Wednesday, December 21, 2005

CA Secretary of State kicks Diebold certification back to the feds

I'm interrupting my vacation time to share some breaking news....yesterday California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson issued this press release announcing he is returning Diebold's latest voting system application to the federal testing authorities for further evaluation. Here is an excerpt from the letter the SoS sent to Diebold:


Unresolved significant security concerns exist with respect to the memory card used to program and configure the AccuVote-OS and the AccuVote-TSX components of this system because this component was not subjected to federal source code review and evaluation by the Independent Testing Authorities (ITA) who examined your system for federal qualification. It is the Secretary of State's position that the source code for the AccuBasic code on these cards, as well as for the AccuBasic interpreter that interprets this code, should have been federally reviewed.


There are several news stories today about this development. For further details, see John Wildermuth's article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Ian Hoffman's article in the Oakland Tribune, and Greg Kane's article in the Stockton Record, excerpts from which are featured below.


At issue is the software language Diebold uses in the memory cards for both machines, according to a letter from state elections chief Caren Daniels-Meade. Critics say it contains a security flaw that allows outsiders to access and manipulate ballots.

Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for McPherson's office, said Tuesday that the source code wasn't reviewed in a previous federal inspection of the OS and TSx machines. A Finnish computer expert reportedly used the flaw twice to hack into OS memory cards during separate tests in Florida this year.

San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Deborah Hench said Tuesday that she doesn't believe a new round of testing would reverse the government's approval of the equipment. However, the latest delay in the state's certification of the TSx system leads Hench to wonder if the 1,600 machines the county agreed to purchase for $5.7 million will be available for elections in 2006.

"It makes it less and less likely that we'll be able to use it for the June election," Hench said. "What else are they going to make Diebold do to get certified?"

Friday, December 16, 2005

On vacation until the new year....

I'll be on vacation for the holidays and back to work at the beginning of the new year. My blog will be on hiatus during this time. I hope everyone has a happy and restful holiday season!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Securities fraud class action filed against Diebold

A class action filed against Diebold may have contributed to Wally O'Dell's departure as the company's CEO. This news release from the Connecticut law firm Scott+Scott provides further details. Excerpts are below.


COLCHESTER, Conn., Dec. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Scott+Scott, LLC (, at the direction of clients, has filed a securities fraud class action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against Diebold Inc. ("Diebold" or the "Company") (NYSE: DBD - News) and individual defendants. Presently, the class is defined in the complaint drafted by Scott+Scott as those who purchased Diebold securities between October 22, 2003, and September 21, 2005, inclusive (the "Class Period").


The complaint alleges that defendants violated provisions of the United States securities laws causing artificial inflation of the Company's stock price. According to the complaint, during the Class Period, the Company lacked a credible state of internal controls and corporate compliance and remained unable to assure the quality and working order of its voting machine products. It is further alleged that the Company's false and misleading statements served to conceal the dimensions and scope of internal problems at the Company, impacting product quality, strategic planning, forecasting and guidance and culminating in false representations of astonishingly low and incredibly inaccurate restructuring charges for the 2005 fiscal year, which grossly understated the true costs and problems defendants faced to restructure the Company. The complaint also alleges over $2.7 million of insider trading proceeds obtained by individual defendants during the Class Period.

Finally, investors learned the truth about the adverse impact of the Company's alleged defective and deficient inventory-related controls and systems on Diebold's financial performance. As a result of defendants' shocking news and disclosures of September 21, 2005, the price of Diebold shares plunged 15.5% on unusually high volume, falling from $44.37 per share on September 20, 2005, to $37.47 per share on September 21, 2005, for a one- day drop of $6.90 per share on volume of 6.1 million shares -- nearly eight times the average daily trading volume.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Controversial Diebold CEO resigns

Yesterday Wally O'Dell, chairman and CEO of Diebold, Inc., announced he is resigning effective immediately. This news comes at a time when Diebold's prospects for future sales of voting machines in California are up in the air pending the state's certification of its TSx electronic voting machine. Another blow against the company came last week, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued North Carolina for certifying voting equipment from Diebold and other manufacturers that failed to meet state certification requirements.

Excerpts from Dave Scott's article in today's Akron Beacon Journal are featured below.


Controversial Diebold Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Wally O'Dell resigned Monday, only a few days after meeting with the company's board.

A company statement cited personal reasons for the resignation, which took effect immediately.

Thomas W. Swidarski, a rising star in the company recently put in charge of an important restructuring, was named O'Dell's successor. John N. Lauer was named nonexecutive chairman.

Diebold's stock has fallen out of favor as it has dealt with poor results from its voting machine business and disappointing cost-cutting efforts in the automated teller machine division.

Monday's announcement came after the market closed with Diebold shares up 11 cents to $37.73, but down 32.3 percent for the year. The shares reached a high of $57.81 earlier this year.

``The board of directors and Wally mutually agreed that his decision to resign at this time for personal reasons was in the best interest of all parties,'' Lauer said in a news release issued after markets closed Monday.

O'Dell, 60, had been with Diebold since 1999. He was not quoted in the release and was not available for comment. The company did not elaborate on the ``personal reasons.''


On Monday, Swidarski, 46, also was named to the board of directors.

``I will have more to report on our progress and plans for 2006 and beyond during our fourth-quarter and year-end conference call with investors in January,'' Swidarski said in the release. He was unavailable for additional comment.


Swidarski joined Diebold in 1996. He held a variety of banking positions before that, including a stint as a senior executive of PNC Bank.

Green-based Diebold went into business in 1859 making bank vaults. Most of its sales these days come from automated teller machines. But much of the attention the company has received recently came from its relatively new business of making election machines.

O'Dell gained national attention when he invited people to a fund-raiser for George Bush with a 2003 letter stating he planned to help ``Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president.''

Critics howled that the maker of voting machines should not be involved in partisan politics. The company has since forbidden its top executives from making political contributions.

The company has been disappointed as legal and technical problems and political issues have prevented boards of election from buying election machines as quickly as first anticipated. The company also announced in October that Hurricane Katrina slowed the sale of ATMs to some Gulf Coast states.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Survey: Internet can help people gain political power

A new survey by the USC/Annenberg Center for the Digital Future finds that a growing number of people in the U.S. are using the Internet to be informed and involved in the political process. Excerpts from Grant Gross' Computerworld article on the survey are featured below.


Just under 40% of U.S. Internet users believe people can increase their political power by going online, up from 27% of Web surfers who thought that when surveyed in 2003, according to an Internet research center.

This year marked the first increase in the percentage of U.S. users who believe the Internet can help people gain political power, said the Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California. The center has been conducting surveys on Internet use for five years.

"Print and broadcast forever changed politics," said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the center. "They certainly made the audience feel more informed, but print and broadcast never made the audience feel more empowered politically."

Until this year's responses, Internet users didn't feel politically empowered either, Cole said. But a number of factors, including the growth of blogs and Democrat Howard Dean's Internet-centric presidential campaign in 2004, seem to have increased the visibility of the Web as a political tool, Cole said during a teleconference.


Cole pointed to growth in the number of Internet users who post their own content. This year, 6% of regular Internet users said they have their own blogs, 16% said they post pictures on the Web, and more than 10% maintain their own Web sites. In 2003, 3% of Internet users said they blogged, 11% posted photos, and less than 9% maintained Web sites.

Nearly 14% of Internet users under age 18 said they post their own content, compared with about 6% who did so in 2003. The growth in posting personal content is "reversing 450 years of media trends that was largely one way, from the source to the audience," Cole said.

The survey of people residing in 2,072 U.S. households during early 2005 found more than 60% of Internet users saying they believe the Web can be a tool to learn about the political process. That's up from 53% who said that in 2003. Just under 35% of nonusers agreed. The center defines nonusers as people who access the Internet less than once a month. The survey also found that 41% of Internet users went online to gather information about the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Court hears Riverside County e-voting recount appeal

I've been offline for the past few days attending the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws' (COGEL) annual conference in Boston. Meanwhile, yesterday in Riverside a state appeals court heard Riverside county supervisorial candidate Linda Soubirous' case involving her request for a recount of the votes from her 2004 contest. Excerpts from Dave Downey's article in the North County Times are featured below.


Lawyers for the county and a candidate who lost a bid for county office clashed in court Tuesday over whether an electronic-vote recount was mishandled.

The hearing ended with state judges saying they would rule shortly in Linda Soubirous' appeal of a 2004 Riverside County Superior Court decision, which found that the county's former elections chief did not abuse her authority when she refused to consult certain information for the recount.

