Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Machine Politics

By Dan Baum, Playboy magazine, September 2004

Here's an issue of Playboy you really can read "just for the articles" -- especially Dan Baum's article, "Machine Politics", featured in the September 2004 issue. Here's a blurb about the story:

"After the Bush-Gore election, three Florida counties tossed out their punch-card ballots and replaced them with touch-screen computers. They've since been used in local elections, with unsettling results: Machines have crashed, votes have been lost, and voters have been turned away. In the November presidential contest, one in four people across the country will vote electronically. Are our election problems only going to get worse?"

Unfortunately, the article is not available on the magazine's web site so if you want to read it you'll have to get the magazine. Baum's article features some great commentary and quotes. I particularly like this comment from Michael Wertheimer of RABA Technologies:

"Fundamental infrastructure in this country is all regulated. We look to the Food and Drug Administration to keep our food safe, to the Federal Communications Commission to watch the airwaves, to the Federal Aviation Administration for air travel. For some reason, we don't do that for voting, which is the most important thing we do."

Florida judge: touchscreen counties must be able to do manual recounts

By David Royse, Associated Press, August 27, 2004


A state rule barring the 15 Florida counties that use touchscreens from doing manual recounts is at odds with state law, which requires hand recounts in certain close elections, an administrative law judge ruled Friday.

A coalition of government watchdogs and other interest groups sued the state arguing the law requires provisions for hand recounts in every county, no matter what voting technology is used.

Administrative Law Judge Susan B. Kirkland agreed, writing that state law clearly contemplates "that manual recounts will be done on each certified voting system, including the touchscreen voting systems."

With a primary election Tuesday and more than half the state's voters in counties that use touchscreens, it's not clear what each of those counties will do.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood issued the ruling preventing manual recounts in touchscreen counties in April. She could appeal Kirkland's decision, which would automatically keep the rule in place for now. A spokeswoman for Hood said late Friday that she was considering that option.

Elections supervisors in some of the 15 counties with touchscreens had asked the state what they should do about a law requiring manual recounts when elections are particularly close, because the machines the counties use aren't programmed to create a paper record of each vote.

The Division of Elections issued the rule in April saying touchscreen counties couldn't conduct hand recounts, because such recounts are used to determine the intent of voters whose votes weren't counted. And that shouldn't be able to happen with touchscreens, state officials argued.

Touchscreens don't let people vote for more than one candidate in a race, known as an overvote, or to unintentionally fail to vote in a particular race, called an undervote. If they fail to vote in a race, the machine should alert them and prompt them to choose again if it was an oversight.

So with no undervotes or overvotes to recount, there's no need for one, Hood's office argued.

Department of State spokeswoman Jenny Nash blasted Kirkland's ruling.

"The touchscreen machines were put in place to avoid the problems that were encountered in the 2000 election," Nash said. "This ruling is a step backward to that time."

But Kirkland said if the Legislature had meant to exclude touchscreens from the requirement, it would have.

"The rule is contrary to the plain language of (the statute), which requires manual recounts of overvotes and undervotes when the margin of victory is one-quarter of a percent or less or when there is a proper and timely request for a manual recount," Kirkland found.

Kurt Browning, the elections supervisor in Pasco County, which has touchscreens, said he didn't know what to do because his county doesn't have any plan for recounting by hand.

"We're just kind of circling the airport until we figure out what it does mean," Browning said.

He agrees with Hood that there's no practical way to do a manual recount on touchscreen votes.

"There's nothing to recount," Browning said. "It doesn't provide overvotes. When you look at the undervote, an undervote is a non-vote so how do you count something that doesn't exist?"

But Vicki Cannon, the supervisor of elections in rural Nassau County, north of Jacksonville, said she could do a hand recount of touchscreen votes if the election were close enough to require it.

"Certainly we could if the state directed us to," Cannon said. "I would assume that we would print our ballot records, and count the candidates' names. Time consuming, maybe. Difficult? I don't think so."


The judge also noted that evidence presented at the hearing established that there are touchscreen systems in existence that can provide a paper trail by printing a picture of the screen as it appears when a vote is cast.

