Sequoia Warns Princeton’s Dr. Felten to Not Analyze Machiine

Nearly unbelievable, but perhaps predictable. The Brad Blog reports on a warning letter that Dr. Ed Felten, Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University has received from Sequoia Voting Systems, should he and a colleague (Andrew Appel) proceed to analyze the Company’s AVC Advantage product.

According to Brad, Dr. Felten has confirmed receipt and authenticity of the communication from Sequoia’s Edwin Smith, Vice-President of Compliance/Quality/Certification.

This Sequoia machine was recently determined to have had serious errors occur during New Jersey’s primary, and New Jersey election clerks have called for independent testing and analysis. At the very least, we should be questioning operations so complex as to require this response from Sequoia when shifting responsibility.

But it is predictable that Sequoia would assert that if N.J. election officials provide one of their machines to Dr. Felten that such would violate their license agreement with N.J. However, its unclear whether NJ outright owns the hardware with a runtime license to the software, or leases all of it, or what exactly are the terms of service. But let’s assume there is a valid enforceable agreement.

The next issue is whether in fact New Jersey has officially called for an analysis, investigation, or independent testing as asserted by this spot-on comment from Livermore National Laboratory’s computer science expert David Jefferson. But the issue of official calls for investigations (perhaps indemnifying Felten et al in their work) may be irrelevant.

The more relevant question is why Sequoia would be willing to take on the additional bad PR over this… unless they really are concerned about what Dr. Felten and DR. Andrew Appel may discover in their analysis.

As I remarked on Brad’s blog, this is another glaring example of why open source approaches are so imperative to the design and development of the machinery so essential to our democracy in a digital age.

Open source machinery (hardware + software) will put an end to these debates about examination, inspection, and review.

If our vote, our choice, and our voice is to be counted, made, and heard in this democracy, we must do this.



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