Fears of an election plunged into e-voting chaos weren't realized Tuesday. But on the morning after, skeptics of the technology were as convinced as ever that the machines are unreliable and vulnerable to attacks.
"The main problems with the system are still unresolved," said Bob Ferraro, co-director of TrueVoteMD, a group that tried unsuccessfully to stop electronic voting in Maryland. "The problems on Election Day were not huge in the grand scheme of things, but we were limited in our ability to measure the entire electorate. There is still no paper trail, and all the security problems are still there."
Even if voters feel confident no fraud was committed, Ferraro said, "that doesn't mean it won't happen in the future. There's no way to tell if there were security compromises. The longer security vulnerabilities exist, the more likely they will be exploited at some point."
E-voting machines were used in 29 states and the District of Columbia Tuesday, and there were problems. In New Orleans, precinct workers had to tell voters to come back later because some machines wouldn't boot up properly, The Associated Press reported. In Florida, epicenter of the 2000 election debacle, 10 touch-screen machines malfunctioned at various Broward County precincts. In Maryland, Ferraro said some people had to try up to five times to get the machines to record their votes properly.
"We had 600 poll watchers throughout the state, and we recorded numerous problems," he said. "One person I talked to said she put her finger on Kerry's name and Bush's name popped up. She got it cleared up, but said she had trouble with every position on the ballot. That was the number-one problem we heard about all day."
Nationwide, problems did not reach the level many skeptics had warned of before the election. There's no evidence of hackers penetrating security holes in the machines to affect vote counts in battleground states, and malfunctions did not lead to a deadlocked presidential election.
But that doesn't mean such security breaches didn't happen, said Steve Thornburg, a senior consultant for Newport Beach, Calif.-based Mindspeed Technologies, Inc., which manufactures high-speed network processing chips used in core Internet routers. He's not affiliated with any of the groups that have challenged e-voting, but said his experience in the technology sector has taught him that security is more difficult to implement as technology advances.
"The more technology is embedded into our lives and the political process, the more people out there will find ways to hack into machines and tamper with them," he said. "In many cases, you have disgruntled employees for technology companies who know the vulnerabilities. And the major technology vendors in America are not taking security seriously."
In his business travels, Thornburg said he has chatted with software programmers who claimed they were offered money to tamper with e-voting machines.
"Software programmers I talk to have almost identical stories of people posing as pollsters, then offering them money to hack into these machines," he said. "I've heard from five or six people who said they were personally offered money to hack into machines and commit voter fraud. Most were offended, thank God. On a recent trip to North Carolina, I was in a hotel restaurant and the news was on. A man next to me, a service technician, told me both parties had offered him money to take a job with [Texas-based] Diebold Election Systems so he could rig their machines. He seemed sincere, and I had no reason to doubt his story."
Thornburg and Ferraro agreed a major improvement would be a system in which electronic votes could also be recorded on paper, so they can be reviewed in the event of malfunctions or security breaches.
Meantime, Black Box Voting Inc., a non-profit consumer advocacy group begun by investigative reporter Bev Harris, already has launched a massive effort to get copies of all internal logs for e-vote machines used Tuesday. The group began immediately blanketing U.S. counties and townships with 3,000 Freedom of Information requests. The group says on its Web site that a similar request filed in the Seattle area in September unearthed an internal audit log with three hours' worth of deleted results and suspicious modem activity on election night.
The Information Technology Association of America, meantime, hailed Tuesday's e-vote initiative a success. "Returns suggest nothing but the accurate and secure operation of electronic voting machines," president Harris Miller said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
SearchSecurity.com news writer Anne Saita contributed to this report.