Testimony of Michael I. Shamos
Subcommittee on Technology, Information
Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census of the
Oversight hearing on “The Science of Voting Machine Technology: Accuracy, Reliability, and Security,” July 20, 2004
Chairman: My name is Michael Shamos. I
have been a faculty member in the
This hearing is about the science
of voting machine technology. There
presently is no such field of science, if by science we mean an organized
experimental discipline with authoritative principles and published
journals. The reason is that until the
year 2000 it was difficult to interest scientists in a problem so apparently
trivial as counting ballots. As we saw
However, there is no systematic science of voting machine technology, no engineering journal devoted to the subject, no academic department, nor even a comprehensive textbook. There are no adequate standards for voting machines, nor any effective testing protocols. It is only a set of minimum statutory requirements, public budgets and the law of the marketplace that have shaped the development of voting machines. When a flaw is detected in a voting machine, there is no compulsory procedure for reporting it, studying it, repairing it or even learning from the experience. The voting machine industry is unregulated and it has not chosen to regulate itself. I do not believe the public will long tolerate such a situation.
While recent newspaper articles and statements by certain computer scientists have shed doubt on the ability of direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) to count votes securely and reliably, it should be noted that in the 25 years these machines have been used in the United States, there has not been a single verified incident of tampering or exploitation of a security weakness. The concerns that have been expressed, and unfortunately taken up with unjustified gusto by the popular press, represent a hypothetical rather than a real threat to the electoral process. Various design flaws and potential avenues of attack have been identified, and it is important to analyze and repair them, rather than flee to methods of voting that are even less safe.
For reasons of cost and convenience, evolution of voting systems has tracked that of personal computers. As we now know, the operating systems of such machines are highly vulnerable to attack and infiltration by malicious software such as viruses. In addition, the temptation to connect voting machines together by networks and link them to central counting stations through telecommunications has introduced new vulnerabilities not previously seen. The only set of standards used to evaluate voting systems, the Federal Voting Systems Standards (FVSS), now the province of the Election Assistance Commission, have not kept pace with either developments of threats. For example, these standards place responsibility for virus protection and elimination on the vendor, and provide for no test procedures by which the presence of viruses or the susceptibility of a system might be determined.
An example of disorganization in the field of voting technology is the recent popular call, embodied in several bills now before Congress, to add paper trails to existing voting machines in the vain belief that this would suddenly make untrusted machines trustworthy. No scientific study has been performed comparing the security of paper ballots to electronic records, yet fear of the machines is so prevalent that entire states are now insisting on the introduction of a technology that does not yet exist to solve a problem that has never been observed.
I believe this has occurred because allegations have been made that
voting machines jeopardize democracy, but there is no engineering study
available to rebut the allegations. We
need one. The scientific establishment
HAVA, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, tasks the National Institute of Standards and Technology with major technical responsibility for guiding the development of voting systems standards, yet this effort remains tragically unfunded. Section 273 of HAVA authorized an appropriation of $20 million for research on voting technology improvements during fiscal 2003. The total actual appropriation was $0 and no authorization even exists for 2004. I have heard it expressed that the Congress wants to give HAVA a chance to work before enacting further voting legislation, but it is elementary that HAVA cannot work if it is never implemented.
As scientists have begun to study voting seriously, a number of revolutionary breakthroughs have occurred that can allow a previously unheard-of degree of transparency in the process of voting and tabulation. Because of a development by computer scientist David Chaum, for example, it is now possible to accord each voter the ability, after voting has taken place, to verify that her vote has not only been counted but counted correctly. It is also feasible for any member of the public independent to verify the correctness of the tabulation and to be sure that no unauthorized votes have been added to the total, all of this without compromising the secrecy of the ballot. Technologies such as these need federal support to flourish.
I thank you for the opportunity to present testimony here today.
Biography of Michael I. Shamos
Michael I. Shamos is Distinguished Career Professor
Dr. Shamos received an A.B. in Physics from
From 1980-2000 he was statutory
examiner of computerized voting systems for the Secretary of the
Dr. Shamos has been an expert
witness in two recent lawsuits involving electronic voting: Wexler v. Lepore
Dr. Shamos has not received any federal grants or contracts during the past fiscal year.
Further information is available at http://euro.ecom.cmu.edu/shamos.html.