The groups that sued included the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause of Florida and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. People for the American Way also supported the lawsuit.

Mercury News Editorial: Lock in Shelley's e-voting gains

Secretary of State has political trouble, but his work on election reliability is groundbreaking; Governor should sign SB 1438

San Jose Mercury News editorial, August 31, 2004


Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has hit the trifecta of trouble.

As the state's chief elections officer, he's under investigation for possible cronyism in distributing voter education money.

As a candidate, he's under investigation for possibly receiving improper campaign contributions.

As a boss, he's under investigation for alleged abusive behavior.

The effect of all this to Shelley's political career is his problem. What California voters should worry about is the threat to his groundbreaking work on assuring the reliability of touch-screen voting.

Shelley's troubles are all the more reason that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should sign a bill ensuring that Shelley's wisest decision -- requiring a paper trail -- becomes California law.

SB 1438 would mandate that, no later than January 2006, every county using a touch-screen voting system include a paper copy of the ballot. Voters would use it to verify the accuracy of their electronic votes. The bill is headed toward Schwarzenegger's desk.

When Senators Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat, and Ross Johnson, a Republican from Irvine, first proposed the bill this year, it appeared redundant. Shelley essentially had already done the same thing, through regulations from his office, in the fall of 2003.

But regulations, which another secretary of state can undo, aren't protection enough.


In his two years as secretary of state, Shelley has made plenty of enemies among county registrars of voters who resent the secretary's mandates for more security and accountability for electronic voting systems. They'd love to see him take a fall so they could try to roll back the paper trail and other important safeguards.

We doubt they'd succeed. But Schwarzenegger's signature on the paper-audit bill would build a moat around Shelley's reforms.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

CVF-NEWS: Update: CA Paper Trail Bill Moves Ahead

By Kim Alexander, CVF-NEWS, 8/27/04

The California Legislature is poised to pass an historic election reform bill, SB 1438.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

CVF-NEWS: E-voting reform in the U.S.: progress report & ten things elections officials can do to secure the vote this November

By Kim Alexander, CVF-NEWS, August 26, 2004

Today's CVF-NEWS provides a progress report on states that are improving election security, such as Nevada, Ohio, California and Indiana, and identifies ten thingselection officials across the nation can do to secure the vote this November.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Secretive testing firms certify nation's vote count machines

By Bill Poovey, with Erica Werner, Rachel KonRad and Jay Reeves, Associated Press, August 22, 2004


The three companies that certify the nation's voting technologies operate in secrecy, and refuse to discuss flaws in the ATM-like machines to be used by nearly one in three voters in November.

Despite concerns over whether the so-called touchscreen machines can be trusted, the testing companies won't say publicly if they have encountered shoddy workmanship.

They say they are committed to secrecy in their contracts with the voting machines' makers - even though tax money ultimately buys or leases the machines.

"I find it grotesque that an organization charged with such a heavy responsibility feels no obligation to explain to anyone what it is doing," Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist and electronic voting expert, told lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The system for "testing and certifying voting equipment in this country is not only broken, but is virtually nonexistent," Shamos added.

Although up to 50 million Americans are expected to vote on touchscreen machines on Nov. 2, federal regulators have virtually no oversight over testing of the technology. The certification process, in part because the voting machine companies pay for it, is described as obsolete by those charged with overseeing it.

The testing firms - CIBER and Wyle Laboratories in Huntsville and SysTest Labs in Denver - are also inadequately equipped, some critics contend.


"Four years after the last presidential election, very little has been done to assure the public of the accuracy and integrity of our voting systems," Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., told members of a House subcommittee in June at the same hearing at which Shamos testified.

"If there are any problems, we will spend years rebuilding the public's confidence in our voting systems," Udall said. "We need to squarely face the fact that there have been serious problems with voting equipment deployed across the country in the past two years."

In Huntsville, the window blinds were closed when a reporter visited the office suite where CIBER Inc. employees test voting machine software. A woman who unlocked the door said no one inside could answer questions about testing.

Shawn Southworth, a voting equipment tester at the laboratory, said in a telephone interview that he wouldn't publicly discuss the company's work. He referred questions to a spokeswoman at CIBER headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colo., who never returned telephone messages.


