Monday, February 28, 2005

Christopher Hitchens weighs in on e-voting in February's Vanity Fair

The "Hollywood" issue of Vanity Fair features an article by Christopher Hitchens called "Ohio's Odd Numbers", questioning the reliability of the vote count in that state. The article provides "non-wacko" evidence that something went seriously awry in in Ohio.

Hitchens first describes his experience at Kenyon College, where he was a visiting lecturer on November 2, 2004. His article helps explain why some Ohio voters who were forced to wait hours to vote on a limited number of electronic voting machines rejected paper ballots as an alternative to waiting. Hitchens also considers, and rejects the theory that insider computerized vote fraud would require a widespread conspiracy, concluding instead that it would take only one or a few people to pull it off.



The polls opened at 6:30 a.m. There were only two voting machines (push-button direct-recording electronic systems) for the entire town of 2,200 (with students). The mayor, Kirk Emmert, had called the Board of Elections 10 days earlier, saying that the number of registered voters would require more than that. (He knew, as did many others, that hundreds of students had asked to register in Ohio because it was a critical "swing" state.) The mayor's request was denied. Indeed, instead of there being extra capacity on Election Day, one of the only two machines chose to break down before lunchtime.

By the time the polls officially closed, at 7:30 that evening, the line of those waiting to vote was still way outside the Community Center and well into the parking lot. A federal judge thereupon ordered Knox County, in which Gambier is located, to comply with Ohio law, which grants the right to vote to those who have shown up in time. "Authority to Vote" cards were kindly distributed to those on line (voting is a right, not a privilege), but those on line needed more than that. By the time the 1,175 voters in the precinct had all cast their ballots, it was almost four in the morning, and many had had to wait for up to 11 hours. In the spirit of democratic carnival, pizzas and canned drinks and guitarists were on hand to improve the shining moment. TV crews showed up, and the young Americans all acted as if they had been cast by Frank Capra: cheerful and good-humored, letting older voters get to the front, catching up on laptop essays, many voting for the first time and all convinced that a long and cold wait was a small price to pay. Typical was Pippa White, who said that "even after eight hours and 15 minutes I still had energy. It lets you know how worth it this is." Heartwarming, until you think about it.

The students of Kenyon had one advantage, and they made one mistake. Their advantage was that their president, S. Georgia Nugent, told them that they could be excused from class for voting. Their mistake was to reject the paper ballots that were offered to them late in the evening, after attorneys from the Ohio Democratic Party had filed suit to speed up the voting process in this way. The ballots were being handed out (later to be counted by machine under the supervision of Knox County's Democratic and Republican chairs) when someone yelled through the window of the Community Center, "Don't use the paper ballots! The Republicans are going to appeal it and it won't count!" After that, the majority chose to stick with the machines.


I don't know who it was who shouted idiotically to voters not to trust the paper ballots in Gambier, but I do know a lot of people who are convinced that there was dirty work at the crossroads in the Ohio vote. Some of these people are known to me as nutbags and paranoids of the first water, people whose grassy-knoll minds can simply cancel or deny any objective reasons for a high Republican turnout. (Here's how I know some of these people: In November 1999, I wrote a column calling for international observers to monitor the then upcoming presidential election. I was concerned about restrictive ballot-access laws, illegal slush funds, denial of access to media for independents, and abuse of the state laws that banned "felons" from voting. At the end, I managed to mention the official disenfranchisement of voters in my hometown of Washington, D.C., and the questionable "reliability or integrity" of the new voting-machine technology. I've had all these wacko friends ever since.) But here are some of the non-wacko reasons to revisit the Ohio election.


In Montgomery County, two precincts recorded a combined undervote of almost 6,000. This is to say that that many people waited to vote but, when their turn came, had no opinion on who should be the president, voting only for lesser offices. In these two precincts alone, that number represents an undervote of 25 percent, in a county where undervoting averages out at just 2 percent. Democratic precincts had 75 percent more undervotes than Republican ones.


Whichever way you shake it, or hold it to the light, there is something about the Ohio election that refuses to add up. The sheer number of irregularities compelled a formal recount, which was completed in late December and which came out much the same as the original one, with 176 fewer votes for George Bush. But this was a meaningless exercise in reassurance, since there is simply no means of checking, for example, how many "vote hops" the computerized machines might have performed unnoticed.


