Court Muddies Sequoia E-voting Evaluation

A judge approves a security review of New Jersey machines, but not in time for the November general election.

A New Jersey judge is ordering an independent review of Sequoia Voting Systems after the company's AVC Advantage machines reported incorrect party vote totals in the state's Feb. 5 presidential primary election.

According to New Jersey voting officials, the ancillary party totals had no effect on the cast vote records on the voting machines.

In the aftermath of the primary, Union County officials asked noted Princeton e-voting researchers Ed Felten and Andrew Appel to analyze the Sequoia machines for possible vulnerabilities, a request that prompted Sequoia to send a letter to Union County threatening legal action if the machines were turned over to Princeton.

When the legal dust settled, Judge Linda R. Feinberg ruled April 25 that a technical review of the machines could proceed despite Sequoia's objections. However, the review will not take place until September, meaning that the machines in question can still be used in the November general elections.

To read about how Texas and Ohio handled paperless voting, click here.

"The court clearly recognized Sequoia's protectable rights in its software, firmware and other proprietary information," Sequoia said in a statement. "Sequoia will, in turn, cooperate by permitting the plaintiffs' limited access to Sequoia's machines under a protective order to be agreed between the parties and approved by the court."

Sequoia initially blamed the party total vote variances on poll worker error.

"This scenario takes place through an unusual sequence of poll worker actions on the control panel of the Advantage that does not follow the prescribed election and machine procedures," Sequoia said in a Feb. 28 statement.

Sequoia claimed that turning over the machines for a third-party analysis would violate the county's licensing agreement with Sequoia.

Unlike more modern touch-screen machines, Sequoia's AVC Advantage uses push buttons and lamps. The machines have been in use since the early 1980s and, according to Sequoia, both federal and state authorities have vigorously tested them.

"Sequoia routinely furnishes source code/firmware to VSTLs (U.S. Election Assistance Commission accredited Voting System Test Labs) and state governments for testing under suitable protective agreements," Sequoia said in its April 25 statement.

In 2007, Appel and his Princeton students obtained a Sequoia Advantage machine for analysis and found the machine's digital lock could be easily picked and that non-soldered ROM chips could be removed. Sequoia countered that such tampering would trigger an alarm at the company's headquarters.