THE PAPERLESS TRAIL TO THE NEW JERSEY'S GOVERNER'S MANSION: THE VOTING MACHINE DILEMMA
By Karen DeSoto
In a press release last week, Jon Corzine was quick to point out that you need to vote because "every vote counts". Does it really? New Jersey's last election cycle resulted in four tied local elections, four elections decided by one vote, and the margin of victory in 66 races was less than 1 percent, according to a report issued by the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate.
What the report does not highlight is that three months ago a very important trial ended regarding New Jerseyans fundamental right to vote. The result of a suit filed more than five years ago, the trial lasted six months at great taxpayer expense, and the outcome may conclude that the very machines New Jersey residents will be using this Tuesday are not secure and should not be used.
The Governor's election next week is not only contentious and promises to be close, and so the allegations that the voting machines are unsafe, corruptible and paperless are even more of a concern. I asked Penny Venetis, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit what her greatest concern for Tuesday's Governor's election would be. She responded, "That someone will manipulate the machines, throw the results and substitute the will of the people."
Ms. Venetis is confident that the six month trial proved irrefutably that New Jersey's voting machines are unreliable, inaccurate, easily hacked and unable to be audited. The main witness was not any expert witness but the head of Princeton University's Computer Science Department. "The science doesn't lie," Venetis stated. But even though the trial ended last July, the judge has yet to render a decision.
How can New Jersey verify any election? The Sequoia voting machines, store votes electronically on a computer chip that is removed from the voting machine at the end of the election. A paper tape in the machine records the number of votes but does not have the capability of storing an individual record of each vote cast, and so there is no audit trail through which votes can be later verified.
The New York Times reported just this week that the Pentagon is aware of the risks to using commercial technology and that less than 2 percent of the computer chips used in computers are made in the United States. It was also reported that a White House employee, Melissa Hathway, in an email acknowledged the deliberate subversions of computer hardware. She wrote, "These are not hypothetical threats, and we have witnessed countless intrusions that have allowed criminals to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and allowed nation-states and others to steal intellectual property and sensitive military information."
New Jersey's voting machines appear to be easy pickings. Ms. Venetis stated that at trial, the evidence demonstrated that the software used in the voting machines could be corrupted by a computer savvy 12-year-old. So why has New Jersey played fast and loose with its citizens' fundamental right to vote? Of course, it must be the money! However, it was reported that when New York realized the fundamental flaws in the Sequoia voting machines, it wasn't until after they had ordered and contracted for hundreds of machines. To be on the safe side and in an effort to protect the voters, New York breached that contract and allegedly settled out of court with Sequoia for millions of dollars. I guess New York State, unlike New Jersey, believes that securing their voters' fundamental right to vote was worth more than the money.
The New Jersey Legislature passed legislation in 2006 directing that by 2008, New Jersey would have to have voter verifiable voting machines. What happened? It appears that New Jersey didn't have the money to fund that legislation and the Governor and the State Attorney General requested that the compliance date be put off indefinitely. The trial court's decision appears to be the only way to resolve this dilemma.
The unreliable security of the voting machines' software being inadequate and unreliable is a non-partisan issue that may have a very partisan outcomes depending, not on the will of the people but the choice of a skilled hacker. It looks like Jon Corzine's directive in his press release urging New Jerseyans to vote and that every vote counts, is more of a campaign promise than a reality.