Good hackers say Sequoia’s more secure
So you want to figure out what kind of electronic voting machine is going to gather the votes of Nevadans accurately and securely in 2004? Just ask the state’s official slot machine hackers. Oh, wait, I forgot.

“We don’t call them hackers,” said Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller. “We call them ‘forensic computer specialists.’ ”

It’s not every state that can boast of employing computer specialists who are skilled at the many ways to manipulate electronic gambling devices. Making sure video poker machines are secure is a critical endeavor, since fraud could cost both casino operators and the state plenty. Making sure voting machines are secure was also a high priority for Heller.

Before selecting Sequoia Voting Systems’ touch-screen machines as the statewide election solution, Heller asked the Electronic Services Division of Nevada’s Gaming Control Board to check out both systems.

At a press conference last week announcing his decision, Heller explained that he’d waited until the state hackers had completed their research before making the final call between two manufacturers: Sequoia or Diebold Voting Systems.

Marc McDermott, chief of the Electronic Services Division, told Heller that the Diebold machines, those used in the most recent Sparks election, represented “a legitimate threat to the integrity of the election process.”

Washoe County election officials preferred the Diebold machines, for which the county already owns the election management software system. The Sequoia touch-screen machines have been used in Las Vegas for the past 10 years.

One big glitch in Diebold’s security, McDermott noted, was that the source code for the Diebold system was made available on the Internet.

“This immediately raises many questions regarding the security of the entire Diebold software development and management process.”

Also, smart cards used as identification by voters at individual Diebold voting machines “send and accept data … in plain, unencrypted text.”

“This is a poor choice,” McDermott said in his report. This lack of security would make it easier for a hacker to get both the administrative password and the password used to authenticate the terminal to the smart card.

So, it’s Sequoia. And as an added boon to worried voters, Nevada will become the first state to mandate touch-screen machines with attached printers that will provide voter-verifiable receipts (VVRs). A voter will be able to check out the receipts under a piece of Plexiglas to ensure that the votes are tabulated accurately.

This move annoys several county registrars of voters, who view it as an unnecessary nuisance. For those with security concerns, it builds confidence that the election process won’t be corrupted by savvy techies.

Downside to VVRs? The technology isn’t federally certified for use, yet. The state will pay Sequoia $7.5 million for 1,804 touch-screen terminals to be delivered in March—minus the printers. In the best-case scenario, the VVRs will be submitted for certification in the first quarter of next year and will be ready to ship by late summer. Good news: The cost of the printers is included in the $7.5 million.

Election workers will begin training with the Sequoia touch-screen machines right away.