Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Certified state election results now online

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson this week released the certified Statement of Vote for the November 7, 2006 election. This report contains the final vote counts for all statewide, legislative and congressional contests and statewide ballot propositions. It also reports each county's voter registration and participation numbers.

However, some data that's not included in the most recent Statement of Vote is the number of "votes not cast" in each of the contests. While this data is not required by law to be included, it has traditionally been featured in the Statement of Vote and can be a useful tool in assessing the reliability of different voting systems. In fact, it was the "votes not cast" rate that was used by the ACLU to argue for the decertification of punch card voting systems several years ago.

According to the Secretary of State's news release announcing the Statement of Vote, 56.2 percent of the state's registered voters, or approximately 8.9 million Californians, cast ballots in the November 7 election. 41.5 percent of those who participated voted absentee, down from the 46.9 percent absentee voting rate in the June 2006 primary. Among eligible voters, the participation rate in November was 39.3 percent. To get a historical perspective on California's turnout rates, take a look at this section of the Statement of Vote.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Election certification deadline looms

Today is the deadline for counties to certify their results from the November 7 election. As this recent article in the Riverside Press-Enterprise by Jim Miller and Michelle DeArmond explains, the certification process is taking longer in some counties because of the increase in provisional and absentee voting. Excerpts are below.


By the close of business Tuesday, the count should be over.

For almost four weeks, election workers throughout the state have been processing the estimated 8.7 million ballots cast Nov. 7, including hundreds of thousands of absentee and provisional ballots that swamped counties on or just before Election Day.

Come 2008 and beyond, counting votes will get only more complicated, experts say. Elections nationwide have become a thicket of varied ballot types, new rules and some public skepticism about the process.

"It's taking longer than it used to, and that's a trend," said Steve Weir, Contra Costa County's registrar of voters and president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials.

In California, the availability of touch-screen voting in 22 of the state's 58 counties -- including Riverside and San Bernardino -- feeds an expectation of quick results after the polls close. Counties, though, also have to process sacks of late-arriving paper absentee and provisional ballots.

Some California election offices effectively held three Nov. 7 elections: pre-election voting, Election Day voting and absentee voting.

"The job of running our elections has become increasingly complex," said Ray Martinez, former commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. "My concern ... is voter confidence. We've had a serious erosion in the trust that people have in the integrity of election outcomes."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said critics should be concerned by things besides how long it takes to count ballots.

"What does concern me greatly is that there were sporadic problems throughout the state with voting equipment, and that was not isolated to Riverside County," she said. "I think that the registrars and the poll workers are, on the whole, in over their heads with the voting equipment and the procedures and the requirements that have been placed on them. We need to get a handle on that process."

Absentee voting used to be the exception. In the November 1978 election, 7.1 million ballots were cast statewide, but only 314,000 were absentee ballots.
Earlier that year, though, lawmakers had relaxed the rules to let anyone request an absentee ballot.

In 2002, absentee voting became even easier. A law took effect that allows people sign up to be permanent absentee voters. Before then, a permanent absentee voter had to have certain medical conditions.


People signed up in droves. Almost 4 million people were registered as permanent absentee voters before last month's election, a 16-fold increase from six years ago.

Election offices statewide had about 2.3 million completed ballots in hand before Election Day. Many more arrived in the mail or were dropped off at polling places on Election Day.

In addition to late-arriving absentee votes, counties received thousands of provisional ballots cast by people whose names were not on the precinct lists because they were in the wrong precinct, had failed to reregister at a new address or for other reasons.

Both sets of ballots created extra work for election officials. Each ballot has to be checked to ensure that it had come from an eligible voter. Workers have to verify that the voter didn't also vote at a polling place.

"Those provisional ballots can take hours to check -- each," said Ernest Hawkins of the Election Center, a Texas nonprofit that focuses on improving the voting process.


Requiring postmarks on absentee ballots poses problems. Some postmarks are hard to read. Also, ballots can be postmarked by the deadline but not arrive until after the election. That increases the risk of fraud.

Ballots could be shortened significantly if cities, counties, school boards and other agencies held their elections separate from congressional and state voting. But that would decrease voter turnout.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Security Of Electronic Voting Is Condemned -

Today's Washington Post features this article by Cameron Barr regarding draft recommendations issued this week by NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) that condemn paperless electronic voting systems because they do not allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software.

If the recommendation is adopted it will be part of the next version of the federal voting system standards. The sad irony here is, that if NIST had been authorized to immediately begin its oversight of the federal standards after HAVA was enacted in October 2002, such a recommendation could have come years sooner, and before so much money had been unwisely spent on paperless electronic voting machines. Regardless, the draft recommendation may provide incentives to more states that have implemented paperless e-voting to retrofit the machines with voter-verified paper audit trail printers, or move to a paper-based voting system.

Exceprts from the Washington Post article are featured below.


Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country "cannot be made secure," according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The assessment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the government's premier research centers, is the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency.

In a report hailed by critics of electronic voting, NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse "optical-scan" systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts.


NIST's recommendations are to be debated next week before the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, charged by Congress to develop standards for voting systems. To become effective, NIST's recommendations must then be adopted by the Election Assistance Commission, which was created by Congress to promote changes in election systems after the 2000 debacle in Florida.

If the commission agrees with NIST, the practical impact may not be felt until 2009 or 2010, the soonest that new standards would be implemented. The standards that the Election Assistance Commission will adopt are voluntary, but most states require election officials to deploy voting systems that meet national or federal criteria.


NIST says in its report that the lack of a paper trail for each vote "is one of the main reasons behind continued questions about voting system security and diminished public confidence in elections." The report repeats the contention of the computer security community that "a single programmer could 'rig' a major election."


Computer scientists and others have said that the security of electronic voting systems cannot be guaranteed and that election officials should adopt systems that produce a paper record of each vote in case of a recount. The NIST report embraces that critique, introducing the concept of "software independence" in voting systems.

NIST says that voting systems should not rely on a machine's software to provide a record of the votes cast. Some electronic voting system manufacturers have introduced models that include printers to produce a separate record of each vote -- and that can be verified by a voter before leaving the machine -- but such paper trails have had their own problems.


"Why are we doing this at all? is the question people are asking," said Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, a group critical of electronic voting systems. "We have a perfectly good system -- the paper-ballot optical-scan system."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Manual Count update

Yesterday I visited the third and final county in my post-election manual count observations. The first county I visited was Yolo, which uses a paper-based, optical scan voting system made by Hart. The second was San Joaquin, using Diebold's TSx electronic voting machines. The third was Napa, where Sequoia electronic voting machines were used on Election Day.

Manual counts are still underway this week in many counties, especially larger ones. Counties have until December 5 to certify their results from the Nov. 7 election. Every county I have contacted and visited has been helpful and welcoming of the scrutiny. Today's Los Angeles Times "Political Muscle" blog features this entry, Democracy Gets Audited in California by Robert Salladay highlighting some of the observations I and others have so far of the process. People who want to visit a county's manual count can use this CVF tip sheet to get started.

Monday, November 13, 2006

CA Secretary of State-elect Debra Bowen profiled in LA Times

The Los Angeles Times published this article by Jenifer Warren over the weekend, profiling California Secretary of State-elect Debra Bowen and highlighting the issues and challenges she will face when she takes office. Excerpts are featured below.


After all the votes were counted, Bowen, 51, emerged the winner in a tight race for California secretary of state. She is the only woman elected this year to a constitutional office, and one of only six women in California history to capture a statewide post.

Bowen succeeds Bruce McPherson, a Republican who was appointed to the job by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 after Democrat Kevin Shelley resigned. McPherson lost his bid to stay in office after a contentious race marked largely by the candidates' differences over the trustworthiness of electronic voting machines.

An attorney who served three terms in the Assembly and two tours in the Senate, Bowen is no-nonsense, analytical and viewed as a savvy problem-solver with a strong work ethic.

Although little-known statewide, she earned serious stripes in Sacramento for her calm, decisive leadership of the Senate's energy committee during the state's energy crisis of 2001.

More recently, she has used her position as chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee to champion election reform. Her view: Voters have lost confidence in the security and sanctity of elections, an erosion that began with the 2000 presidential recount in Florida and continues amid fears that electronic voting machines are not foolproof.

Bowen's long-serving aide, Evan Goldberg, describes her as ideally suited for secretary of state at a time when technology is dramatically changing the ballot-box experience. An engineer's daughter and self-described computer nerd, Bowen blends a passion for open government with an ability to engage in techno-talk with the best of them.

Experts say she will need that ability and more to navigate the tricky times ahead.

"The challenge we face is trying to rebuild voter confidence," said Kim Alexander of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "Sen. Bowen is a sharp, intellectual public servant … but it won't be easy restoring accountability in a way that satisfies voters and the registrars."