A three-judge panel from the California Court of Appeal, 4th District, has 90 days to issue a decision, and observers said a ruling is likely within 45 days.

Soubirous, a Lake Mathews resident, finished a distant second to Supervisor Bob Buster in a three-way primary race in March 2004 that also featured former Lake Elsinore Mayor Kevin Pape. If Buster had finished with less than 50 percent of the vote, she could have forced a November runoff between the two of them, but Buster finished with just a few dozen votes more than half and avoided the runoff.

Then, Soubirous demanded a recount.

The recount upheld Buster as the winner with a bare majority of votes. Soubirous then filed suit in July of last year, asserting officials did little more than "press the reprint button" when they rechecked ballots cast on electronic touch-screen machines.

Riverside was the first large county in the nation to adopt electronic voting in 2000, when it purchased 4,250 touchscreen machines for $14 million.

Early on, few concerns were expressed about them. As their popularity spread, so did concern that the machines could malfunction or be hacked into. That led California officials to pass a law requiring counties using touch-screens to keep backup paper records of electronic votes starting next year and use them for recounts.

Soubirous' attorney Gregory Luke, however, argued in court Tuesday that the new state law didn't erase all concerns about electronic voting. Luke contended there is still a need for a court to compel Riverside and other counties to consult all relevant backup information to make sure a recount is accurate.

When Soubirous asked former Registrar of Voters Mischelle Townsend to recount votes in the 2004 race with Buster, lawyers asked to see ballot information stored in the touch-screen machines used in the election. But, the county refused and, instead, chose to recount electronic votes solely by consulting the cartridges that recorded people's votes.

Attorney Charles Bell, arguing on behalf of Riverside County, maintained Townsend had wide latitude to decide what information sources to use for the recount.

"What you seem to be suggesting is that this is totally up to the discretion of the registrar," said Justice Jeffrey King, who asked Bell several pointed questions on that subject.

Bell said it would not be a good idea to open up all records because that would subject the county to the scrutiny of anti-electronic-voting groups seeking to find anything wrong with the touch-screen system to advance their cause.

"Is there anything wrong that?" King asked.

At the same time, the justices questioned why Soubirous was still pursuing the case, because the election ended long ago and Buster started his fourth term more than a year ago.

"So what are we going to do? Move Mr. Buster out? Isn't she out of luck?" asked King. "This is something that this court can't remedy. It's just water under the bridge."

Luke countered that his client wasn't looking to boot Buster out, but rather to prevent Riverside County from keeping vital electronic-vote information from people who request recounts in the future.

Friday, December 2, 2005

North Carolina illegally certifies Diebold e-voting system

The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued this news release today about important developments in North Carolina, where Diebold has been awarded certification despite failing to comply with the state's election law requiring the company to provide source code and the names of all its programmers.

EFF was an intervenor in a court case that was decided earlier this week, in which Diebold lost a lawsuit against North Carolina's disclosure laws. Excerpts from the EFF news release are featured below.


The North Carolina Board of Elections certified Diebold Election Systems to sell electronic voting equipment in the state yesterday, despite Diebold's repeated admission that it could not comply with North Carolina's tough election law.


"The Board of Elections has simply flouted the law," said EFF Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "In August, the state passed tough new rules designed to ensure transparency in the election process, and the Board simply decided to take it upon itself to overrule the legislature. The Board's job is to protect voters, not corporations who want to obtain multi-million dollar contracts with the state."

Last month, Diebold obtained a broad temporary restraining order that allowed it to evade key transparency requirements without criminal or civil liability. The law requires escrow of the source code for all voting systems to be certified in the state and identification of programmers. Diebold claimed that it could not comply because of its reliance on third-party software.

Monday, responding to EFF's arguments, a judge dismissed Diebold's request for broad exemptions to the law and told Diebold that if it wanted to continue in its certification bid, it must follow the law or face liability. Diebold had told the court that it would likely withdraw from the bidding process if it was not granted liability protection. But instead, Diebold went forward with the certification bid.

Diebold's certification now means it is permitted to sell e-voting equipment in North Carolina. But Zimmerman says that any county that buys from Diebold is taking a risk.

"If Diebold's certification is revoked, counties using their equipment could be left holding a very expensive bag," Zimmerman said.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

More coverage of the Secretary of State's Voting Systems Summit

Today's Oakland Tribune features an article by Ian Hoffman on this week's voting system summit in Sacramento hosted by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. Excerpts are below.


Uncertainty clouds future of e-vote tests

Despite movement toward new standards for machines,

change may be years away

For 11 years, most states have relied on voting systems tested to minimal federal standards, the results withheld from public scrutiny and given the green light by a nongovernmental agency working on a shoestring budget.

The era of approving tools of democracy on the cheap is coming to an end, and judging by talk at a national gathering of voting experts here this week, few will be sorry to see it go.

Carnegie Mellon University computer expert Michael Shamos, a state voting-systems certification official for Pennsylvania, is one of the staunchest advocates for new, fully computerized electronic voting systems.

But judging by what he has seen emerge from secretive, private labs known as "independent testing authorities" and approved by the National Association of State Elections Directors, Shamos said, "There's stuff in there that's so horrible, I can't understand it."

He found a quarter of the voting systems presented to Pennsylvania unsuitable for elections, with such "glaring failures" as an inability to tally votes correctly. A recent study led by the University of Maryland showed all of six voting systems tested did not record 3 to 4 percent of the votes. What does pass state muster often can break down.

"I have good reason to believe that 10 percent of systems are failing on Election Day. That's an unbelievable number," Shamos told an assemblage of voting-system makers, elections officials and scientists. "Why are we not in an uproar about the failure of (touch-screen voting) systems?"


Vendors can spend several hundred thousand dollars getting a state's OK. Many states rely on the national testing alone and start buying approved voting systems almost immediately. Florida and Georgia rely almost exclusively on their own testing.

California uses both the national testing and its own, which under McPherson has grown in rigor.

His office now requires every voting-system maker to supply dozens of machines for a massive, mock election to ferret out manufacturing or reliability problems. McPherson also has agreed to let a computer expert try hacking into a Diebold system, and state officials are weighing whether to require the same kind of security testing for all voting systems.

Diebold and some local elections officials are frustrated that it has taken more than two years to get the firm's latest touch-screen approved for sale and use in California.

Partly because of the testing and Diebold's own delays, a quarter of California's counties, including Alameda, Marin and San Joaquin, probably will miss Jan. 1 federal and state deadlines for offering new, handicapped-accessible voting machines with a paper record. Local elections officials want several months of lead time getting used to the new machines before the June primary.

"He's risking another huge meltdown for counties," said Los Angeles County Registrar Conny McCormack, head of the state association of local elections officials. "It's a setup for failure."

But the testing has disclosed security holes, as well as a bug that caused one in five Diebold touch screens to crash if a voter slid a finger on the screen, and forced Diebold to fix frequent paper jams in a printer for ballot records. Fixing the "sliding finger" bug alone cost the firm at least $250,000.

McPherson said this week that deadlines will have to take a back seat to making sure voting systems are secure, accurate and reliable.

"There is no compromise where election integrity is concerned," he said. "I cannot in good conscience certify systems that are not fully tested. This is a one-time show, and we're going to do it carefully."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

My presentation at the Secretary of State's Voting Systems Testing Summit

This past Monday and Tuesday I participated in the California Secretary of State's Voting Systems Testing Summit, along with about 125 other people. Other participants included many California local election officials, election officials from other states, representatives of the EAC and NASED, voting equipment vendors, computer scientists, academics, and a few activists. Though the event was not open to the public, the Secretary of State's staff did invite a fairly diverse group of people to attend, and permitted reporters to sit in on the sessions.

My presentation focused on the purpose for which voter verified paper audit trails should be used. While there were many people in the audience who have been longtime opponents of a voter verified paper audit trail requirement, I felt my remarks were well-received. All in all, I found the summit to be a good opportunity to talk with people from a variety of perspectives.

Based on the presentations made, I get the feeling that many folks involved in elections are slowly beginning to acknowledge the weaknesses of the federal government's current oversight of voting systems. For example, two representatives from Independent Testing Authorities (ITAs) were scheduled to speak, but only one showed up. Several summit participants expressed disappointment that the representative from Wyle Labs did not show up, since Wyle has been one of the most prominent ITAs involved in the federal voting system qualification process.

