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California Enlists Higher Ed Hackers To Test Voting Machines

A team of technology professors, computer security experts, and computer hackers last week met to hack into three electronic voting machines that will be used in California's first February presidential primary next year.

The team was led by Matt Bishop, a University of California, Davis, computer science professor who has helped test voting systems in Florida and Maryland.

Bishop's team is trying to prevent any repetition of the kinds of problems that arose in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. "The voters need to feel confident that their votes are being counted," California Secretary of State Debra Bowen told the Associated Press.

The voting machines, made by Sequoia, Diebold, and Hart InterCivic, as well as documents and source codes associated with the systems, are locked in cages monitored with closed circuit video cameras when they are not being used, the AP reported.

Even so, the public could view the hacker team through closed-circuit monitors at the secretary of state's office building near the state Capitol. It did not make for compelling viewing, said Bishop.

"That's really most of our job, sitting at a desk checking software," he said. Bishop said part of the job is to make mistakes intentionally in an effort to disrupt the machines.

The team will present its report to Bowen by July 23. Her decision on any necessary changes to the machines is set for early August.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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