During the campaign, Bowen expressed doubts about the reliability of voting machines already in use in many counties around the state. She said she would conduct a thorough review of such machines to ensure they meet security standards, and warned that those falling short won't be used — even if it means the loss of millions counties have invested in the equipment.

"It's unfortunate," she said of the potential losses while campaigning in October, but "democracy is too important. The integrity of elections is too important."

Such statements have made many local elections officials more than a little uneasy. In an e-mail sent shortly after Bowen's election, the president of the statewide association of registrars, Steve Weir of Contra Costa County, said, "I make no bones about it, I'm worried."

Los Angeles County Registrar Conny McCormack said such qualms are natural with the departure of McPherson, who was well-liked and described as a stabilizing force after the tumult and discord registrars said they experienced under Shelley.

McCormack said she is hopeful about the future, but noted that if Bowen finds reason to reject voting machines in use in many counties, it would be devastating.

"We certainly don't want to go backwards and see this equipment decertified," McCormack said. She added that it would be ironic if Bowen, herself a victor in Tuesday's election, decided that the machines were faulty.

"Winners don't normally make those accusations," she quipped.

Acknowledging the anxiety within one of her prime constituencies, Bowen said the review of voting machines would be "orderly and meticulous," with input from all parties.

And in an interview, she said she was more concerned about more run-of-the-mill problems clouding Tuesday's balloting, including reports that at some polling places in Orange and San Joaquin counties voters were forced to stand in line for two to three hours.

"That's disturbing, and I don't like hearing that some voters were given paper ballots in a language that wasn't their own because there wasn't a sufficient backup plan," Bowen said. "We have to work on that. And if counties need resources to get it done, I'll go to bat for them."

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Help Verify the Vote: Observe California's Manual Count

Election Day has come to a close and the ballot counting has begun. Like many of you, I will be up this evening watching the returns on TV and online. I also will, over the upcoming weeks, be visiting several county election offices to observe their one percent manual counts.

Under state law, counties must recount, in public and by hand, the ballots from one percent of their precincts and compare the hand-counted results to the software-counted results. This is what some consider to be the most important procedure in the election. It provides the public with a window into the vote counting process.

You can help verify the vote in California by observing the manual count. CVF has put together "Observing Manual Counts - A Checklist and Questionnaire" to help observers. If you'd like additional information, please email me, kimalex- at Additional information about California's manual count law is available.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Election Day Resources

While I am hopeful that everything will go smoothly on Tuesday's Election Day, past experience tells me there are likely to be problems. Hopefully the problems will be sporadic and not widespread.

There are some toll-free hotlines for voters who have problems to report: 866-MYVOTE-1 and 866-OUR-VOTE. Voters who want to report problems online can visit, or fill out Common Cause's Voter Survey 2006. For an overview of the problems being reported to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, visit Verified Voting's Election Incident Reporting System.

Polling place locations can be found on many county election web sites. To find links to county web sites and other contact information, visit CVF's roster of County Election Offices.

Monday, October 30, 2006

U.S. Investigates Voting Machines' Venezuela Ties - New York Times

The New York Times published this story over the weekend about the federal government's investigation of Sequoia Voting Systems' corporate ownership with links to the Venezuelan government.

This investigation illustrates why private corporate ownership of voting equipment is problematic. We shouldn't have to wonder if our election results could be influenced by corporate or foreign interests. The paper trail and public audit requirements in electronic systems are essential tools to bring greater transparency to the process, but in electronic voting systems there is so much software involved that the company producing the system maintains a large amount of control and influence over it, with or without the paper trail & audit requirements.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Now playing on YouTube - The Proposition Song Video!

Now you really can sing along to the Proposition Song! This new video on YouTube features the musicians who play on the song, along with lots of other folks and the words at the bottom of the screen. Footage was shot in front of the Capitol, in the Capital Public Radio studio, and at the Axis Art Gallery in Sacramento.

The video was a lot of fun to make, and many people contributed their time and talent to this project, especially Steve Anselmino, a professional videographer who edited the video for us and provided some of the footage. Enjoy, and be sure to sing along!

CVF is hiring!

This new job announcement for a program manager position with the California Voter Foundation was posted this week. If you, or someone you know is in the job market and has the qualifications we're seeking, please refer them to this job announcement.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Introducing the new Proposition Song!

Today the California Voter Foundation debuted the new Proposition Song, a sing-along song designed to introduce voters to the thirteen propositions on California's November 7 ballot. Each proposition is reviewed in the song, which runs just under three minutes and is set to a traditional folk melody. On the Proposition Song page you'll find an mp3 of the song, lyrics and chords, and photos from the recording session on Tuesday. More details about the song are featured in today's CVF news release.

Have fun with it and be sure to sing along!

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Election update: news articles, candidates' debate, and more

We recently added a collection of news articles about the Nov. 7 propositions to CVF's California Online Voter Guide. These stories can be really useful to people who are looking for more in-depth information about the propositions, especially the "back story" of why these measures are on the ballot.

Meanwhile, I've been busy preparing a little something else to help folks make sense of all the propositions. A new Proposition Song is in the works and will debut soon, hopefully next week. So stay tuned for that, and also be sure to tune in to or TiVo the one-and-only gubernatorial candidate debate this election season, between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides. It's this Saturday, October 7, from 6-7 p.m. and will be carried by several radio and TV stations, including C-SPAN.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

U.S. House Hearing on Paper Trails webcast live

The U.S. House Administration Committee is holding a hearing today on election security and voter verified paper audit trails. You can watch the hearing live online using RealPlayer.

Witnesses include:

Edward W. Felten, Professor, Department of Computer Science, Princeton University
Gary Smith, Election Director, Forsyth County, Georgia
Barbara Simons, Member, U.S. Public Policy Committee, Association for Computing Machinery
Keith Cunningham, Election Director, Allen County, Ohio
James Dickson, Vice President of Government Affairs, American Association of People with Disabilities
Michael I. Shamos, Professor, Institute for Software Research Director, Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, September 25, 2006

Articles I'm reading today....

There was lots of news today and over the weekend about electronic voting. Here's a quick round-up of what I'm reading:

Officials Wary of Electronic Voting Machines, by Ian Urbina in Sunday's New York Times. Excerpt:

A growing number of state and local officials are getting cold feet about electronic voting technology, and many are making last-minute efforts to limit or reverse the rollout of new machines in the November elections.

Less than two months before voters head to the polls, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland this week became the most recent official to raise concerns publicly. Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said he lacked confidence in the state's new $106 million electronic voting system and suggested a return to paper ballots.


Electronic Voting Scaled Back, by Rebekah Gordon, Alameda Newspaper Group, September 25, 2006. Excerpt:

SAN MATEO -- One thousand, nine hundred poll workers, who may have left training on the county's new electronic voting machines with the jitters about mastering the newfangled contraptions, can breathe a partial sigh of relief.

Electronic voting machines will be coming to San Mateo County this November, but not in full force. Call it "eSlate lite."

With Nov. 7 just weeks away and rising concerns over whether a full-scale implementation at the county's 472 polling places could be achieved without compromising election integrity, county Elections Officer Warren Slocum said he decided Wednesday to only use disability-accessible electronic machines and leave the rest of the election to paper ballots.

Rather than mass roll-out, Slocum said, "what we're going to do is do it in a controlled way." The eSlate machines will gradually be added over the next three to four elections instead. "It'll be a safe way to do it," Slocum said.


Following the Paper Trail, by Erik Galvan, Imperial Valley Press (Imperial County, CA), September 23, 2006. Excerpts:

The controversy has been heard from coast to coast around the nation.

A nonexistent paper trail being looked for by voters, politicians and just about everyone else filling out a ballot using electronic machines, aren't being found by some.

The word voter fraud has been attached to this controversy, but those looking for that paper trail may want to look to California.

Most states around the U.S. now use electronic-voting systems where a ballot can be cast with a touch of a screen. But in California, we've taken it a step further. We have our paper trail.


Even if there are a few glitches - according to (Imperial County registrar Dolores) Provencio, only the one paper jam - it's a system that puts Imperial County and the rest of California ahead of others around the country.

"They might be having issues," Provencio said, "but as far as a paper trail goes, we're covered."


Will the Next Election Be Hacked?, by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, Rolling Stone Magazine, October 5, 2006. Excerpt:

The debacle of the 2000 presidential election made it all too apparent to most Americans that our electoral system is broken. And private-sector entrepreneurs were quick to offer a fix: Touch-screen voting machines, promised the industry and its lobbyists, would make voting as easy and reliable as withdrawing cash from an ATM. Congress, always ready with funds for needy industries, swiftly authorized $3.9 billion to upgrade the nation's election systems - with much of the money devoted to installing electronic voting machines in each of America's 180,000 precincts. But as midterm elections approach this November, electronic voting machines are making things worse instead of better. Studies have demonstrated that hackers can easily rig the technology to fix an election - and across the country this year, faulty equipment and lax security have repeatedly undermined election primaries. In Tarrant County, Texas, electronic machines counted some ballots as many as six times, recording 100,000 more votes than were actually cast. In San Diego, poll workers took machines home for unsupervised "sleepovers" before the vote, leaving the equipment vulnerable to tampering. And in Ohio - where, as I recently reported in "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" [RS 1002], dirty tricks may have cost John Kerry the presidency - a government report uncovered large and unexplained discrepancies in vote totals recorded by machines in Cuyahoga County.

