N.J. judge blocks report on e-voting machines

Here's a classic example of why the widespread use of paperless electronic voting machines is doing grave damage to public confidence that elections are being conducted securely ... and on the up and up.

After initially approving an Oct. 2 release date, a New Jersey judge has now ordered a group of computer security experts to neither release nor discuss the findings of their examination of source code used in the Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machine. The examination was part of a lawsuit challenging the use of election machines that do not produce an auditable paper trail.

From the blog of one of the experts, Andrew Appel:

In the spring of 2008, Judge Linda Feinberg ordered the defendants (officials of the State of New Jersey) to provide to the plaintiffs: (a) Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines, (b) the source code to those voting machines, and (c) other specified information. The Sequoia Voting Systems company, which had not been a party to the lawsuit, objected to the examination of their source code by the plaintiffs' experts, on the grounds that the source code contained trade secrets. The Court recognized that concern, and crafted a Protective Order that permitted the plaintiffs' experts to examine the source code while protecting the trade secrets within it. However, the Court Order, issued by Judge Feinberg on June 20, does permit the plaintiffs' experts to release this report to the public at a specified time (which has now arrived). In fact, the clause of this Order that permits the release of the report was the subject of lengthy legal argument in May-June 2008, and the plaintiffs' experts were not willing to examine the AVC Advantage machines under conditions that prevent public discussion of their findings.

I served as the plaintiffs' expert witness and led an examination team including myself and 5 other computer scientists (Maia Ginsburg, Harri Hursti, Brian Kernighan, Chris Richards, and Gang Tan). We examined the voting machines and source code during July-August 2008. On September 2nd we provided to the Court (and to the defendants and to Sequoia) a lengthy report concerning the accuracy and security of the Sequioa AVC Advantage. The terms of the Court's Protective Order of June 20 permit us to release the report today, October 2nd.

However, on September 24 Judge Feinberg, "with great reluctance," orally ordered the plaintiffs not to release the report on October 2nd, and not to publicly discuss their conclusions from the study. She did so after the attorney for Sequoia grossly mischaracterized our report. In order to respect the Judge's temporary stay, I cannot now comment further on what the report does contain.

In one sense, it shouldn't matter whether Sequoia's concerns are legitimate or strictly designed to avoid embarrassment. And it shouldn't matter whether the judge made a wise or ill-advised decision in delaying release of the report.

These things only matter because we as a society, through our elected officials, have allowed to develop the most critical underpinning of democracy without any meaningful means of assuring that this underpinning isn't rotten.

The paperless machines have to go. It's that simple.

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