Thursday, October 28, 2004

E-voting rules likely to lead to confusion in 10 counties

By Dion Nissenbaum, San Jose Mercury News, October 28, 2004


They were supposed to make life at the ballot box easier. But with less than a week to go until Election Day, new electronic voting machines are sparking confusion and uneven sets of rules that await millions of Californians when they show up at the polls Tuesday.

If you don't want to use the new technology in Santa Clara County, poll workers will offer paper ballots as an e-voting alternative only if asked. In Napa County, you will be bumped from line and asked to wait. Until Wednesday, Merced County had planned to essentially treat voters who ask for paper ballots as suspect and subject them to a higher level of scrutiny.

The last-minute interpretations of new state rules have e-voting critics worried that Californians who have concerns about the accuracy of the machines will face unfair hurdles.

``I don't think people who want to cast paper ballots should be treated as second-class voters,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

In an effort to iron out the differences, state elections officials held a conference call Wednesday with the 10 California counties using e-voting machines and issued a new directive this week: Voters should be treated the same regardless of whether they choose electronic voting or paper ballots.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who has been one of the nation's leading e-voting skeptics, embarked on a long-running and contentious battle with county elections officials over their right to use the machines. Critics oppose machines that don't print backup paper ballots in case the computers crash or there are questions about the tally. In the end, Shelley allowed 10 counties to use the technology if they agreed to comply with 23 rules, including the right of all voters to cast a paper ballot.

But the counties have been applying the rules differently.

Voters in Santa Clara County will be allowed to cast paper ballots -- but only if they ask. Poll workers have been trained to stay mum about the paper alternative to the so-called DRE -- direct recording electronic -- process.

``We are not a paper-and-plastic county like a grocery store,'' said county Registrar Jesse Durazo. ``We're a DRE county with high confidence of voter satisfaction, high confidence of turnout and high confidence of security.''

Merced County's top elections official had planned to treat paper ballots of registered voters like provisional ballots that require extra scrutiny before they can be counted. When pressed on the issue Wednesday, Stephen Jones backed away from the idea and said the votes won't be put through the extra level of investigation.

Napa County Registrar John Tuteur will be even tougher: People who don't want to use the e-voting machines will be asked to wait for everyone else in line at the time to cast their votes before they will be given a paper ballot.

``Every American has a constitutional right to vote, but they don't have a constitutional right to choose how they vote,'' he said. ``If anyone requests the paper ballot, they will be asked to step aside because it distracts our workers having to run two election systems at the same time.''

Shelley aides have been working behind the scenes to dissuade Tuteur from going down that road.

Tuesday, they sent a memo to all 10 counties in an effort to head off Election Day problems.

``This `paper or electronic voting machine' option should not be compromised by either discouraging or encouraging the use of a paper ballot or an electronic voting machine,'' wrote John Mott-Smith, chief of Shelley's election division. ``What the directive and agreements with counties require is neutrality.''


Officials in other e-voting counties, including Alameda, Riverside and Plumas, did not return phone calls for comment.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Top 25 E-Voting Places to Watch

"E-voting and the 2004 Presidential Election: Top 25 Places to Watch", compiled by Kim Alexander, October 27, 2004

I distributed this list today via CVF-NEWS, identifying the most populous cities in the U.S. where electronic voting systems will be used November 2.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

HI: State terminates deal for voting machines

By Jan TenBruggencate, Honolulu Adverstiser, October 22, 2004


A state administrative hearings officer yesterday canceled a Texas company's $3.8 million contract to provide electronic voting machines at Hawai'i polling places, but the decision will not disrupt balloting in the Nov. 2 election.

Even though the contract for electronic voting machines was canceled, a state official expressed satisfaction with the machines.

Voters will still be able to choose between a paper ballot and the new Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machine, which is meant to make it easier for disabled voters to cast ballots, but can also be used by others.

The awarding of the contract to Hart was challenged by Election Systems & Software, whose electronic voting system ranked second in the bidding. Sheryl Lee Nagata, State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs hearings officer, concluded that Hart didn't have the required three years of experience with electronic voting systems at the time the contract was issued.