Even worse, many electronic machines don't produce a paper record that can be recounted when equipment malfunctions - an omission that practically invites malicious tampering. "Every board of election has staff members with the technological ability to fix an election," Ion Sancho, an election supervisor in Leon County, Florida, told me. "Even one corrupt staffer can throw an election. Without paper records, it could happen under my nose and there is no way I'd ever find out about it. With a few key people in the right places, it would be possible to throw a presidential election."


and listening to....

NPR's Science Friday with host Ira Flato and guests Ed Felten of Princeton and Larry Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice discussing voting technology security, reliability and usability. Friday, September 22, 2006.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New county-by-county voting equipment directory and map now online

The California Voter Foundation has published an updated county-by-county directory and statewide map depicting the voting systems used in California's 58 counties.

There are a few significant changes that have been made since the June Primary election. San Mateo County has chosen to implement an all-electronic voting system, manufacturered by Hart Intercivic. San Diego County is returning to electronic voting and will be deploying Diebold's TSx machines in all polling places. Alameda County has permanently switched from electronic to a paper-based, optical scan system, and has also switched vendors, from Diebold to Sequoia. Santa Cruz has selected Sequoia's optical scan system, and Yolo is implementing Hart's optical scan system. Many counties have also acquired new accessible devices in order to be in compliance with state and federal law.

Overall, 35 counties are using paper-based, optical scan systems, comprising 57 percent of the state's registered voters, and 23 counties are using electronic systems, all with voter-verified paper trail printers, comprising 43 percent of registered voters.

Several counties have also upgraded their optical scan systems to provide precinct counts and the opportunity for voters to correct mistakes on ballots. These include Los Angeles, Alameda, Nevada and Santa Cruz. A recent usability report published by the Brennan Center found that precinct-count optical scan voting systems performed the best in terms of minimizing voting errors that result in overvotes or undervotes in the 2004 election.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Princeton video shows how to hack a Diebold voting machine

A team of researchers has produced a video demonstrating how to hack into a Diebold electronic voting machine. The short video is worth watching, and provides the public with a close-up look at how vulnerable the machines are to tampering. (One of my favorite parts shows how one member of the research team is able to pick the lock on the memory card door in a few seconds).

The machine hacked by the Princeton team is Diebold's AccuVote TS model, which is no longer used in California. It is, however, used statewide in Maryland and Georgia, as well as in a number of other states. The Princeton team wrote a paper explaining their work in greater detail, which also features several mitigation strategies. They write:

"The most important strategy for mitigating vote-stealing attacks is to use a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) coupled with random audits. The VVPAT creates a record, verified visually by the voter, of how each vote is cast. This record can be either a paper ballot that is deposited by the voter in a traditional ballot box, or a ballot-under-glass system that keeps the paper record within the voting machine but lets the voter see it. A VVPAT makes our vote-stealing attack detectable."

California has a voter-verified paper audit trail law, as well as a law requiring random audits. However, California's "manual count" law, which mandates a public recount of the ballots from one percent of each county's precincts, may not be sufficient to detect fraud or error. The one percent level was set back in 1965, when voting systems were still largely paper-based. In light of the physical and technical insecurities we now know of in Diebold's electronic voting systems, the percentage of ballots to be recounted in California needs to be increased to mitigate the new risks. Another and perhaps better way to avoid these risks is to rely primarily on paper ballot voting systems in the first place.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New California Online Voter Guide debuts!

Today the California Voter Foundation launches the latest edition of the California Online Voter Guide, designed to help California voters easily access reliable election information. Check out today's news release for more details.

I hope you will use CVF's online guide and tell all of your friends about it too! Suggestions? Comments? Please share them with us via CVF's feedback form.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Summer schedule

I am taking advantage of the time in-between elections to have some time off over the summer. My blog will be mostly on hiatus over the next two months, and I plan to resume more active blogging after Labor Day when the General Election season is in full swing.

There are lots of great sites online to find voting technology news. Electionline offers a great daily roundup of news stories from around the country. At VoteTrust USA there are archived news stories and commentary. And Dan Tokaji's Equal Vote blog highlights key developments in the election field, along with offering opinion and analysis.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

SF Chronicle, PBS' NewsHour coverage of California Primary

Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle featured this article by John Wildermuth summarizing the numerous problems with voting equipment during California's June 6 Primary election, as well as reactions from registrars and critics like me. It includes a description of a security problem I witnessed in Stockton, which was also filmed by PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The NewsHour story ran last Thursday and can be viewed online on PBS' web site. Excerpts from the two stories are featured below.

(partial transcript of the NewHour story)

SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent: Kim Alexander is looking for trouble...

KIM ALEXANDER, The California Voter Foundation: Are you the polling inspector?

SPENCER MICHELS: ... at the polling place.

KIM ALEXANDER: Hi, I'm Kim Alexander.

SPENCER MICHELS: As director of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, she spent Primary Election Day trying to find out how well new touch-screen electronic voting machines were working.

KIM ALEXANDER: And what do you think about using the touch-screen voting machines?

VOTER: I think it's wonderful myself.

SPENCER MICHELS: While some voters told her they liked them, Alexander was dismayed by security problems she found.

KIM ALEXANDER: The other polling place I went to had a little sticker there.

POLLING PLACE WORKER: Yes, one of my workers pulled them off. I had it written it down.

KIM ALEXANDER: Oh, how come they pulled it off?

POLLING PLACE WORKER: They didn't know which one they were talking off. It looks like they got the wrong sticker.

KIM ALEXANDER: Oh, which sticker were they supposed to take off?

At this polling place here this morning, they had trouble getting the machines started, and one poll worker told me that they had an anxiety attack and they started tearing all the seals off all of the machines. And three out of the four machines in this polling place do not have those security seals on them right now.

SPENCER MICHELS: Those security seals are designed to prevent tampering by anyone, and that's a concern now that much of the country has switched to electronic voting machines.

The switch was made in response to problems voters had with punch-card voting systems in the disputed and protracted 2000 Florida presidential election. Two years later, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act and appropriated $3.8 billion to buy new voting machines and to otherwise improve elections.

KIM ALEXANDER: A lot of states rushed out and bought new electronic-voting machines thinking that that would solve all of their problems. What we found is that those systems are not only more expensive than paper-voting systems, they're also less transparent and they're hardly glitch-free.

(excerpts from San Francisco Chronicle story)

Across the state, troubles linked to the high-tech systems delayed voting, slowed counting and left people questioning the results of tight elections.

"I'm still feeling that electronic voting is not ready for prime time," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan group that deals with issues of voting and technology.

While the election featured the usual glitches and hiccups that accompany any statewide vote, a number of problems stood out:

-- In Kern County, early morning voters were told to come back later when numerous voting machines could not be used because county election officials failed to purge the voter access cards of the codes from the last election.

-- In at least one Stockton precinct, state-required security seals were pulled from the voting machines, which then were not taken out of service, as state rules require.

-- Precinct workers in San Diego were allowed to keep the touch-screen machines in their homes, under minimal security, for as long as three weeks before the June 6 election, leading Democratic activists to call for a hand count of all ballots in a close congressional race.

The continuing complaints and problems with various electronic voting systems probably will force the state and its counties to take a hard look at whether the move toward high-tech voting is worth the trouble.

"The whole point was to make it easier for people to vote and have their votes recorded accurately," said state Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County), chair of the Senate elections committee and a candidate for secretary of state. "If polls don't open for three hours, it hurts."

To many county registrars, the problems have less to do with the intricacies of electronic voting than with the problem of training an essentially volunteer crew of workers to deal with new technology.

"It was a people problem, not an electronic problem" in Kern County, said Ann Barnett, the county clerk-registrar.

Representatives of Diebold, the manufacturer of the county's voting machines, never said that voter access cards used in previous elections had to be wiped clean of data before they were used, the registrar said. In training demonstrations, the company used new cards, not ones the county already had.

When poll workers tried to use the old cards in the voting machines, the machines shut down, as they were designed to do. That forced voters to be sent away or given paper ballots in half the county's precincts. It wasn't until 9:30 a.m. that the problems were fixed.

"A lot of people are saying the system failed, but the system didn't fail," Barnett said. "It did work the way it was supposed to."

