E-Voting Nightmare Becomes Reality

Electronic voting has had its critics, the loudest of which warn of security breaches and susceptibility of the machines to viruses. Now it seems theory has become reality.

Last October, in Florida's Sarasota County the Slammer Worm, which has been circling the Internet allies for five years, breached the county systems' firewalls to infiltrate a database containing registered voters, ComputerWorld reported yesterday. The infection occurred Oct. 23, the first day for early voting in Sarasota County. The system was down for two hours, leaving voters standing in line waiting to be confirmed as registered voters.

A Sarasota County "Security Control and Incident Report" concludes the Slammer Worm infected the system.

The delay could have played a big part in the outcome of the election. Sarasota County is part of the 13th congressional district, the site of a hotly contested election between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan. Buchanan won the election by 369 votes. Did the wait dissuade some from voting?

But there are other unanswered questions. Election officials also are concerned the worm or an unrelated computer malfunction of some kind may have affected the electronic voting machines themselves. Sarasota County reported a high rate of undervotes, about 18,000 in total, which represents 15 percent of all 13th District voters who showed up to vote early, according to a Bradenton [Fla.] Herald article posted today. Undervotes are votes that are cast but cannot be counted because of some technicality. Undervotes also include voters who actually voted in an election but chose for some reason not to vote for a candidate in a particular race, in this case choosing not to vote for a candidate in the congressional race.

Some have postulated that those missing votes were not the result of voters consciously choosing not to vote, but rather the result of the electronic voting machines not recording their vote for the congressional race. A New York Times Op-Ed in November called the 15 percent of voters who supposedly chose to skip voting in the highly contested and publicized 13th District congressional race "extraordinary" and compared the high rate to the "more plausible" 2.5 percent of undervotes found in paper absentee ballots.

There's also the issue of why Sarasota County had not patched its systems years ago to protect itself from the Slammer Worm, raising concerns about the thoroughness of the security and IT managers hired to maintain these systems.