Computer Science Professor Argues For a Paper Trail With E-Voting

Electronic voting machines in Annapolis are tested for a primary. Such machines have promise but also are risky, author Aviel Rubin says.
Electronic voting machines in Annapolis are tested for a primary. Such machines have promise but also are risky, author Aviel Rubin says. (By Matt Houston -- Associated Press)

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By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

BRAVE NEW BALLOT

The Battle to Safeguard Democracy

In the Age of Electronic Voting

By Aviel D. Rubin

Morgan Road Books. 280 pp. $24.95.

The back cover of "Brave New Ballot," a new book on the young and controversial subject of electronic voting, promises dramatic revelations: "Aviel Rubin, a computer scientist at Johns Hopkins University and a specialist in systems security, knows something the rest of us don't. Maybe we suspected it, maybe we've thought it, but we didn't have proof. Until now."

Declaring that "democracy has never been more vulnerable," the book sells itself as something more than a summary of the bitter battle that has unfolded in recent years: computer scientists and activists who argue that electronic voting machines are vulnerable vs. machine vendors and election officials who say the systems are safe.

"Brave New Ballot," released this fall, comes as the vast majority of the American public will use electronic voting machines in next month's midterm elections -- many for the first time. And primaries this year in Maryland and other states have shown that electronic voting can cause election chaos.

The book begins with Rubin's revelatory report three years ago on the computer code that ran a popular voting machine made by Diebold Election Systems. The report, which said the machines were designed sloppily and open to tampering, propelled Rubin and the topic of electronic voting into national news.

From there, Rubin tells how a "reluctant activist" became a "crusader" against electronic voting, weaving his argument about why the machines are so problematic into the story.

But while Rubin, who has a PhD in computer science, delivers an engrossing narrative about the intersection of politics, the media, academia, corporate America and technology, in many ways he falters in the presentation of his views on voting machines, the voting industry and the election process.

His stance on electronic voting consists of arguments you have heard before, whether you are a believer, a naysayer or a curious outsider.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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