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United States Government Politics Technology

U.S. To Certify Labs For Testing E-Voting Machines 75

InternetVoting writes "In a clear counter to the recent criticisms of secrecy involving Ciber labs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued recommendations (pdf) to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). NIST recommends the accreditation of two labs, iBeta Quality Assurance and SysTest Labs. The recommendation, emphasizing the need for transparency, includes on-site assessment reports, lab responses, and on-site reviews for each lab. These reports shed much needed light into the process of voting machine certification. Learn more from the Q&As About NIST Evaluation of Laboratories that Test Voting Systems."
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U.S. To Certify Labs For Testing E-Voting Machines

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  • Opaque Audits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by P(0)(!P(k)+P(k+1)) ( 1012109 ) <> on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:38AM (#17681356) Homepage Journal

    It sounded, prima facie, like progress was being made; but quoth TFA:

    Currently, laboratories are using proprietary test methods and test cases to determine that a voting system meets existing federal standards. . . . By law, NIST must protect proprietary information. This includes details of a laboratory's specific testing methods and protocols.

    Call me cynical, but auditing opaque processes with equally opaque tests doesn't change much; I foresee a holographic sticker labelled “certified.”

    I'd wager, furthermore, they expect us to buy it at face value.

    • Re:Opaque Audits (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:40AM (#17681390) Homepage Journal
      They do have a halfway decent excuse for that, though.
      Why are laboratories using proprietary test methods?
      Currently, no uniform set of tests exists to determine that a voting system meets federal standards. With the support of the EAC, in 2007 NIST will begin to develop a uniform set of non-proprietary tests to be used in conjunction with the next version of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG 2007). The availability and use of these open tests will improve consistency and comparability among testing laboratories.
      Even a baby step in the right direction counts at this point.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by truthsearch ( 249536 )
        So, does that mean once these non-proprietary tests are created the process will be made more open? I agree, any step in the right direction is something good. I just hope that in the end we have real transparency.
      • Re:Opaque Audits (Score:5, Insightful)

        by P(0)(!P(k)+P(k+1)) ( 1012109 ) <> on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:47AM (#17681508) Homepage Journal

        Even a baby step in the right direction counts at this point.

        I think you're being too soft on your own government. Government isn't a child in need of coddling: it's a cynical and self-aware machine that studies to persist at your expense.

        • >Government isn't a child in need of coddling: it's a cynical and self-aware machine that studies to persist at your expense.

          I think you're confusing the government with those who abuse it (whatever party is in power).

          The government at times resembles a half-wit child with a gun.
          • I think you're confusing the government with those who abuse it. . . .

            Hmm; I guess that's the converse of “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Realistically speaking, however, the will to power is so congenitally irresistable that differentiating between government and the abuse thereof is academic.

            No: government and its abuse are selfsame (or can be modeled as such with reasonable success).

      • Re:Opaque Audits (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <wgrother.optonline@net> on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:48AM (#17681524) Journal

        When you think about it, the lack of standards is probably what has caused the current crop of voting machines to be such dismal failures. While I'm not sure I trust Diebold anyway, given their political connections, they probably would have done at least a halfway decent job on their machines if there were a set of standards to measure them against. It's not enough for the US Government to send out a Request For Proposals outlining what they are looking for, unless the functionality and security can be defined against some kind of standard. If the standards had existed first, maybe the machines would not have all the loopholes and omissions which make them such trash currently.

        • Re:Opaque Audits (Score:5, Insightful)

          by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:53AM (#17681618) Homepage Journal
          And if standards exist, maybe more companies can compete equally for the contracts.
          • by bberens ( 965711 )
            Perhaps it wasn't easily inferred, but the article is talking about voting machines in the United States.
        • I agree with you, but not having standards has some value as well. Once you publish a standard it makes it a lot easier for someone to create an exploit that will not be detected by that standard testing method. Of course, that assumes the standards will stay the same which hopefully they will not, but this is the federal government and when have they ever been nimble about responding to a threat?
      • by gravesb ( 967413 )
        It may still be a step in the right direction, but I would rather have the source code. Really, aren't we as both citizens and voters buying the machines? Shouldn't we have access to them? If a company doesn't want to open the source code, then they shouldn't bid. And arguing that the methods might be copied is easy to overcome. Governments are really the only ones buying these machines, so let them sign a long term contract, and the company gets the same business regardless. And if the contract was l
      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        It looks more like a moonwalk in the wrong direction...
    • by pilgrim23 ( 716938 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:51AM (#17681578)
      Wait, I thought the Dems won. Doesn't that mean there was no cheating?
    • going back in time (Score:2, Insightful)

