SAIC to assess Diebold's e-voting system for Md.

Science Applications International Corp. will conduct a risk assessment of Maryland's electronic voting system in the wake of a report by researchers at Johns Hopkins University that found alleged security flaws in the system.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich ordered the independent review Aug. 6. He wants San Diego-based SAIC to test the electronic voting system manufactured by Diebold Election Systems Inc. of North Canton, Ohio. SAIC will do the work under an existing contract for security services, and will submit its findings to state officials in four weeks.

Diebold announced in July that it had finalized a $55.6 million contract with Maryland to purchase an additional 11,000 touch-screen voting systems. In March 2002, Maryland bought 5,000 electronic voting systems from Diebold for $17 million for use in four counties.

The SAIC review will include a test bed using the relevant hardware and software configurations employed by Diebold. The test will be built as dictated by the Maryland State Board of Elections using regulations, standards and procedures developed for polling places.

SAIC will review guidelines and procedural documentation from the state board and the local boards of election that used the Diebold system in the 2002 election. It also will conduct interviews with election directors, local information technology offices and election judges.

Once adapted to a simulated Maryland election environment, SAIC will evaluate the claims of voting security and integrity vulnerabilities. The company's report will be in the form of an assessment that addresses identified risks and the State Board of Elections mitigation process.

The report will contain an analysis of the software and go line by line through the Johns Hopkins University report, said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich.

SAIC will not recommend whether or not the state should proceed with the purchase of the system, Fawell said. That decision will be left to state officials, he said.

The Maryland Department of Budget and Management has said the state will proceed with the purchase of the machines only if it is confident that it will be installing "the most superior system available" with the Diebold machines, he said.

If the state is not satisfied that this is the case, then it will review all options available to it, including possibly canceling the contract, he said.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University touched off a national controversy last month when they released findings of a study that claimed Diebold's electronic voting system did not meet even the most minimal security standards.

The company rebutted that the findings were flawed, because the voting software was run on a computer rather than on a voting terminal for which it was intended. Because of that, weaknesses found in the software code do not apply to the Diebold's machines, the company said.

(Posted 3:53 p.m. Aug. 11; updated 10:55 a.m. Aug. 12)

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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