More than a decade ago, the Federal Election Commission authorized the National Association of State Election Directors to choose the independent testers.

On its Web site, the association says the three testing outfits "have neither the staff nor the time to explain the process to the public, the news media or jurisdictions." It directs inquiries a Houston-based nonprofit organization, the Election Center, that assists election officials. The center's executive director, Doug Lewis, did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

The election directors' voting systems board chairman, former New York State elections director Thomas Wilkey, said the testers' secrecy stems from the FEC's refusal to take the lead in choosing them and the government's unwillingness to pay for it.

Johnson county, Indiana to use paper ballots in November

By Michael W. Hoskins, The Daily Journal, August 21-22, 2004

Good news from Indiana -- Johnson County Clerk Jill Jackson recently announced the county will be using paper ballots this November rather than touchscreens.



Election Systems & Software, the company that sold Johnson County $2.4 million worth of touchscreen voting equipment late last year, has failed to get parts of the machines certified for use by Indiana election officials.

Johnson County’s election board in late July set Friday as the deadline for the company to get state approval. That had not happened by late Friday.

“We’re going with paper,” Johnson County Clerk Jill Jackson said. “I hate to do this to voters, but it’s the safest and surest thing to do. We have to have a backup plan in place.”

Although county election officials were pleased with the performance of touchscreen equipment supplied by ES&S for the May primary, they have repeatedly questioned the company’s integrity and considered terminating the $2.4 million contract.

County election administrators have accused ES&S of twice misleading them about the use of authorized equipment.

The company sold Johnson County the new touchscreen technology last year after county commission and council members approved the purchase.

However, a part of the equipment called firmware was not certified by state election officials. The state allowed counties to use the equipment in May but are requiring state approval for November’s election.

Friday, August 20, 2004

SF Chronicle Editorial in support of voter verified paper trail legislation

"Every Vote Must Count," San Francisco Chronicle editorial, August 20, 2004

Today's S.F. Chronicle features an editorial urging the California legislature to pass SB 1438, which would require a voter verified paper record of each electronic ballot before the next statewide election, which is the March 2006 primary.

Text below:


In a democracy, perhaps the only thing more frustrating than being denied the right to vote is voting without ever really knowing whether your ballot was actually counted.

That is why it is so hard to understand how an Assembly committee last week killed a bill that would have required paper printouts for electronic voting machines.

SB1438 would have required by January 2006 that the machines provide each voter with hard copies to verify their selections upon leaving the polling place. The bipartisan legislation, co-authored by Sens. Ross Johnson, R- Irvine, and Don Perata, D-Oakland, would have mandated the printouts six months sooner than the July 2006 deadline set by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley as a way for voters to confirm that their choices are accurately recorded.

The bill survived the Senate but died last week in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after opponents called it too costly -- up to $16 million to upgrade machines in the counties now using them without the printout capacity.

Disabled voters also opposed the bill, fearing counties might return to paper ballots that hinder their right to vote independently and in private.

The arguments have merit but are irrelevant if the machines are unreliable -- as with the one demonstrated in the Capitol a few days before the bill was killed. A highly touted touch-screen machine repeatedly discounted intended votes, a critical glitch that would have gone unsuspected without paper printouts.

"If these machines malfunction ... at the Capitol, why should we believe they are going to work at the polls?" Perata rightly wondered. The Assembly ought to revive SB1438. Voting is too precious to be entrusted to unreliable machines.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Nevada Secretary of State invites nation to observe the paper trail in action

Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller press release, July 29, 2004

This November, Nevada will be the one state in the nation that uses electronic voting machines with a voter verified paper trail. Nevada has contracted with Sequoia to produce a touchscreen voting machine with a printer attached, which will allow voters to view and confirm a paper version of their voted ballot prior to leaving the polls.

Two other jurisdictions in the nation have utilized the voter verified paper trail in live elections, but Nevada is the first state to implement this reform statewide. In all but one of Nevada's counties, Sequoia touchscreens with a voter verified paper trail will be utilized; in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and 70 percent of the state's population, earlier models of Sequoia's electronic voting machines will be used which were purchased several years ago and are reportedly difficult to retrofit. In Clark County, one touchscreen with a voter verified paper trail will be provided in each polling place in addition to other electronic voting machines without a paper trail.