It's clear that many states are in the same situation -- facing looming voting equipment deadlines to comply with the Help America Vote Act's accessibility requirements, but not feeling confident about the voting equipment choices before them. Tuesday's Sacramento Bee featured an article by Kevin Yamamura which discusses California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's comments at the summit and reports that he may not certify any more voting systems before the end of the year, which will make it difficult for current Diebold customers to comply with the HAVA mandate.

Update on Secretary of State's security test plans

The attempted hack of a Diebold voting system will not take place today, as previously reported. The terms of the test are still being negotiated. It's my understanding that the Secretary of State's office has been in touch with Finnish programmer Harri Hursti to make the arrangements. More details are featured in Monday's Alameda Newspaper Group story by Ian Hoffman. Excerpts are below.


Back in May, voting activists went on the Internet and for $300 apiece purchased two devices used to record moisture levels in corn.

Certain corn scanners use the same memory cards as Diebold Election Systems' optical scanning machines for ballots and can easily modify them. That makes corn scanners a tool for vote hacking.

Sitting by a hotel pool last spring in Florida, Finnish computer expert Harri Hursti wrote his own program on a memory card so it could alter poll results on a Diebold machine in Leon County and flash a screen message -- "Are we having fun yet?" -- that shocked the local elections supervisor.

Prodded by activists with nonprofit Black Box Voting, California elections officials have agreed to a test hack of the Diebold voting machines running in 17 of its counties, from San Diego to Los Angeles and Alameda to Humboldt.

The test, first reported by The Daily Review last week, originally was scheduled for Wednesday but will likely be delayed until mid-December.


If Hursti or another computer expert succeeds in hacking Diebold's voting machinery, the McKinney, Texas, firm could be forced to redesign software fundamental to each major component of its voting system. Securing new state and federal approvals would bring delay and loss of sales that the company is counting on before next June's primary.

Counties face Jan. 1 state and federal deadlines for acquiring new, handicapped-accessible voting systems that also offer some form of paper record. Those counties relying on Diebold might turn to other voting-system makers.

As a result, there have been extensive, ongoing negotiations between Black Box Voting and the California secretary of state's office, which also is talking to Diebold, about conditions of the test, confidentiality of the results and measures of success. The talks continued over the weekend, but state officials said they remain committed to performing the test.

"Secretary (Bruce) McPherson takes testing these systems very seriously," said his spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen Demovic. "He wants safeguards in place so that every vote cast is secured. He's doing his due diligence to assure voter confidence."

Last week state officials said they will select the voting equipment at random from a California county using Diebold.

Hacking strategies can be caught by recounting the ballots. California law requires a recount in 1 percent of precincts after every election. But in Los Angeles County and other jurisdictions, elections officials do not recount absentee ballots, which are mailed in and scanned at election offices. Absentee ballots are more than a third of the vote in California and in several counties more than half of the vote.

"You just tamper with the GEMS database for the absentee vote, and then if you exclude the absentees from the one percent recount then you completely own the process," said Jim March, a board member of Black Box Voting. The hacks -- there are two -- are almost elegantly simple.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Hacker to try to attack state voting machines

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, John Wildermuth reports on the California Secretary of State's plan to allow a computer security expert sponsored by Black Box Voting to attempt to hack into Diebold's voting system. The security test will be held Wednesday, Nov. 30. Excerpts from the Chronicle article are featured below.


A computer hacker will be trying to break into one of California's electronic voting machines next week, with the full cooperation of the secretary of state.

Harri Hursti, a computer security expert from Finland, will be trying to demonstrate that voting machines made by Diebold Election Systems are vulnerable to attacks by computer hackers seeking to manipulate the results of an election.

"This is part of our security mission,'' said Nghia Nguyen Demovic, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. "We want to make sure that every vote is counted and registered correctly.''

The stakes are high for Diebold, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of electronic voting systems. The company is trying to get its new voting system approved for use in California, the nation's biggest market, but Secretary of State Bruce McPherson refused certification after 20 percent of the new, printer-equipped voting machines malfunctioned during a July test in San Joaquin County.

"The secretary said that performance wasn't good enough,'' Demovic said.

The new security test, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, will play a role in Diebold's future certification efforts.

Last May, Hursti and another computer security expert tested a Diebold system for the elections supervisor in Leon County, Fla. They quickly broke into the system, changed the voting results and inserted a new program that flashed the message "Are we having fun yet?" on the computer screens.

"Granted the same access as an employee of our office, it was possible to enter the computer, alter election results and exit the system without any physical record of this action,'' said Ion Sancho, the election supervisor, in a report on the county's Web site.

The California test will use a randomly selected voting machine from one of the 17 counties that use a Diebold system -- either touch screen or optical scan machines. The original plan for the test would have used a machine provided by Diebold, something opposed by the state and the critics of the company.

"We want to test a machine that's already been used in a California election,'' said Jim March, an investigator for Black Box Voting, the consumer group bringing in Hursti for the test. "We want to avoid a so-called 'lab queen,' a voting machine specially rigged for the test.''

Black Box Voting and other groups have complained that the programs loaded into the Diebold machines can be undetectably changed to provide a specific election result. Officials of the company argue their machines provide secure, accurate results.

Officials of the company did not return telephone calls Wednesday.

Diebold has been a popular target, for those worried about the security of electronic voting and for Democrats complaining about the company's links to the Republican Party.


The company also has a checkered record in California. Problems with the company's electronic voting system caused disruptions at 180 Alameda County precincts during the March 2004 primary election. During the October 2003 recall election, several thousand votes for Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in Alameda County were somehow electronically transferred to Southern California Socialist John Burton.

In May 2004, then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley yanked certification of the Diebold machines in four counties and restricted their use in 10 other counties until their security and reliability could be improved.

The state has mandated that all electronic voting machines have a paper-ballot backup to record votes by the June 2006 primary.

More coverage of the Diebold hearing

Ian Hoffman of the Alameda Newspaper Group wrote this article about Monday's hearing at the Secretary of State's office regarding certification of the Diebold TSx voting system. It is featured below.


With a quarter of California counties poised to buy Diebold's latest touch-screen voting system, Diebold critics urged its rejection Monday, calling it open to fraud and inaccessible to disabled voters.

If the touch screen isn't approved, most California counties will miss the Jan. 1 deadline to begin offering handicapped-accessible voting machines that also provide a backup paper record.

Fifteen county officials, including elections chiefs in Alameda, Marin, San Joaquin and Los Angeles, wrote Secretary of State Bruce McPherson last week to "urge that you act as quickly as possible ... to ensure our ability to comply with the looming federal and state deadline."

Yet Diebold employees and local elections officials were dismayed to hear the company portrayed as an "ethically challenged" and "corrupt" maker of voting machinery designed to fix elections.

The McKinney, Texas-based firm has spent more than two years trying to win permanent California approval for its AccuVote TSx and undergone the most rigorous state testing of a voting system.

"People have made this a personal issue with Diebold, and they don't see a company that has made improvements," said San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Debbie Hench, who wants to use more than 1,600 of the Diebold touch screens in the June primary. "I don't think there's a vendor around that could satisfy these people."

Diebold has added stronger passwords and encryption, but opponents say the voting system remains vulnerable to a simple hack. With unobserved access to voting computers and insertion of as little as 60 lines of code, a computer expert for Black Box Voting Inc. says he has been able to change vote tallies for an entire jurisdiction.

Jim March, a board member of the group, called the vulnerabilities "a whole set of aces up the sleeve for an election official who wants to cheat."

Before considering approval of the system, officials at the California secretary of state's office have agreed to test those claims by letting Black Box Voting try to hack into the Diebold system on Nov. 30.

"The places where there are known vulnerabilities in this system should raise a yellow flag before we certify this system," said state Sen. Debra Bowen, a Marina del Rey Democrat expected to challenge Secretary of State Bruce McPherson as the state's chief elections officer.

State law says a voting system cannot be approved for use in California unless it is secure. So far, state voting-system technicians have concluded the system is secure enough. What could matter more in McPherson's decision on the Diebold system is opposition from advocates for visually impaired and physically disabled voters, for whom most counties say they are buying the Diebold system to serve.

Dan Kysor, director of governmental affairs for the California Council for the Blind, and Teresa Favuzzi, executive director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, said the Diebold system is not accessible enough.

