Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The WinVote video

Just after the November 2008 election, a video appeared on YouTube showing someone playing with an AVS WinVote DRE voting machine in my home county (Fairfax Virginia), and showing that under certain circumstances it records incorrect votes, and even flips selected candidates.

I was recently asked for comments on the video, so I thought I'd post them here too.

My reaction (aside from the amateur filmmaking) is that while it tooka bunch of fiddling before the machine failed, the fact that the failures occurred show that under some circumstances the WinVote will fail to get the voter's intent - i.e., there's unquestionably one or more bugs in the software that can trigger under certain circumstances and cause incorrect candidate selection. The question is whether it would also fail under normal circumstances - once you've established that the bug occurs in an unrealistic situation, one has to ask can it also occur in a realistic situation. Given the minimal level of testing done in the Federal and state certification processes, it would be highly unlikely to be detected as part of certification. I don't know whether Fairfax County's testing is thorough enough that it might have been found there.

The more interesting question is whether a voter (other than the one who made this video) ever encountered this problem by accident, and believing it to be their mistake never reported it (or reported it to a pollworker, who never reported it to the Fairfax County office). [Or perhaps it got reported in another state that used the WinVote, but the word never got to the Fairfax County Board of Elections.

And the other interesting question is whether this bug, when triggered, causes incorrect recording of the candidate choices.... if the voter doesn't notice that it switched candidates on them, does the vote recorded in memory reflect what is being shown on the screen or what the voter had actually selected before the flip? The answer isn't obvious...

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