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California elections official wins over techies

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen spoke to an appreciative crowd at the USENIX Security Symposium this week in San Jose. The state’s top elections official earned a long round of applause from the techie crowd after her opening keynote, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Paper Ballot.” A couple of attendees praised Bowen for ordering a top-to-bottom review of electronic voting systems used in California. The review, conducted last year by a team of computer security experts, uncovered a number of flaws in systems from Hart InterCivic Inc., Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. and Diebold Elections Systems ULC (now Premier Election Solutions Inc.)

In her keynote, Bowen compared those who “continue to deny the insecurities with electronic voting machines” to those who deny the evidence about global warming. “We’re always going to be chasing the latest exploits,” she said. “That’s why we’re looking at layered security.” While she doesn’t think a perfect voting system exists or could be created, Bowen promoted a system using paper ballots backed up with optical scanning to record the votes. The state can verify vote counts through random sample hand tallies. “Hand tallies mean never having to say ‘I trust you’ to thousands of lines of code,” Bowen said.

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