Hart InterCivic director of corporate communications Michelle Shafer, reached last night at the firm's headquarters in Austin, Texas, called the ES&S challenge "an example of sour grapes by a vendor who lost a procurement fair and square."

The contract will remain in effect until after the election, but what happens then is not clear. The administrative ruling could be appealed, and even if it's not, state officials have various options, including issuing a new request for proposals or selecting the second-place bidder in the original bidding.


Safe Vote Hawai'i, a coalition that decries the lack of a paper trail with the Hart voting machines, has urged voters to boycott the machines. But state elections officials say repeated tests convinced them the equipment operates as billed. Also, nearly a quarter of those voting early are using the machines.

TX: County Responds to Voting Machine Problems

By Lee Nichols, the Austin Chronicle, October 22, 2004


Travis County election officials have responded to complaints that voters casting straight-party Democratic ballots are discovering, when performing a final check of their ballots, that their votes for president have been changed from Kerry/Edwards to Bush/Cheney. The officials say that, after trying and failing to replicate the problem on its eSlate voting machines, they have concluded the vote changes are due to voter error rather than mechanical failure.

Gail Fisher, manager of the county's Elections Division, theorizes that after selecting their straight party vote, some voters are going to the next page on the electronic ballot and pressing "enter," perhaps thinking they are pressing "cast ballot" or "next page." Since the Bush/Cheney ticket is the first thing on the page, it is highlighted when the page comes up – and thus, pressing "enter" at that moment causes the Kerry/Edwards vote to be changed to Bush/Cheney.

Fisher stressed very strongly that voters should not rush, but carefully and thoroughly examine their ballots on the final review page before pressing "cast ballot."

Fisher said the county has received "less than a dozen" complaints from the more than 70,000 voters that had cast ballots by Friday afternoon.

Check out

The good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Grassroots Enterprise have produced an entertaining online movie to inform California voters of their right to cast a paper ballot on November 2.

Under the California Secretary of State's recertification requirements, counties that use touchscreen voting machines must offer voters the option of voting a paper ballot. However, in some counties pollworkers are being instructed to keep this option secret.

So EFF, the California Voter Foundation, Verified Voting and other groups and individuals who support secure and accountable voting systems are working to get the word out and let voters in the ten counties using touchscreen know that they have a right to a paper ballot, and must speak up for it in order to get one.

If you live in Alameda, Merced, Napa, Orange, Plumas, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Shasta, or Tehama county, please pass this to your friends and neighbors.

For more information see Los Angeles Times reporter Seema Mehta's story in the Oct. 25 edition, "Paper Ballot Option an Unofficial Secret.



Santa Clara County poll worker Ed Cherlin thought his job was to help voters, which is why he was so offended when he was ordered not to tell people coming to the polls that they could have traditional paper ballots if they didn't trust computerized voting machines.

"I object to having the government tell me I'm not allowed to tell people about their rights," said the Cupertino resident. "It's obviously unconstitutional and nonsensical." 


Barbara Simons, a poll inspector from Palo Alto, says, as Cherlin does, that she was told during a Santa Clara County poll worker training session not to tell voters of the paper option.

"It's a gag rule. It's outrageous," the retired IBM worker said. "I'm shocked that the county would require election volunteers working at the polls to withhold information from voters."

Calls to the Santa Clara County registrar of voters office were not returned Friday.

There have been no known reports of poll workers being ordered not to disclose the paper option in Southern California, but election officials in the three Southland counties where e-voting is used — Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange — said it was up to voters to be informed about their options.

"How we train our poll workers is that people who come into the polls are assumed to be there to vote electronically, and if they would like to vote [with paper ballots], they are required to ask," said Barbara Dunmore, Riverside County's registrar.

Bret Rowley, spokesman for the Orange County registrar, agreed.

"They're there if people ask for them," he said. "It's their choice. They need to ask for paper if they want it, or vote on the electronic system."

E-voting critics say these counties are meeting the letter of Shelley's mandate but not the spirit.

"When voters show up at a polling place, they should be given the option of voting either by paper ballot or touch screen," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which advocates voting safeguards. "I can understand why counties would want to limit the burden on poll workers. There could just simply be a sign on the polling place saying you have a right to cast a paper ballot."