Electronic touch screens have brought disabled voters to the brink of casting their ballots privately, without assistance, by offering an audio version of the electronic ballot and various means of marking their choices. But Diebold's latest touch screen lacks a key tool, a sip-and-puff device for physically disabled voters, and it is designed in a way that makes it hard for visually impaired voters to initiate the voting machine, Favuzzi said.

The machine has a printer and rolls of cash register-style thermal paper for producing paper trails, or printed records of ballots that voters can double-check for accuracy and elections officials can use for recounts. But visually impaired voters can't read the printouts, and they are not given such independent verification.

"We actually expect to have access to the verification process," Favuzzi told state elections officials Monday. "We are interested in having accessible voting machines, and this one does not really seem to fit."

Rejection or delay of approval for the Diebold system would put California counties in league with counties throughout the nation that are likely to miss deadlines for handicapped-accessible voting under the 2002 Help America Vote Act. The National Association of Counties recently pressed Congress to roll back those deadlines by two years, citing the lack of available systems.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Report on SoS Hearing on Certification of Diebold's TSx voting system

Today the California Secretary of State's office held a public hearing as part of Diebold's application for certification of its TSx electronic voting system. About 150 people attended the hearing, mostly voting rights activists who traveled from all over the state to participate.

The Secretary of State has disbanded the Voting Systems and Procedures Panel, which caused much confusion in the days and weeks leading up to today's hearing. Many people wondered who from the Secretary of State's office would attend the hearing if not members of the Voting Systems and Procedures Panel? It turned out that today's hearing was chaired by Bruce McDannold, acting chief of the secretary of state's new Office of Voting System Technology Assessment, as well as senior staff from the legal, executive and legislative divisions. Also on today's hearing panel was Steve Freeman, the state's voting systems consultant.

The hearing began at 10 a.m. Prior to its start, activists held a news conference and rally in front of the Secretary of State’s office. Then everyone filed in to the auditorium and Bruce McDannold began the hearing.

Many of the people who spoke at the hearing were there to oppose the certification for one of two reasons: either they opposed Diebold because of its poor track record in California elections as well in other states; or they opposed certification of electronic voting systems generally.

There were also several representatives of disability rights groups who spoke, including two who spoke against certification of the TSx because they believe it is not accessible enough. This may pose a serious barrier to the TSx’s certification, because one of the main reasons counties want to purchase this machine is so they can be in compliance with the Help America Vote Act’s accessibility requirements.

Much of today’s testimony also focused on the procedures the Secretary of State is following for convening public hearings and certifying voting equipment. Many activists were frustrated that they were not aware the VSPP had been disbanded, or that this public hearing had been called. To alleviate these problems in the future, the Secretary of State’s office is now allowing people to sign up on their web site to automatically receive notices of future hearings via email.

Activists were also frustrated that there was no give-and-take between the panel and those providing testimony. Many people who spoke had questions and wanted answers that were not provided by the panel. Hopefully in the future the Secretary of State will establish a way to answer public questions in a public forum. I did ask one person on the panel after the hearing what people should do if they have questions about voting systems, and the response was that they should contact Bruce McDannold, whose email address is

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Diebold TSx Certification Hearing Monday, Nov. 21

On Monday, November 21 the Secretary of State will hold a public hearing on certification of Diebold's TSx electronic voting machine with a voter-verified paper audit trail printer attachment. The hearing begins at 10 a.m. at the Secretary of State's office in downtown Sacramento. The hearing agenda, staff and consultant reports, and California testing reports are available on the Secretary of State's Voting Systems homepage.

Many California counties are Diebold customers and are eagerly awaiting certification of the TSx so they can use these machines in the June 2006 primary election. Secretary of State Bruce McPherson rejected Diebold's initial application for certification back in July due to problems in state testing. See my July 2005 blog entries for details on the initial application and rejection.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A collection of glitches from Tuesday's election

Joe Hall, a UC Berkeley grad student and staff for the ACCURATE project has compiled a list of glitches from around the country in last Tuesday's election. His collection features links to news articles where the glitches were originally reported. Excerpts are below.


Harwinton, Connecticut - Voting machine snafu may lead to challenge in Harwinton

One candidate was endorsed in a race by both Republican and Democratic parties and was listed twice in a choose 2 out of 3 race. This candidate, due to being listed twice, got twice as many votes as the other two candidates in the same contest.

Pasquotank Co., North Carolina - In Elizabeth City, a 14-vote gap has one candidate calling for a recount

Selecting a certain candidate in the only contest on the ballot resulted in a write-in candidate box being selected instead. The margin in this race was 14 votes. Also, 60 blank ballots were cast (recall that there was only one race for this election). Also see: "Count on recount in E. City mayor’s race"

Lucas Co., Ohio - State plans to investigate voting chaos; Tuesday's problems are latest for Lucas County

This one is mysterious: "workers accidentally 'set an option [on the five machines] that prevented the results from being transported onto the memory card.'" Also, massive labor shortage resulted in chaos as election was highly understaffed and a system of "rovers" didn't function correctly (where one elections worker would travel to five polling places to get aggregate totals from machines). Also, see: "Poll workers blast use of 'rovers'"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Relatively calm Election Day

Today's San Francisco Chronicle features an article by Greg Lucas assessing how the election went -- and it appears things were relatively smooth. Excepts are below.


With the exception of some missing poll workers, an on-the-fritz scanner in Tuolumne County, some uncounted votes in Stanislaus County, a power outage in Lassen and transportation problems in Los Angeles, processing the 6.8 million ballots cast in Tuesday's election went off without much hassle.

One reason there were so few snafus is that one third of the ballots -- 2.3 million -- were absentee.

The remaining absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted could push the figures closer to the 40 percent vote-by-mail estimate by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

"Sure there was the occasional glitch, but generally the reports coming in from the counties is that the processes worked smoothly," said Conny McCormack, registrar of Los Angeles County and president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials.

"Considering how fast we had to put this election together and pull it off administratively, I thought we all did extremely well," McCormack said.


There were no widespread problems with the election in the Bay Area.

Stephen Weir, Contra Costa County registrar, said the election went well but his county and some others had a higher-than-normal number of "no show" poll workers.

In Stanislaus County, election officials decided not to count 20 precincts of mail-in ballots until Wednesday morning. But state election officials awakened them long after midnight and told them the ballots had to be counted right away.

One of Tuolumne County's vote-counting scanners gave up the ghost, leaving ballot counters with just one scanner to process votes.

"It took us an hour-plus longer than normal. Otherwise, everything was fine and dandy," said Tim Johnson, the county registrar.

Monterey was one of seven counties testing new technology that lets voters double-check their selections before casting a ballot electronically.

The devices are required on all electronic voting machines beginning with the June 2006 primary.

"This wasn't a test, it was the real thing," said Claudio Valenzuela, precinct service coordinator for Monterey County.

"Some voters thought they were getting a receipt, but after poll workers explained it was for verification, not a receipt, they were OK with that," Valenzuela said.

Kari Verjil, registrar of San Bernardino County -- the largest jurisdiction in the country to use the verification devices -- said despite a few paper jams the devices worked "exceptionally well."

The above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty award for the election probably goes to four poll workers in Lassen County who arrived at their polling place, the Veterans Memorial Hall in Bieber, population 510, to find the power out and no water.

A snowstorm had downed power lines. Rather than give up the site, they opened the polling place with flashlights. To combat the cold, the husband of one of the poll workers brought wood and got a fire blazing in the hall's fireplace. A voter went home and returned with a propane lantern.

End of paperless e-voting in California

Tuesday's election marked the last time paperless electronic voting machines will be used in a California election. Ian Hoffman of the Oakland Tribune wrote an article about the end of the era. Excerpts are below.


Elaine Ginnold awoke in a darkened home with no electricity - a harrowing way for the Alameda County elections chief to launch Tuesday's special election with fully electronic voting machines.

No power, no votes.

Ginnold muttered an epithet but relaxed later when driving past her local polling place, a fire station with its lights blazing. Her Election Day opened with the usual headaches: no-shows of poll workers, polling places still locked and a smattering of technical problems such as inoperable electronic voter cards and a few inoperable e-voting machines. The days of those last glitches, and worrying about power outages, are on their way out. The era of paperless, fully computerized voting machinery ended Tuesday in California.

Ginnold for one isn't sorry to see a return to paper balloting.

“I'm looking forward to it,” she said. “I don't see that we're going backwards at all."

Soon after voters in Piedmont tried their hand at paperless, touch-screen voting in 1999, electronic voting soared in popularity. It was easy as an ATM. The curses of paper balloting multiple languages, multiple districts, multiple parties, paper jams would vanish, along with the hanging and pregnant chad so reviled from the 2000 elections.