Secretary of State Heller has invited election officials and the media to Las Vegas on Saturday, August 28 to observe the debut of the paper trail in Nevada, which will be put into use as early voting gets underway for the state's Sept. 7 primary.

Previous elections where touchscreens with a voter verified paper trail were utilized include Sacramento County's November 2002 election, where 1600 early voters, including me, cast ballots on Avante touchscreens with a paper trail. I reported on that system and my experience using it in an October 2002 edition of CVF-NEWS.

In addition, the town of Southington, Connecticut conducted a municipal election with the Avante touchscreens and paper trail in 2003. The Registrar of Voters prepared this report summarizing their experience and concluded "we are convinced that using the Avante machines will eliminate problems rather than add to them."

Monday, August 16, 2004

Chavez declares referendum victory, but is battle over?

By Mike Caeser, Christian Science Monitor, August 17, 2004

CARACAS, VENEZUELA – At 4 a.m. Monday, 12 hours after polls were originally supposed to close and as questions swirled about the voting process, President Hugo Chávez declared victory in a saga that was more than two years in the making.

"The Venezuelan people have spoken, and the people's voice is the voice of God," Mr. Chávez told supporters outside the presidential palace. Venezuelans turned out in record numbers Sunday to vote to recall Chávez or confirm his mandate, which extends until the end of 2006.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who helped monitor the referendum, endorsed returns showing that Chávez won the vote. "Our findings coincided with the partial returns announced today by the National Elections Council," Carter told a news conference.

The announcement appeared to deflate opposition claims of widespread fraud in the voting.


Before the referendum, many observers had also questioned the electoral council's decision to use an electronic voting system which had not been used in any previous election, and which they said was vulnerable to manipulation. As well, they decried the revelation that a government agency owned an interest in the company which developed the machines' software and had an employee on the company's board of directors. The government later promised to sell its interest and remove its employee from the board, though it is unclear if they actually did.


Many also criticized the use of a fingerprint-reading system supposed to ensure that nobody voted twice. During the voting, that system contributed to blocks-long lines outside many polling centers. Some voters in neighborhoods dominated by the opposition charged that the government was sabotaging the voting process.

"I arrived at 5 a.m. and we've advanced [in line] 200 meters," said Evelyn Moro, a civil engineer who was still waiting in line after noon.

The electronic voting machines also emitted paper receipts with the voter's choice, which were deposited in boxes at polling stations. However, a number of voters said they have voted 'Yes' for the recall only to discover that the paper ballot was printed with "no."

"I told the [poll workers] that I wanted to vote again, and they told me 'no,' that I'd already chosen," and dropped the ballot into the box, says Deisy Castro de Diaz, a nurse.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Rush to absentee ballots may magnify trouble

Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post, August 2, 2004

...Selker said his immediate concern for the upcoming elections is that poll workers are well-trained, that polling places are easily accessible and that people aren't erroneously purged from voting lists.

Elections supervisors are working to address those issues, The Election Center's Lewis said. But, he said, they are also hoping for some divine intervention.

"Every election official in America spends time praying," he said.

The prayer, he said, is simple: "Let the winners win big."

Friday, August 13, 2004

Wrong Time for an E-Vote Glitch

By Kim Zetter, Wired News, August 12, 2004


It was simultaneously an uh-oh moment and an ah-ha moment.

When Sequoia Voting Systems demonstrated its new paper-trail electronic voting system for state Senate staffers in California last week, the company representative got a surprise when the paper trail failed to record votes that testers cast on the machine.

That was bad news for the voting company, whose paper-trail, touch-screen machine will be used for the first time next month in Nevada's state primary. The company advertises that its touch-screen machines provide "nothing less than 100 percent accuracy."

It was good news, however, for computer scientists and voting activists, who have long held that touch-screen machines are unreliable and vulnerable to tampering, and therefore must provide a physical paper-based audit trail of votes.