Monday, October 25, 2004

60 Minutes to broadcast story on e-voting, Wednesday, October 27

CBS News: Is E-Voting Secure?

This Wednesday, October 27, "60 Minutes Wednesday" will broadcast a segment on electronic voting, and the concerns about paperless voting systems' vulnerability to software bugs. The segment will feature interviews with many prominent computer scientists working on electronic voting reform, including CVF Board member David Jefferson.

Here are excerpts from the article on the CBS web site promoting the story:


One of the 29 states using the new electronic voting is Florida. Charlotte Danciu's father ran for the Palm Beach city council in 2002, the first election that used the new electronic machines. He lost the election, but what upset Danciu even more were the calls she received from voters after Election Day.

"There was this elderly woman on the phone. and she's like, 'Miss Danciu, you don't know me but I kept trying to vote for your dad last night,'" recalls Danciu.

"'I kept pushing his name on the screen and the opponent's name kept registering.' People were calling and telling me that they would touch the screen, and it just wouldn't do anything, and they would call over a poll worker, who would do such things as punch the machine, hit the machine, unplug the machine."

Despite the poll worker's alleged attempts to get the machines to work on election night, Danciu asked for a recount. "The supervisor's position was that, 'Well, when you push this button, the computer will recount,'" says Danciu. "Well, it just re-tabulates and spits out in a nanosecond what it said the nanosecond before. There is no recount. There's no physical evidence to recount."

Without physical evidence, the computer runs the same data through the same software and, therefore, gets the same result every time. "Do people really want to get a different answer?" asks Conny McCormack, who runs elections in Los Angeles County.

"What we saw four years ago in Florida was a recount that was done where people got a different answer, chad[s] fell out and the numbers were different. This shocked people. The recount doesn't match and yet, in electronic, the recount matches and everybody's critical of that."

One of the critics of e-voting security is David Jefferson, California's top technical adviser on computer voting. He calls voting a national security issue and worries about the possibility that a rogue programmer could corrupt the votes in thousands of machines.

"The electoral weapon of mass destruction, if you will, would be if you were able to modify the software at the source where the vendors write it and insert either a bug or some piece of malicious logic that was distributed to every state that used electronic voting machines," says Jefferson.

Florida Judge dismisses touch-screen voting suit

By Adrian Sainz, The Associated Press, October 25, 2004


Eight days before Election Day, a federal judge ruled Monday that Florida's touch-screen voting machines do not have to produce a paper record for use in case a recount becomes necessary.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn said that the machines "provide sufficient safeguards" by warning voters if they have not cast a vote in a particular race and by allowing them to give their ballots a final review.


"Florida voters should have complete confidence in the voter systems we're using, and for Congressman Wexler to try to erode the voter confidence or put doubt in the voter's mind does a real disservice to the voters of Florida," said Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

Cohn, who heard three days of testimony last week, said a paper printout allowing voters to make sure their selections are correct would be preferable. But he said he was limited to determining whether the current procedures are constitutionally sound.

Wexler said he planned to appeal. He said he believes the judge was reluctant to make any "drastic changes" since early voting already is under way.

Republican Gov. Jeb Bush "successfully ran the clock out on the ability to improve the election process for 2004," the congressman said.

Wexler attorney Jeff Liggio argued the machines have no way to deal with malfunctions or distinguish between voter mistakes and intentional decisions to skip ballot items.

The judge said the question of malfunctions was a state rather than a federal issue.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

High court orders a review of challenge to fax voting

By Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, October 19, 2004


The state Supreme Court has ordered a judge to review a challenge by overseas voters to a new California law that allows them to vote by fax as long as they agree to give up their right to a secret ballot.

However, the court, in an order Friday, said it would allow the law to stay in effect for the Nov. 2 election. A lawyer for the three voters who filed the suit seeking a court order removing the privacy waiver from the law said Monday he may go to federal court to seek pre-election review.

Although using a fax machine lessens secrecy to some degree, "your vote could be counted by fax without your giving up your privacy'' if protective measures were required, said the attorney, Scott Rafferty. He contended the notice sent by the state, telling fax voters that "your vote will no longer be secret,'' is intimidating and could discourage voting.

But Tony Miller, special counsel to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, said the law gives military personnel and other overseas Californians another option for voting, one that is quicker but inherently less private than mailing their ballots.