E-voting had none of these ambiguities: The memory either stored a vote for, a vote against or none at all.

E-voting makers and elections officials talked of near-instantaneous results, beamed wirelessly from polling places to central elections offices for immediate posting on the Internet. Paperless voting was the way of the future.

But in 2002, criticism arose from an unlikely quarter: Computer scientists who had written software for NASA moonshots and Star Wars missile-defense systems said computers were too subject to programming error and too unsecure to rely upon them solely as arbiters of political power.

More detailed analysis of e-voting software at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere revealed vulnerabilities to hacking.

The new voting machines also brought their own drawbacks. They were expensive, often costing $4,000 apiece, and while the touch screens themselves had relatively few problems, related hardware and software breakdowns thwarted voters in several large counties in 2004.

In California, voters wary of politics and government latched onto the controversy and to one solution proposed by computer scientists: Add printers to the electronic voting machines and provide a printed record of the ballot for voters to check and elections officials to recount.

In six months, the state became the first to require a voter-verified paper trail for all e-voting machines. Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill requiring elections officials to use the paper trail in recounts.

“It's been a long road to get where we are now, where the use of paperless electronic machines is on the decline,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation and a leading advocate of paper trails.


Starting Jan. 1, all electronic voting machines must produce a paper trail that will be used in automatic recounts of 1 percent of precincts, as a check of computerized vote tallies, and in full recounts in the event of an election challenge.

Alfie Charles, an executive with Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems and a former state elections official, said he thinks paperless e-voting is gone for good.

“It worked well and served its purpose but unfortunately was not trusted, for either perceived or valid reasons,” he said. “And in elections, perception is critical.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Voting Hotline -- Report problems at 1-866-OUR-VOTE

Verified Voting and a coalition of nonprofit organizations is sponsoring a toll-free hotline voters in California and other states can use to report any problems experienced today at polling places. The hotline number is 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Excerpts from their announcement are featured below.


If you experience any problem casting your ballot -- finding the polling place, voter intimidation, accessibility issues, voting machine problems, provisional ballot issues, etc. -- or you witness anyone having voting problems, please immediately call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report the problem.


Verified Voting Foundation volunteers and staff have developed a new version of the "Election Incident Reporting System" (EIRS) to record all problems reported to 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Since 2004, hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals in the United States have used EIRS to help protect our right to vote and assure that every vote is counted as cast.

Schwarzenegger Hits Snag at Polling Place

Bob Salladay reports today on the Los Angeles Times' web site that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ran into some problems today when he attempted to vote at his Brentwood polling place. His story is featured below.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up to his Brentwood neighborhood polling station today to cast his ballot in the special election — and was told he had already voted.

Elections officials said a Los Angeles County poll worker had entered Schwarzenegger's name into an electronic voting touch screen station in Pasadena on Oct. 25. The worker, who was not identified, was testing the voting machine in preparation for early voting that began the next day.

Somehow, Schwarzenegger's name was then placed on a list of people who had already voted, said Conny B. McCormack, the Los Angeles County registrar.

Schwarzenegger's aides were informed of the problem when they arrived this morning to survey the governor's polling station. The poll worker told the governor's staff he would have to use a "provisional" ballot that allows elections workers to verify if two votes were made by the same person. McCormack said the poll worker did the correct thing.

The governor, however, was allowed to use a regular ballot.

McCormack said she apologized to the governor's staff and would investigate what happened. She said nobody actually voted for Schwarzenegger in Pasadena, and the governor's votes today will be counted.

"This is someone who breached our protocol and was playing around in advance of the election," she said.

Tom Hiltachk, the governor's attorney, said: "I have no reason to believe anything nefarious occurred.

But Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said the problem highlights the need for better verification of electronic voting.

"If the governor is going to have a mix-up on his ballot," she said, "it will make other voters wonder what is going to happen with their ballots."

Voters in Electronic Voting Counties Have the Right to Request a Paper Ballot at the Polls

Nine California counties will use paperless electronic voting machines at their polling places today:

Santa Clara

Voters in these counties have the right to request a paper ballot at the polls. See CVF's voting technology map and county-by-county directory for more information about California voting systems.

And, for a little inspiration, as well as useful information, watch this "Paper or Plastic?" video from last November.

In some electronic voting counties, paper-ballot voters will be treated as provisional voters, which is unfortunate because it subjects these voters to unecessary concerns about their ballot secrecy and whether their ballot will be counted.

There has been some confusion about the number of counties that will use paperless e-voting machines. Please note that the voting system information on the Secretary of State's web site is not up to date. There are seven California counties using touchscreens with voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) printers in today's election, and this information is not fully reflected in the Secretary of State's chart. Those seven are:

San Bernardino

San Bernardino converted from paperless touchscreens to touchscreens with VVPAT printers. Monterey is using one DRE per polling place. Current Secretary of State policies prohibit counties from purchasing paperless DRE systems. This was a directive that was issued by the previous Secretary of State, Kevin Shelley, and to the best of my knowledge still stands.

Monday, November 7, 2005

Bounty of Information for Voters Online

We issued this news release last Friday letting voters know where to look for reliable election information online. Read the release for descriptions of, and links to nonpartisan web sites providing information on all eight statewide ballot propositions.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

One week to go -- are you ready? Have a house party!

Today I posted this newsletter to CVF-NEWS about my election house party experience last week. If you're interested in hosting a house party, you can read my newsletter and find out more about it. More information about election house parties is also available from our web site.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Mail ballot request deadline approaching; voters in nine counties urged to "Get it on paper"

Today the California Voter Foundation issued a news release urging voters who live in the nine counties that will use paperless electronic voting systems in polling places on November 8 to request and vote a paper ballot instead. Applications for absentee, paper ballots must be received by county election offices by Tuesday, Nov. 1. See today's news release for more details and feel free to redistribute this important announcement.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

CVF releases Grading State Disclosure 2005 report

Today the California Voter Foundation published Grading State Disclosure 2005, a nationwide assessment of the 50 states' campaign finance disclosure laws and programs. At the Grading State Disclosure 2005 web site, you'll find a review of each state as well as charts, graphs and statistics that illustrate trends in campaign finance disclosure. One of my favorite features in this report is the nationwide map color-coded by each state's grade. Below the 2005 map appears the 2004 and 2003 maps from previous Grading State Disclosure reports, which provide a good overview of which states are making progress.

Grading State Disclosure is now in its third year and it's exciting to see the improvements that we have tracked over that time. In the last year alone, 14 state disclosure agencies have redesigned their web sites.

More information about this project is featured in today's news release. A special thanks is due to CVF executive director Saskia Mills, CVF technologist John Jones and CVF research assistant Wendy Carter for their extraordinary work on this report.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New GAO report provides critical analysis of e-voting and federal oversight

Last Friday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on electronic voting. The report is appropriately titled, "Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, but Key Activities Need to Be Completed". It includes a thorough review of the how the federal government, and particularly the Election Assistance Commission, have failed to meet the voting security goals outlined in the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Reaction to the report is featured in a PC World article by Grant Gross. Excerpts from Ian Hoffman's ANG Newspapers article are featured below.


E-voting failures in elections have been a problem in California, and the state's experiences are mentioned several times in the latest report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Analysts for the GAO found that crucial vote-recording and tallying files could be altered, that voting software often had weak or nonexistent password protections and that manufacturers had installed unapproved software in several places, including California.

Yet fixing those problems could be years away.

The GAO called on e-voting manufacturers to design these instruments of democracy with security in mind, and to devise better paper trails so the public and elections officials can verify accuracy of their machines without sacrificing voter privacy. All levels of government, the GAO concluded, need stronger rules and testing for electronic-voting systems.

But few of those things are likely to happen until after the 2006 elections and some not until after most states have held the 2008 presidential primary.

In response to outcry over the 2000 elections, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, providing money for modernizing voting systems nationwide. The law also created the Election Assistance Commission, and among other things tasked the tiny new agency with approving new standards for voting equipment, labs to test them and ultimately the voting machinery itself.

But Congress never granted a full appropriation to the election commission or to the National Institute for Standards and Technology, which was to provide technical help. As a result, the new standards for security, performance and accuracy of voting systems have been three years in the making and may not be applied to actual voting systems until 2007. New labs to test voting systems to the standards won't be approved until then, and meanwhile the existing laboratories may continue testing voting systems to older standards until June 2008.