The human factor was even more apparent in San Joaquin County, where dozens of poll workers didn't show up and many who were working didn't have the training needed to deal with the sometimes-temperamental voting machines.

When trained workers didn't show up, that meant there were printer jams that couldn't be fixed, machines that couldn't be immediately assembled and even a machine at one precinct that was pushed aside with a note reading "Broken. Don't know why," said Deborah Hench, the county registrar.

"We have people over there who don't even know how to turn (the voting machine) on," because they missed the required classes, she said.

In one embarrassing moment, a TV crew from the PBS "NewsHour" watching the voting at the Sibley Community Center in Stockton saw that the state-required security seals had been removed from the memory slots of the voting machines, leading to the possibility of tampering.

In the haste to get the short-staffed polling place up and running, the poll inspector had mistakenly pulled the security seals off, Hench said. Although the state certification rules for the Diebold voting machines require that machines with broken seals be taken out of service and tested, election officials made note of the problem and kept the machines working rather than cause more delays.

"It wasn't a pretty election, not smooth or quiet," but it got done, Hench said.

The increasing complexity of the voting machines is putting more pressure on election workers, who typically receive a couple of hours of training before working a 15-hour day at the polling place.

"We're reaching the limit of reasonable expectations of what poll workers can do," said Alexander. "County registrars have to grab who they can, and they're reluctant to be critical since that could result in even fewer workers."

Opponents of electronic voting point to those poll workers as a possible source of election fraud. In San Diego, for example, the lead worker at each polling place has always taken the election materials -- ballots, registration books, voting machines -- home after completing a training class, to be ready to open that polling place on election day.

But when Republican Brian Bilbray finished only 5,533 votes ahead of Democrat Francine Busby in a congressional race that drew national attention, the county was flooded with complaints that poll workers had plenty of time to tamper with the voting machines before the election.

The insinuations enrage San Diego County Registrar Mikel Haas, who said voting materials have been carried to the polls by volunteers for the past 40 years.

"How do they think the voting materials get there?" he asked. "That the election fairy shows up at 6 a.m. at every polling place?"

Friday, June 16, 2006

More manual count dates set, underway

The California Voter Foundation has been surveying the state's 58 counties to find out when they will be performing their one percent manual count procedure to verify the accuracy of their software vote counts. This is a public process and CVF urges voters and reporters who are interested in election verification to attend and observe this process in your county or one near you.

On June 13, I posted a summary of the manual count status in 16 counties; below is the data for 34 additional counties, many of which have already completed their manual counts. Los Angeles will begin their process on Saturday, June 17. Kern's begins on Monday, June 19. San Bernardino began yesterday, and San Joaquin has set June 26 as their date. El Dorado's is underway and expects to be complete by the end of next week. Solano expects to begin on June 20.

There are eight counties that we are still waiting to hear back from or have not yet determined the date for their manual count. These include: Alameda; Mendocino; Modoc; Nevada; San Francisco; Santa Clara; Santa Cruz; and Ventura.


Alpine County

Completed and election results certified on June 13.

Amador County

Began on June 13 and completed on June 14.

Butte County

Expect to complete the last week of June.

Calaveras County

Began on June 13 and completed on June 14.

Colusa County

Began and completed on June 8.

Contra Costa County

Began and completed on June 12.

Del Norte County

Expect to begin and complete on June 19.

El Dorado County

Process began on June 8 and is still underway. Expect to complete by June 23.

Fresno County

Expect to complete the week of June 19.

Imperial County

Began on June 14.

Inyo County

Began on June 14.

Kern County

Expect to begin at 10 a.m. on June 19.

Kings County

Completed on June 13.

Lake County

Expect to begin at 9 a.m. on June 20.

Los Angeles County

Expect to begin at 9 a.m. on June 17.

Madera County

Expect to begin at 8:30 a.m. on June 19.

Marin County

Began on June 15.

Mariposa County

Began on June 14.

Mono County

Expect to begin on June 19.

Monterey County

Began on June 13.

Orange County

Began and completed on June 14.

Placer County

Began and completed on June 13.

Riverside County

Expect to begin and complete the week of June 19.

San Benito County

Began on June 15.

San Bernardino County

Began on June 15.

San Joaquin County

Expect to begin at 9 a.m. on June 26.

San Mateo County

Began on June 15.

Santa Barbara County

Began on June 12.

Solano County

Expect to begin on June 20.

Stanislaus County

Began on June 14.

Tehama County

Began and was completed on June 13.

Tuolumne County

Expect to begin at 9 a.m. on June 21.

Yolo County

Expect to begin the last week of June.

Yuba County

Began on June 13.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

California manual counts underway

Several California counties have already begun or completed the one percent, public manual count of ballots to verify the accuracy of software vote counts. More information about this procedure is available on this page.

The California Voter Foundation staff has been contacting counties to find out the date and time of their manual counts. We've learned that several of the smaller counties have already completed the process (under California law the counties have four weeks after the election to finalize and certify their results). Sacramento and San Diego's manual counts are currently underway; dates for Napa, San Luis Obispo and Tulare are provided below.

The manual count process is open to the public, and I encourage anyone who is interested in voting technology security to witness this process. Some counties have told us they'd like to be notified in advance of public observers. Contact information for all the county election offices is available on this page.

When observing a manual count, there are some things to keep an eye out for, as described on this page.

Here's what we've learned so far from the counties:

Glenn County

Began the process on June 8, completed on June 9.

Humboldt County

Completed June 12

Lassen County

Began on June 8th and completed on June 9th.

Merced County

Completed June 9

Napa County

Hope to conduct it on June 21 and 22.

Plumas County

Completed June 12

Sacramento County

Began on June 9, contiuing until process is complete.

San Diego County

Began on June 12, continuing through June 20 or 21 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

San Luis Obispo County

Planning to hold the random selection of precincts on Friday at 9 a.m. and beginning manual tally at 10 a.m. on June 19. (Note: registrar suggests observers contact the office so badges can be prepared).

Shasta County

Began on June 12, for electronic ballots using voter-verified paper audit trails, and continuing through this week and perhaps into the next. Manual count of paper basentee ballots will begin on or around June 28.

Sierra County

Process is underway and continuing through Thursday.
(Note: the registrar says there is a sign posted at their office stating that they are conducting this tally and the public is welcome)

Siskiyou County

Anticipates beginning on June 15, at approximately 10 a.m.

Sonoma County

Began on June 9, continuing most likely through the end of the week of June 12.

Sutter County

Beginning June 13

Trinity County

Expect to complete June 13

Tulare County

Beginning June 15
(Note: elections office asks to be notified if observers plan to attend)

News stories highlight CA Primary voting technology issues and problems

I've spent the past few days reading over and digesting the numerous stories that have been published about voting technology issues and problems that arose during last week's California Primary. Below is a round-up, by county, of the articles on my reading list.


California Adds Paper Trail to Electronic Voting
June 7, 2006, National Public Radio

Alameda County

East Bay voter turnout very light
June 6, 2006, The San Jose Mercury News

'Minor hiccups' mark balloting across state, Snafus include complaints in Oakland, missing poll workers elsewhere; low turnout eases strain
June 7, 2006, Oakland Tribune

Kern County

Malfunction delays voting, election results
June 6, 2006, Bakersfield Californian

Voting problems
June 6, 2006, Taft Midway Driller

Barnett takes heat for ballot troubles
June 7, 2006, Bakersfield Californian

Ashburn Calls for Investigation of Kern Voting Fiasco

June 8, 2006, Bakersfield Californian

Ghosts in the machines plague local polling places
June 13, 2006, The Daily Independent

Merced County

Turnout low, problems plague polls in SJ, Merced counties
June 7, 2006 , The Modesto Bee

Orange County

Machine Malfunctions- broken voting machines prompt voter complaints

June 6, 2006, Orange County Register

Glitches plague voting machines, polling stations
June 7, 2006, Orange County Register

Riverside County

Voters pleased with paper trail
June 7, 2006, The Desert Sun

San Bernardino County

Web site glitch delays poll tally
June 7, 2006, The Press-Enterprise

San Joaquin County

A few glitches with voting machines
June 6, 2006, The Tracy Press

Missing volunteers, new machines cause delays
June 06, 2006, Lodi News-Sentinel

Human and machine errors cause voting problems in two counties
June 7, 2006, San Diego Union-Tribune

Tallying the lessons, Elections officials look to avert voting problems in November
June 8, 2006, Stockton Record

Ventura County

Glitches sour some on new voting system
June 7, 2006, Ventura County Star

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

My Day at the Polls

Today I spent several hours in Stockton, where I observed three polling places. Stockton is located in San Joaquin County, and used Diebold's TSx touchscreen voting machines for the first time since March 2004. The machines have been equipped with printers that produce a voter-verified paper record of each electronic ballot, as is now required under California law.

