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 recordnet.com 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 www.calvoter.org

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.