"When you fax a ballot, you risk having your privacy compromised,'' Miller said. "It's appropriate that voters understand that. ... Election officials have developed procedures to help assure the confidentiality of the ballot.''

There is controversy about steps taken at the national level to facilitate overseas voting. The Pentagon canceled a plan for Internet voting by military personnel in February because of concerns about security of the votes, and drew criticism last month when it briefly restricted access to a Web site containing ballot forms.

Democrats -- among them Rafferty, the lawyer in the California suit -- have also complained that Omega Technologies, the contractor that receives faxed ballots from a toll-free Pentagon service and routes them to local registrars, is headed by a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee's Business Advisory Council.

The state law, signed three weeks ago by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, made California the 23rd state to allow residents abroad to vote by fax. It requires those voters to sign a waiver of their right to a secret ballot -- a right guaranteed by the state Constitution since 1879.


The state's high court, in its order Friday, said issuing a directive staying the law before the Nov. 2 election would cause "undue confusion and uncertainty in the election results.'' But the justices told a Sacramento County Superior Court judge to consider the suit after the election.

The case is Bridgeman vs. Shelley, S128311.

Scholars: Limited access to voting data hurts research - Oct 10, 2004

Associated Press, October 10, 2004


LANSING, Michigan (AP) -- After nearly 50,000 Michigan Democrats cast ballots over the Internet in February, academics eagerly sought election data that would help them determine what types of people voted online.

But scholars around the country complain that they haven't been able to get statistics from the February 7 caucus.

The delay could stall important research, they say, on voting technologies and on boosting participation in U.S. elections -- for example, by studying whether Internet voting could help such historically disenfranchised groups as overseas military personnel and citizens who don't speak English well.

Researchers and civil rights experts say Michigan's Democratic Party is merely one of a number of organizations that are stingy with voting data -- even though computerized balloting systems and registration databases make such information relatively easy to share.

"The quantity and quality of data we get on elections is highly variable and highly inconsistent, and it makes it very difficult for us as social scientists to study what happened," said R. Michael Alvarez, a political science professor at the California Institute of Technology. "It also makes it difficult for the public to have confidence in the integrity of the numbers."


Michigan Democratic Party Executive Chairman Mark Brewer says he's eager to have someone analyze the February caucus, the country's biggest experiment to date with online voting.

A preliminary report of the five-week voting period showed more older voters than expected. Web-based ballots also seemed to help Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry more than Howard Dean, who was initially expected to get more Internet votes because his supporters tended to be young, well-educated and cyber-savvy.

But as the head of a major political party dealing with a presidential election in a battleground state, Brewer says he simply hasn't had time to organize the data for academics. The party, which ran the caucuses and paid for them, owns the information.

"No one's trying to hide anything," Brewer said at his state party headquarters. "We want it studied. And the DNC (Democratic National Committee) wants it studied, too."

Brewer says the data -- which includes each voter's name, address, gender, race and other personal information -- has to be handled carefully to protect voters' privacy. There's plenty of time to get a more detailed analysis, he said.

"The data's not going away," Brewer said.

The delay aggravates Michael Traugott, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, who says he tried to approach Brewer about a larger research project involving the data even before the caucuses were held but couldn't get Brewer to call back.

"They've been promising this data for a long time, and they haven't produced it," said Traugott, who has a grant from the National Science Foundation to study election administration reform and the impact of new voter technology. He says he'd use aggregated data to come to general conclusions about voting systems -- not to determine how any individual voted.


The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a 1-year-old federal agency created to oversee election reform nationwide, acknowledges that a lack of data is one of the biggest obstacles to making U.S. elections more accurate and efficient.

The EAC last week announced plans to spend at least $5 million on basic voting research from the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, compiled by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"The truth is, most people would be shocked at the paucity of data we have on elections," EAC Chairman DeForest Soaries Jr. "We're flying without instruments."

Connie McCormick, registrar of voters in Los Angeles County, said demand for data could impose burdens on election officials -- particularly in small jurisdictions struggling to submit election results on time. But data will help researchers -- and boost voter confidence in election results.