      by chdig ( 1050302 )
      I wonder how the previous elections' voting computers would fare, being put through the new tests... think diebold would like to see exposed just how many security holes there were in their last series of "machines"?
  • by parvenu74 ( 310712 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:40AM (#17681382)
    When they get done fixing the broken system for certifying voting machines, how about an effort to screen the certifiable morons who keep getting onto the ballot?
    • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:57AM (#17681680) Journal
      how about an effort to screen the certifiable morons who keep getting onto the ballot?

      I know you're trying to be funny but every state has requirements for people who want to run for office. So long as they meet those requirements, anyone can get on the ballot.

      However, some states, such as Pennsylvania, have stacked the odds against third party candidates by requiring those candidates to meet higher standards. In Pennsylvania, if you are third party candidate and want to be on the ballot in November (you can't be on the ballot in May), you would need to gather signatures equal to or greater than 2% of the ballots cast for the largest vote-getter in the last statewide election race.

      In the most recent election, third party candidates would have needed 67,070 valid signatures to be on the ballot as the highest vote count in the last statewide election was 3.4 million.

      Contrast that with the 2,000 signatures that either a Democratic or Republican candidate must gather.

      Obviously the answer is to have the legislature change the reqirement but the vast majority of the unwashed masses don't know about the requirement, don't care about the requirement, and are happy enough simply voting straight ticket.

      Besides, can you imagine what would happen if it were easier for third party candidates to get on the ballot? Why, there would be competition and choice during an election! We can't have that, now can we?

      • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
        In the UK:

        To stand for election, a candidate must submit a nomination paper signed by ten electors* for the constituency and lodge a deposit of £500, which is refundable only if the candidate receives more than 5% of the total votes cast for each candidate at the election.

        * electors meaning members of the electorate, ie. general eligible public (for that constituency)

  • will not only bring the process of voting into the 20th century, but it will allow a much faster recount of dead people's votes.... /sarcasm
  • I take a black marker and complete an arrow next to the item I wish to cast my vote for. There is an election official next to the machine which reads in my ballot and electronically tallies my votes, along with the rest of the votes for that district. That way you have both a paper trail with the convenience of electronic tallying.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by truthsearch ( 249536 )
      With electronics, the biggest issue is the tallying, not as much the method of voting. Tallying can be corrupt with no voter noticing.
    • And the guy doing the tally puts a big mark next to your name because you didn't vote for the person that your boss "requested" you vote for. You didn't need that cost of living wage anyway, because that is part of the trickle down theory your canidate would vote against. There is a reason that votes are to remain secret.
  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:47AM (#17681492)
    Are these new testers truly being paid to examine these machines completely and exhaustively, or are they being paid to run a script, and sign a document?

    If it's the latter, then as long as the standards anywhere close to where they have been, we'll continue working with virtually whatever the voting machine companies assert is good.

    Ryan Fenton
  • Why is it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:51AM (#17681580) Homepage Journal

    That politicians can't grasp the immediately obvious? Why do they even bother with electronic voting machines when:

    • The voters don't want them, and,
    • They cost more and are less reliable than paper ballots, and,
    • The technical community thinks they're dangerous to democracy.

    How could any politician come to a conclusion that electronic voting machines make sense? There is no compelling reason to use electronic voting machines at all. The only possible explanation I see is that counties which bought electronic voting machines had county officials on the payroll of the voting machine makers.

    The fact that they've been purchased seems to suggest that politics is already not quite as transparent as it should be.

    • by lividdr ( 775594 )
      I think you over-estimate how much people "actively" don't want these things. I'm sure plenty of people don't like them, but are people really going to get involved?

