FUD Watch: The E-Voting Disaster That Never Came

I've been catching some flack in recent days over the last FUD Watch column, in which I suggested there's been some fear-mongering over the use of e-voting machines.

As I sit here the morning after the 2008 election, I feel the need to respond to a couple of things.

I'm always grateful when my writing attracts feedback, even if people are disagreeing with me. They add to the larger discussion, and help us present readers with a more rounded view of the issues they must confront every day in the security industry. But I also think my position was somewhat misunderstood, and so here I am to offer clarity.

First, I'll share some of the responses I got to the column:

James Youll wrote that he was stunned by my "naivete" and chalked it up to intellectual laziness. "Our elections are badly run now, the vote counts are not demonstrably reliable, and people ARE being disenfranchised - if only because they simply cannot afford (in the simplest definition - they need to go to work to earn food money) to stand in line for two to eight hours to cast a ballot," he wrote. "Our elections system has extraordinary, very concerning things wrong with it. To dismiss this is not only naive, but irresponsible. It's too bad you've got this soapbox to broadcast poorly-researched opinions."

Friend and CSO blogger Jeff Bardin wrote, "I don't believe this to be FUD after Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004, and the -- 16K votes from Volusia County. The issues still stand and have not been addressed. These are fact based and both accurate and true. The cocktail has been mixed since 2000 and it has nothing to do with Halloween."

First, my intention wasn't to suggest e-voting machines are perfect and that those who keep warning of security holes are blowing hot air. Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten and Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, have dedicated huge chunks of time to researching e-voting machine weaknesses -- raising public awareness and forcing the machine makers to do something about it. I'm convinced their work is one reason why Election 2008 proceeded much more smoothly than what we saw in 2000 and 2004.

Second, I don't doubt people are getting disenfranchised because of glitches in some of the machines. But as I said last week, people have been getting disenfranchised in elections since the nation was founded. That doesn't mean I'm happy about it. Wherever there's evidence that a voting machine has malfunctioned and cost someone the right to be counted, it must be fixed.

But in the big picture, I stand by that last column. To me, the greatest proof that these e-voting machines work most of the time is in how smoothly this election went. Were there problems in some states? Absolutely. But the incidents were nowhere near as widespread as they were in the last two presidential elections.

Over time, I'm convinced the accuracy of the machines will increase and most of the security holes will be addressed. But there will always be some machines that break down and fail the voter.

If that view makes me naive, so be it.

About FUD Watch: Senior Editor Bill Brenner scours the Internet in search of FUD - overhyped security threats that ultimately have little impact on a CSO's daily routine. The goal: help security decision makers separate the hot air from genuine action items. To point us toward the industry's most egregious FUD, send an e-mail to bbrenner@cxo.com.

This story, "FUD Watch: The E-Voting Disaster That Never Came" was originally published by CSO.

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