I am not any sort of statistician or technologist, and (like many Democrats in private) I did not think that John Kerry should have been president of any country at any time. But I have been reviewing books on history and politics all my life, making notes in the margin when I come across a wrong date, or any other factual blunder, or a missing point in the evidence. No book is ever free from this. But if all the mistakes and omissions occur in such a way as to be consistent, to support or attack only one position, then you give the author a lousy review. The Federal Election Commission, which has been a risible body for far too long, ought to make Ohio its business. The Diebold company, which also manufactures A.T.M.s, should not receive another dime until it can produce a voting system that is similarly reliable. And Americans should cease to be treated like serfs or extras when they present themselves to exercise their franchise.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Riverside legislator introduces bill to watch

Assembly Member John J. Benoit (R-Riverside) has introduced a bill, AB 369, that would change the California code section requiring an accessible voter verified paper audit trail.

In its present form, the bill makes no substantive changes. It's what is referred to as a "spot" bill in the Capitol, essentially a placeholder should the author desire to amend his bill at a later point in the legislative session.

Several county registrars have been making public statements in recent weeks that they want to seek legislation this year that would suspend or delay the voter verified paper record requirement. California law was changed last year to require the paper record, after the Legislature unanimously passed SB 1438 and Governor Scwharzenegger signed the bill into law.

Anyone who is interested in monitoring AB 369 can subscribe to it through the Legislative Counsel's web site. Once subscribed, you should receive automatic updates any time the bill is amended or scheduled to be heard.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Yale Information Society Project weighs in on e-voting in Connecticut

Connecticut is poised to replace its mechanical lever voting machines with new voting technology. The Secretary of State issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) in December seeking electronic voting machines for Connecticut, with or without a voter verified paper record.

But the folks at the Yale Information Society Project have concerns about their state's RFP, and have weighed into the debate. According to an article in the New Haven Advocate, Eddan Katz, director of the Yale program says the RFP is full of "clouds of vagueness" and "unclear specifications." He asserts that paper-based, optical scan voting systems are the most reliable, and says that "the RFP was written from the beginning to exclude the most consistent and reliable voting system. They have not thought through that they may be excluding things that may be better. The Federal Election Commission has not given complete standards to the state. So what if we buy these machines and they're no good? Then we have to buy them again and waste the taxpayers' money."

The Advocate article also features Yale computer science professor Michael Fischer. Here's an excerpt:


Yale computer science professor Michael Fischer remains concerned about the security of the machines Connecticut is about to buy. Fischer says that the public will likely be wowed by their external features, but won't get to see the inside--"where the reliability, security, and auditibility take place. They say security won't be a problem because the machines won't be connected to the internet. To a non-technological person that seems safe, but it doesn't solve all security problems."

Fischer says that electronic voting machines in other states have crashed in past elections. Then what? "The question to ask is: Where's my ballot? Where's my paper? Where's my primary record? What is needed is a record that the voter can verify and that can't reasonably be altered after the fact--and the only thing we have right now that meets this requirement is paper."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Kevin Shelley's mother has passed away

Last Friday, outgoing Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's mother, Thelma Shelley, passed away in San Francisco.

Mrs. Shelley was rushed to the hospital on February 2 with respiratory failure, and remained hospitalized until her death, according to the Associated Press obituary.

Kevin Shelley resigned as Secretary of State on February 4, two days after his mother was hospitalized. Many news reports of his resignation noted that he was very emotional during the Feb. 4 announcement when he mentioned his mother. It was not widely known at that time that his mother was gravely ill.

Although the Secretary of State's office is in transition, letters of condolence and other correspondence may still be sent to Kevin Shelley care of his Sacramento office until March 4 (it is recommended that personal correspondence be marked as "personal" outside of the envelope).