While I am happy that paper trail reform is now implemented, it was extremely disappointing to see how the printers were set up. There is a flap over the window on the printer unit where the paper record is displayed. If a voter wants to view the paper record, he or she must first lift up the flap. In the three polling places I visited there were no instructions being given to voters to lift the flap and inspect the record.

I do not recall seeing this flap on the demonstration unit I saw at the Secretary of State's office over a year ago. And I have no idea why Diebold placed it there. One pollworker told me it was there to protect the voter's ballot privacy, but since the paper record of the ballot scrolls out of site once a voter has finished using the unit, this explanation made no sense.

Having a flap covering the window that displays the paper record of the electronic ballot drastically reduces the likelihood that voters will verify the record, thereby undermining one of the key reasons why the printers are on the machines in the first place.

I also noticed a loud noise coming from the machines when people voted. It turned out to be the printer unit. Like the printer flap, I do not recall this kind of noise coming from the demonstration unit when it was on display at the Secretary of State's office.

It was a slow voting day at the polling places I visited, and I had plenty of time and opportunity to talk with pollworkers, inspect the machines, and ask questions of the few voters who came by to vote. Most the voters said they liked the touchscreens, a few said they did look at the paper record. Several pollworkers mentioned that voters were reluctant to return the voter access cards used to activate the machines, since many of them thought that their votes and possibly their names were stored on them.

While I was at the polling places I looked at the security seals that were placed over the memory card slots. These security seals (stickers, actually) were required to be placed on the machines by the Secretary of State in response to security vulnerabilities with the memory cards recently identified by Harri Hursti.

In the first polling place I visited, at the White Rose Church of Christ, all of the security seals were in place over the memory card slots. Those slots were also locked and the key was in the possession of the polling place supervisor. The second polling place I visited was the Sibley Community Center, where I was accompanied by a crew from the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. At this polling site I saw that only one of the four machines had the security seal over the memory card slot. Another slot above that one, where the "start" button for the machine is located, was open. I asked the supervisor why the slot was open and what happened to the seals. She said the slot should be closed, and pulled out her key and closed it and locked it.

Then she told me that it was hectic in the morning when they were setting up. Two pollworkers had failed to show up and the ones who did had trouble getting the machines up and running. The pollworkers were frantically trying to get things going, and in their haste removed all the security seals from the memory card slots. The supervisor contacted the elections office to find out what to do, and she placed all the security seals on a piece of paper with a note explaining what happened. She showed me the paper with the seals, and how the seals had changed color because they had been removed. The seals also had a bar code and a serial number on them, which is supposed to correspond with the memory card inside the machine.

At the last polling place I visited, I asked the supervisor if they would be checking the serial numbers on the seals against the numbers on the memory card at the end of the day, and was informed that this is not a required procedure. At this last site I also found another "start" button slot was left open, which a pollworker quickly shut and locked once I pointed it out. One pollworker at the last site, which was a fire station, mentioned that they had had some trouble getting the printer set up on one of the machines. He started describing it to me and I asked him if he could show me. So he got the key from the supervisor (apparently there is just one key for the machines, which opens the memory card slot, the start button slot and the printer unit), unlocked the printer, and opened it up. When I said that I thought the printers were supposed to remain shut during the election, he said they are, but I asked to see it so he showed it to me.

After my visit to Stockton, I headed back to Sacramento to vote in my own polling place. My county is using ES&S optical scan ballots, and AutoMARK units for accessibility. I decided to try out the AutoMARK. It turned out I was the first person to use it today, at 4:30 p.m. I fed my paper ballot into the machine, and started making selections. The machine is not very intuitive, and takes some getting used to. I tried some different things, like deselecting a candidate I had selected, and putting in a write-in candidate's name.

But halfway through my ballot, I got an "operator error" alert and a message saying I should contact the elections official. The pollworker came over, then an inspector/troubleshooter showed up. The machine had to be rebooted -- not just turned off, but unplugged -- and started back up again, which took eight minutes. I waited patiently and apologized, thinking I had done something to break it. It turned out that write-in votes were not allowed on the party's ballot I had selected, even though there were spaces for them on it. I'm not sure if my write-in votes, or the deselecting actions caused the machine to crash, or if it was some other problem. But we did get it back up and running, and I finished my selections, marked my ballot, fed it into the scanner, obtained my "I voted" sticker, and headed home.

Early Voting Problems in San Joaquin

The Stockton Record published this article about polling place problems in the county this morning:

Early Voting Problems in San Joaquin

The Record
Published Tuesday, Jun 6, 2006

A variety of problems at polling places throughout San Joaquin County hampered early voting efforts in Tuesday's primary election.

People were sent away without casting their ballots in Stockton, Lodi and Morada and poll workers did not show up to staff other precincts, including some in Weston Ranch.

At Lodi Fire Station No. 3, voters weren't allowed to begin casting ballots until close to 10 a.m. Polls were supposed to open at 7 a.m.

Elsewhere, San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Debbie Hench said the Diebold touchscreen voting machines seemed to be working fine, but some poll workers were having trouble getting them set up.

A team of 415 inspectors was available for deployment to precincts where problems cropped up. But even that crew was short-handed after some unexpected departures.

"Eight of them quit between 5 and 8 p.m. last night," Hench said. "I have no idea why."

Hench said her staff trained poll workers to not let voters "just leave" if there were problems.

"Unfortunately, that message didn't get through to everyone," Hench said. "We're trying to get the problems straightened out as soon as possible."

Follow for more updates throughout the day.

Malfunctioning cards delayed poll voting Tuesday morning in Kern County

Malfunctioning cards delayed poll voting Tuesday morning

By STEVE E. SWENSON and SHELLIE BRANCO, Californian staff writers
Tuesday, Jun 6 2006 8:26 AM

Last Updated: Tuesday, Jun 6 2006 11:35 AM

Widespread problems with Kern County voting machines prompted election officials Tuesday morning to ask people to wait until about 10 a.m. to go the polls.

Chief Deputy Registrar Sandy Brockman said election workers learned at 7 a.m. when the polls opened that many voter access cards--the cards voters use to work the voting machines--were not programmed right to operate.

"A procedure that no one told us about needs to be done," Brockman said. "It's a widespread problem in the county."

Election workers were working furiously to remedy the problem and Brockman estimated it would be about 10 a.m. before things started running smoothly. "We're asking people not to vote for a couple hours," she said.

By 10:15 a.m., virtually all polling places were operational, due in part to a sheriff's helicopter bring the right stuff out to Ridgecrest and election workers meeting poll workers halfway in outlying areas, Brockman said.

"It's a nighmare I never wanted to handle," Brockman said.

She acknowledged that some voters left polling places without voting. She said people had 13 hours to vote so hopefully they will go back before the polls close.

Accommodations were made to enable some people to vote, including using their sample voter pamphlets, Brockman said. Others were directed to the downtown election office to vote.

As a last resort, voters can fill out their sample ballots, sign them, provide their address and fax them to the Elections Department at 868-3768, Registrar Ann Barnett told Kern County supervisors.

Some cards did work early Tuesday, but others didn't, she said. And some centers, such as Harvest Hall at the Kern County Fairgrounds, handed out a limited number of paper ballots, she said.

John Riddiough, a Bakersfield voter, said he had to write his choices by placing his paper on a wall because there were not enough tables at Harvest Hall.

It's not confidential, he said.

He and other voters described long lines of people waiting to vote.

Alan Ferguson of Bakersfield said he was waiting in a line for more than a half hour at East Hills Mall to vote.

When only some cards worked, voters had to wait until they could get one of those to vote, Brockman said.

There were not enough paper ballots for everyone, she said.

For example, Greg Van Mullem, said he was able to vote with a paper ballot at the Southwest Library because he is a Democrat, but Republicans were being told at about 8:15 a.m. they didn't have any more Republican paper ballots.

"I got to vote but Republicans were being turned away," he said.

As the morning went on, lines thinned at many polling places, voters reported.

County supervisors discussed the malfunction in their regular morning meeting.

Kern County Registrar Ann Barnett told the board people needed voter access cards that were cleared of information stored from a previous election. A clear card was necessary to access the touch-screen of the electronic voting machines, she added.

Barnett said voters can also cast their sample ballots at polling sites if there is no other way immediately available.

It would take an order from a judge to extend election hours, and Supervisor Ray Watson said he doesn't want to see someone challenge the election over the problem.

Supervisor Jon McQuiston suggested staff from the elections office should return to the board's 2 p.m. meeting with an update. The board could take an urgent vote on any steps to help, he added.

McQuiston said the board should follow up on how the voting machines' manufacturer handled such technical issues.

Barnett said she did not train her staff to provide paper ballots if the machines failed. Supervisor Michael Rubio suggested a grassroots approach--the supervisors could "get in a car and divvy up polling sites" to provide assistance.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Election Eve Thoughts

Tomorrow is the big day -- the first time California will use touchscreens with paper trails. I've been waiting a while for this day to come, and am excited and nervous about what's ahead.

