Thursday, December 20, 2007

CVF's new online voter guide for Feb. 5 election debuts!

With California's presidential primary election just six weeks away, today the California Voter Foundation released its 2008 California Online Voter Guide, a nonpartisan Internet resource to help Californians get ready to vote.

California is the largest of 22 states that will be voting on nominees for president on February 5, which has been dubbed "Super-Duper Tuesday". Californians who vote by mail will begin receiving their ballots the week of January 7th, nearly a month ahead of the February election, and less than three weeks from today.

With four in ten California voters expected to vote by mail, the presidential primary is actually a month-long election season that kicks off on January 7. California's Legislature changed the Presidential primary election date in an effort to increase California's clout in the Presidential nominee selection process. February 5 is the first of three California statewide elections taking place in 2008.

In addition to selecting Presidential nominees, California voters will also be voting on seven propositions that would change school funding rules, legislative term limits and tribal gaming agreements.

The accelerated campaign schedule has placed elections in the middle of the holiday season. Presidential candidates are touting the holiday theme in campaign ads that have begun to air online and in other early primary states. While some voters may be reluctant to talk politics with family members around the holidays, families can have a significant impact on potential voters.

A 2005 CVF survey found that two-thirds of California's infrequent voters say that when they do vote, family members are an influential source of information. Family visits can be a great opportunity to talk about the candidates and measures on the ballot, and help each other get prepared to vote.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Online Voter Registration hearing - my testimony & webcast

Last Friday I participated in a California State Senate hearing sponsored by the Senate Elections Committee to explore the feasibility of online voter registration. The hearing was chaired by State Senator Ron Calderon, who intends to introduce legislation early next year to advance online registration. During the hearing, the possibility of reconvening the Internet Voting Task Force was also discussed. My testimony and this California Channel webcast of the hearing are available online.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Update on California legislative hearings

On Monday I was in Los Angeles for the Assembly's hearing on voter participation and new technologies. My powerpoint presentation is available here, and features highlights from CVF's California Voter Participation Survey. A PDF version is also available.

Tomorrow I'm heading over to the State Senate's Online Voter Registration hearing at the State Capitol, Room 113. The hearing starts at 10 a.m.. Here is the agenda, which features links to an overview by the committee and the Arizona Secretary of State's powerpoint presentation. Scheduled speakers include:

- Craig Stender, HAVA Project Manager, Arizona Secretary of State

- Robert Rubin, Legal Director, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights

- Ronda Paschal, Deputy Secretary of State, Legislative and Constituent Affairs, California Secretary of State

- Dennis Clear, Legislative Director, California Department of Motor Vehicles

- Kim Alexander, President and Founder, California Voter Foundation

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Please contribute to the California Voter Foundation!

In the rough and tumble world of California politics, where can voters turn?

The award-winning California Voter Foundation web site provides a safe, informative and consistently nonpartisan place for voters to learn about California propositions, candidates and politics. And after you vote, CVF works to ensure our votes will be accurately counted and verified.

CVF is asking you to help us help California voters. Will you make a contribution to support the California Voter Foundation? It's easy and it's tax-deductible! You can make a credit card donation online using PayPal (and you don't even need a PayPal account to do it).

California voters decide which politicians and policies will govern this great state. Those decisions impact the quality of our lives and reverberate far and wide, impacting the nation and world as well. The reliable information California voters need to make such important decisions is at

Next year, California voters will be voting in three statewide elections, including, for the first time, a February Presidential primary! Please help us help California voters get prepared and informed for all of these elections, by contributing to CVF. If you prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to "California Voter Foundation" and send it to:

California Voter Foundation
2612 J Street, Suite 8
Sacramento, CA 95816

Thank you for supporting CVF's nonpartisan work to educate voters and advance transparency and accountability in the vote counting process!

Friday, December 7, 2007

CA legislative hearings next week on voter outreach & registration

Two California legislative hearings are taking place next week and I'll be participating in both. Here are the details:

On Monday, December 10, the Assembly is holding a hearing in Los Angeles. The subject is, "How Can California Modernize Voter Education & Outreach: Lessons Learned From New Media Pioneers".

