Friday, July 30, 2004

Electronic records of some Florida elections wiped out in computer crash, officials say

By Hilary Roxe, AP writer, San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 2004


"A computer crash erased detailed records from Miami-Dade County's first widespread use of touchscreen voting machines, raising again the specter of elections troubles in Florida, where the new technology was supposed to put an end to such problems.

The crashes occurred in May and November of 2003, erasing information from the September 2002 gubernatorial primaries and other elections, elections officials said Tuesday.

The malfunction was made public after the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, a citizen's group, requested all data from the 2002 gubernatorial primary between Democratic candidates Janet Reno and Bill McBride."

Friday, July 23, 2004

Richard Alexander, 68; Ex-Culver City Mayor

By Dennis McLennen, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2004

Today's L.A. Times features a story about a man who's inspired my work more than father, who passed away this week.


A Culver City resident since 1968, Alexander began his career in public service as a member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission in 1971.

From 1974 to 1990, he served four terms on the City Council, including three one-year terms as the council-elected mayor.


"He had more energy and more love for this community than just about anybody you'll ever see," (Culver City Historian Julie) Cerra said. "He loved children, he loved people, he loved parks and he loved being a servant to the community. It was in his blood. He was the only councilman I ever heard of whose constituents threw him a party of thanks when he went off after his 16 years."


Alexander worked at TRW in Redondo Beach from the mid-1960s to 1972 and again from 1981 to 1990. His last position was as manager of the electronics group.

He contributed to various TRW research and development programs and developed hardware for such projects as the landers that touched down on Mars in NASA's 1970s Viking missions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

California Online Voter Guide 11th Edition

The California Voter Foundation released our nonpartisan general election voter guide today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

ITAA fires back at e-voting critics

By Dan Verton, Computerworld Magazine, July 16, 2004


The president of one of the most influential IT vendor associations is accusing electronic voting system critics, many of whom are IT security researchers, of using the issue of e-voting security to wage a "religious war" that pits open-source software against proprietary software.

A recent survey by the Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) showed that 77% of registered voters aren't concerned about the security of e-voting systems, and ITAA President Harris Miller said critics who claim to be concerned about the issue are really pushing a political agenda on behalf of the open-source software community.

"It's not about voting machines. It's a religious war about open-source software vs. proprietary software," Miller said in an interview with Computerworld. "If you're a computer scientist and you think that open-source software is the solution to everything because you're a computer scientist and you can spot all flaws, then you hate electronic voting machines. But if you're a person who believes that proprietary software and open-source software can both be reliable, then you don't hate electronic voting machines."


Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, called Miller's characterization "nonsense."

"Every technologist that I have worked with believes that even if we had open-source software, we would still need a paper [audit] trail," said Alexander. "There would be no guarantee that the software that was inspected by the public would be the same software that is running on every machine in every jurisdiction in the country."

Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), a nonprofit organization that promotes standards and criteria for open-source software, said Miller has the issue wrong. "Most [e-voting] critics, including me, aren't focusing on open-source vs. closed-source at all, but rather on the lack of any decent audit trail of votes -- one that can't be corrupted by software. Open-source would be nice for all the real reasons but is less important than the audit trail."

Other supporters of voter-verifiable paper audit trails, including Avi Rubin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute, questioned the ITAA's decision to survey average voters about a technical security question.

"Would they ask questions about the safety of a medical procedure of patients or of doctors?" asked Rubin. "They should ask computer security experts about computer security questions, not end users, who may like the look and feel of the machines but have no way of knowing if they are really secure."


"In principle, it's outrageous that we have secret, proprietary voting systems," said Alexander. "We have outsourced our elections to private companies and handed over the keys to the kingdom to a handful of vendors. And all they have said since this debate started is 'Trust us.'"

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Nationwide "Computer Ate My Vote" Day of Action

Rallies today in 24 cities in 18 states

Today citizens are gathering in cities across the country for a national day of action to call attention to computerized voting risks. Follow the link above to view a map of the states and details on locations where rallies are taking place.  

Monday, July 12, 2004

Score another victory for safe elections

San Jose Mercury News editorial, July 9, 2004


A federal judge has quelled a rebellion by four county registrars of voters who tried to dispute the obvious: Their voting machines couldn't be trusted to count straight.

Judge Florence-Marie Cooper re-affirmed Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's right to do what he considers necessary to ensure accurate state elections.

Officials in San Bernardino, Riverside, Plumas and Kern counties had sued to overturn Shelley's decision to ban one model of Diebold Election System's touch-screen machine and to demand that counties using other electronic voting machines take extra security and accuracy measures. Those safeguards include offering voters in November a paper ballot as an alternative.

The counties were joined in the suit by advocates for the disabled who understandably are enamored with touch-screens' ease of use. Unfortunately, they also have bought the voting companies' line that their systems were infallible.

Shelley had abundant evidence to the contrary. Along with precautions for November, he ordered that all touch-screen machines provide a paper trail by 2006 to ensure voters can verify their electronic choices.

Cooper dismissed all of the counties' arguments, and said Shelley acted within his authority. Her decision should embolden election officials nationwide to follow Shelley's lead.

