Rules Should Ban Sleepovers

Did you know that once voting machines are publicly tested and are all set for the election they then get sent home with pollworkers for several days? It’s called a “sleepover” by critics of the practice. And it will still be permitted if the new Iowa rules proposed on Aug 30 go into effect unchanged.

It has become a well established fact that electronic voting equipment is hackable. Its been proven by computer scientists numerous times, most recently this week at Princeton.

Iowa and other states have reacted by slapping security tape on the most obviously vulnerable parts of the machine to “protect” against surreptitious entry. Then they continue the old practice of sending voting supplies home with the pollworkers.

Sleepovers were harmless when we began election mornings with an empty aluminum ballot box and a stack of paper ballots. Any pollworker could see that the box was empty and the ballots were still pristine.

Nowadays nary a pollworker can tell if the programming has been altered on an electronic ballot counting scanner or touchscreen. And what about the security tape? Here’s the observations of pollworker and computer scientist Avi Rubin from this week’s primary in Maryland:

Nothing happened today to change my opinion about the security of these systems, but I did have some eye opening experiences about the weaknesses of some of the physical security measures that are touted as providing the missing security. For example, I carefully studied the tamper tape that is used to guard the memory cards. In light of Hursti’s report, the security of the memory cards is critical. Well, I am 100% convinced that if the tamper tape had been peeled off and put back on, nobody except a very well trained professional would notice it. The tamper tape has a tiny version of the word “void” appear inside it after it has been removed and replaced, but it is very subtle. In fact, a couple of times, due to issues we had with the machines, the chief judge removed the tamper tape and then put it back. One time, it was to reboot a machine that was hanging when a voter was trying to vote. I looked at the tamper tape that was replaced and couldn’t tell the difference, and then it occurred to me that instead of rebooting, someone could mess with the memory card and replace the tape, and we wouldn’t have noticed. I asked if I could play with the tamper tape a bit, and they let me handle it. I believe I can now, with great effort and concentration, tell the difference between one that has been peeled off and one that has not. But, I did not see the judges using that kind of care every time they opened and closed them. As far as I’m concerned, the tamper tape does very little in the way of actual security, and that will be the case as long as it is used by lay poll workers, as opposed to CIA agents.

So Rubin has said the tape provides no security even at the polls. Think how much less good it does during a four day sleepover.

Tell the Secretary of State that we have outgrown sleepovers now that we have high tech vote manipulating devices instead of aluminum ballot boxes. Send comments on the Aug 30 rules to sos@sos.state.ia.us and put “Comments for Sandy Steinbach” in the subject line. Comment period ends Tuesday.

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