The address is 1500 11th Street, Sixth Floor, Sacramento, California 95814.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Unilect's voting machine freezes up during demonstration

By Bill Toland, The Post-Gazette, February 16, 2005

This week, during a demonstration of his California-based company's voting machine in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, Unilect president Jack Gerbel experienced what too many voters have already been through when voting on touchscreen voting machines -- a "glitch". The demonstration is part of an investigation being led by Michael Shamos, who has frequently opposed a voter verified paper record requirement in recent years, and makes some interesting comments in the story.



Until 2 p.m. yesterday, Jack Gerbel's demonstration of his UniLect touch screen voting system was going smoothly. Then, suddenly, the screen froze up, unresponsive to numerous finger-pokes from Gerbel and a bystander.

"It's worked fine up to this point," Gerbel said, faintly flustered, fiddling with wires.

Minutes later, the UniLect system was back online, tabulating mock votes correctly, working just the way it's supposed to.

That brief episode, more than any other during yesterday's demonstration before state officials, illustrated how the computerized system can be mostly reliable, yet prone to occasional glitches that can temporarily confound even the people who know the system inside and out.

UniLect designed the touch screen systems that are at the heart of an election investigation in Mercer County, where some of the machines malfunctioned because of a computer code that was installed incorrectly.

That bad coding, along with some other alleged instances of computer malfunctions and Election Day bumbling, led to a presidential undervote of greater than 7 percent last November. It also led to the resignation of James Bennington, the county's election and registration director.


An independent election committee, created after the undervote came to light, asked the Department of State to re-examine the Unilect system. Conducting the examination was Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist who has experience reviewing electronic voting machines in Pennsylvania and Texas.

In a few weeks, Shamos will issue a report, making recommendations both to UniLect and the State Department. The State Department could rule that UniLect systems can no longer be used in Pennsylvania, but it's more likely that UniLect will have to update its software to meet Shamos' suggestions.

Back in 2000, when folks in Florida were fretting about the unreliability of paper and punch-card ballots, UniLect and Gerbel, the company president, became overnight darlings.

But last year's presidential election marked a reversal of fortunes for the California-based company. Thanks to the Mercer undervote and a programming error that wiped out 7,000 votes in Carteret County, N.C., election observers are wondering if computerized ballots are any more reliable than paper ones.

Yesterday's exam was supposed to be a strict legal test, meaning Shamos was testing only whether the UniLect system, when working properly, meets the state election code. But Shamos also applied logic and stress tests of his own, trying to trip up the voting system by purposely ignoring directions, pushing the wrong button, voting for a straight party ticket and then canceling that vote.

The results?

"I'm really troubled, in general, by these devices," Shamos said. He cited not only the occasional malfunction, but also possible security holes that could allow a determined hacker to alter the programming in the vote-counting computers or delete folders containing ballots.

Shamos' hypothetical security breaches were far-fetched, and his made-up hackers were, by his own admission, audacious. But hackers who'd want to rig the outcome of an election would have to be pretty audacious to begin with, he said.

"It doesn't have to be a weekend chore. Someone [could] spend four years on this," he said.

George Mitchell, Gerbel's software guru, said Shamos' "horror" scenarios were implausible in theory, and nearly impossible to carry out in practice.

Shamos and Mercer County Commissioner Michele Brooks said the undervote could be remedied if Mercer's UniLect systems employed a pop-up screen, warning voters that they were about to cast an incomplete ballot. That pop-up feature is used in other UniLect models, but not Mercer's.

Mercer County paid $900,000 for the UniLect system. Beaver and Greene counties also use the UniLect system.

Monday, February 14, 2005

San Diego's registrar to retire

Sally McPherson, registrar of voters for San Diego County, announced last week that she will retire effective March 17. This brings to five the number of California registrars that have resigned or retired after purchasing paperless, electronic voting systems. Other registrars who left their posts after the equipment acquisition include Scott Konopasek (San Bernardino), Mischelle Townsend (Riverside), Laura Winslow (Solano), and Ann Reed (Shasta).

Voting machine modernization will be key challenge for new Secretary of State

Saturday's San Francisco Chronicle featured a story about the challenges ahead for Bruce McPherson if he is confirmed as Secretary of State. The article, by Christian Berthelsen, highlights implementation of new state and federal mandates requiring accessibility and security improvements for California's voting equipment.