      The "scandal" around the 2000 election opened the door - "hanging chads", people whinging that they were confused and *might* have voted for someone by accident because the inanimate ballots are to blame, overseas armed forces ballots getting lost, state attorney generals getting involved, the supreme court deciding the election, etc. The gene
    • There are two compelling reasons for EVMs. The most important is that the blind can vote without assistance (preserving the secret ballot). The second is to simplify ballot format: no more will we have the creative "butterfly" ballot (an attempt to squeeze more candidates into a given page space by alternating names on either side of the central "punch" area), which on its own may have swung the 2000 election. Did you know that Pat Buchanan received more votes in Palm Beach County (well-known as a haven for

      • You guys are getting way complicated. Forget the punch-outs, the electronics, etc. Print a list of names with a box next to the name, and the voter puts an X in the box. Print a batch that is both in ink and in braille, with a raised edge around the box. Or maybe give the voter a ticket and have a few boxes in the booth. The voter just drops the ticket in the box corresponding to the candidate they wish. Print the name of the candidate in braille, in ink, and throw on a picture too, so the illiterate
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      The voters don't want them

      I think you are confusing the /. crowd with the 'normal' mom & pop crowd. For the non-technical people it is much easier to press a box with the person's name (which then changes color) that poke a hole in a card.

      • I have an amazing piece of technology I'd like to suggest that makes hole punching absolutely obsolete: the Sharpie Brand Permanent Marker.

      • by mpe ( 36238 )
        I think you are confusing the /. crowd with the 'normal' mom & pop crowd. For the non-technical people it is much easier to press a box with the person's name (which then changes color) that poke a hole in a card.

        It's even simpler to place a cross in a box on a piece of paper/card.
    • Florida, 2000. Hanging chads. Confusing paper ballots. The electronic voting mess was supposed to prevent that from ever happening again.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      You don't understand - we've got this surplus of cash sitting around which we're not allowed to spend on education or universal health care.
    • by k1e0x ( 1040314 )

      I don't think people do want them, You tell people.. "Hea lets spend billions for a voting system that does no better job than the current one and has no paper trail.. but you get to know who wins instantly.. right after the lawsuits are finished that is."

      Politicians want to push these over on people and they will, "they will get use to them over time.. muhahaha!"

      All we need is to convert counties using wierd systems to a system where we use our number 2 pencils to fill in the dot on a paper ballot. The bal
  • How will "recommendations" change anything? Don't we need laws that protect the integrity of the voting process? Just asking...
    • No. If I've learned anything on slashdot, it's that the free market will sort this out.

      All joking aside, there needs to be a law that does protect the integrity of the voting process. But I believe we have these. It gets to be a problem though when you try to prove that somebody tampered with the electoral process. How do you show something was an intentional security backdoor, versus just a programming error? You can right specs and standards for this stuff, but specs have ambiguity, there are diff
  • Watchmen (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jdcook ( 96434 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:52AM (#17681598)
    Let me guess: the auditors are political appointees?
  • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:55AM (#17681636) Homepage Journal

    some hacker group gets Mickey Mouse elected via electronic voting machines. I'm wondering if even then people will pay attention.

    • by hclyff ( 925743 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:13PM (#17681952)
      Well, you elected GWB twice and nobody suspects a thing. Now tell me what makes you think people would pay attention if Mickey Mouse got elected... ?

      I thought so.
      • Mickey Mouse wouldn't get elected. His sexuality would be questioned immediately. He walks around bare-chested, hangs out with a pantless duck, and has yet to produce a single offspring or even marry his girlfriend of 50+ years (not to mention that odd high pitched voice of his).

        Bah! Goofy has a far better chance at the presidency. Now there's a complete fool I could respect!
    • ...gets Mickey Mouse elected...

      Hmm. Some interesting possibilities. Thinking about the future, imagine what it would cost to put President Mouse's picture on currency. Would Disney license that use, and would the guv have to pay royalties for each bill/coin in circulation?

      And there's also the argument that we already have a mickey-mouse president.....

  • by gordona ( 121157 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:55AM (#17681648) Homepage
    Why is this just happening now after several years of use (and possible misuse)? Note to readers: this is a rhetorical question. I work for the cable industry which spends lots of money and time for years, certifying devices that get attached to the cable networks. I guess this is more important that ensuring the veracity of our voting systems. But this begs the question. The voting machines are only one link in the chain and perhaps not even the weakest link. Previous elections have quite possibly been affected by selective voter purges and mishandling of ballots--do provisional and absentee ballots even get counted? So, certification of the devices is a needed measure as is holding in escrow the source code of the devices. But this is not the only measure that should be taken.

    "If god had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates"
    • Why is this just happening now after several years of use (and possible misuse)? Note to readers: this is a rhetorical question. I work for the cable industry which spends lots of money and time for years, certifying devices that get attached to the cable networks.