"It goes to our point that a paper trail is very much needed to (ensure) that the machine accurately reports what people press," said Susie Swatt, chief of staff for state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), who witnessed the glitch in the Sequoia machine.


During the demonstration of the Sequoia machine last week, the machine worked fine when the company tested votes using an English-language ballot. But when the testers switched to a Spanish-language ballot, the paper trail showed no votes cast for two propositions.

"We did it again and the same thing happened," said Darren Chesin, a consultant to the state Senate elections and reapportionment committee. "The problem was not with the paper trail. The paper trail worked flawlessly, but it caught a mistake in the programming of the touch-screen machine itself. For some reason it would not record or display the votes on the Spanish ballot for these two ballot measures. The only reason we even caught it was because we were looking at the paper trail to verify it."

Sequoia spokesman Alfie Charles said the problem was not a programming error but a ballot design error.

"It was our fault for not proofing the Spanish language ballot before demonstrating it," Charles said. "We had a demo ballot that we designed in a hurry that didn't include all of the files that we needed to have the machine present all of the voter's selections on the screen and the printed ballots. That would never happen in an election environment because of all the proofing that election officials do."

Charles said the machine did record the votes accurately in its memory, but failed to record them on the paper trail and on the review screen that voters examine before casting their ballot. Swatt and Chesin could not confirm this, however, since the company did not show them evidence of the digital votes stored on the machine's internal memory.

"We've been saying all along that these things are subject to glitches," Chesin said. "The bottom line is that the paper trail caught the mistake. Ergo, paper trails are a good idea."

Charles agreed that the paper trail worked exactly as it was supposed to work. "If this happened in an election, the first voter would see it and could call a pollworker. They would take the machine out of service if they saw a problem," he said.

Ironically, just one week after the demonstration occurred, California took one step back from making sure that voters in the state will have the reassurance that a paper trail provides.

On Thursday, a Senate bill that would require a voter-verified paper trail on all electronic voting machines in the state by January 2006 suffered a setback when the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where the bill resided, decided not to push the bill forward during this legislative session, which ends Aug. 31. This means legislators will have to reintroduce a new bill next January when they reconvene.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

State approves limited e-voting - 11 counties throughout California are allowed to use touchscreens

By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, August 12, 2004


California approved three final counties Wednesday for electronic voting in November, freeing a total of 11 counties to use touch-screen machines.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley certified Alameda and Plumas counties for full use of their touch-screen machines, and Los Angeles County for early voting only, in exchange for promises that they would meet almost two dozen measures for better security and reliability.

The decision sets as much as 20 percent of California voters on course to cast digital ballots this year on machines that state officials acknowledge have security flaws.

But they and local officials say new, tested software and voluminous procedures for pollworkers have closed off the more unsettling security concerns.

"We are going to be using the electronic touch-screens," said Elaine Ginnold, assistant voter registrar in Alameda County. "We are confident that it is accurate and will record votes correctly."

In late April, Shelley temporarily disallowed e-voting statewide and triggered an uproar among local elections officials. They said he was making impossible demands and usurping their authority.

One by one, each county agreed to tighten physical security of their machines, let voters choose a paper ballot and print vote totals for every polling place, among other requirements. Voting machine-makers handed over their proprietary software for security examination.

Shelley spokeswoman Lauren Hersh called the last of the agreements with the counties "a real relief."


In a separate decision Wednesday, a panel of state elections officials and consultants recommended approval for Diebold's optical scanning software, clearing its use by 17 counties, including Alameda, which uses scanners for absentee and provisional ballots.

In the case of Diebold, the approvals clear a firm that Shelley has referred for criminal prosecution to provide the instruments of democracy for several million voters.

But a great deal has changed since last winter and spring, when state and local elections officials found evidence that Diebold had misled them and used uncertified, illegal software and poorly tested hardware in their voting systems. The most unsettling of those actions concerned Diebold's newest touch-screen, the AccuVote TSx, which Shelley permanently decertified in four counties. San Diego, Kern, San Joaquin and Solano counties now plan to use optical scanning systems, with paper ballots.