"It's the first report to come out and say this job isn't happening the way it should be," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "It lays bare the inadequacies of federal oversight of our voting systems."

The GAO's report also marks the strongest federal statements to date favoring the use of multiple ballot records, such as paper trails, to make sure electronic-voting systems work properly and vote tallies are accurate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Some counties testing electronic vote machines / Equipment verifies ballot choices and aids disabled voters

Today's San Francisco Chronicle features an article by Greg Lucas about several California counties' plans to use electronic voting machines with voter verified paper audit trails in the November 8 statewide special election. Excerpts from the article are featured below.


California voters may notice changes at their polling places during this year's special election as several counties test electronic voting equipment that will be required in 2006 to verify ballot choices and allow the disabled to vote unassisted.

Seven counties, including Monterey County, are using new technology that lets voters double-check their selections before casting a ballot electronically.

State law requires all counties using touch-screen voting systems -- 14 of the state's 58 -- to offer voters this option starting with the June 2006 primary.

"This is the perfect opportunity for us to introduce these printers to voters. It gives us an opportunity to find out if there are any problems with the units and start to make voters familiar with how they work," said Kari Verjil, registrar of voters for San Bernardino County. "And if we have the units, why wait for the June primary? Let's roll them out."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the counties are doing the right thing.

"Many counties are wisely choosing to implement this new equipment sooner rather than later so they and their voters and their poll workers can gain experience with it," Alexander said.

Local election officials aren't worried about introducing the new devices next month in part because it's a simpler ballot than next year's primary, but they do worry they may be saddled with the $44.7 million tab for conducting a statewide election.


In 2003, California was one of the first states to require voter receipts on touch-screen systems. Then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley issued the order, in part, to allay fears about the reliability of the electronic systems.

Only counties using voting systems built by Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems can use the new voter receipt attachments because the company's VeriVote Printer is the only such device certified by the state so far.

But that certification is only for two ballot types -- English and Spanish -- which prevented Santa Clara County from using the devices this election. Santa Clara County also prints its ballot in Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagalog.

"We'll be using them next year after they are certified for all of our languages," said Elaine Larson, assistant registrar of voters.

Diebold Election Systems, whose touch-screens are used by Alameda and Plumas counties, has failed to win state approval for a voter-verified printer but expects to do so well before the June primary.

"We're continuing to work with the secretary of state," said David Baer, a Diebold spokesman.

Alameda County uses an older Diebold system which the company has decided not to retrofit with printers. Instead it offered to sell the county its new model. But the county is shopping for a new voting system that will use optical scan ballots for most voters and touch-screens for disabled voters.

With optical scan systems, voters fill in their choices by darkening ovals on the ballot. The ballot is later scanned electronically and tabulated.

"Federal requirements are changing all the time for electronic voting and we don't know what they're going to be two years down the road," said Elaine Ginnold, Alameda County's acting registrar. "There wasn't a paper trail requirement until just two years ago."

Also beginning next year is a requirement established by the Help America Vote Act in 2002 that every county have at least one voting machine in each polling place equipped to allow disabled voters to cast their ballot without assistance.

Touch-screen systems like those used in Santa Clara, Alameda and Napa counties satisfy the accessibility requirement because they are designed for use by the disabled and offer an audio ballot for the blind.

Sacramento and Contra Costa counties are introducing a device which marks optical scan ballots for disabled voters using a variety of methods, including Braille keyboard, foot pedal or oral prompts. The machine reads back the choices the voter has made before the ballot is cast.

Sacramento County is introducing the device countywide, Contra Costa County only in 20 percent of its precincts.

"The (manufacturers) were not prepared to roll this out in a lot of counties," said Stephen Weir, Contra Costa County's registrar. "We had to kick, scream, yell, fight, cajole to get our system up and running in time to do just this limited rollout."

San Mateo County is also using technology to help absentee voters, an increasingly larger bloc of the electorate, find out if their ballot arrived safely.

A bar code system already placed on ballots to compare signatures to those on absentee ballots now will also let a voter know the ballot was received if they log onto the county's Web page,, and click on "track and confirm."

Monday, October 17, 2005

McPherson's AB 1636 signing statement

Secretary of State Bruce McPherson issued a statement regarding the Governor's signing of AB 1636, a voting security measure McPherson supported. AB 1636 was one of two voting security measures that reached the Governor's desk and both received wide public support. The other measure, SB 370, which the Secretary of State did not support, requires public audits of software vote counts from electronic voting machines and was also signed into law.

The text of the Secretary of State's AB 1636 statement is featured below.


Statement By Secretary of State Bruce McPherson

Regarding the Signing of AB 1636

Sacramento, CA --- I would like to commend the Governor for signing AB 1636. This new law will strengthen two areas of elections that are important to all Californians: voting system security and voter confidence.

This bi-partisan measure will provide for enhanced security of direct recording electronic (DRE) voting systems. The provisions of this bill will prohibit DRE voting machines from being connected to the Internet and the transmission of official data through a wireless connection.

This measure will also allow my office to conduct random audits of DRE voting machines to ensure that only software certified for use in California is being used. This provision will provide additional assurance that voting machines are working as claimed by their manufacturers.

Friday, October 14, 2005

New California voting technology map, directory now online

The California Voter Foundation staff have updated our voting technology map and county-by-county directory of voting systems for the November 8, 2005 statewide special election.

The new map shows that 68 percent of California's registered voters reside in counties that use paper ballots at the polls (optical scan and Data Vote combined); 26 percent reside in paperless, electronic voting counties; 5 percent reside in counties that will use electronic voting machines with voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPAT); and one percent reside in Monterey, which will use a blended system of both optical scan and electronic with VVPAT balloting systems.

Susan Marie Weber profiled in the Desert Sun

Yesterday's Desert Sun paper in Palm Springs featured a profile of Susan Marie Weber, written by columnist Darrell Smith. It's a wonderful tribute to a woman who has inspired me and many others. It is featured below.


Susan Marie Weber did what she always does. She raised her hand and asked a question. Why couldn't she have paper proof that she had voted and for whom?

She could get a receipt at the bank or the hamburger stand, she reasoned, why not at the ballot box?

Good questions, and ones that would land the Palm Desert accountant in the center of the debate on electronic voting.

After the dangling chads and court fights and Supreme Court hearings that were the 2000 presidential election, electronic touch-screen voting was the future and Riverside County - the nation's first county to use electronic touch screen voting machines - was its vanguard.

Paperless, easy, efficient and cheaper, elections officials hailed the benefits for voters and themselves alike.

Now, voting was as easy as pushing a button. What was wrong with that?

We're the government, they said. Trust us.

I'm a voter, Weber said. Listen to me.

This was about her vote and the votes of millions of other Californians.

By the March 2004 election, nearly 6.5 million Californians - more than 40 percent of the state's registered voters - were able to use the touch screens, according to the secretary of state's office.

Weber would later ask a more important question. If there's no paper proof of a voter's choice, how could voters trust an election result, trust that their democracy is working?

The questions went over like a belch in church.

Sometimes convincing people that common sense is, well, common sense, is harder than it sounds. Especially when the critics don't want to hear it.

The critics (read: elections officials and their attorneys) in effect called her a Luddite. She's afraid of change, they said, skeptical of technology.

"When they start calling you names," Weber said, "you know you're on the right track."

She was, and she didn't give up.

"When the government says, 'Trust us,' we say, 'Sure, but we want to verify it ourselves,'" Weber said. "I also had the absolute belief that people are smart and will figure it out."

Five years later, after battling the county and the courts, someone finally listened to the Palm Desert accountant with the tiny voice: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the stroke of a pen.

The bill: Senate Bill 370, signed into law Friday. The result: County elections officials must by June 2006 use voter-verified paper audit trails to conduct a 1 percent hand tally of ballots from e-voting machines.

It's a procedure used since 1965 in California to assure confidence in computer-counted votes; a procedure that touch-screen counties like Riverside couldn't perform because its machines did not produce voter-verified paper trails.

And, it follows a 2004 law that requires electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper audit trail beginning in the 2006 statewide primary.

It sounds pretty arcane, but it's really pretty simple.

Californians will have proof of their vote in their hands and can trust their votes have been recorded and counted accurately.

And Weber is a big reason why.

She filed a federal lawsuit in 2002 to challenge the constitutionality of paperless touch screen machines.

