Friday, June 24, 2005

CVF & EFF urge California's Secretary of State to support public verification of election results

Today the California Voter Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted a letter to Secretary of State Bruce McPherson urging him to support legislation that would ensure computerized vote counts are publicly verified. The CVF/EFF letter is in response to a request for public comment the Secretary of State issued last week. See Tuesday's blog entry for more details on this request

Excerpts from the CVF/EFF letter:


California’s manual count law was enacted in 1965, shortly after software first started being used in punch card voting to tabulate ballots. 


It is expressly stated in California statute that the purpose of the manual count is to verify the accuracy of the automated count.  The one percent manual count is the one and only procedure performed in California’s voting process that gives the public any assurance that the software used to count votes has not been compromised. 

The manual count provides the only window into the vote counting process and provides members of the public with the opportunity to observe with their own eyes that the software used to count ballots is accurate and reliable.


This law has served California voters well for most of the past four decades by ensuring that software glitches, human error, or attempted vote fraud do not result in erroneous vote totals.  The manual count law provides a form of transparency in our voting process which is crucial given that the software used to count ballots is proprietary and not open to public inspection.

However, over the past five years, the manual count law has been undermined with the introduction of paperless, electronic voting machines.  Counties using electronic voting machines do not have an independent audit trail they can use to verify the accuracy of their software vote counts.


SB 370 and AB 1636 would clarify in California statute that the voter-verified paper audit trail is the record to be used to perform the one percent manual count.  We strongly urge you to support these two bills. The voter-verified paper audit trail must be used to perform the one percent manual tally.  Otherwise, the voter verified paper audit trail is practically meaningless, and the one percent manual tally is totally meaningless.  If the paper audit trail that the voter verified is not used to verify the overall election results, then it will be possible for the paper record to reflect one set of votes while the electronic record reflects a different set of votes without ever being detected.

Objections have been raised to this and similar proposed legislation, based partly on fears that accessibility concerns will be ignored.  In fact, security and accessibility concerns are not and should not be construed as conflicting interests.

It is in all voters’ interests to ensure that elections officials have the ability, and are required by law, to conduct a meaningful audit of election results.  Without routine and public verification of software vote counts, election officials will be far less likely to detect software vote counting problems or security breaches. 


We realize that some county registrars are opposed to this legislation, but we should not forfeit the only form of public verification of software vote counts due to cost or time constraints.  It is the responsibility of California elections officials to ensure that vote counts can be publicly audited.  Administrative concerns, while valid, must come second.  Elections are designed to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to express their views on candidates and measures.  If we lose public verification of election results, one can anticipate that many Californians will lose their incentive to vote altogether. 

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