Corporate parent Diebold Inc. of Canton, Ohio, moved aside Diebold Election Systems president Bob Urosevich and replaced him with Tom Swidarski, an executive vice president at corporate parent Diebold Inc.

The company cleared testing and national and state approval for new voting and vote-tabulating software, the essence of its voting system. The new touch-screens still can be opened with a single key but no longer will have the same password ("1111") and encryption key nationwide.

California counties will be required to change those for each election, closing off some of the more egregious security holes that might have allowed vote manipulation. Counties also must conduct a scripted and videotaped test election on randomly selected machines on Election Day, to detect programming errors or touch-screen hacking.

Monday, August 9, 2004

Critics: Riverside County resists change

By Dave Downey, North County Times, August 7, 2004


Activists in California's sizzling electronic-voting debate and a lawsuit by a losing candidate in the March primary suggest Riverside County has repeatedly resisted attempts to make the touchscreen ballots more tamper-proof, at a time when rapid technological advance is bringing sweeping change to elections.

"There has been a consistent motion in the opposite direction," said David Dill, Stanford University computer science professor and founder of an activist group, VerifiedVoting.org, in an interview last week.

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the Davis-based nonprofit nonpartisan California Voter Foundation and a member, with Dill, on a state electronic voting task force in 2003, said several times over the last four years county officials have refused to take steps to preserve public confidence in the most fundamental of rights: the right to vote.

Mischelle Townsend, who guided the county through its transition from paper to electronic ballots and retired July 16, sharply disagreed. She pointed to a record of what she characterized as 29 straight problem-free elections since Riverside County led the Golden State in moving toward touchscreens as proof that the county has done just the opposite, and gone the extra mile.

Townsend also cited surveys which show voter confidence in the machines in the 95 percent to 99 percent range.

Roy Wilson, chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, flatly rejected critics' charges.

"As for a pattern of trying to keep the machines secret? Absolutely not," Wilson said.

The lawsuit that suggested a pattern of resisting attempts to make elections more open was filed by Linda Soubirous, a candidate who narrowly lost a bid in March to force incumbent County Supervisor Bob Buster to face a runoff in the November general election.


"We don't care about Linda Soubirous' politics," Dill said. Rather, he said, his decision to sign on to the suit was about establishing a strong legal precedent for transparency in electronic voting.

"I am mystified by their (the county's) resistance," he said. "This is not a criminal prosecution of Riverside County. This is just an effort to see the backup information from the election."

The irony, said Alexander, the voter foundation president, is that the backup sources Townsend has touted as safeguards to prove there is no need for a paper audit trail are the same sources she kept from Soubirous.

"I find that to be very troubling and disappointing," Alexander said.

The suit states that, in effect, county election officials did nothing more than "press the 'print' button on their system a second time ---- an empty gesture functionally equivalent to a mere re-announcement of the previously proclaimed election results."

The suit also suggests the recount handling is part of a pattern dating to the county's March 2000 purchase of an ACV Edge touchscreen system manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems. Among the issues raised:

- County officials agreed to buy 4,250 machines for nearly $15 million. But they chose to equip 200 touchscreens with printers capable of producing printouts of every ballot cast, Alexander said, and missed a chance at the outset to provide a complete backup paper record.

- After the disastrous 2000 presidential election and the horror stories about "hanging chads" on punch-card ballots in Florida, the California Legislature passed a measure designed to accelerate the Golden State's move to modern voting systems. The measure, Proposition 41, was placed on the March 2002 ballot and, with voters' approval, state funding was made available for half the cost of new systems.

Having already purchased their system by then, Riverside County sought a reimbursement through the act.

But there was a problem: In order to receive bond funding, the measure said touchscreens had to "produce, at the time the voter marks his or her ballot or at the time the polls are closed, a paper version or representation of the voted ballot or of all the ballots cast on a unit of the voting system."

In late 2001, the county successfully lobbied then-Secretary of State Bill Jones to interpret the law as to mean that touchscreens "merely had the theoretical capacity to produce a paper audit trail" as opposed to being ready to actually print ballots, the suit states. In December 2002, the county received a check for $7.5 million.

