Just in time for the upcoming Presidential election, computer scientists are saying that the new electronic voting machines can be hacked. Several states have already purchased these machines.

Celeste Biever writes in New Scientist that the Diebold Electronic voting machines are designed so that the votes are recorded on memory cards which must be physically collected, making them not that different from old-fashioned voting booths. However, the machines can be easily changed so that votes are counted wirelessly instead, which makes them vulnerable to hacking. It would be faster and cheaper to collect the votes this way, so “the benefits to election officials would be huge,” says computer scientist Doug Jones.

“Wireless capability is almost ideally suited for hackers,” says researcher Avi Rubin. “They no longer have to get physically close to the machines to tamper with them.”

A switch to wireless vote counting could even be done surreptitiously. Computer scientist Robert Kibrick says, “What concerns me is that the poll workers would need to be technically competent and sensitive to sophisticated machines.” Someone posing as a voter could easily slip a wireless card into a machine without a poll worker being aware of it, making it vulnerable to hackers. Scientists who are against the current machines want them to be reconfigured so that they cannot be used to wirelessly tabulate votes.

Paul Krugman writes in “Democracy at Risk” in the Friday, January 23 edition of The New York Times: “?Imagine this: in November the candidate trailing in the polls wins an upset victory?but all of the districts where he does much better than expected use touch-screen voting machines. Meanwhile, leaked internal e-mail from the companies that make these machines suggests widespread error, and possibly fraud. What would this do to the nation??Even if there are strong reasons to suspect that electronic machines miscounted the votes, nothing can be done about it. There is no paper trail; there is nothing to recount.”

Krugman has another suggestion. He reports that “Representative Rush Holt has introduced a bill calling for each machine to produce a paper record that the voter verifies. The paper record would then be secured for any future audit.”

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