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Electronic Voting Systems: Is Sanity Starting to Prevail?

If you have been following developments in the information technology arena, you undoubtedly know of the many problems that have surfaced in connection with electronic voting systems. The accuracy of vote counts in two states (Florida and Ohio) that used electronic voting systems in the 2004 US Presidential Election came under considerably negative scrutiny. Afterwards, elected officials several states, most notably Maryland and California, had the security of these systems analyzed. Results were dramatic; investigators found that every major electronic voting system had significant vulnerabilities that could result in votes being mistallied. Some vulnerabilities that investigators discovered even allowed remote perpetrators to remotely access these systems without authorization and gain complete control of them.

Instead of simply trying to fix the vulnerabilities that were found, vendors of electronic voting systems quickly tried to discredit the vulnerability analyses that had been performed, saying among other things that many of the potential attack avenues were not feasible in ordinary environments. Several vendors also launched vigorous public relations campaigns to control the public perception damage that the vulnerability analyses had caused. The vendors were to some degree successful, but their efforts were, fortunately, insufficient to stem the growing tide of skepticism and mistrust surrounding the use of electronic voting systems. In some states within the US certain voting systems were decertified for use in elections. Several countries, Ireland and The Netherlands in particular, banned the use of voting systems altogether.

Much of the furor surrounding the use of electronic voting systems has subsided now that the facts concerning the security of these systems are out on the table, so to speak. States within the US have been considerably more cautious concerning the use of electronic voting systems, and instead of continuing to discredit the vulnerability analyses performed on these systems, vendors have grudgingly turned to fixing these vulnerabilities. Reason has prevailed; the hope of having secure voting systems is now within sight. I predict that in five years electronic voting systems will be widely used with great confidence within the US as well as abroad. And although the problems surrounding these systems are likely to be largely forgotten over time, hopefully the “lessons learned” surrounding the security of these systems will not. Before any type of computing system is used for any critical function, security should be built in by the vendor and vulnerabilities should be thoroughly analyzed and corrected. To use vulnerability-ridden systems for any critical function should be out of the question. Unfortunately, vulnerability-filled systems are used routinely in today’s information technology environments, but people will eventually realize that the cost of deploying these systems is in the long run much higher than the cost of deploying secure systems. 

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