Last August ran the news that professors Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan and Ariel J. Feldman of Princeton University, succeeded in running a game of Pac-Man in a Sequoia voting machine. The experiment, done on a machine that was offered at auction and it was no longer used for counting votes, led them to display their “experiment” as proof of the insecurity that display some of the equipment used to automate the electoral process.
The researchers said the security stamps of the machines were not violated to access the memory card. They first removed some bolts to access the inside of the machine, then removed the memory card and connected it to a computer. Then they modified the boot program and proceeded to install a version of Pac-Man in the machine.
The publication of this information caused some concern on us. Because of this, we interviewed Eduardo Correia, Smartmatic’s Vicepresident of Electoral Solutions, who explained that this experiment was made with a machine of an american company made in 1995.
Correia said that in a well designed automated voting system, the software cannot be altered. He also said, without the intention of neither discrediting the academics nor defending the the competition, that these experiments do not run in real situations. He explained that it is not the same to alter a machine’s software that no longer has the protection mechanisms, than to alter a machine the very day of an election, in a real environment.
According to the electoral technology expert, the experiment made by the academics, does not imply that there is a possibility to alter the electoral results: “The systems though which the results travel are safer than the electronic transactions banking channels”.
Correia explained that each and every one of the entities that interact in the electoral infrastructure have ensured their digital identity. “All information that is exchanged with the totalizing servers is protected by algorithms that are even used in the U.S. to protect government information.”
He added that for example in Venezuela, when the votes are counted and the results are transmitted, this information comes to the totalization room of the National Electoral Council, and stored in database systems. “All of this is made in an automated manner, with highly reliable security mechanisms”.
Correia said that if any element of the software is modified, the whole system would collapse. This is the reason why he reiterates that, “when making such tests, they should be done in a controlled environment similar to an election, so the results can really have a scientific nature.”