In Response to: Voting-Machine Security

The Oct. 26 issue contained an interview with Professor Andrew Appel ’81 in which Appel discusses the vulnerability of the touchscreen electronic voting machines used in New Jersey and many other states.

In the Dec. 7 issue, letter writer Michael Shamos ’68 stated that the touchscreen voting machines used in the United States are required to record the count on a paper tape, and that this allows the accuracy of the count to be verified by “subsequent audit and recount.”

Considering Shamos’ extensive experience with voting technology, this statement appears deliberately misleading. On these machines, the paper tape can’t be seen or checked by the voter, and doesn’t print until the polls have closed. If the voting machine software has been “hacked” to bias the count (e.g., by shifting a fraction of the votes from one candidate to the other), a competent hacker would ensure that the final printout to the paper tape agreed with the subverted electronic tally.

In actuality, the touchscreen voting machines used in New Jersey and many other locales have no “paper trail” that could be used for an independent audit to verify the vote. One wonders why our legislators are content with elections conducted using such a vulnerable system. Cui bono?

Bruce T. Draine
Professor of astrophysical sciences, Princeton University