added to one candidate, or subtracted from one candidate, by the recount. A ballot that was changed from one candidate to the other will count twice, but such ballots are rare. In the precinct-by-precinct data, the vast majority of precincts have no change; many precincts have exactly one vote added to one candidate; few precincts have votes subtracted, or more than one vote added, or both.

The recount added a total of 1,528 votes to the candidates, and subtracted a total of 642 votes, for a gross change of 2170 (again, not including absentee ballot qualification). Thus, the “gross” error rate is about 1 in 1000, or a gross accuracy of 99.91%.

Ambiguous ballots: During the recount, the Coleman and Franken campaigns initially challenged a total of 6,655 ballot-interpretation decisions made by the human recounters. The State Canvassing Board asked the campaigns to voluntarily withdraw all but their most serious challenges, and in the end approximately 1,325 challenges remained. That is, approximately 5 ballots in 10,000 were ambiguous enough that one side or the other felt like arguing about it. The State Canvassing Board, in the end, classified all but 248 of these ballots as votes for one candidate or another. That is, approximately 1 ballot in 10,000 was ambiguous enough that the bipartisan recount board could not determine an intent to vote. (This analysis is based on the assumption that if the voter made an ambiguous mark, then this ballot was likely to be challenged either by one campaign or the other.)

Caveat: As with all voting systems, including optical-scan, DREs, and plain old paper ballots, there is also a source of error from voters incorrectly translating their intent into the marked ballot. Such error is likely to be greater than 0.1%, but the analysis I have done here does not measure this error.

Hand counting: Saint Louis County, which uses a mix of optical-scan and hand-counting, had a higher error rate: net accuracy 99.95%, gross accuracy 99.81%.

Security Seals on AVC Advantage Voting Machines are Easily Defeated

On September 2, 2008, I submitted a report to the New Jersey Superior Court, demonstrating that the DRE voting machines used in New Jersey are insecure: it is easy to replace the vote-counting program with one that fraudulently shifts votes from one candidate to another.

In Section 10 of my report, I explained that

  1. There are no security seals on New Jersey’s AVC Advantages
    that prevent removal of the circuit-board cover;

  2. Even if there were security seals, physical security seals are easily defeated and would not significantly increase the security of elections in New Jersey.
  3. And in conclusion, one cannot achieve trustworthy elections solely by trying to ensure that a particular computer program is installed in the voting machine.

In October 2008, the State of New Jersey (and Sequoia Voting Systems) reacted by installing new security seals on the circuit board cover of voting machines in New Jersey. That is, they reacted to point 1 and ignored points 2 and 3.

In December 2008 I submitted to the Court a new report, and a new video, demonstrating how New Jersey’s new security seals can be removed and replaced without leaving evidence of tampering. It took me about 7 minutes the first time I tried it; I estimate it would take less than half that time with practice.

The video available here is now available in a compressed mp4 format, though it still takes a while to load. not well compressed and takes forever to load over the Internet; sometime in the near future I hope to make available a better-compressed video.

Voting Machines are Silent in Princeton Today

In my recent report on the Sequoia AVC Advantage DRE voting machine, I explained (in Section 32) that the AVC Advantage makes a chirping sound when the pollworker activates the machine to accept a vote, and makes the sound again when the voter presses the CAST VOTE button. In important purpose of this sound is to alert all witnesses in the room that a vote is being cast. This makes it harder for people to cast extra votes on the machine. This idea goes back a hundred years: equip the voting machine (or even a simple ballot box) with a bell that rings every time a ballot is cast. In my report I wrote that the AVC Advantage’s chirping sound is not as loud as it should be.

This morning when I voted in Princeton, New Jersey, the chirping sound was not heard at all. When the AVC Advantage machines were activated to vote, and when the voters pressed the CAST VOTE button, there was no sound at all. Configuring the machines in this way is not a good idea. It makes the voters more uncertain about whether their vote was cast, and it makes it easier to inadvertently or deliberately cast extra votes.

UPDATE: Other machines in Princeton are making sounds. Also, some voters who used these very same machines report hearing sounds. So at this point I don’t believe that it’s a county-wide configuration issue. It may be a local, temporary malfunction of the little speaker in the operator panel, or it may be something else.

Repeated voting, though made easier by the absence of a sound, would still require collusion with the pollworker standing outside the voting machine. Such collusion does not require criminal intent. It may take the form,
Voter: I’m not sure my vote registered.
Pollworker: OK, I’ll activate the machine again just to make sure.
This scenario is not as far-fetched as you might think.

UPDATE 2: Another voter reports that when she voted later in the day at a different location in Princeton, she listened carefully (when pressing the CAST VOTE button) for the sound, but did not hear it. In both my case and hers, the CAST VOTE button was lit before we pressed it, so presumably our votes did count, if the manufacturer’s standard firmware was installed in the AVC Advantage.

Louisiana Re-enfranchises Independent Voters

Two weeks ago I wrote that independent voters were disenfranchised in the Louisiana Congressional primaries: unclear or incorrect instructions by the Secretary of State to the pollworkers caused thousands of independent voters to be incorrectly precluded from voting in the open Democratic primary on October 4th.

Today I am told that Secretary of State Jay Dardenne has corrected the problem. Earl Schmitt, a “Commissioner in Charge” (head precinct pollworker) in the 15th ward of New Orleans, reports that all pollworkers were recently brought in for a two-hour training meeting. They were given clear instructions that independent voters are to be given a ticket marked “Democrat” that permits them to vote in today’s Democratic runoff primary election. (Because of a hurricane, the original September 6th primary was postponed to October 4th, and both parties’ runoff primaries are being held today, along with the Obama vs. McCain presidential election. The Democratic Party is permitting independents to vote in their primary; the Republican Party is not. The general election for congressional seats in Louisiana will be December 6th.)

I am happy that the Secretary of State moved quickly to retrain pollworkers. It’s not that no harm was done–after all, those independent voters might have made a difference in which candidates advanced to the runoff–but better late than never, in improving the administration of our elections.

Clarification: Only 2 of Louisiana’s 7 congressional districts required a runoff primary; the other 5 held their congressional general election on Nov. 4th.