"This will force counties ... to adopt clearly important process of basic statistical gathering," said McCormick, who was shocked to learn that Miami-Dade County had no local requirement in 2000 to reconcile the number of ballots cast with the number of voters who came to the polls. "How can you reassure the public on any level if the counties aren't doing basic reconciliations?"

In Florida, Early Voting Means an Early Return to Problems

By Abby Goodnough, New York Times, October 19, 2004


Presidential voting in Florida began two weeks early on Monday, in an effort to avoid many of the problems that plagued Election Day 2000.

But like persistent ghosts, some of those problems immediately resurfaced: long lines, trouble verifying voter registration data and a sense among black voters that they were being unfairly treated.

Here in Duval County, the state's most populous, where suspicion still simmers after 27,000 votes were thrown out in 2000, mostly in black neighborhoods, the beleaguered elections supervisor abruptly resigned, citing health problems. The elections office here has been under fire for opening only one early-voting site.


About 20 states, including Florida, also unconditionally let voters mail in ballots before Election Day, according to the National Association of Secretaries of States. Elections offices in Florida and elsewhere have received record requests for mail-in ballots, partly because of suspicion about the electronic voting machines that many states, including Florida, now use.


In Florida, voting stalled in at least three populous counties - Broward, Hillsborough and Orange - when the laptop computers used to verify voter information stopped connecting to a central database, said Alia Faraj, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Hood.

"You can't just crawl into a hole and say, 'Oh God, please work it out,' " said Brenda Snipes, the elections supervisor in Broward County, who told workers to confirm voter information by telephone after the malfunction brought voting at nine satellite locations to a standstill.

Florida Sets Touch-Screen Recounts Rule

By Brendan Farrington, The Associated Press, October 15, 2004


The state set a court-ordered rule for recounting touch-screen ballots in close elections Friday, but voter-rights groups complained the changes fell far short of what is needed to ensure a fair vote.

In cases where a manual recount is required, the rule calls on county elections supervisors to review each electronic ballot image to see if the number of so-called undervotes, those on which no candidate was chosen, matches the undervote totals given by the machine.

If the numbers do not match up, the machines will be checked for problems. If the discrepancy remains, elections officials will rely on the original machine count.

State law requires a manual recount if the election is decided by less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the vote, as it was in the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood had issued a rule barring manual recounts for touch-screen votes, but a judge in August ruled the manual-recount law applies no matter what voting technology is used.

Hood's office released the new recount rules late Friday, 18 days before the Nov. 2 presidential election. Voter activists complained that their proposal was ignored.

"It seems like every time they have a decision to make, somehow they find a way not to come down on the side of voters or the side of protecting the right to vote," said Howard Simon, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida.

More than half of Florida's 9.8 million registered voters are in the 15 counties that use touch-screen machines. The rest use optical scan ballots.

A coalition including the ACLU, Florida Common Cause, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the American Way Foundation wanted touch-screen voters to have the option of using a paper ballot. They also wanted to create a process to make sure all votes cast match the number of people who voted, and to have a federal court oversee a recount if one were necessary.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Court fees cut into Diebold earnings

The Associated Press, October 12, 2004


NORTH CANTON, Ohio - Mounting legal costs over its electronic voting equipment have forced automated teller machine maker Diebold Inc. to slash its third-quarter earnings forecast.

Diebold said in a news release Monday that its legal woes in California would reduce profit by 5 cents a share.

Executives expect the company to earn about 67 cents a share, down from its earlier forecast of 70 cents to 74 cents. The company said it also expects lower fourth-quarter and full-year earnings.

In September, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer joined a lawsuit alleging that Diebold sold the state shoddy hardware and software, exposing elections to hackers and software bugs. The case was originally filed late last year by a computer programmer and a voting rights advocate, who claimed that California elections officials spent at least $19 million on equipment that had critical hardware and software problems.

California's Alameda County also joined the false claims case, which could require Diebold to pay triple damages. Faulty equipment in the March primary forced at least 6,000 of 316,000 voters in the county east of San Francisco to use backup paper ballots instead of the paperless voting terminals.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., ruled that Diebold knowingly misrepresented its claims when it sent threatening letters to Internet providers who posted the company's internal documents online.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel was a symbolic defeat for Diebold and a major victory for electronic voting critics and free speech advocates, who sued Diebold for more than $5 million in damages and attorneys' fees. Fogel will determine the amount of damages to be awarded at a later time.