Will voters take the time to look at the paper record? (Hopefully yes). Will they think it's a receipt meant for them (it is not), as many voters in Nevada did in 2004 when they voted on touchscreens with paper trails for the first time?

There are other voting challenges ahead tomorrow for everyone -- election officials, pollworkers, voters. As for me, I'm heading down to Stockton to observe Diebold touchscreens with paper trails in San Joaquin County. The 1,625 TSx machines that will be used there haven't been rolled out since March 2004. Now they've been upgraded with voter-verified paper trail printers, and the Secretary of State ordered additional security measures to physically protect the machines after memory card vulnerabilities were recently discovered. I'll be interested to see how voters respond to the paper trail, and how physically secure the machines are.

During an interview today, I was asked why people should vote in this election. It's a good question, given all the concerns that have been raised about election security, the negative campaigning, the short lineup of propositions. Why vote? It's simple. We vote because politicians pay attention to the people who vote. When more of us vote, politicians are more likely to represent the interests of all of us, and not just a few.

Polls open at 7, close at 8 p.m. Visit CVF's California Online Voter Guide for more details about voting, voting equipment, and the contests.

Tom Sullivan Show today, 3-4 p.m.

This afternoon from 3-4 p.m. I'll be a guest on the Tom Sullivan radio talk show, airing on KFBK, AM 1530 in the Sacramento region. A live audio stream is available from the station's web site.

Appearing on Tom's show has become an election tradition for me, something that I look forward to as election day approaches. We'll be talking about where to find last-minute election information online, changes in voting equipment, new security measures, absentee voting trends and probably taking some calls. Tune in if you can...

Friday, June 2, 2006

Election resources at

Next Tuesday is Election Day in California, and the California Voter Foundation's web site has a lot of resources to offer voters. Here is a summary we distributed to CVF-NEWS subscribers today.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Is all mail-in balloting in California's future?

Today's Contra Costa Times features this article by Lisa Vorderbrueggen focusing on Contra Costa county's voting trends. Registrar Steve Weir says in the upcoming June Primary, more voters in his county will vote by mail than at the polls. Is all mail-in balloting in California's future? Excerpts from the story are featured below.


Contra Costans voting by mail may, for the first time, outnumber those who walk into their polling places June 6.

The trend mirrors a statewide uptick in voting by mail that hits election officials' budgets, alters campaign strategies and inches California closer to a day when it may have to choose between tradition and convenience.

"We're right now in the worst possible combination of both worlds," said Contra Costa County Registrar Steve Weir and incoming president of the California Association of Clerks and Registrars.

"We have to run a full precinct operation, and with the tremendous amount of turnout coming in the mail, I don't have the economy of either scale benefiting us."

Based on absentee ballot return rates thus far, Weir predicted Contra Costa could see mail-in voters overtake Election Day voters for the first time.

If it happens, Weir said, it may foreshadow a tipping point where most Californians vote by mail, and lawmakers may rethink whether it makes sense to deploy a massive and costly Election Day operation.

Like many California counties, the East Bay's vote-by-mail rate has risen steadily since the state's expanded permanent absentee voter program took effect in 2002.


Today, Contra Costa has more than 160,000 permanent absentee voters, and Alameda reports 280,000 on its rolls.

For most folks, registrars agree, it is a matter of convenience. No need to rush home to vote or drive aimlessly around looking for a parking space outside the polling site.

"More and more people prefer to vote by mail, and I don't see a reason why that trend won't continue," said Dave Macdonald, acting Alameda County Registrar of Voters. "Somewhere down the road, perhaps all voting will be done by mail. But for now, we have to do both."


A bill by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, that would have allowed California counties to adopt an all-mail voting system died in committee last year. At the time, Alameda and other counties faced serious problems obtaining certified voting equipment.

Hancock still likes the idea. "It's clear that people are voting by mail because they want to and in states like Oregon, it has increased turn-out," Hancock said. "Plus, it's cheaper, which would free up money for much-needed other services."

Critics of mail-in voting agree it saves money, but they dispute turnout numbers and suggest other concerns.

The turnout claim, said Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, is based on a percentage of registered voters who return ballots.

"All you have to do is purge your registration list of people who have died or moved, and you alter the percentages," Gans said.

Voting by mail is a convenience for upper- and middle-class voters, Gans said, that hurts the poor and disenfranchises people who may vote before relevant information surfaces about a candidate or an issue. Domineering family members may also exert pressure on spouses to vote their way, he added, which the voting booth privacy precludes.

The more likely outcome, said California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander, is a hybrid network of convenient, high-tech voting centers coupled with mail voting and improved security at the U.S. Post Office.

"I don't see polling places going away," Alexander said.

"For many people, voting on Election Day is one of the last remaining spaces in public life where people convene and participate in democracy."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NPR story highlights security risks with e-voting machines

On Saturday, NPR's "Weekend Edition" ran a nine-minute piece by Linda Wertheimer called Security Risk Seen in Electronic Voting Machines. The story focuses on the increased use of e-voting machines, and the new security hole recently discovered in Diebold's touchscreens. Mark Radke speaks in the story on behalf of Diebold, giving assurances that their equipment is protected, and that pollworkers make sure the systems are secure.

"I don't buy that at all," replies computer scientist Avi Rubin, who noted this security sometimes involves having pollworkers take machines home with them overnight. Rubin also says the new security hole is not only the most serious he's seen in any electronic voting system, it's also the most severe he's seen in any system.

While NPR was covering a polling place in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, an election official appeared with a Diebold pamphlet and pin number. The pollworker didn't know what to do with it, saying she was not told about a pin number or password, and that there's a lot of things she didn't know.

The piece opens up with Linda Wertheimer describing how we got where we are with electronic voting systems. The introductory text is below.


After the very, very close presidential election in 2000, when results were in doubt for weeks, Congress appropriated funds to help states modernize their voting. And companies that manufacture voting machines have rushed new computerized systems onto the market.

But there are concerns about the new machines. Apart from the inevitable glitches in new equipment, critics raise questions about machines that have no paper record of votes, and about the possibility that computerized systems could somehow be reprogrammed to change votes, perhaps even change the outcome of an election.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Radio Interview today on the June Primary

This afternoon, from 2-3 p.m. I'll be a guest on the Insight show hosted by Jeffrey Callison on Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. The show will focus on the upcoming June primary election, including topics such as voter registration and electronic voting. Those who want to listen to the show but are outside the listening area can hear a live webcast on Capital Public Radio's homepage (just click on the "listen live" link).

Monday, May 15, 2006

Secretary of State's race in the news

Today's Copley newspapers feature this story by Michael Gardner which takes a look at the office of the Secretary of State and the competitive primary contest being waged for the Democratic Party's nomination. The article spotlights the Democratic Party's two top contenders, State senators Deborah Ortiz and Debra Bowen, and discusses their positions on numerous issues. Excerpts are featured below.


They hold down the same job, belong to the same political party and even have similar first names.

So it's no surprise that state Sens. Debra Bowen and Deborah Ortiz are working to strike distinct chords with Democrats in a low-key primary campaign to be California's elections chief.

"In many respects, we are alike," said Ortiz, of Sacramento. "What distinguishes us is independence."

Bowen, of Marina del Rey, said it's her experience pushing election reforms that sets her apart.

"These are the issues I've worked on in the Legislature," Bowen said.

There are major divisions, however. The two Democrats part ways on same-day registration and whether voters should cast ballots on weekends. While Bowen has zeroed in on elections and privacy, Ortiz's career is marked more by health issues.

The survivor of the June 6 primary will go up against incumbent Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a Republican and former state senator appointed by the governor to serve out the term of Democrat Kevin Shelley, who resigned amid scandal 14 months ago.


The secretary of state is primarily responsible for upholding the integrity of the ballot box for nearly 17 million voters in 58 counties.

"The secretary of state decides whether voting systems are safe," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"It's such an important function that many states don't have it (elections) as part of the secretary of state. They have a separate elections board," she said.

Beyond the elections division, the secretary of state maintains a vast online database of campaign contributions and lobbyist earnings.

The site helps the public track where money is being spent to influence elections as well as legislation and holds a trove of elections data. The office also runs California's domestic partners registry and is the keeper of many corporate filings.

Like many other statewide races, the secretary of state campaign features a pair of entrenched Democrats about to be booted out of the Legislature by term limits. Bowen, 50, and Ortiz, 49, are in their eighth and final year in the Senate.

Bowen has used her pulpit as chairwoman of a Senate elections committee to promote legislation aimed at the Secretary of State's Office and also to improve voter confidence. She has been sharply critical of the handling of new voter registration requirements and California's compliance with a federal directive to introduce the next generation of electronic voter systems.

