PAC-MAN on the Sequoia AVC-Edge DRE voting machine

J. Alex Halderman, University of Michigan Ariel J. Feldman, Princeton University

What is the Sequoia AVC Edge?

It's a touch-screen DRE (direct-recording electronic) voting machine. Like all DREs, it stores votes in a computer memory. In 2008, the AVC Edge was used in 161 jurisdictions with almost 9 million registered voters, including large parts of Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, and Virginia, according to Verified Voting.

Where did this machine come from?

It was last used in Williamsburg, Virginia for the 2008 primaries. Due to a state ban on DREs, the city then switched to optical scan voting and sold off its AVC Edge machines. Jeremy Epstein, Josh Holt, and Rebecca Hulse purchased two of them for $100. They sent one machine to Joseph Lorenzo Hall, who provided it to us.

What's inside the AVC Edge?

It has a 486 SLE processor and 32 MB of RAM—similar specs to a 20-year-old PC. The election software is stored on an internal CompactFlash memory card. Modifying it is as simple as removing the card and inserting it into a PC.

Wouldn't seals expose any tampering?

We received the machine with the original tamper-evident seals intact. The software can be replaced without breaking any of these seals, simply by removing screws and opening the case.

How did you reprogram the machine?

The original election software used the psOS+ embedded operating system. We reformatted the memory card to boot DOS instead. (Update: Yes, it can also run Linux.) Challenges included remembering how to write a config.sys file and getting software to run without logical block addressing or a math coprocessor. The entire process took three afternoons.


In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the iconic arcade game, we reprogrammed the AVC Edge to run Pac-Man. It uses MAME to emulate the original hardware. (We own the electronics from a real Pac-Man machine.) We could have reprogrammed it to steal votes, but that's been done before, and Pac-Man is more fun!

We introduced Pac-Man on the Sequoia AVC Edge on August 9, 2010 in a rump session talk at EVT/WOTE and demonstrated it that week at the USENIX Security conference (group picture above).

Special thanks to Tinker for producing the music in our video and to Hovav Shacham for his guest appearance.

For serious discussions about election security, see our other electronic voting research.

This project is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with Namco (the developer of Pac-Man) or Midway (the U.S. distributor).