As her cause gathered steam, Weber gained important allies like e-voting watchdogs California Voter Foundation and then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who famously took the state's touch screens off line after a problem-plagued 2004 primary election involving touch-screen voting machines in San Diego County and other counties.

And Weber continued to take on state and county elections officials even after her lawsuit was dismissed by a federal appeals court.

Today, the changes stretch across the e-voting landscape.

Twenty-five states now require a voter-verified paper audit trail on electronic voting machines, according to the California Voter Foundation. Two years ago, none did.

One year ago, California was one of only four states with laws requiring public auditing of election results, according to the foundation. Today there are 12.

"She's passionate about the issue. She has such sincere conviction," said Kim Alexander, executive director of the California Voter Foundation. "She got the ball rolling. It takes a lot of strength and character to challenge the powers that be. She got a lot of people inspired on the issue."

For Weber, it was common sense, she says now. Computers develop glitches and crash and can be hacked, data manipulated. Computers are fallible. So are the humans who operate them.

It's pretty simple, Weber said. The only, best way to preserve the integrity of voters' choices, Weber said, is a ballot voters can hold, a count voters can see.

"Voting is so precious," Weber said. "If you don't have confidence in voting, you don't have confidence in anything."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Alameda county poll finds nearly half the county's voters prefer to mail in ballots

Today's Oakland Tribune features an article by Ian Hoffman about the results of a recent survey of Alameda County voters' attitudes about voting and voting equipment. Excerpts are featured below.


In an Alameda County opinion poll on voting and voting technologies, 45 percent of people preferred mailing their vote from the comfort of home, underscoring a state and national trend away from the tradition of heading to the polls on Election Day.

Thirty-five percent of voters enjoy the ease and speed of voting on ATM-like touch-screen voting machines, particularly in cities in the south and east, while 20 percent prefer having paper ballots in the polling place.

The preference for paper surprised county elections chief Elaine Ginnold.

"Twenty percent is significant," she said.

Taken together, the poll's findings of high public interest in voting by mail and on paper ballots support the move by Alameda County away from full electronic voting.

By mid-December, county supervisors will vote on buying a so-called blended system — mostly optical scanning machines for paper ballots, plus a couple of electronic touch-screens — to put in each of its 700 polling places.

Five vendors are vying for the contract, and local voters will get to test drive their voting machines in mid-November.

Voting advocates applauded the county for sampling voter opinion before buying new voting machinery, the first such survey of its kind in California.

"I think it's terrific," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, based in Davis. "I think the county's going to make better equipment purchases because of it."

But one finding of the survey alarmed county elections officials: Almost one in three local voters — 32 percent — felt their votes might not be counted regardless of the method they used to cast their ballot. Only 49 percent of county voters had faith that their votes were counted.

Those results were so unexpected that the county and its pollsters at Pleasanton-based Shawver Associates didn't include any questions to find out why.

"It could be the general feeling about governments and elections since Florida 2000," Ginnold said.

Five years ago, uncertainties in balloting and recount rules landed the presidential race in the Supreme Court.

"It makes me feel like we really need to do a big campaign to let them know we count every ballot," Ginnold said.

The California Voter Foundation and others have made similar findings in surveys of voters and non-voters. Almost one in three Californians eligible to vote doubt their vote will be counted accurately, according to a foundation survey in the spring.

"A lot of voters are unregistered because they don't have faith that their votes are counted accurately," said the foundation's Alexander.

The federal Elections Assistance Commission found in a recent study that voter turnout in counties using electronic voting was slightly lower than in places using other voting technologies.

But many experts suspect the distrust of elections reaches beyond technology to distrust of political parties and government.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Governor signs landmark bill to require public audits of software vote counts

This afternoon the California Voter Foundation issued this news release about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signing SB 370 and the introduction of touchscreens with voter-verified paper audit trails in seven California counties this November.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Governor signs bill requiring public auditing of software vote counts

On Sunday the Alameda Newspaper Group featured an article by Ian Hoffman about Governor Schwarzenegger's signing of SB 370. Excperts are below.


Turning aside opposition from state and local elections officials, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger late Friday signed a bill requiring hand counts of paper printouts from electronic voting machines as a check for accuracy.

As the first state to require paper trails for e-voting, California now becomes the largest state in the nation to use those paper trails as the ultimate arbiters of political races, a move expected to sway other states.

"I'm very, very happy," said Sen. Debra Bowen, the Redondo Beach Democrat who authored the bill and chairs the Senate Elections and Apportionment Committee.

For 40 years, California law has required hand counts of ballots in 1 percent of precincts for confirmation of computerized vote tallies. But with fully electronic voting on touchscreens, elections officials either have ignored the law or simply recounted the digital ballots. Now they must turn to an independent paper record that voters on electronic, touchscreen machines approve when casting their final ballot.

The state's chief elections officer and the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials, had urged a veto. Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said the paper trails — printed for now on cash registerlike paper rolls about the length of a football field — don't look enough like a ballot, nor do they offer verification of electronic ballots for visually handicapped voters.

Local elections officials objected to the measure as "time consuming and onerous" and pointed out that the malevolent programmers could rig the printouts just as they could the electronic vote tally.

For paper-trail advocates, that potential for fraud was more reason to press for the bill's passage.

In his signing message, the governor suggested voter confidence outweighed the objections of opponents. He called on lawmakers and elections officials to devise better ways of verifying accurate elections.

''In the meantime, I am signing this measure because I believe that using the voter verified paper audit trails to audit the accuracy of overall election results will provide confidence in the accuracy and integrity of votes cast on these machines to California voters," Schwarzenegger wrote.

Counting paper trails after every election in California is likely to be tedious. In the November 2004 presidential election, Nevada became the first state to use paper trails in auditing the function of its voting machines. For every 300-foot roll of paper trails, teams of four people took four hours to double-check the votes by hand.

"We know a manual audit is doable but difficult," said Dan Seligson, editor of, a Washington, D.C.-based clearinghouse for election-reform information.

In a report last week, his organization found that 14 states — California makes it 15 — have decided to use paper trails for small-scale audits of voting-machine accuracy, as well as full recounts in challenged elections.


Thousands of Californians had phoned and written the governor's office in support of the measure, a movement fueled largely by e-mail networks and blogs, she said.

"Grassroots had such a big role to play," Bowen said. "I just really love to see that happen. That's how democracy's supposed to work."

Friday, October 7, 2005

Governor Schwarzenegger signs SB 370!

This evening at 8:45 p.m. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger notified the California State Senate that he has signed Senate Bill 370, which requires voter verified paper audit trails to be used to verify the accuracy of software vote counts from electronic voting machines.

The enactment of SB 370 is a huge leap forward for election integrity in our state. I am deeply grateful to the governor for signing this bill despite opposition from the Secretary of State and county election officials. Many Californians -- hundreds, possibly thousands -- contacted the Governor and urged him to sign SB 370. This grassroots activism surely helped overcome opposition to the bill and win the Governor's signature. Congratulations to Senator Debra Bowen, who authored SB 370, and to the numerous organizations and activists who worked hard to achieve this victory! For more information about SB 370, see the California Voter Foundation's letter to the Governor urging his support.

The Governor's signing message is featured below, along with excerpts from Senator Bowen's news release.


To the Members of the California State Senate:

I signed Senate Bill 1438 last year, which required direct recording electronic voting machines to include an accessible, voter verified paper audit trail because I believed that it would contribute greatly to voter confidence and the integrity of the election system. I am signing Senate Bill 370 this year that allows the voter verified paper audit trail to be used for a recount and requires they be used for the 1-percent manual tally.

The Secretary of State has expressed concerns about this measure, which I share. The most notable of these concerns is raised by the disability community on whether the voter verified paper audit trail can be adequately confirmed by sight-impaired voters. I urge the legislature, the local elections officials, and other interested parties to work with the Secretary of State to perfect a comprehensive solution for electronic voting system verification. In the meantime, I am signing this measure because I believe that using the voter verified paper audit trails to audit the accuracy of overall election results will provide confidence in the accuracy and integrity of votes cast on these machines to California voters.


Arnold Schwarzenegger


SACRAMENTO – “People need and deserve to know their votes have been counted accurately, and the best way to ensure that happens is to use the paper printout that the voter has already verified as being accurate and check it against the results tallied by the electronic machine.”

That’s how Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee responded to the Governor’s decision to sign SB 370 into law tonight.

