Thursday, March 20, 2008

Debugging Election Codes

An announcement on UC Berkeley's Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences website tells of an article featuring David Wagner in the March issue of a Berkeley Engineering publication about his work reviewing voting machine systems code.

Professor Wagner, as the Principal Investigator of a joint UC Berkeley-UC Davis project commissioned by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, led a team whose comprehensive examination found major vulnerabilities in voting machine systems.

While the machines were questioned immediately by grassroots activists, mainstream politics and media viewed their concerns about voting machine security as mere lunatic fringe behavior. However, according to Wagner, forward-thinking election officials changed this opinion. "Some elections officers took the activists' concerns seriously and forced these vendors to pry open the covers and hand over the source code," Wagner recalls. "That's what made it real; we could actually examine the code, so it wasn't just speculation anymore."

While Wagner's review prompted Bowen to limit the machines to one per polling place, a well-designed electronic voting machine could be a benefit to democracy.

See details in Innovations.