A scientist creates an open source and unhackable voting machine

electoral processes they have always been in the crosshairs of hackers and public opinion. Even in the last elections held in the United States, the Republican candidate Donald Trump made accusations to certain sectors of having manipulated the elections.

While the world was struggling to survive in the face of the Covid 19 pandemic, the computer science professor John Gilbert, from the University of Florida, worked tirelessly to make his project a reality. He had been testing for 19 years, but at the end of 2020 he received a package that would allow him to create the most secure voting technology in existence.

Inside there was a transparent box equipped with a 27-inch touch screen to which changes and improvements were applied. He attached a printer to her and hooked her up to the Prime III device -voting system in which it has been working since the mandate of George W. Bush-.

He began emailing the most respected and vocal critics of voting technology, such as Princeton University scientist, Andrew Apple. To all I command the task of hack their machine and change all votes to the same candidate.

Gilbert wanted to discover the role that ballot marking devices play in the electoral process. Remember that Federal Law requires that voting centers have a machine that can serve people with disabilities. Hence at least 30% of the votes registered in the 2020 general elections came from this system.

Gilbert’s voting machine has a open source and hard to hack softwarealthough now the most difficult task remains: to convince voters that it is safe.

The market for voting machines

Did you know that the voting machine industry generates 300 million dollars annually? It is dominated by the three main providers: Election Systems & Software, Dominion Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic.

Normally these devices scan the ballots, although there are also electronic systems that directly record the votes. The voting machines (BMD) arrived with the approval of the Help America Vote Act. Starting in 2000, all polling stations had to have these machines for people with disabilities, starting with the 3 million dollars donated to the states.

It is true that the BMD arise to provide security and accessibility (physics and linguistics), but also controversial. In York County (Pennsylvania) an initiative was attempted to eliminate voting machines, as well as in other states such as Arizona, Kansas, Oregon or Michigan, where there are pending lawsuits about their reliability. In Michigan, it will be investigated whether the Republican candidate for attorney general in 2020 illegally used the machines to carry out tests.

the most skeptical

Computer security experts such as Andrew Appel have questioned the voting technology. In 2009 he installed software in a New Jersey court to steal votes on a machine in just seven minutes using only a pick and a screwdriver. That is why it recommends that in each electoral process the codes of the BMD.

Voting machine companies defend themselves with the idea that all machines leave a paper trail that can be audited and that allows incidents to be detected. Already in September 2016, Appel submitted a brief to Congress to request removal of machines urgently.

Regardless, there are experts like Harri Hursti (co-founder of the Voting Machine Hacking Village in DEF WITH) who tried this idea before, but the code of the machines was secret, unlike that of Prime III.

The fact is that Gilbert has not yet found computer scientists who want to challenge his machine. Some have given him excuses that they had retired, others due to illness or others because they had not even received the notification. After the pressure of undarkHursti was already in favor of including Gilbert’s machine at next year’s convention.

Appel refused to test the machine stating that he did not have the resources to test it, although he is skeptical that it would not be hackable. The system requires voters to review their votes, something that Appel saw as a goldmine so that it can be deliberately misspelling. She also saw the possibility that a poll worker could manipulate her.

Dan Wallacka computer scientist at Rice University, said it was a promising step, although he had doubts about the durability of the machine’s parts.

Ben Hovlandcommissioner of the Election Assistance Commission, says that if the machines were purchased recently and HAVA’s jurisdiction is set, states may not look for new machines for at least ten years.

Gilbert’s Dream

Juan Gilbert studied at the University of Miami and never thought he would make it to become the first African-American professor of computer science, but he got it in 2001 at the University of Cincinnati. Now most of the graduate students of the Computing for Social Good Lab They are women and African American. In fact, Gilbert himself organizes outreach activities such as the National Society of Black Engineers.

One of those students who followed in his footsteps works in his laboratory; jean louis. Together they work on projects like Application Questan artificial intelligence system that deals with diversity in hiring, or Virtual Traffic Stopwhich allows police officers to make a video call with the conduit they just arrested.

In 2003 the Gilbert team released the first prototype of Prime IIIwhich allowed voters to use the screens with headphones and microphones, incorporated image ballots and even implemented a paddle system and improved voter voice detection, accommodating people with disabilities.

In 2018, he devised Prime III software in New Hampshire and Butler, Ohio. The machine has distinctive safety elements such as the transparent screen, which allows you to see the vote in real time and detect anomalies. To be encased in glass prevents it from being perpetrated by a USB drive. Everything is also stored in a read-only blu-ray disc, and not on a hard drive that can be tampered with. To this is added that the machine restarts after each vote cast.

In August 2003, Walden O’Dell, CEO of Diebold, a company that makes voting machines, said he was committed to helping Ohio cast its ballots for next year’s president; he beat W. Bush.

In 2007, the machine supplier Smartmatic it sold its US subsidiary to end the US Foreign Investment Committee’s review of whether the company had ties to the Venezuelan government.

In California, a team commissioned by the then Secretary of State, Debra Bowensdetected problems with one of the machines and realized that any voter could delete the old records, and decided to suppress the machines.

Gilbert might have to shell out thousands of dollars to get his machines through the certification process, but he fights for find a hacker willing to test your machine.

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