California has already been through one phase of modernization -- in the wake of the 2000 Florida punch card vote counting fiasco, California moved swiftly to replace punch cards with more modern paper and electronic voting systems. Today, there are no more prescored punch card ballots used in California. However, in many counties the cure is worse than the disease. Those counties that replaced their paper voting systems with paperless electronic machines lost their ability to independently and publicly audit the results of the computerized vote count.

As a result, the Legislature voted unanimously last year to require that every electronic ballot be backed up with a voter verified paper record. Counties that bought electronic machines are making plans now to upgrade to the paper trail. Other counties that have paper voting systems also need to upgrade to meet the Help America Vote Act's disability requirement that there be at least one voting unit that allows disabled voters to cast a secret ballot without assistance.

Excerpts from the Chronicle story:


Funding is not expected to be a problem for either task, as California officials already have $94 million on hand for upgrade projects and expect to receive another $169 million from the federal government for the work.

But the money has yet to be disbursed to local officials, and the work is expected to take some time, registrars and election experts said Friday. If the deadline is not met, then the state could face lawsuits from voter interest groups.

"It's not a lot of time, and we have a lot of work to do," said Kim Alexander, the president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

What is more, county and state election officials say there is no system currently certified and available that will comply with both the paper trail requirement and all other state laws to accommodate independent voters and non- English speakers. The one system currently certified by the secretary of state, county registrars say, does not have technology qualified by the federal government to handle decline-to-state voters who are allowed to vote in partisan primaries and does not print in languages other than English and Spanish.

"The main issue, I think for the counties right now, is the voting system certification issue," said Connie McCormack, the president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and the registrar of the state's largest county, Los Angeles. "We're nine and a half months away from the deadline for compliance, and counties are hamstrung by the inability to purchase federally compliant voting equipment.''

Tony Miller, a staff counsel for the secretary of state's office, said he expects that system -- as well as others -- will be modified and ready for the counties by the deadline.


In a departure from the prickly relationship between county election officials and Shelley -- who greeted them upon entering office by telling them there was a "new sheriff in town" -- McPherson said he wanted to make local registrars his "partners in reform."

That may be difficult. McCormack, the Los Angeles registrar, has adamantly opposed the paper trail system and has suggested the new requirement should be suspended, if only temporarily.

McPherson reiterated his support for the paper trail system Friday, noting that he was a co-author of the legislation -- which passed the Legislature unanimously -- that created the requirement in the first place.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Governor Names Bruce McPherson As Secretary Of State

Article/online video report from David Bienick, KCRA News, Sacramento, February 11, 2005

Sacramento is buzzing today with the news that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed former State Senator Bruce McPherson to be the next California Secretary of State. The office is vacant as of March 1, when Kevin Shelley's resignation takes effect.

McPherson is an excellent choice -- not only is he well-liked and well-respected among both Democrats and Republicans, he also has a great track record on election and voting issues.

While a member of the Legislature, McPherson was a principal co-author of SB 49, the Online Disclosure Act of 1997 which led to instant online disclosure of money in California politics. He also co-authored SB 1438, which mandates that all electronic ballots in California be backed up with a voter verified paper record. That bill was unanimously approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger last year, and takes effect in 2006.

In making his announcement, Governor Schwarzenegger told the news media, "I looked for someone with strong experience, unimpeachable integrity and someone who is widely respected, and that is exactly what Bruce brings with him to the job." In accepting the nomination, McPherson said, "I will work hard to restore integrity, trust and confidence to the office of Secretary of State. I will work to repair relationships between the state and the 58 county registrars, and I will work assiduously to ensure HAVA compliance as soon as possible."

Thursday, February 10, 2005

NASS opposes federal oversight of election systems

The National Association of Secretaries of State wrapped up its conference in Washington, D.C. this week, but not before passing a resolution urging Congress to not reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission after 2006 and to not give the EAC rulemaking authority.

This preemptive strike by the Secretaries of States' association comes at a time when there is growing consensus that we need strong and mandatory federal security standards and testing of voting systems used in this country. The idea of having a uniform voting system in the U.S. is not feasible or practical at this time. But the idea of having a baseline for security in our voting systems is a no-brainer.

