Some people have begun to complain that with California’s Feb. 5, 2008 presidential primary election half a year away they are already inundated with campaign news and rhetoric. Indeed, the horse race to succeed George W. Bush picked up tremendous speed soon after the 2006 midterm elections. National news programs seem to have already picked their winners and also-rans and comment rolls on blogs are descending into ever more infantile rants. Closer to home, visitors to the Ventura County Fair — which began Aug. 1 and runs through Aug. 12 — will likely come across booths from local branches of political parties, as well as individual campaigns.
None of this is surprising. Looking back at the 2004 election cycle, one remembers that by this time in preceding summer Howard Dean seemingly had a lock on the Democratic nomination. As we all know, Dean wasn’t such a sure thing after all.
Now, it looks like we might never know if anything about next year’s elections will be a sure thing. Perhaps the only certainty we have is that for better or worse, someone will replace Bush at the White House (barring some bizarre, brazen assault on the constitution).
Sadly, shenanigans potentially much worse than those that allegedly put Bush in office in 2000, and kept him there in 2004, could be in store for 2008. Any voter, regardless of party affiliation, should be outraged at the threat exposed by the findings of a new study into the security and accuracy of voting systems used throughout the state.
On July 27, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen — who oversees elections and voting systems in the state — released the results of a two-month study by an independent team of University of California analysts that scrutinized the “security, accuracy, reliability and accessibility of the voting systems certified for use in California.” Among the systems analyzed were machines used in Ventura County made by Sequoia Voting Systems. The report is available online at www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_vs.htm.
Employing “red teams” to try to compromise the voting systems, the analysts determined that each of the voting systems it studied could be compromised. The red teams essentially pretended to be attackers that could come from anywhere in the voting process. The idea was to test the machine from any approach to determine whether every possible security measure had been taken.
Testers, the report said, were not given enough time to test every vulnerability of the voting machines, and, it said one of the teams was confident it would find more security issues if it had been given enough time for testing. The report also said that testers were not given all the information necessary to completely test the systems.
But even within those limitations, the red teams found significant threats to the integrity of California’s voting systems. Testers found about seven different types of problems for the voting systems in use in Ventura County, in which, the report said, “weaknesses could be exploited to affect the correct recording, reporting, and tallying of votes.”
Granted, none of the testers took into account the methods used by each county to prevent those weaknesses from being exploited. Hopefully, the elections division of the Ventura County Clerk and Recorder is working to ensure its employees and volunteers are properly screened to prevent abuses during any election.
But with 58 different counties in California, that leaves 58 different security measures to deal with in our state alone. And with the limitations imposed on the UC testing, we do not have a full understanding of problems with the state’s voting technology.
On Aug. 3, a day after this editorial goes to press, Bowen will decide whether or not to certify the three systems tested, using the UC report, state and local election procedures, and public comments to inform her decision making.
We do not envy Bowen, for in the nation’s most populous state, the fate of our democracy may be hanging in the balance of her decision, with or without a chad.