The hearing takes place from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. at the Junipero Serra State Building, 320 West Fourth Street in downtown Los Angeles, in the Carmel Room. It's a joint hearing sponsored by the Assembly Arts & Entertainment Committee and the Assembly Elections Committee, and will be chaired by Assemblymembers Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach) and Curren Price (D-Inglewood). I'll be presenting findings from our 2005 California Voter Participation Survey. Also addressing the committees will be California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and representatives from Rock the Vote, MySpace and Facebook.

Then at the end of next week, on Friday, December 14, the Senate Elections Committee will conduct a hearing to examine the potential for online voter registration. It starts at 10 a.m. in Room 113 at the State Capitol in downtown Sacramento. The hearing will be chaired by State Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) and will include representatives from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, the California DMV, Lawyer's Committee on Civil Rights, and the California Secretary of State's Office. I'll be speaking at this hearing as well and will be highlighting potential security and election fraud issues that could result from online voter registration.

Both hearings will likely be recorded and aired on the California Channel, possibly live, on TV and on the web. They are open to the public and there will be an opportunity for public comment.

Monday, November 19, 2007

CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen sues ES&S; seeks $15 million in damages

Today California Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued this news release announcing that she is suing voting equipment manufacturer ES&S for selling voting equipment to five counties that was not certified.

State law requires voting equipment to be certified before it can be used in California. According to this Statement of Findings, also issued today by the Secretary of State, ES&S delivered 972 AutoMARK A200 accessible voting devices to five California counties: Colusa, Merced, San Francisco, Marin and Solano. County elections officials believed they bought and received certified AutoMARK A100 machines, and have already used the A200 machines in elections, apparently not knowing the model they had was uncertified.

It is incredible to me that, more than three years after Diebold was sued for $5 million for providing uncertified equipment to California counties, another vendor would pull a similar stunt. Debra Bowen is making vendors abide by the law, preventing them from cutting corners, and is not permitting them to dictate their own terms for selling voting equipment in California. Once again, she's shown herself to be fearless and nothing short of heroic.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Waiting for election results in the Inland Empire

Local elections were held in many counties throughout California yesterday. In several counties, election officials transitioned from electronic voting systems in polling places to paper ballot voting. This was due to the fact that California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has severely restricted the use of electronic voting machines in California, allowing counties using Diebold and Sequoia touchscreens to only place one machine in each polling place for accessibility purposes.

Although the restrictions don't take effect until the 2008 election season, many counties made the transition early to give themselves and their pollworkers a chance to get comfortable with the new voting methods before the presidential election. Michelle D'Armond of the Riverside Press Enterprise reported today in this article about the slow vote count in one county, San Bernardino, which just switched back to paper. Excerpts are featured below.


Californians may not know the winner of next year's presidential primary until days after the election, if this week is any indication.

In San Bernardino County, which switched to paper ballots this election, polling-place results weren't available until about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, leaving candidates and voters wondering who won a number of local races.

So what does that mean for February's election, when most California voters will use paper ballots to pick presidential nominees and turnout is expected to be much higher and ballots will be longer?

"I would suspect that in some races the results could be unknown for some time," San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil said of the presidential and legislative primary elections. "I'm glad that I went forward with paper ballots for this election, because it's opened my eyes to some of the problems, to what I'm going to see in February and June."

San Bernardino County used paper ballots this election in response to an order from the secretary of state, ordering them not to use their touch-screen voting machines in February because of security concerns. Riverside County used touch-screen voting Tuesday. It and many other counties also must switch to paper ballots in February.

After the polls closed Tuesday, both counties posted absentee ballot counts. Riverside County then posted updates from precinct voting about every hour. San Bernardino County didn't post any precinct results until after midnight Wednesday.

Redlands City Council candidate Jerry Bean said he saw the results of absentee ballots -- which were posted about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday -- but gave up on waiting for the polling-place results and went to bed.

Bean and his supporters "had no idea what was happening" in the race, but he was glad San Bernardino County decided to try out the system in a small, local election instead of next year's contests.

"Could you imagine if this happened next November?" said Bean, who was the top vote getter in his race.


Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, predicted that counties will get faster at using the optical scanners, but acknowledged that results likely still will be late. Voters enjoy the convenience of being able to register fairly close to elections, request absentee ballots late and drop off their absentee ballots at polls on Election Day, but all those things increase burdens on registrars, she said.