LA Times reports on costs of adding printers to California's e-voting machines

Monday's Los Angeles Times featured an article by Stuart Pfeifer reporting that local election officials estimate it will cost between $18 and $23 million to comply with California's new voter verified paper trail requirement, which takes effect in 2006.

According to the story,

"Five of the 13 counties with electronic voting systems say their suppliers will make the changes at no additional cost because the printers were part of their original contracts. But other counties are wondering where they'll find the money. Orange County estimates it will cost $9 million to make the changes. Riverside County estimates its cost at between $3.4 million and $4.7 million, and Alameda County may have to pay between $5 million and $8 million.

"The financial effect on Los Angeles County will be minimal, because it uses only a few electronic voting devices during early voting. For several more years, the county plans to use InkaVote paper ballots on election day."

Cathy Darling, the registrar of Shasta County, which expects to spend $200,000 to upgrade their machines with the paper record, told the Times that "Every dollar that [we] seek out of the general fund is money that can't go to local fire, can't go to local law enforcement, can't go to the local library". The thing is, Shasta spent far more than that -- over $1.6 million

-- to buy the touchscreens in the first place. Most of those costs were covered by state and federal dollars, and the same will be true for the printers.

Other registrars, such as Brad Clark of Alameda County, continue to insist the paper trail isn't necessary. "I really don't think it's necessary. I really don't," Clark told the Times. "But unfortunately the people who wanted it have raised such a fuss that they've created this atmosphere of distrust in the public." That's a funny comment coming from a man who oversaw the implementation of Diebold's touchscreen voting system, only to later join in a lawsuit seeking millions in damages because the company sold the county uncertified software.

The good news is that not all the registrars are unhappy about the paper trail requirement -- those counties with the foresight to build a paper trail feature into their contracts before signing on with a vendor will enjoy free or reduced rates on the printers. Pfeifer writes that "Santa Clara, San Diego, San Bernardino, San Joaquin and Kern counties have contracts with suppliers who agreed to provide the printers if they were ever required by state law. "I'm absolutely thrilled about it," said Donna Manning, registrar in San Bernardino County, which approved a contract in July 2003 that included printers at no additional cost."

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Butte County's election clerk says paper trail does nothing to improve security

Today's Chico Enterprise-Record features an article about the local county clerk-recorder's reaction to Kevin Shelley's resignation. In the story, Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs tells the paper that adding a voter verified paper record to computerized voting machines does nothing to improve security.

Grubbs apparently does not know about or understand the importance of the state's manual count law, which requires that a subset of paper ballots be selected at random and publicly counted by hand to verify that the software used to count ballots is accurate. With California's paper-based voting systems, such as optical scan, the manual count law can be satisfied. With paperless, electronic voting systems, it cannot.

Grubbs goes on to tell reporter Larry Mitchell that in the end, voters have to trust their election officials. But such trust is misplaced when neither the voters nor election officials have the ability to audit the proprietary software used to count our ballots.

Grubbs, according to the article, also criticized Kevin Shelley for "needlessly decertifying" voting systems that some counties had purchased. This would be Diebold's TSX machine, which the Secretary of State decertified after discovering that the machine had not in fact been federally qualified for use, even though the vendor and the Secretary of State's staff assured the certification panel that it had been. CVF and many others urged the Secretary of State to decertify the TSX primarily for this reason.

Monday, February 7, 2005

Los Angeles county registrar blasts tighter certification process

Last Friday's Sacramento Bee carried a front-page story about Los Angeles County Registrar Conny McCormack's testimony to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which has been investigating Kevin Shelley's use of federal HAVA funds. Though Ms. McCormack has not yet testified before the committee, she did release her testimony to the news media.

According to the Bee, Ms. McCormack is now "asking lawmakers to pass emergency "narrowly crafted" legislation to override Shelley's office and temporarily certify 2004 systems for use in the 2006 elections. Such legislation also would have to suspend a state law requiring a paper trail."

It is unlikely, given the fact that the entire legislature voted unanimously to adopt the voter verified paper record requirement, that Ms. McCormack's efforts will succeed. It is disappointing, however, that the head of California's county registrars' association is fighting reform rather than embracing it. California voters would be much better served if all, and not just some of our local election officials were respectful of the public's desire for transparency and accountability in our voting systems.

