Flaws Halt SERVE

By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2004-04-05 Print this article Print

The SERVE project, led by Accenture Ltd., would have allowed 100,000 overseas citizens from 50 counties in seven states to vote in the primary and general elections. But two weeks before its scheduled debut in the South Carolina primary, the project came skidding to a halt. The peer review team said the system could cause automated vote buying and selling and privacy violations, and it even could reverse the outcome of elections—all of which could occur without anyone knowing.

Computer scientists never say never, but Simons and her colleagues concluded that SERVE is much too far ahead of its time.

So for now, electronic voting proponents and their adversaries have turned their attention away from the Internet and to e-voting at the polls. While Simons and her colleagues consider the security flaws of Internet voting insurmountable, they also see problems in e-voting at the polls, including proprietary software, lack of protection against insider fraud and lack of voter verifiability.

Software can contain bugs, and it can be tampered with, introducing the possibility that a printout of votes following an election does not represent actual votes in a touch-screen system, Simons said. That problem does not necessarily increase the likelihood of fraud, but it increases the appearance of the potential for fraud, she said.

"Youre basically handing over your rights in a democracy to a handful of companies with secret code," Simons said. "Why is it that a bunch of geeks who are not known for being political activists have suddenly had their lives taken over by this issue? Were doing this because we care about democracy. I believe our democracy is at stake."

The computer scientists are not alone in their concern. Bills were introduced last year in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to improve vote verification where electronic systems are used. The legislation would require a manual recount of a percentage of votes, voter-verifiable paper ballots and open code.

Because of some state requirements, many e-voting technology providers are developing verifiable paper ballots to accompany the electronic process.

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