She has challenged McPherson's certification of some voting machines that critics say invite fraud and may be difficult for the disabled to use. And she has fought unsuccessfully to ban a secretary of state from taking sides in contested races or on ballot measures.

Some critics claim Bowen is using her position to carry measures and issue statements that attack McPherson as much as make policy. Asked if she agreed, Ortiz said, "It's appropriate for Sen. Bowen to advocate, but it's a fine line."

Bowen said she has always tried to distance policy from politics. But, she noted, "What's policy and what's political is always entwined."

While in the Senate, Ortiz has concentrated on expanding affordable health care. She fought to keep junk food out of schools, lost an effort to force insurers to cover stop-smoking aids and demanded more accountability from those in charge of the state's $3 billion stem-cell research program.

More recently, she introduced legislation to fund a biomonitoring program that would use volunteers to gauge chemical buildups in the body and the potential health effects.

On election issues, Ortiz has expressed frustration with her inability to secure additional funding for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, the agency that enforces campaign finance laws.

Bowen and Ortiz both oppose forcing voters to show identification at the polls, saying it would discourage turnout and raise discrimination issues.

"No one has yet demonstrated that the absence of voter identification has increased fraud," Ortiz said.

And they are opposed to casting ballots by e-mail.

"We're not even close to voting over the Internet. We can't solve the problems of security at polling places today," Bowen said.

"Internet voting lacks security," Ortiz agreed. "It deserves consideration, but it's not there yet."

The candidates split, however, over some other key issues.

Bowen opposes same-day registration, saying the state has struggled to process requests filed within the current deadline of 15 days before an election.

"We can't manage the system we have," Bowen said.

Ortiz said Californians should be able to register on election day as a way to stimulate interest and turnout.

"We must inspire voters -- not scare them," Ortiz said.

Bowen also rejects weekend voting, saying it could conflict with religious observances and create security headaches. Ortiz wants to explore weekend voting.

Ortiz and Bowen agree that voters should not be restricted to a particular precinct. They support allowing voters to go to the most convenient polling place.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Black Box Voting releases new Hursti study on Diebold touchscreens

Today Black Box Voting released this study by Harri Hursti describing the new vulnerabilities discovered with Diebold's electronic voting machines. What's been published is a redacted version; an unredacted version that includes more specifics about the potential attacks has also been produced but is not being widely distributed due to security concerns.

Also published today is another Oakland Tribune article by Ian Hoffman, featuring comments from prominent computer scientists and voting equipment examiners who say the security problem is the "worst ever" found in a voting system. Excerpts are featured below.


Election officials from Iowa to Maryland have been rushing to limit the risk of vote fraud or disabled voting machines since the hole was reported Wednesday.

Scientists, who have conferred with Diebold representatives, said Diebold programmers created the security hole intentionally as a means of quickly upgrading voting software on its electronic voting machines.

The hole allows someone with a common computer component and knowledge of Diebold systems to load almost any software without a password or proof of authenticity and potentially without leaving telltale signs of the change.

"I think it's the most serious thing I've heard to date," said Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin, who published the first security analysis of Diebold voting software in 2003. "Even describing why I think it's serious is dangerous. This is something that's so easy to do that if the public were to hear about it, it would raise the risk of someone doing it. ... This is the worst-case scenario, almost."

Diebold representatives acknowledged the security hole to Pennsylvania elections officials in a May 1 memo but said the "probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low."

California elections officials echoed that assessment Friday in a message to county elections chiefs.

But several computer scientists said Wednesday that those judgments are founded on the mistaken assumption that taking advantage of the security hole would require access to voting machines for a long time.

"I don't know anyone who considers two minutes lengthy, if it's that," said Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor and veteran voting-systems examiner for the state of Pennsylvania.

"It's the most serious security breach that's ever been discovered in a voting system. On this one, the probability of success is extremely high because there's no residue. ... Any kind of cursory inspection of the machine would not reveal it."

States using Diebold touch screens are "going to have to fix it because they can't have an election without having a fix to this," he said. Otherwise, states risk challenges from losing candidates while being unable to prove easily that the machines worked as designed.

At least two states - Pennsylvania and California - have ordered tighter security and reprogramming of all Diebold touch screens, using software supplied by the state and a method opened by the security hole. Local elections officials then must seal certain openings on the machines with tamper-evident tape.

David Wagner, an assistant professor of computer-science at the University of California, Berkeley and a technical adviser to the California secretary of state's office, said the new measures should minimize risks in the June 6 primary.

Elections officials in Georgia, which uses Diebold touch screens statewide, said existing state rules already are sufficient.

Bev Harris, founder of, a nonprofit group critical of electronic voting, said she isn't sure reprogramming and sealing the touch screens will fix the problem.

Voting machines often are delivered to polling places several days before elections, and the outside case of Diebold's touch screens is secured by common Phillips screws. Inside, a hacker can take advantage of the security hole, as well as access other security holes, without disturbing the tamper-evident seals, Harris said.

"Ultimately, there's no way to get rid of the huge security flaws in the design," she said.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New security glitch found in Diebold system

A new, dangerous security problem has been discovered in Diebold's electronic voting machines, as reported in this article by Ian Hoffman in the Oakland Tribune.

The problem revolves around the memory cards that are used to store electronic votes. According to computer scientists who have studied Diebold electronic voting machines, these memory cards can also be used to change the programming of an electronic voting machine. States that use Diebold's electronic voting machines are being urged to address the problem before upcoming Primary elections. In California, the risk is less severe than in other states because under California law Diebold's electronic ballots must be accompanied by a voter verified paper audit trail, which election officials must use to publicly verify software vote counts. However, other states that use Diebold's electronic voting machines, such as Maryland and Georgia, don't have paper audit trail and public verification requirements. Whether they are able to mitigate the new risks that have come to light remains to be seen.

Today's Oakland Tribune article provides more details about the new security problems and scientists' and election officials' reactions, and is featured below.


Elections officials in several states are scrambling to understand and limit the risk from a "dangerous" security hole found in Diebold Election Systems Inc.'s ATM-like touch-screen voting machines.

The hole is considered more worrisome than most security problems discovered on modern voting machines, such as weak encryption, easily pickable locks and use of the same, weak password nationwide.

Armed with a little basic knowledge of Diebold voting systems and a standard component available at any computer store, someone with a minute or two of access to a Diebold touch screen could load virtually any software into the machine and disable it, redistribute votes or alter its performance in myriad ways.

"This one is worse than any of the others I've seen. It's more fundamental," said Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer scientist and veteran voting-system examiner for the state of Iowa.

"In the other ones, we've been arguing about the security of the locks on the front door," Jones said. "Now we find that there's no back door. This is the kind of thing where if the states don't get out in front of the hackers, there's a real threat."

This newspaper is withholding some details of the vulnerability at the request of several elections officials and scientists, partly because exploiting it is so simple and the tools for doing so are widely available.

A Finnish computer expert working with Black Box Voting, a nonprofit organization critical of electronic voting, found the security hole in March after Emery County, Utah, was forced by state officials to accept Diebold touch screens, and a local elections official let the expert examine the machines.

Black Box Voting was to issue two reports today on the security hole, one of limited distribution that explains the vulnerability fully and one for public release that withholds key technical details.

The computer expert, Harri Hursti, quietly sent word of the vulnerability in March to several computer scientists who advise various states on voting systems. At least two of those scientists verified some or all of Hursti's findings. Several notified their states and requested meetings with Diebold to understand the problem.

The National Association of State Elections Directors, the nongovernmental group that issues national-level approvals for voting systems, learned of the vulnerability Tuesday and was weighing its response. States are scheduled to hold primaries in May, June and July.
"Our voting systems board is looking at this issue," said NASED Chairman Kevin Kennedy, a Wisconsin elections official. "The states are talking among themselves and looking at plans to mitigate this."

California, Pennsylvania and Iowa are issuing emergency notices to local elections officials, generally telling them to "sequester" their Diebold touch screens and reprogram them with "trusted" software issued by the state capital. Then elections officials are to keep the machines sealed with tamper-resistant tape until Election Day.

In California, three counties — San Joaquin, Butte and Kern — plan to rely exclusively on Diebold touch screens in their polling places for the June primary.

Nine other counties, including Alameda, Los Angeles and San Diego, will use Diebold touch screens for early voting or for limited, handicapped-accessible voting in their polling places.

California elections officials told those counties Friday that the risk from the vulnerability was "low" and that any vote tampering would be revealed to voters on the paper read-out that prints when they cast their ballots, as well as to elections officials when they recount those printouts for 1 percent of their precincts after the election.

"I think the likelihood of this happening is low," said assistant Secretary of State for elections Susan Lapsley. "It assumes access and control for a lengthy period of time."

But scientists say that is not necessarily true.