Monday, October 11, 2004

No harm done with glitches, election officials say

By Richard Borreca, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 7, 2004


Election officials say they are "going through a learning process" as they try to combine two different voting machine systems used in this year's elections.

Last month, problems popped up in the reports of the primary election votes.

Officials double-counted some of the people voting in the Sept. 18 special and primary elections.

Miscounted were more than 6,000 voters in a report issued Sept. 21-- three days after the special and primary elections -- labeled "final printout."

Officials, however, said the additional voters were subtracted in a final tally issued Sept. 23. They added that it affected voter turnout figures only and not votes in individual races.

The double count was blamed on the state's two different voting systems, the Election Systems and Software Inc. optical scanners, which counted most of the votes, and the new eSlate electronic voting machines made by Hart Intercivic.

No election results were changed by the double count, according to elections officials.

Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said the state is allowed to make "these kinds of adjustment."

"We are aware of this issue. It is a known issue, and it is part of the learning process," Quidilla said.

Scott Nago, counting center operations coordinator, said, "ES&S counted people who had only voted in the special election, and the Hart system counted everyone who voted in both the special and the regular election."


Kitty Lagareta, an official state elections observer, said she felt the Elections Office had not done enough planning in incorporating the new voting system.

"The observers had a lot of concerns about it. It is one of my concerns about the agency. ... They rushed the implementation of the machines.

"I would have preferred if they had thought it through prior to the actual voting," Lagareta said.

One month before the primary election, the Office of Elections announced that it would use the eSlate machines, which make it easier for disabled voters to vote at the polls.


A group of concerned voters, Safe Vote Hawaii, launched a campaign this week to ask voters not to use the eSlate machines because they do not print a copy of the ballot.

"Our message is simple: Without paper ballots a voter has no way to verify that his vote has been counted, and there is no way to conduct a valid audit of elections," said Jason Forester, a technical representative for Safe Vote Hawaii.

Gov. Linda Lingle has also noted that the electronic voting machines do not record votes on paper. "I am concerned any time there is not a paper backup to the voting system," she said.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Federal agency to spend $1 million to recruit poll workers, help Florida precincts

By Rachel Konrad, The Associated Press, October 3, 2004


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- The Election Assistance Commission plans to spend more than $1 million by Election Day to recruit poll workers nationwide and help Florida precincts devastated by hurricanes, but the federal agency expects far more of its funding will go toward collecting data about voting.

The country needs at least 500,000 more poll workers to avoid a shortage on Nov. 2, some experts say. But most of the $7.8 million Congress appropriated last week for the commission will be spent on research that includes the compilation of voting data that no federal agency has ever collected, said commission chairman DeForest Soaries Jr.

"The truth is, most people would be shocked at the paucity of data we have on elections -- it's one of the great inadequacies of our current system," Soaries said Friday night at a voting technology summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We're flying without instruments."

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will receive at least $5 million from the EAC to compile information about the 2000 and 2004 elections, Soaries said.

Data to be collected includes the number of people who cast ballots at polls, compared to the number who voted absentee, and the number of voters who applied for absentee ballots but didn't return them. It also will seek the number of poll workers the nation needs and the number who volunteer and whether residents' voting habits change when counties install new types of voting equipment.

Soaries said he'd also like a study of the nation's 55 different voting systems and whether the number could be reduced -- possibly to the embrace of a single technology.

Statisticians and political scientists say lack of federal data crimps their ability to intelligently analyze issues ranging from disenfranchisement to whether the shape of a ballot influences voters' selections.

Study: Voting technology needs work; Scientists say more research is needed to prevent problems

By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, September 26, 2004


An all-star cast of elections scientists holed up last weekend to examine the state of voting technology and elections. It's not disastrous, they concluded, but hardly a pretty picture either.

The prescription: More research, naturally.

"There's a clear message here that there's a lot that we don't know that can get us in trouble," said Shirley Malcom, head of education for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest scientific society and sponsor of last weekend's workshop.

If this sounds like an echo of four years ago, it is.

