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.

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