After much examination, San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum has determined his office will be able to meet California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s demands for stepping up the security and auditing processes for the county’s e-voting machines before the next elections.
On Aug. 3, Bowen, the state’s top election official, rendered an edict that scaled back the use of most electronic voting machines in the state, citing security concerns and vulnerability to hackers. Her ruling came eight weeks after computer scientists from the University of California conducted an eight-week “top-to-bottom review” behind closed doors. Forty six of the state’s 58 counties were affected.
However, her decision allows for the continued use of San Mateo’s system, Hart InterCivic’s eSlates (shown above by Slocum), provided that some additional security and post-election auditing measures are put in place in the next 30 to 60 days.
“I am pleased to state that our Elections Office and its vendor, Hart InterCivic, will be able to comply with all of the secretary’s mitigations within the designated timeframe,” Slocum wrote in a memo Monday to the county Board of Supervisors. “When implemented, our layered security approach will help ensure that San Mateo County’s voting devices are secure from the kind of tampering that went on in that room in Sacramento where computer scientists had unfettered access to the voting devices.”
San Mateo County escaped relatively unscathed, as we reported last week.
Bowen decertified Los Angeles County’s electronic voting system and significantly curtailed the use of electronic voting machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems and Sequoia Election Systems (the latter of which is used in neighboring Santa Clara County). For those counties, only one machine will be allowed in each polling place to meet the 2002 Help America Vote Act disability-access requirements. Most voters will likely have to use paper ballots read by optical scanners.
It’s unclear exactly why Hart’s system fared better (results of the review were partly kept secret), but Slocum had a hunch of his own.
“It appears as if the reason San Mateo County’s voting devices faired (sic) better than the others is that the eSlate voting system, while not perfect, did not have the security defect that would allow a ‘virus’ to spread through a precinct’s voting devices and potentially alter the vote totals,” Slocum wrote.
Furthermore, Slocum wrote, one of the “security innovations fundamental to the Hart voting system” is that the record of votes cast is kept in three physically separate memory devices, creating triplicate originals that can more easily reveal discrepancies.
Slocum said that complying with Bowen’s list of 36 additional requirements will be made easier in part because of security measures that the county already adopted when it launched the eSlates last year. Slocum said his office followed many of the recommendations from reports made by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and the federal Government Accounting Office. They also took some advice from David Dill, a founder of VerifiedVoting.org and a computer science professor at Stanford University.
“Those implementations helped us stay ahead of the ‘security curve,'” Slocum wrote.