The fact is that under Kevin Shelley's leadership, the Secretary of State's voting system certification process was tightened and strengthened, which cheered reform activists like me, but upset those registrars, such as Conny McCormack, who had been using uncertified software.

This practice was halted after the Secretary of State's office conducted an audit and discovered that uncertified software and hardware was being used in many California counties, and especially in those counties using Diebold voting equipment. The Attorney General and Alameda County even sued Diebold and were awarded several million dollars for the company's failure to meet its contractual agreement to provide certified software.

It is true that the certification process is taking longer than it did in the past, but that's because the process is more rigorous. No longer is the Secretary of State taking it on a vendor's word that their system is federally qualified; now the paperwork documenting federal qualification must be at the Secretary of State's office before state certification is awarded.

The goal of strengthening certification practices has spread to Washington State, where state election officials are conducting an audit similar to California's, as detailed in Michelle Nicolosi's February 4 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Tearful Shelley resigns

By Jim Wasserman, The Associated Press, February 5, 2005

Friday afternoon California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced he will resign from office effective March 1. I issued a brief statement in response to the news.

Excerpts from Jim Wasserman's AP story:


Secretary of State Kevin Shelley fought back tears Friday as he announced his resignation amid investigations into mishandling federal election funds, accepting tainted campaign contributions and sexual harassment allegations.

Shelley, 49, said he would leave his $131,250-a-year post March 1, after he is scheduled to testify at a legislative audit committee hearing about how he spent millions of dollars in federal election funds.

"While I have made errors that I deeply regret, I have never, ever done so with the intent of subverting the law or benefiting myself," Shelley said during a news conference outside his San Francisco home with his wife, Dominique, at his side.

Struggling to hold back tears, Shelley said he always tried to do the right thing and that resigning was the hardest decision he ever made.

"It has become clear to me that the tides of this storm are overtaking this office's very ability to function effectively," he said.

Shelley said he was confident he would be cleared of wrongdoing in several ongoing state and federal investigations.

While not being charged with breaking state or federal laws, Shelley found himself embroiled in controversy over mishandling $46 million in Help America Vote Act funds and charges by ex-employees of temper tantrums and a hostile work environment.

Shelley, the son of former San FranciscoMayor and U.S. Rep. Jack Shelley, was once a rising star in the Democratic party. His move paves the way for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, to name a replacement.

Schwarzenegger said he would move quickly to fill the position. His choice could be blocked by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.


Senate Republican and Democrat leaders said they favored former Republican Sen. Ross Johnson of Irvine. Assembly Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield suggested U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, a Republican from Palm Springs.


Shelley apologized Friday to his supporters and staff.

"In too many cases, my intense drive to accomplish good things has been tarnished by my impatience, and I have allowed myself to direct that impatience at individuals when it should have been directed elsewhere," he said. "I have no one to blame for this but myself."

In 2003, Shelley won widespread praise for his smooth handling of an unprecedented gubernatorial recall election featuring 135 candidates that began only months after he assumed office.

Last year, electronic voting activists praised him for tightening security requirements on touch-screen voting to prevent fraud.

"While serious questions remain about his management practices, there is no question that Kevin Shelley provided much-needed leadership to reform California voting systems at a crucial point in the modernization process," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Printer fails to satisfy e-vote activists

By Rachel Konrad, The Associated Press, February 3, 2005


The prototype that Diebold Inc. is now touting is exactly what some critics of the ATM-like machines have been demanding for several years.

Even so, paper records alone are not enough to satisfy computer scientists who say transparency in the electronic machines' design and software must complement paper backups.

The Diebold prototype seeks to reassure voters by displaying their selections under a piece of glass or plastic alongside the touch-screen machine. If they spot a problem, they can cancel the ballot and start over. And while voters can't touch the paper records, elections officials will be able to use them to verify close elections.

"Results in the last election reflected the accuracy and security of the (paperless) system," said Diebold spokesman David Bear. "But the fact of the matter is, there are some states that are demanding printers."