“This isn’t complicated, either you care about whether the election results are accurate or you don’t,” said Bowen. “I don’t see how the Secretary of State, who led the opposition to the bill, could say with straight face that he’s for fair elections, he’s for having a paper trail on electronic voting machines, yet he’s against using that paper trail to ensure the accuracy of the vote count.”

California law requires all electronic voting machines to be equipped with an accessible voter-verified paper audit trail (AVVPAT) as of January 1, 2006. Under a separate 40-year-old California law, elections officials are required to conduct a public manual tally of the ballots cast in at least 1% of the precincts chosen at random to check the accuracy of votes tabulated by an electronic or mechanical voting system. SB 370 requires elections officials to use the AVVPAT to comply with California’s 1% manual law and to use the AVVPAT it in the event of a recount.

The California Association of Clerks & Elections Officials opposed SB 370 even though it noted that the “. . . the possibility exists that the [DRE’s] internal audit trail . . . could be programmed to print different results.”

“That’s precisely why it was critical for the Governor to sign this bill,” continued Bowen. “When the very elections officials who are buying these machines admit the election results can be manipulated and oppose a bill designed to audit the machine’s results, you’ve really got to wonder whose side they’re on.”

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Secretary of State announces security measures -- good, but not good enough

Yesterday California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson announced new security measures he is implementing for voting equipment vendors and products. Among the requirements vendors must agree to is "volume testing to simulate Election Day use". This means that the vendors must set up a number of machines - a past volume test was done of 96 - and vote on them over an entire day to see how they perform. The first volume test the Secretary of State conducted was of Diebold's TSX voting machines this past July. During the test a number of machines' screens froze, and several printing components jammed when producing the voter-verified paper record. The performance was deemed inadequate by the Secretary of State and Diebold's TSX failed certification.

All in all, the Secretary of State and his staff have done a good job improving the state's testing standards, and there is certainly lots of room for improvement there. The sad fact is that we have had volume testing of voting machines already in California -- in live, actual elections and sometimes with disastrous results, like in March 2004 when over half of San Diego counties' polling places were inoperable at some point on Election Day because of voting equipment failures. Or, in Orange County, that same election, when thousands of voters were given the wrong electronic ballot styles and were deprived of voting in some of their local contests.

All the testing in the world is not going to change the fact that when electronic voting equipment breaks down (and it will), there's a good chance that people will be disenfranchised one way or another. And what if the breakdown is some place we can't see? How many times does software fail us? There is a good chance, given all the complexity of counting hundreds of thousands of votes, that somewhere along the way things will go wrong.

Some of our election officials don't want us to know about these things. They oppose a bill that would require counties using electronic voting equipment to pubicly audit their software vote counts. Secretary of State Bruce McPherson opposes this bill, SB 370, as well. His new security measures are good, but not good enough. If he really wants to shore up voter confidence in electronic voting machines he will reverse his position on SB 370 and urge Governor Schwarzenegger to sign this bill and support our right to observe audits of software vote counts.

For more news about the security requirements, see Kevin Yamamura's article in today's Sacramento Bee.

Monday, October 3, 2005

ACCURATE's comments on EAC's federal voluntary voting system guidelines

Last Friday the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic, on behalf of ACCURATE, submitted comments to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission regarding proposed federal, voluntary voting systems guidelines, designed to update the 2002 voting system standards.

ACCURATE is the acronym for a new, multi-university collaboration funded with a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. ACCURATE stands for "A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections" and includes several of the leading academics in the nation engaged in voting technology issues, such as Avi Rubin, David Dill, Dan Wallach and Doug Jones. The voting system comments supplied by ACCURATE are a thorough and thoughtful 50-page analysis of the federal government's draft standards, and I was pleased and honored to endorse them on behalf of the California Voter Foundation.

The launching of this new center is one of the most exciting and promising developments in the voting technology arena this year. For more details about ACCURATE, visit the center's web site or see the August 15 news release issued by Johns Hopkins University.

Friday, September 30, 2005

EAC survey on 2004 election finds e-voting jurisdictions with low voter turnout rates

This week the federal Election Assistance Commission released a comprehensive survey on the 2004 election. To conduct the survey, the EAC requested voting and elections information from election officials throughout the country. According to the EAC, the 2004 Election Day Survey is "the largest and most comprehensive survey on election administration ever conducted by a U.S. governmental organization".

There are many interesting findings from the survey, which covers topics ranging from absentee and provisional voting to undervote and overvote rates. One important finding appears in Chapter 3. In this chapter, titled "Ballots Counted", under the header "Types of Voting Equipment", the EAC reports the following:

"Jurisdictions that used hand-counted paper ballots reported the highest turnout rates of any type of voting system for population-based turnout rates. However, when calculating turn-out as a percent of registered voters, those jurisdictions using optical scan voting equipment had the highest turnout rate of all voting systems. Jurisdictions that used lever machines had the lowest turnout rate for registration and voting age population based methods of calculating turnout rates. Surprisingly, jurisdictions that used electronic voting machines reported the lowest turnout rates when measured by citizen voting age population and the second lowest on overall voting age population."

This is an important finding which undercuts the claims made for many years by electronic voting proponents that using touchscreens will increase voter turnout, and will make it more difficult for e-voting proponents and manufacturers to promote their equipment for this purpose. According to the EAC, jurisdictions using hand-counted or optically-scanned paper ballots have higher voter participation rates than those using lever or electronic voting machines.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Andrew Gumbel reports on Georgia's questionable practices with Diebold

Yesterday author and reporter Andrew Gumbel published an extensive piece about Georgia's procurement of Diebold electronic voting machines and questionable activities that occurred throughout the process as well as during the first deployment of the touchscreens. His article features links to documents backing up the allegations, most of which were obtained through public records act requests by voting technology reform activists in Georgia.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Oakland Tribune editorial supports transparency in computerized vote counts

Saturday's Oakland Tribune and other Alameda Newspaper Group papers carried an editorial Saturday urging more, not fewer checks on the accuracy of votes and tabulations. This newspaper group publishes papers throughout Alameda County, where paperless touchscreen machines have been deployed countywide since 2002. This is the fourth major newspaper in a county where significant numbers of e-voting machines have been purchased to editorialize in favor of public verification of software vote counts, which would be required if SB 370/Bowen is signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Other papers in e-voting counties that have weighed in on public verification and have urged the Governor to sign SB 370 include the San Jose Mercury News (Santa Clara county), the Riverside Press Enterprise (Riverside county) and the Bakersfield Californian (Kern county). The Governor has until October 9 to sign or veto SB 370, or to allow it to become law without his signature. See Verified Voting's action alert to find out how you can help. The Alameda Newspaper Group editorial is featured below.


California must retain election transparency

Our elections are held to transfer political power between the voters and the government, not for the convenience of local election officials.

That's the belief of Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. Her comments came after members of the California Association and Clerks and Elections Officials wrote to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger claiming that computerized touch-screen voting has made the state's manual recount law obsolete.

The clerks don't want to resort to recounts, as they have for 40 years, if the accuracy of the vote comes into question.

State Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, chairwoman of the Senate Elections and Apportionment Committee, said that doing away with protections and vote recounts that check accuracy is "an enormous mistake."

The clerks and election officials say the paper printouts required by state law in California and 25 other states are jam-prone and create administrative nightmares that would be "onerous and time consuming."

Instead, they propose "parallel monitoring," a system that tests the touch-screens by conducting a scripted mock election on Election Day and then checking to see if the votes were recorded properly. It does not, however, check whether the votes are recorded or tallied properly.

They also admit that computerized voting alone is vulnerable to fraudulent programming.

Alexander said any recounting or check of the vote should not be "sorted out in the back room but publicly, because we want voter confidence."

It's another argument against investing too much in touch-screen voting, which became popular after the 2000 presidential elections and the month-long crisis over the hanging chads in Florida.

Computer scientists voiced concerns as early as 2003 about relying entirely on computers for voting, as it opens the door to new problems with programming error and fraud. Their solution was the voter-verified paper trail.

But the election officials, whose responsibility it is to check and make sure that the votes are recorded and tabulated correctly, say that is what makes their job "onerous." They would prefer to do parallel monitoring.

Instead, we suggest local election officials use their insider's knowledge and insight to recommend how vendors can make such machines more accurate and verifiable. We must find ways of checking the accuracy of individual votes, the results and whether or not the process has been tampered with. If we can't, we need a simpler system of voting that can be checked for accuracy.

We need more - not fewer - checks on the accuracy of votes and tabulations. In this new era, we must preserve California's manual recount law.