"That's been the trend," she said. "It's taking longer no matter what the voting system."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Who's giving? Who knows? States keep voters in the dark - USA Today editorial

Today's USA Today features this editorial highlighting the findings of the Grading State Disclosure 2007 study recently released by the California Voter Foundation and the Campaign Disclosure Project. The editorial, which is featured below, also listed the top five states (Washington, California, Oregon, Florida and Hawaii) and bottom five states (Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Alabama and Wyoming) in the campaign disclosure rankings, and noted the lack of electronic filing by U.S. senators and senate candidates.


Voters in Mississippi will go to the polls next week to elect a governor, other state officers and a new Legislature. But if they want to find out in advance who is bankrolling a given candidate, good luck.

Mississippi is one of 27 states that don't require campaign fundraising and spending reports to be made electronically, resulting in a flood of cumbersome paper filings that delay meaningful public access to this critical information.

Two states - sprawling Wyoming and Montana - don't even make campaign-finance information available online at all, meaning concerned citizens have to travel up to hundreds of miles to the state capital to look up information or order copies at 15 cents or more per page.

In the age of the Internet, there's no excuse for a lack of timely, searchable disclosure.

But in too many states, entrenched politicians have repeatedly sandbagged efforts to let the public know more about where they're getting their money and what they're spending it on. Alabama, Kansas and New Mexico are among those where recent reform efforts have been stymied.

When the Campaign Disclosure Project, a nationwide evaluation sparked by a coalition of good-government groups, recently examined requirements in each state, it found:

* 29 states don't require that campaign contributors disclose their occupation and employer, key information in looking for potential conflicts of interest and sweetheart arrangements between politicians and their financial backers.

* 17 states have no provisions for impartial audits of whether campaign-finance reports are accurate or works of fiction.

* 14 states don't require timely reporting of last-minute contributions, allowing big-bucks donations that wouldn't look good under public scrutiny to remain hidden until after an election.

* 14 states still don't have searchable databases for citizens to easily examine where office-seekers are getting their contributions from.

Lack of transparency isn't unique to the states. At the federal level, candidates for the U.S. Senate still aren't required to file their campaign-finance reports electronically. These paper reports have to be converted to electronic form at taxpayer expense, delaying timely analysis of contributions and expenditures. An attempt to change that was stalled last month when Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., insisted on an unrelated amendment.

The good news is that some states are toughening their campaign-finance reporting requirements and making the information more accessible to the public.

Oregon jumped from 24th to third place in the Campaign Disclosure Project's ratings with changes adopted in the wake of a scandal involving a prominent legislator. Eighteen states earned grades in the A or B range, up from only two in 2003, when the project began. (Of the states besides Mississippi holding gubernatorial or legislative elections on Tuesday, Virginia and New Jersey ranked in the top tier; Louisiana and Kentucky were among the laggards.)

Money is not only the mother's milk of politics, it too easily can be a vehicle for corruption or the appearance of corruption. The best antidote is public exposure of campaign-finance information in a prompt and accessible way.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

News coverage of Grading State Disclosure 2007 study

The study that the California Voter Foundation released yesterday, Grading State Disclosure 2007, has been covered by news outlets across the country. In addition, the Campaign Finance Institute issued this news release highlighting the fact that while thirty states require electronic filing, the U.S. Senate still does not. Links to some of the articles and excerpts are featured below. Report ranks campaign disclosure laws, by Eric Kelderman, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

While nearly all states make detailed contribution and spending information available online, 36 states now have a searchable database for donations -- an increase of nine states since 2003. Twenty-four states also allow searches on spending, compared to 17 states that allowed that four years ago.

"Having the data arrive in a digital format enables disclosure agencies to place it on the Internet where it can be accessed immediately by the public," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

The Associated Press: Alabama ranks 49th in national campaign disclosure study, by Phillip Rawls, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

Secretary of State Beth Chapman, the state's chief election official, called the ranking "an embarrassment," but she said the Legislature is the only group that can make campaign finance disclosure more thorough and transparent.

The national campaign finance study ranked Washington first, followed by California and Oregon. Florida and Hawaii tied for fourth.

The rankings are done to encourage states to make improvements that will give voters more information about who is financing campaigns.

"You need a strong disclosure law to make sure the data available to the public is timely and meaningful," Alexander said.