Scholars of American democratic practice rallied after Florida's chad-filled nightmare with a lofty goal: to rid America of bad voting technology and ambiguous elections. Congress promised tens of millions of dollars to put U.S. voters and voting technology under a microscope, then $2.8 billion to buy new voting equipment.

But the research money never flowed. And consensus on a voting system capable of accurate, verifiable and secure recording of the nation's political desires remains elusive.


Despite more than 200 years of honing, the tools of U.S. elections are hardly the best in the world and remain vulnerable.

"Basically, we should be serious about this like other countries," said MIT computer expert Ted Selker. "We are the most complex voting country in the world, but we are not the most sophisticated at all."

Absent systematic and federally funded research, a handful of small and mid-sized firms designed the new voting systems for the 2004 elections in secret. The most vigorous testing is by private laboratories hired by the voting-machine vendors.

Federal standards for voting machines were updated in 2002. Yet all voting machines slated for use in large numbers in November only meet 1990 standards or are grandfathered, exempt from any standard. States offer a mixed bag of requirements for additional testing and approval.

Security vulnerabilities and outright mistabulation errors slipped past certification testing and approval.

"What's still frustrating and difficult is the certification process," said Stephen Ansolabehere, an MIT political science professor and co-director of a joint MIT/CalTech voting research project . "If there was one thing the state and federal government really got distracted from that was unfortunate, it was the development of the standards and testing process."


Where Washington lost interest, private organizations such as the Carnegie Corp. and the Knight Foundation supplied close to $1 million a year for scientists to study elections matters. MIT's Selker said he thinks at least 10 to 20 times that amount is needed.

But where will the money come from, if a divisive, court-mediated result in 2000 and a high-stakes election in 2004 were insufficient to pry funds loose from Congress in the interim?

MIT's Ansolabehere says it may take "another big mess.".

"If things don't go well in some of the states, then there will be an added impetus," he said. And if the election goes smoothly? "It will take some of the pressure off."

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Washington State: 20 voting machines broke down during the Snohomish County primary

By Jerry Cornfield, The Herald, October 6, 2004


Twenty touch-screen voting machines broke down on Sept. 14 in Snohomish County, but officials said Tuesday that no votes were lost and no voter was prevented from casting a ballot.

County elections manager Carolyn Diepenbrock said mechanical failures rendered the machines inoperable for the primary election. Some simply froze, while the viewing screens on others went blank.

"We're still trying to figure out what triggered the mechanical failures," she said. "We don't have that answer yet."

Snohomish County uses touch-screen machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, Calif.


On the day of the primary, 20 of the 886 machines deployed in polling places had to be shut down after activation cards got stuck. While the problem has occurred in previous elections, it has never occurred on that many machines, Diepenbrock said.

Sequoia technicians spent last week in Everett testing the machines that broke down, as well as and the ones that did not. They did not uncover the cause of the problem.

"The difficulties appear to stem from mechanical failure of parts or hardware components," Michael Frontera, vice president of Sequoia operations, wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to the county auditor, Bob Terwilliger.

"Although we are never satisfied when components fail or require replacement, we do recognize that a limited amount of repair will always be required where mechanical parts are utilized," Frontera wrote.

On Friday, Terwilliger sent Secretary of State Sam Reed a copy of Frontera's letter, plus a report on what occurred. He also wrote that audits done after the primary found that "no votes were lost."

Diepenbrock said all votes cast up to the moment of mechanical failure were recorded on the cartridges.

To be certain, workers compared the total number of people who signed the poll book with the total number of votes cast on all of the machines at that polling place.

"This verified that no votes were lost and all votes cast were counted," she said.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

E-voting doubts surface -- Group urges use of absentee ballots in counties with electronic systems

By Lori Aratani, San Jose Mercury News, October 5, 2004

Yesterday the California Voter Foundation issued a news release urging voters who live in e-voting counties to request and vote a paper absentee ballot.

Here are excerpts from today's San Jose Mercury News story:


Citing a lack of confidence in electronic voting systems, a non-partisan voting group is urging voters in Santa Clara, Alameda and eight other California counties to use absentee ballots to cast their votes next month.

``Our advice is to cast your ballots on paper,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. ``Every voting system needs to be protected against manipulation and error, and with an electronic system the voter has to depend 100 percent on secret software produced by private companies that can't be verified.''

