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.