- In February of this year, new Secretary of State Kevin Shelley issued several directives to election chiefs in California's 15 electronic-voting counties that were designed to prevent problems in the March primary. One directive called for state experts to be given access to selected touchscreens on Election Day. But Riverside and nine other counties refused to follow the plan.

- And, in early May, Riverside became the first county to openly defy and sue Shelley over his April 30 order requiring electronic-voting counties to give voters the option of casting ballots by paper in November. Later joined by three other counties, Riverside was rebuffed by a federal judge in July.

Rolling Down the Highway, Looking Out for Flawed Elections

By Adam Cohen, New York Times, August 8, 2004


Ms. Harris's visit to Mohave County was part of a monthlong trip in which she and her deputy, Andy Stephenson, traveled to 10 states, investigating flaws in electronic voting and giving on-the-fly computer security tutorials.

The trip started out in Ohio, where they knocked on the doors of employees of Diebold, one of the largest and most criticized voting machine companies. It ended in late July in Las Vegas at Defcon, a hackers' convention, where the consensus was that cracking a voting machine might not be so hard.

Ms. Harris, the director of Black Box Voting (the Web address is www.blackboxvoting.org), has made herself public enemy No. 1 for voting machine manufacturers, and some elections officials, with her hard-edged attacks on electronic voting and her investigative style. (She acknowledges that at one point in Ohio, she and Mr. Stephenson hid in the bushes with a microphone, eavesdropping on Diebold workers.)

But there is no denying that Ms. Harris, a onetime literary publicist from the Seattle area, is responsible for digging up some of the most disturbing information yet to surface about the accuracy and integrity of electronic voting.

"I wouldn't want to play her role," says Aviel Rubin, a Johns Hopkins computer science professor and a leading critic of electronic voting. "But we're all better off that she's out there."

When they're in road-trip mode, Ms. Harris and Mr. Stephenson are a high-tech public-interest group on wheels. With a laptop computer connected to the Internet by cellphone, they toggle between MapQuest, hunting down directions, and Google, searching for the latest electronic voting information. The phone rings frequently with leads to be investigated. As they drove through San Bernardino, Calif., Ms. Harris took a call from a small-town official in Indiana, who claimed a voting machine salesman picked up a top elections official in his county in a limousine and took her on a shopping spree.

In the San Bernardino County elections office, Ms. Harris asked the registrar of voters to explain why, in the presidential primary in March, the vote totals went down in the days after the election. He explained that the county's electronic voting system had faulty software that accidentally held on to some test votes, and added them to the real votes that were cast. He insists that the story showed that the system worked well, since the extra votes were eventually found. Ms. Harris is skeptical.

Friday, August 6, 2004

Europe to monitor American elections

By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, August 6, 2004


The U.S. State Department has invited elections monitors from a European security outfit to observe U.S. elections in November.

After 13 House members, including Oakland Democrat Barbara Lee, asked the United Nations to send elections observers, they were lambasted by conservative pundits as un-American and worse. The Republican-majority House voted 243-161 to prohibit the U.S. government from backing the request.

It appears nonetheless that another international security body, the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will be sending a team out of Warsaw to look over the shoulders of U.S. elections officials.

The organization's members agreed in 1990 to let other nations observer their elections.

Assistant Secretary of State Paul Kelly mentioned the monitors in a recent letter to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, who led the original call for U.N. monitors.

"We share with you and your colleagues a profound commitment to strengthening democracy, not only overseas, but also here at home," Kelly wrote.

The elections assessment arm of OSCE sent 12 observers to Florida in the 2002 mid-term elections. Led by a Swiss diplomat, the team included elections officials from Bosnia, Russia, Canada, Britain and the United States, which belongs to the organization.

Two months later, they delivered a blend of praise and criticism for post-2000 voting reforms under Gov. Jeb Bush. They recommended more uniformity in voting systems, recounts and rules for purging voter rolls of felons. Florida still is struggling with all three, lately a faulty purge list.

"This represents a step in the right direction toward ensuring that this year's elections are fair and transparent," Lee said. She praised the State Department for inviting outside monitors.


Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group in Davis, called the monitors a psychological boost for voters worried that their votes might not count.