The foundation said that people who want to ensure their votes are counted on Nov. 2 should vote by mail or drop off their absentee ballots at the polls on Election Day.

About 30 percent of California voters live in counties that will use electronic voting systems. Santa Clara, Alameda, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino are the largest. Merced, Napa, Plumas, Shasta and Tehama also will use electronic systems.

In Santa Clara County, where touch screen machines were used in the March primary, there were no reported problems with the electronic voting system.

``We feel very secure with the system,'' said Elma Rosas, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County registrar's office. ``Our electronic voting system is safe.''

Even so, Rosas encourages voters to choose the voting method with which they are most comfortable.

``Whatever system makes our voters feel more comfortable -- whether it's touch screen or absentee -- that's what we want them to use,'' she said.

A spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said that office has taken special precautions to ensure the electronic voting systems are safe and accurate.

For example, counties using electronic voting machines in November's election have agreed to special conditions, including monitoring by the secretary of state's office as well as a new program for poll-worker training on electronic-voting machines. Voters in those counties can also choose to use paper ballots that will be made available in addition to the electronic voting machines. But CVF's Alexander said it's important for voters to check with their registrar for information on whether those votes are considered ``provisional ballots,'' rather than regular votes. It is not clear how they will be considered in Santa Clara and Alameda counties.

Friday, October 1, 2004

Commonwealth Club E-voting panel, October 7

Commonwealth Club web site

On Thursday, October 7, the Commonwealth Club of California will host a panel discussion on electronic voting, and whether problems are expected in the November election.

The panel includes:

David L. Dill, Ph.D., Founder and Board Director,

Daniel Tokaji, Professor of Law, Ohio University; Author, "Equal Vote" Blog

Marc Carrel, Assistant Secretary of State, California

Dan Burk, Registrar of Voters, Washoe County, Nevada

Henry Brady, Professor of Public Policy, UC Berkeley

Kim Zetter, Senior Reporter, Wired News; Moderator

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the program begins at 7:30 p.m and the Commonwealth Club Office, 595 Market St, 2nd floor, San Francisco. $12 for members, $20 for non-members, $7 for students.

1990 Federal Voting System Standards

1990 Federal Voting System Standards

States may choose whether to adhere to the voluntary, federal Voting System Standards. Reportedly 42 states do follow the federal standards. Although there are more current standards that were developed by the Federal Election Commission in 2002, it is the 1990 standards to which all voting equipment in use right now in the U.S. are tested, if at all. These standards have not been available online since the FEC adopted the new standards in 2002. Thanks to the good folks at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the 1990 standards are now available to the public online via the EPIC web site.

Diebold Loses Key Copyright Case

By Kim Zetter, Wired News, September 30, 2004


Students who sued Diebold Election Systems won their case against the voting machine maker on Thursday after a judge ruled that the company had misused the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and ordered the company to pay damages and fees. Lawyers for the students call the move a victory for free speech.

A judge for the California district court ruled that the company knowingly misrepresented that the students had infringed the company's copyright and ordered the company to pay damages and fees to two students and a nonprofit internet service provider, Online Policy Group.


Judge Jeremy Fogel wrote in his decision that "no reasonable copyright holder could have believed that portions of the e-mail archive discussing possible technical problems with Diebold's voting machines were protected by copyright." The judge ruled that Diebold "knowingly materially misrepresented" that the students and ISP had infringed Diebold's copyright.

Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said she hopes the decision will encourage ISPs to resist takedown demands from companies that use the DMCA to bar the speech of their clients. Seltzer said she hoped the decision would show colleges and ISPs that they shouldn't cave because they think litigation will be too expensive and useless.


The ruling makes Diebold the first company to be held liable for violating section 512(f) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it unlawful to use the DMCA takedown threats when the copyright holder knows that infringement hasn't occurred.

"We weren't out to get Diebold," Seltzer said. "We were out to crack down on the misuse of copyright threats. It's a matter of showing Diebold and companies that there is a cost to making false threats and to show ISPs that they have a remedy if they feel they are being unfairly threatened. It's not free to threaten infringement when there's no good faith claim for infringement."