Preparations could be made days or weeks beforehand, and the loading of the software could take only a minute or so once the machines are delivered to the polling places. In some cases, machines are delivered several days before an election to schools, churches, homes and other common polling places.

Scientists said Diebold appeared to have opened the hole by making it as easy as possible to upgrade the software inside its machines. The result, said Iowa's Jones, is a violation of federal voting system rules.

"All of us who have heard the technical details of this are really shocked. It defies reason that anyone who works with security would tolerate this design," he said.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Riverside County activists to monitor voting equipment

Yesterday's North County Times features this article by Chris Bagley about Riverside County's voting equipment plans as well as this story about local activists' efforts to monitor their county's activities. Excerpts are featured below.


March was not a good month for the reputation of touch-screen voting machines.

In Chicago and surrounding Cook County, the nation's second-most populous, several of the machines failed in the March 21 primary elections. There were problems combining vote totals from those machines with the totals from a separate system. Losers from both major political parties later claimed that not all the votes had been counted, though elections officials disputed that.

New Mexico has decided to get rid of touch-screen machines altogether. A bill passed earlier this year will eventually require all counties in the state to use a system of paper ballots that would be marked with ink and counted electronically. Advocates insisted that voters had lost confidence in their touch-screen systems, which produced no tangible record of each vote and whose electronic counting process couldn't be double-checked by the average voter with the naked eye.

In Northern California, Alameda County, which adopted the touch screen machines five years ago, decided to put the machines aside and use inkable paper ballots for the June primary. Elections officials there said they couldn't make the machines comply with a state law requiring each voter to have a paper version of his or her vote.

In Riverside County, a pioneer in electronic voting, voters are preparing next month to use a new touch-screen voting system that is designed to allay many of these problems and concerns. Several watchdog groups fret, however, that the improvements won't be enough to save the voting and counting processes from delays and glitches like those that have cropped up in Chicago and several other communities across the nation.

Worse, the groups say, the machines could still fall victim from outright hacking attempts, though no such attempts have been conclusively documented.

"The security issues are so serious that we have doubts that the necessary measures could be put in place to ensure that the systems are bulletproof," said Tom Courbat, a member of the Temecula-area chapter of Democracy For America, which is organizing volunteers from a range of local political parties to monitor voting and vote-counting in the June 6 primary.


"The currency of democracy is much less protected than the money that people are just gambling away," Courbat said. "Does the public own this system or is it outsourced to a private company? That is the question. Who owns the common good?"

Riverside County's new machines are virtually identical to the ones they're replacing, but with a key addition: A small printer attached to the side of each new terminal creates a paper record of each vote.

The county is paying $14.9 million for the 3,700 terminals, minus a $2 million credit it received for returning the first-generation machines to Sequoia. The county is also receiving about $7.5 million in federal funds to help cover the purchase, according to Riverside County Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore.


Elections officials have long performed recounts on one precinct out of every 100, and a state law passed last year requires elections officials to use the printed paper records to double-check the electronic tally. If recounts disagree with the computers, officials can order a general recount.

Susan Marie Weber, who is vice chairwoman of the Libertarian Party of Riverside County, said she doesn't trust elections officials to select precincts on a truly random basis. The process uses computer software programs that Weber considers just as secretive as the tabulation systems inside the computerized voting system.


Riverside is one of 18 counties expecting to use Sequoia touch-screens and printers next month; several other counties expect to use similar systems made by Diebold. About 150 of the new-generation Sequoia machines were used earlier this year for city elections in Rancho Mirage and Riverside, with no major incidents reported. The county has received 1,325 of the new machines, with 2,375 yet to come, according to Dunmore.


The chief problem is that touch-screen systems are more complicated, voting activists on local, state and national levels say. Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she believes the most secure option is a system of ballots that voters mark with ink and feed into electronic scanners, partly thanks to the relative visibility of the counting process. Such systems, like those recently chosen by New Mexico, are already in use in the counties of San Diego and Los Angeles.

"The success of every election depends on how well every election procedure is followed," said Alexander, whose nonprofit group monitors elections statewide. "You're counting on hundreds, if not thousands, of people to do that. There is a lot of new equipment being used (June 6) for the first time, and the primary is a complicated election. It will be a challenging day."

In another sense, complicated elections give touch-screen machines a chance to shine, advocates say. Unlike paper ballots, which typically have to be printed in two, three or more languages, a touch-screen user can select the appropriate language at the terminal. When considering the touch-screen system for 2000, Riverside County officials estimated it would save them some $600,000 in paper costs each election year, though Dunmore recently said that figure has to be adjusted to account for the 40 percent of voters who use absentee ballots.


Many users have praised the touch-screens as easier to use than paper ballots even as others have reported difficulty getting the right candidate to light up on the screen in front of them.

Skeptics such as Courbat and Alexander say the printers are big improvements over the paperless touch-screen machines they're replacing. Members of Courbat's group also say they've noted new security measures Dunmore has taken since taking office: For example, she has pledged to keep the vote-counting computer disconnected from the county's intranet, thus blocking a particularly wide avenue for potential hackers. But that broken connection is also one of several points that Courbat wants volunteers to monitor next month.

Skeptics in Riverside County also acknowledge the convenience and relative speed of counting votes from touch-screen computers. But they also worry that convenience and speed may have eclipsed the larger issues of security and reliability. As Alexander put it, having election results by midnight doesn't count for much if they remain in doubt afterward.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Voting equipment changes ahead for California counties

Today's Oakland Tribune features this article by Ian Hoffman about the voting equipment changes ahead for California this June. According to the article, "the share of California voters using touch screens has fallen to 32 percent, down from 43 percent in the March 2004 primary. In that election, 57 percent of registered voters lived in counties using optically scanned paper ballots and punch cards. Now, that's risen to 68 percent." More excerpts are below.


Most voters in California won't see much of a difference, but behind the scenes many counties are fielding new or upgraded voting machinery for the 2006 elections.

Gone is the punch-card ballot that until 2000 was a mainstay of California polling places, and for disabled voters especially, local elections officials are trying new blends of voting machinery to meet federal law on accessibility.

But in the biggest change, every county for the first time will have a paper ballot or backup record of votes as insur-ance against inaccuracy, fraud or breakdown of computerized voting systems. That means voters will see printers and paper, and lots of them.

In 2006, California will become the first entire state to have such a backup record, said Kim Alexander, a paper-trail proponent and president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation.

"Election officials rely on proprietary software produced by private companies to count the votes," Alexander said in a statement. "The voter verified paper trail requirement ensures that election officials have a meaningful, independent audit trail to use when they publicly verify the vote."

According to data collected by the foundation and released Thursday, 18 counties are putting new voting systems before voters in the primary this June. Most are swapping optically scanned paper ballots or punch cards for electronic, touch-screen voting machines that meet state and federal laws requiring paper trails and unassisted voting for the disabled.

Primaries are the most complex California election to run, because of the need to maintain partisan separation in ballots and tallies. Local elections officials prefer not adding to their headaches by rolling out new voting systems, so it is unusual for a third of the state to do so.

Yet most of those changes are in smaller, rural counties, and voters in most larger counties will use roughly the same kind of voting tools as in 2004, though the machines and software have been upgraded.

There are exceptions. Alameda County, for example, is leaving electronic voting largely aside for paper ballots to be carried to a central location and optically scanned. San Diego County is loaning thousands of its ATM-like touchscreens to other counties and for the better part is relying on optically scanned ballots as well.


San Mateo, Sonoma and seven other counties are doing something previously unheard of — running two different voting systems by different manufacturers, in parallel. Most San Mateo voters will cast ballots to be read and tallied on ES&S machines, while disabled voters will use more accessible HartInterCivic touchscreens at regional voting centers.

Yolo County planned to buy ES&S's accessible ballot-marking devices, known as AutoMarks and selling for about $5,000 each. But contract negotiations soured, and Yolo officials instead are using VotePad, a series of plastic ballot-marking booklets that come with an audio-cassette guide for the voter.

State elections officials question the legality of the idea, since the VotePad has not formally been certified for use in California.

"I think it's a clever work-around," said Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. "I think a lot of counties are just trying to get through one election at a time. They're using this election to try out a system without making a long term commitment to one system or vendor."

In many counties, manufacturers now are racing to deliver new software, new or rebuilt machines or new parts such as the printers that will supply paper trails for touch-screen voting machines. Warehouses where voting machines are stored are hives of activity these days, as testing of the newly arrived equipment occurs and programming for the June 6 election.

"It truly is chaos out there," said Tom Stanionis, director of technology for the Yolo County clerk/recorder's office.
But two thirds of the counties, including most of the large ones, are sticking with or returning to optical scanners, upgraded to the latest version.


Many elections officials also are eyeing the rise in absentee voting, already close to 50 percent in the Bay Area, and all of those votes are optically scanned.