California’s top election official on Friday decertified systems produced by Hart Intercivic, Diebold Election Systems and Sequoia Voting Systems effectively barring their use anywhere in the state. However, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has agreed to allow counties to use the machines in February’s presidential primary if strict new security precautions are taken.
Bowen said she made the decision in response to recent testing by a state sponsored panel of computer scientists demonstrated flaws in the machines that allowed the team to break through the security of every model tested and change results or take control of at least some of the systems' electronic functions.
During her election campaign last year, Ms. Bowen made it clear she had little confidence in the security of electronic voting machines and vowed to review their use in the state.
Bowen’s decision comes amid growing concerns nationally about the security and reliability of electronic voting machines. It affects systems made by three of the four largest voting machine companies. A fourth system, Election Systems and Software, missed the deadline for submitting the equipment so their systems were not included in the top-to-bottom testing.
Bowen placed the toughest restrictions on touch-screen machines, in which a voter’s ballot is generated by a computer. She said the machines made by Diebold Election Systems and Sequoia Voting Systems could be used only in early voting and to meet voting-access requirements for the disabled.
One touch-screen model, made by Hart InterCivic, can be used more broadly, she said. But all three of the systems can be used only under painstaking security procedures, including audits of the election results.
Many critics of electronic voting machines have long favored the optical-scanning systems. And in announcing her decisions late Friday night, Ms. Bowen said she also thought that those systems made it “easier for voters to see and understand” how their ballots were being tallied. Ms. Bowen said optical-scanning systems also were barred but re-certified under the new security procedures.
The California study has already caught the attention of legislators in Washington. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is one of the chief sponsors of a bill that would prohibit paperless voting machines by the 2010 federal elections, says she plans to hold a hearing in September on the report in the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, which she heads.
In a statement Tuesday, Feinstein expressed dismay at "how easily these machines could be hacked into and election results distorted," based on her reading of the report."The findings are yet another reason that states and counties should consider a move to optical scan machines that provide an auditable, individual voter-verified paper record without having to rely on a separate printer," she went on.