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Study Examines Problems with Virginia's Voting Machines

Anne Marie Morgan

An interim study by the Virginia Department of Elections indicates that numerous localities have voting machines that are wearing out—and some have potential security problems.  The investigation was prompted by reports of irregularities during last November’s election. The result could be a new and costly requirement to replace some widely used touch-screen voting machines.

Last fall, a few voters recorded videos to prove that when they touched one candidate’s name, their machines marked a different name.  Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés says those machines were properly maintained.

“And most of it does appear to be related to old equipment.  It’s just past the end of its useful life, so they’re having issues with calibration, battery life—just all sorts of things that you see in older technology.”

The report identifies serious security concerns with WINVote machines, which are used in roughly 20% of precincts.  Cortés says the wireless capability is the problem.

“Even when systems are secure when they first come to market and do all that, over time, obviously, technology advances so the systems become maybe less secure. And so that’s what we’ve raised to the Board is this wireless access that really opens the system up and makes it vulnerable.”

In fact, an auditor was able to access the wireless network hosted by WINVote machines by using his smartphone. The State Board of Elections will hold a hearing next week to gather public input about what to do about the WINVote machines, which could be de-certified.

Of the 27 different systems that Virginia has certified, eight are touch-screen machines, which are used in 112 localities. The General Assembly has banned the purchase of new touch-screens due to security concerns.

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