Riverside County should redirect energies

By Paul Jacobs, columnist for the Californian, published in the North County Times, July 10, 2004


When public officials are sworn into office, they take an oath to defend the constitutions of the state of California and the United States of America. Why, then, would all five Riverside County supervisors defy an order from California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley by filing a lawsuit to defend an unverifiable voting system?

Mischelle Townsend, the county registrar of voters, who is retiring amid a bunch of scrutiny, defends the Sequoia electronic voting machines, claiming that they have worked flawlessly in 29 consecutive elections. Unfortunately, there is no way to verify that the machines have in fact worked flawlessly.

Supervisor challenger Linda Soubirous barely missed a runoff election with incumbent Supervisor Bob Buster by 0.1 percent of the total vote. While a runoff election for a candidate who lost handily by 15 percentage points seems pointless to me, Soubirous' campaign managers raise some intriguing questions regarding some startling irregularities that reportedly occurred during the March 2 vote count.

During a delay in the vote tabulation on that election night, Soubirous' campaign officials allege they witnessed one of two Sequoia Voting Systems employees hunched over the vote tally terminal while votes were being counted. More scandalous is that one of the Sequoia workers was reportedly seen wearing a county employee's ID badge and allegedly used a county employee's password to enter the system. Perhaps their motives were as pure, but the sanctity of our touch-screen voting system is violated with such shenanigans.


At first, I was a big proponent of electronic voting, as it seemed to be the next logical, technological step in our democracy. After the fiasco of the 2000 presidential contest in Florida, it seemed punch cards and butterfly ballots proved far too primitive. But, even then, there was physical data that could have been recounted and verified, if only the courts had made a non-political ruling.

In discussing that embarrassment of democracy with a co-worker, she laughed and said she thought things like that only happened in her native Philippines. Her remark convinced me that we need verifiable safeguards to ensure the integrity of our elections.

Humor from Mark Fiore - Electronic Election 2004

Mark Fiore e-voting video, San Francisco Chronicle, July 7, 2004

Here's a scary but funny bit of artistic e-voting commentary from SF Chronicle illustrator Mark Fiore.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Federal Court Rules in Favor of Paper Trail Reform in E-Voting

Judge Florence-Marie Cooper's decision, Benavidez v. Shelley

Federal judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled yesterday that California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's requirements for additional security on electronic voting machines do not violate federal or state law.

Her decision is a victory for paper trail proponents, the e-voting reform movement and the voters of California.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, California Voter Foundation,, and Voters Unite! submitted a friend-of-the-court brief and a sur-reply in support of Secretary Shelley. The case is Benavidez v. Shelley.

Judge Cooper wrote that the "defendant's decision to decertify touch-screen voting machines and to withhold further certification until he is satisfied that manufacturers have complied with specified conditions is a reasonable one. It is based on studies conducted and information gathered which convinced him that the voting public's right to vote is not adequately protected by the systems currently in place."

The suit was brought by disability rights advocates and four California counties (Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and Plumas) that oppose Secretary Shelley's voter verified paper trail requirement and April 30th decertification orders.

In her decision, Judge Cooper wrote:

“Nothing in the Americans with Disabilities Act or its Regulations reflects an intention on the part of Congress to require secret, independent voting.”

“The interest in the Secretary of State in fulfilling his statutory duties and the public interest in accurate, verifiable vote counts outweigh the Plaintiffs’ interest in an unassisted, private vote. “

Judge Cooper also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that Secretary Shelley overstepped his authority. Her ruling cites several California statutes authorizing the Secretary to approve and regulate voting systems, and giving the Secretary the right to withdraw approval of a voting system if it is deemed by the Secretary to be defective, obsolete, or otherwise unacceptable.

In her decision, Judge Cooper said the Secretary is “therefore, not only authorized, but expressly directed to withdraw his approval of any voting system found to be defective or unacceptable.”

This landmark ruling, which takes into account California laws as well as federal laws such as the ADA and HAVA, will have a reverberating impact on states across the country. This decision also reinforces the leadership California's secretary of state is bringing to this critical issue.

Friday, July 2, 2004

U.S. district judge refuses to lift state ban on electronic voting

By Jim Wasserman, Associated Press, July 1, 2004

AP reported yesterday on U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper's tentative decision to uphold California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's April 30 decertification orders and recertification requirements and deny a request from disability rights groups and four California counties to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to prevent Shelley's orders from taking effect.

Judge Cooper held a hearing this morning in Los Angeles to hear from the plaintiffs and defendants, who responded to her tentative decision. I was not in the courtroom but was able to listen to the proceedings via telephone.

Plaintiffs' attorney John McDermott argued that while the Secretary of State does have the authority, through California statute, to certify and decertify voting systems, that the process through which the Secretary of State does so is not legitimate because there are no regulations to govern the process, only procedures. The judge responded that this argument doesn't appear to help the plaintiffs, because if the decertification order is not valid, then the use of these systems isn't valid either.

McDermott also asked the judge to consider modifying her decision so that some of the recertification conditions would be lifted (specifically, the requirement that vendors provide the Secretary of State with their source code and the requirement that counties give voters who wish to vote on paper at polling places the opportunity to do so).

