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A look at the vulnerabilities in electronic voting machines

by: Justin Gray Updated:

WASHINGTON - Touch-screen electronic voting machines were purchased all across the country after the vote counting problems in Florida during the 2000 Presidential election.

It is those machines that critics say are especially vulnerable to hackers.

After a quick Google search, we found an electronic voting machine that is similar to what will be used at Georgia polling places.

For $99, it was shipped directly to us. We packed it up and hit the road to Princeton University, where we met computer science professor Andrew Appel.

"This particular machine is the most hackable of all," Appel said. "And it's because you can hack them without even touching them."

Appel has warned for more than a decade of the vulnerabilities of touch-screen voting machines and showed us how easy it is.

He hacked and reprogrammed a New Jersey voting machine in fewer than seven minutes.

Appel said that for the machines used in Georgia, he wouldn't need any lock-picking tools or even seven minutes.

"You don't need to open them up," he said, explaining that poll workers use a memory card to load the ballots.

Appel said a hacker could put malware on the cards or on the computer at county election offices where they're programmed.

"A college student could do it," Appel said.

One voting machine that Princeton students hacked now plays Pac-Man. Appel said a vote-stealing program could just as easily have been installed as the game was.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is the chairman of the National Association of Secretaries of State elections committee. He said the vulnerabilities that Appel pointed out don't concern him.

Kemp said with more than 9,000 jurisdictions all across the country with different systems, hackers have a nearly impossible job.

"Logistically, you couldn't figure out how to hack that many systems," Kemp said.

Testifying in front of Congress, even Thomas Hicks, who was appointed by President Obama to be head of the Election Assistance Commission, said our elections are secure.

But Appel said malware could have been installed months or years ago and normal diagnostic tests wouldn't catch it.

"How do you know you're not locking the barn door after the horse is gone?" Appel said.

He and Hicks recommend that states move to more secure optional scan paper ballots.

The states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire have already made that move to what experts say is the most secure type of voting  pen and paper counted by a machine.