"Even if their report gets lost in the drama afterward, the fact that somebody makes sure there are outside observers is something that will bring voters comfort," she said.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

How They Could Steal the Election This Time

By Ronnie Dugger, The Nation, August 16, 2004 issue

Back in 1988, Ronnie Dugger wrote an article for The New Yorker, called "Counting Votes" which exposed in great detail the risks of computerized vote counting and the absence of federal voting system oversight at that time. His 1988 article is considered a "must-read" by anyone seeking to understand the history of computers in voting in the U.S.

Dugger now offers another lengthy review of the state of our country's voting systems, this time in The Nation.



The four major election corporations count votes with voting-system source codes. These are kept strictly secret by contract with the local jurisdictions and states using the machines. That secrecy makes it next to impossible for a candidate to examine the source code used to tabulate his or her own contest. In computer jargon a "trapdoor" is an opening in the code through which the program can be corrupted. David Stutsman, an Indiana lawyer whose suits in the 1980s exposed a trapdoor that was being used by the nation's largest election company at that time, puts it well: "The secrecy of the ballot has been turned into the secrecy of the vote count."

According to Dr. David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford, all elections conducted on DREs "are open to question." Challenging those who belittle the danger of fraud, Dill says that with trillions of dollars at stake in the battle for control of Congress and the presidency, potential attackers who might seek to fix elections include "hackers, candidates, zealots, foreign governments and criminal organizations," and "local officials can't stop it."

Last fall during a public talk on "The Voting Machine War" for advanced computer-science students at Stanford, Dill asked, "Why am I always being asked to prove these systems aren't secure? The burden of proof ought to be on the vendor. You ask about the hardware. 'Secret.' The software? 'Secret.' What's the cryptography? 'Can't tell you because that'll compromise the secrecy of the machines.'... Federal testing procedures? 'Secret'! Results of the tests? 'Secret'! Basically we are required to have blind faith."

Monday, August 2, 2004

LA Times Q&A with Kevin Shelley

"Don't Touch That Screen -- When it comes to electronic voting, he's a paper tiger"

By Mark Ehrman, Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2004


In these days of everything electronic, sometimes paper still triumphs. In April, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley rocked the brave new world of touch-screen voting by banning machines that don't generate a paper confirmation of each vote, unless the 15 counties using them adopted a strict set of guidelines. Anti-touch-screen activists lauded the move, but Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and Plumas counties and disability advocates filed suit, claiming the edict violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because the machines made it easier for the visually and manually impaired to vote. In July, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles found Shelley's decision "a reasonable one." Savoring victory, the former Assembly majority leader sizes up the marriage of technology and democracy and tackles the question, "Can they all get along?"

LAT: A voter-verified paper trail sounds like a no-brainer. How did so many machines go online without them?

KS: It goes back to Florida in 2000—those punch cards which created the chads. Also in California that same election, some 160,000 votes were invalidated because of punch cards. To solve that very legitimate problem, touch screens were rushed into use without all the software, all the hardware, worked out.

LAT: The manufacturers claim there are safeguards in place to ensure accurate vote tabulation.

KS: Poppycock. It's not us saying it's ineffective; studies have proven it. It's breakdowns in Alameda, San Diego, Maryland, Georgia. These machines have failed, have been hacked into, have found their source code placed on the Web. Not a single study has said, "There ain't a problem." So I would hope vendors would say, "We want to be your partners in helping to restore faith in this process."

LAT: Are you concerned about the vote being rigged?

KS: Absolutely.


LAT: Why even go to touch screens if they have such problems?

KS: The optical scan—the old SAT fill-in-the-blank—has the lowest error rate. It is an accurate, successful form of voting. I do acknowledge touch-screen machines have advantages in terms of access, of being able to display other languages. They have a place, but only if these procedures are put in place.

LAT: There's criticism that you seized upon this issue as a way to elevate the low-profile secretary of state.

KS: Yeah, I suppose I came up with recalling Gray Davis to up my profile, as well. These issues are thrust upon one. Nothing is more important in our democracy than protecting the right to vote. To not take an aggressive approach to ensuring that right would be irresponsible, and that's exactly what the judge said.