McDermott also asked the judge to consider modifying her decision by imposing the decertification orders on only a limited number of counties, based on whether there is any evidence of security problems in a given county. McDermott claimed that Riverside County has conducted 29 elections on DREs since November 2000 and asserted that Riverside County's voting system has been "perfect".

Attorney Douglas Woods represented defendant Kevin Shelley. Woods argued that the plaintiff's argument about the lack of regulations for voting systems "proves too much", that if it's not possible to decertify a system it's also not possible to certify one, either. Woods also asked Judge Cooper not to modify the conditions for recertification, since each condition was carefully considered, and that the plaintiffs are asking the judge to "step into the shoes of the Secretary of State". Woods also discouraged the judge from picking and choosing counties that would be impacted by the decertification orders, and noted that all four vendors have agreed to the source code requirement in the recertification order.

Woods said the Secretary of State shouldn't have to wait for a failure to occur before taking action on a security risk. He also pointed out a critical distinction between paperless, electronic voting machines and paper-based, optical scan voting systems. With optical scan systems, Woods said, if there is a failure, there's a piece of paper for each ballot that can be counted and used for a recount, but with DREs this can't be done.

McDermott replied to this argument by telling the judge that there is a piece of paper that is generated by DREs that can be recounted (failing to mention that one of his client counties, Riverside, does not in fact produce the kind of paper audit trail other DRE counties produce at the close of polls that can be used for recounts).

The hearing lasted less than an hour and Judge Cooper asked only a few questions. She indicated that she would have a "busy weekend" so it is likely we will hear her final decision early next week.

Down for the Count - Mischelle Townsend profile

By Andrew Gumbel, L.A. City Beat, June 24, 2004

On Monday, June 21 Mischelle Townsend announced she will be retiring her position as Registrar of Voters for Riverside County. Townsend has been a leading proponent of paperless, touchscreen voting systems in California and nationwide. She and her county are also suing California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley for decertifying touchscreen voting machines (even though his decertification orders allow Riverside and other counties to get recertified without a voter verified paper trail if they meet 23 security requirements).

Andrew Gumbel's article reviews Townsend's record in recent elections, including questionable practices in her office on Election Night during the March primary, as well as a questionable recount conducted after the March 2004 primary.

Testing of voting machines inadequate, election experts say

By Erica Werner, Associated Press, June 24, 2004


Electronic voting machines are not tested thoroughly enough before being used in elections, voting experts said Thursday.

"The processes that we're talking about here are much more out of control than anyone's willing to admit. There's virtually no control over how software enters a voting machine," Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, told a House Science Committee subcommittee hearing.

A mishmash of groups and procedures now govern testing and certification of the electronic voting machines that some 50 million voters will use in November. The haphazard process has contributed to growing concerns over the security of the ATM-like machines.

Much of the responsibility so far has fallen to a volunteer organization of retired and active election officials, which has certified three little-known testing companies to verify the integrity of every machine and every line of code in e-voting equipment nationwide.

After the testing companies qualify the machines and software, it's up to state and local election officials to certify them and accept them for use in their jurisdictions. These officials may not have the expertise necessary, and in many states there's nothing stopping an equipment vendor from sending an uncertified software patch directly to a local registrar to install in a machine, experts said.

An executive with one of the three testing companies, Denver-based SysTest Labs LLC, defended her company's work but said the process can break down at the local level. SysTest tests election software.

"At this point there is no standard that tells a jurisdiction how do you go and do this validation, how do you check and see the code you have matches the code that's been qualified by the lab or certified by your state," Carolyn Coggins, director of Independent Testing Authority services at SysTest, told lawmakers.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 instituted some new procedures, though they've not been fully implemented to date because of delays and lack of funding.

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Tentative U.S. court ruling in favor of Kevin Shelley's decertification orders

Tentative ruling, U.S. District Court, Central District

Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the U.S. District Court (Central District) issued a tentative ruling on June 30 in the Benavidez v. Shelley lawsuit. This lawsuit (it was originally two lawsuits) was filed by several disability rights groups, including the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD), and four California counties (Riverside, San Bernardino, Plumas and Kern) protesting CA Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's April 30 touchscreen decertification orders and moratorium on the purchase of new, paperless e-voting systems.

The judge has tentatively ruled that "The Court has determined that Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits as to any claim in this action. Defendant's decision to decertify touch-screen voting machines and to withhold further certification until he is satisfied that manufacturers have complied with specified conditions is a reasonable one. It is based on studies conducted and information gathered which convinced him that the voting public's right to vote is not adequately protected by the systems currently in place. Plaintiff's Request for Temporary Restraining Order, or, in the Alternative, Preliminary Injunction, is denied".

Judge Cooper will hold a hearing on this case tomorrow, July 2 at 9 a.m. at the Roybal Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, courtroom 750.

Judge Cooper's tentative decision is potentially very good news for California voters. We should know after tomorrow's hearing what her final decision will be. The California Voter Foundation, Verified Voting Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Voters Unite! submitted an amicus brief in this case arguing that it should be dismissed. Our brief, surreply and other legal documents relating to this case are available online from