How safe is your vote?

February 4, 2009 6:12:36 PM PST
Just how safe is your vote? A team of Princeton computer scientists says in the case of New Jersey voters, not that safe. They'll be casting their votes on electronic machines. Some experts believe those are far too susceptible to fraud.

It didn't take long for us to find unattended voting machines in New Jersey. In open hallways of community centers and unlocked rooms at municipal buildings and town halls, we found dozens of the machines sitting out six days before the election in places where the public has easy access.

"All you need is 10 minutes of unsupervised access to a voting machine to open it up and stick in a vote stealing program," Princeton computer science professor Andrew Appel said.

Appel says the electronic voting machines used by New Jersey should never be left unguarded because, he says, they have a fatal flaw.

"They're hackable in such a way that they can invisibly steal votes and there's no paper audit trail you can use to detect the fraud," he said.

Professor Appel and three other Princeton computer engineers recently released a study on New Jersey's electronic voting machines. The study concluded that the "machines are inherently susceptible to fraud."

In a video, Appel demonstrated how in 5 seconds he was able to pick the lock on a machine. In less than 10 minutes, the professor demonstrated how he was able to unscrew the back panel and replace the computer chip with one he programmed to steal votes.

"The bottom line -- you can't trust these machines are actually adding up the vote the way the voters are voting," he explained.

robert giles/nj dir. of elections: " we can trust these machines."

New Jersey's Director of Elections says the professor was able to hack into the voting machine because he had un-limited access.

"We can trust these machines," said Robert Giles.

For months, Giles said he was able to tinker with the machine without any of the security measurements in place.

"What he shows in a lab can hacked into, but in the real world it would take a very extreme measure to get in there," Giles argued.

Giles says every one of the 10-thousand voting machines used on election night will have layers of tamper-proof security.

"We have metal cable seals. We have security screw caps, tamper evident tape," he said.

Professor Appel is not impressed.

"Those tamper-proof seals can be faked its not that difficult," Appel said.

What appel and other critics of the voting machines find equally alarming is that they have no paper trail on which to check the accuracy of the votes cast.

"As far as paper, no. There's no paper trail on these particular machines," Giles said.

New Jersey is just one of a handful of states that will be using the paperless, electronic voting machines on Tuesday.

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