After months of criticism by computer scientists that electronic voting systems are unreliable, California and Illinois recently passed laws requiring a paper trail for electronic ballots, and at least 20 other states have considered similar legislation.

Critics of North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold say the AccuView Printer Module is a step in the right direction but doesn't address the potential for buggy software or malfunctioning hardware that could misrecord votes or expose voting systems to hackers, deletions or other disasters.

The printers are only valuable to the extent that counties use them, and critics worry that county elections officials with tight budgets may not opt for them.

Computer scientists also are concerned that the handful of private laboratories licensed to certify voting equipment, including the printer module, still operate in secret and without any federal guidelines.

"It's a very, very small step forward in terms of security of elections," said Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute of Johns Hopkins University and co-author of a scathing report on Diebold machines.

Like many computer scientists, he thinks paperless voting systems should be banned.

"I'd say a Diebold machine with a paper trail is better than a Diebold machine without a paper trail, but that's as positive I can be about it," Rubin said.

Diebold stock price rose sharply in the months after the presidential election, when the machines fared far better than critics had predicted. But executives warned investors last week not to expect more dramatic improvements from its voting equipment division. The company's stock hit a 52-week high of $57.75 in mid-January, and closed at $54.91 on Thursday.

About 40 million Americans cast electronic ballots during the Nov. 2 election, but only 2,600 touch screens in Nevada - made by Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. - and a few other prototypes around the country produced paper records.

Some of the paperless systems were blamed for high-profile failures in November that included these:

_ In Carteret County, N.C., where paperless machines failed to retain 4,438 votes during early voting, one Democratic incumbent lost by 2,287 votes out of about 3 million cast, and election administrators had to conduct a special election in early January to determine the next agriculture commissioner.

_ About three dozen voters in six states complained that they tried to select Democrat John Kerry, but the touch screens showed them as having voted for President Bush until they revised their ballot. Equipment manufacturers blamed miscalibration.

_ And in a Franklin County, Ohio, a precinct where 638 voters cast ballots in the presidential election, a computer recorded 3,893 extra votes for President Bush. The error was corrected in the certified vote total.

Even with the printer, breakdowns and paper jams are possible, said Stanford University computer scientist David Dill, a leading touch-screen critic.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Paper trail for e-votes would cost millions

By Ian Hoffman, The Oakland Tribune, January 29, 2005


Diebold revealed Wednesday its elections business lost more than $7 million in the last quarter of 2004, partly because of a $2 million settlement of a lawsuit with e-voting critics and the state.

Diebold chairman and CEO Walden O'Dell said he expects the elections division will make less in 2005 than originally thought because elections officials in the firm's headquarters have decided largely not to approve purchase of the machines.

Diebold shares fell 40 cents on the news.

O'Dell asked investor analysts to "be patient" and see what happens in the elections market, reminding them local and state governments still have $1 billion in federal voting-modernization money to spend.

California's oldest e-voting counties are looking to federal Help America Vote Act money to finance the addition of paper-trail printers and a swap for newer systems. But it is unclear whether state officials will approve using the federal funds for the full cost, leaving Alameda County elections officials to consider asking for at least some of the money in the next county budget.

One of Alameda's alternatives is to wait until Diebold gets a printer approved for its older machines and ships it. Those printers would cost about $2million and have a projected delivery on the eve of the June 2006 gubernatorial statewide primary.

"If we decide to upgrade to these new machines, that's going to cost more than if we just retrofit," said Alameda assistant registrar Elaine Ginnold. "But we think the state will reimburse pretty much all of that."

In time, she said, the new machines could save trucking fees of up to $156,000 per general election that the county pays for delivery of the touchscreens to its polling places. Pollworkers would haul the machines and printers themselves.

Ginnold said she still has misgivings about adding printers to the touchscreens. In a demonstration to county elections officials, Diebold's prototype printer jammed.

"We have a huge ballot and I don't see it working smoothly at all," she said. "I have lots of trepidations."

Alameda's other alternative is switching back to paper ballots, driven largely by the surging popularity of mail-in voting. The county's ranks of absentee voters exploded last year from 60,000 to more than 200,000, and Ginnold expects more than half of county voters will want to mail in their ballots within a decade.