      The certification of voting machines is not new. There have been federal requirements that electronic voting machines' software be "third party certified" for some time now. The new phenomenon is certifying the certifiers. Previously you coul

  • Any election where your vote is secret can be rigged. There have been stories of boxes of paper ballots disappearing. If the e-voting machines gave you the voter a receipt with a vote ID number, and your vote was published(say online) how could elections be rigged? Would it be worth the invasion of privacy to ensure a secure voting system?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DudeTheMath ( 522264 )

      And any vote that's not secret can be coerced. Heard any news lately about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pushing for legislation to make votes to form a union non-secret?

      Admittedly, in this country, it's hard to believe there could be wide-spread voter tampering, but vote-buying could still occur. For example, a company president could offers election day as a paid holiday (or just a monetary bonus) if the employee brings in his or her ballot indicating a vote for X? Or something more sinister: offer a paid

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lividdr ( 775594 )
      It wasn't that long ago that being identified as a "Communist" was enough to be accused of treason and brought before a Congressional inquest. It's nice to think that nobody will care how you vote, but once your voting record is public there are all sorts of people who wouldn't think twice about using it in judgements. It isn't that much of a leap to imagine being denied work or fired because you didn't vote with the PHB.

      See also, -American_Activities [] and
      • Ok, well we could give everyone a receipt. And you could go online to make sure no one changed who you voted for. Like you can look up keno games now. You could look up vote #s. As long as the vote # isnt ties to a person there would be no problem. With the results public you could write verify the results yourself, and anyone whos vote was changed would have their receipt to prove it.
    • by mpe ( 36238 )
      There have been stories of boxes of paper ballots disappearing.

      How hard is it to design ballot boxes with a tamper resistent tracking device and to have cameras watching when the ballot papers go in and when the boxes are opened to count the votes?
  • Is it just me, or is this another chance to create a group that will just suck all the money in and be corrupt?
    What is the likelihood that this group would be able to satisfy everyone and have enough power to keep elections from being rigged? //Thanks God for being born in Canada ///Not that we are much different.
  • Voting Computers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by benjonson ( 204985 )
    As was pointed out on slashdot yesterday 18/152205 [], calling these things voting computers rather than voting machines gets the story across much better. People might wake up when they hear these things more accurately described.
  • More crap like NIAP? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bug ( 8519 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @02:37PM (#17684310)
    Another one of NIST's big security certification schemes is NIAP. It's difficult to see it as anything but a failure. The "protection profiles" that systems are tested against sometimes explicitly assume a benign environment with no hackers. Hello, what's the point then? Also, the most common certifications don't involve source code verification or any other kind of strenuous testing. Just take a look at the list of crap [] that they have validated, including some products with absurd levels of vulnerabilities. Apparently, Microsoft Windows is very secure, according to NIST's NIAP. Note also that, because this is pay to play, many of the best security tools are completely missing from the list. If I had to bet money, I'd say that well-heeled companies like Diebold will make it through the testing despite a lot of vulnerabilities, and the public will be no better off.
    • You're got the right idea, but you're placing the blame with the wrong folks.

      Protection Profiles are written by the organizations using NIST standards. If Microsoft (for example) chose create a really, really lame Protection Profile for their ToE (Target of Evaluation, in MS's case several of their flagship OSes), that's their crap/deception, not NIST's. A lame PP would be one that states the system will never be connected to a network, is protected from physical access, never has unsigned code running on
      • by Moofie ( 22272 )
        Are you two trying to corner the market on acronyms? Because, seriously, the military has some GAME. Y'all better step up.
      • by Python ( 1141 )
        Be that as it may, the NIAP is still a failure because the agencies don't seem to understand the short comings of the program. The perception is that EAL levels are some quantification of security. The higher the level, the better it must be, and if a product doesn't have an EAL - well then we shouldn't use it. Which means a lot of excellent security tools are excluded from agencies, particularly at DoD where they are really needed.

        For example, when conducting pen tests I've personally had to battle the
  • ...what in the hell is so god damn hard about making sure that a device records a selection that a user makes via a touch screen? What the hell about certifying that process needs to be kept as a 'trade secret'?

    This is all a bunch of media-spin garbage to get people to buy into blackbox voting, which (and I apologize for my arrogance) anyone with half a brain should see, is a horrible idea.

    As far as me and my tax dollars are concerned, all voting software should be open, methods transparent and certificatio
  • "Tallying can be corrupt with no voter noticing."

    The fair voting system favors the winner.

    I mean, the fair voting system disfavors the loser.


One can't proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.