Electronic voting machines are back in the news again, and not in a good way.

A front-page piece in yesterday’s Star-Ledger quotes Princeton’s Andrew Appel as being highly skeptical of the security of the Sequoia voting machines used widely in the state of New Jersey.

Last month Appel bought five Sequoia machines for a total of $82 from a government auction Web site —, where one can also bid on surplus coffins, locomotives and WWI-era cannons, according to Star-Ledger reporter Kevin Coughlin.

Appel says that the machines are almost identical to machines that New Jersey’s Essex County bought for $8,000 apiece two years ago. Alex Halderman and Ariel Feldman — the same graduate students at Princeton who helped demonstrate that Diebold’s electronic voting machines could be infected with malicious software — have begun to analyze the Sequoia code.

“We can take a version of Sequoia’s software program and modify it to do something different – like appear to count votes, but really move them from one candidate to another,” Appel told Coughlin. “And it can be programmed to do that only on Tuesdays in November.” At any other time, he said, it couldn’t be detected.

Today’s Star-Ledger features a follow-up story on a legal notice filed Friday claiming that 10,000 Sequoia AVC Advantage machines were never certified by the state of New Jersey, as required by law. Appel filed an affadavit in the case. For more follow-ups on Appel’s adventures with the Sequoias, stay tuned to Ed Felten’s blog, Freedom to Tinker. Felten will be giving a talk next week, Feb. 20, at the Princeton Public Library on his research on computer security and privacy.

Photo by Alex Halderman