The Wichita Eagle: Kansas ranking falls in study of campaign law, by Dion Lefler, October 17, 2007. Excerpts:

Kansas' campaign finance disclosure laws remain among the nation's weakest, but state agencies that run the system are making it easier for the public to access the information that is available, according to a new national study.

Overall, Kansas rose from an "F" to a "D" on the 2007 study by the nonpartisan Campaign Disclosure Project.

But on campaign finance law, Kansas slipped from "D" to "D-minus," falling to 42nd of the 50 states.

That's a drop from No. 37 in the last survey, in 2005.

The project was especially critical of the state's campaign finance reporting deadlines, which allow contributions just before an election to go unreported until months later.

"A major deficiency in Kansas law is the reporting gap that occurs in the 11 days preceding a general election, hiding last-minute spending from the public until after the election," the report said.


An exasperated Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said Kansas campaign laws should score higher and would, if House leaders would allow votes on bills to strengthen disclosure requirements.

"We've dropped in disclosure? Yep, that would be us," Colloton said. "The fact that leadership in the House won't allow this to come forward I think is a travesty."


The one bill that passed that was applauded by the UCLA study group was a measure to allow candidates to file contribution reports electronically -- which is seen as a step toward closing the 11-day disclosure gap.

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh's office is in the process of setting up a system to accept and sort those reports.

Thornburgh said he would have preferred that electronic reporting be mandatory but thinks the voluntary system can work if it is easier, faster and cheaper than filing on paper.


Kansas moved from an "F" to a "D" on its overall scorecard mainly because of improvements in online access to campaign-finance records maintained by the Ethics Commission.

The national study complimented the commission for faster posting of reports and putting more information on line.

Two years ago, Kansas scored a "C" in online usability and ranked 10th in the nation. Now it has a "B" and moved up to No. 5.

Williams credited the commission's information technology director, Janet Williams -- no relation -- for the improved Web access.

She added that the department Web site is undergoing another major overhaul to make it even easier to use.

"It's a never-ending process," she said.

The Associated Press: Montana earns 'F' for campaign disclosure; improvements expected, by Matt Gouras, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

A study released Wednesday found Montana ranked 47th in the nation for campaign disclosure, earning the state an "F." Montana is one of only two states that does not offer any online access to campaign data, such as donations made to candidates, the California Voter Foundation said.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth said he welcomed the study as he works toward a new searchable database expected to debut on the Internet in early 2008.

"I think this group in California does a good service. It's helpful for us, it reinforces where we ought to put our attention," Unsworth said.

The Oregonian: Campaign disclosure receives high marks; Online system - National watchdogs rate Oregon's as 'most improved', by Dave Hogan, October 18, 2007. Excerpt:

In a report released Wednesday, the Campaign Disclosure Project gave Oregon a B-plus, rating it third in the country, behind Washington and California. That's up from a 24th-place ranking in 2005.

The report credited the improvement to campaign finance legislation approved during the 2005 Legislature and the new Oregon Elections System for Tracking and Reporting, or ORESTAR. The online publicly-searchable system was launched in January.

Watchdog groups have been praising the new online system and credited the Legislature, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's staff for Wednesday's high-flying grades.

"Naming Oregon in that way is totally justified," said Janice Thompson, executive director of Democracy Reform Oregon, which monitors campaign fundraising and spending. "It's pretty exciting."

The Associated Press: Nevada gets 'F' for campaign finance disclosure, by Brendan Riley, October 18, 2007. Excerpt:

The report's authors say Nevada was among 14 states that failed to meet its criteria for a satisfactory campaign disclosure program. Thirty-six states got passing grades, up from 34 two years ago.

Nevada lawmakers have made gradual improvements to campaign finance reporting standards over the years, but have failed to provide funding for major changes such as a searchable electronic database that would make it simple for people to see a candidate's source of campaign dollars.

Sacramento Bee/Capitol Alert: California ranks 2nd on disclosure rules, by Shane Goldmacher, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

California ranks second in the nation in campaign finance disclosures, according to a report today from the California Voter Foundation.

The only state to top California was Washington, which earned an A-minus in the study. California was given a B-plus, the same grade given to Oregon, Florida and Hawaii.

Overall, 36 states were given a passing grade, and 14 earned an F.

"Access to campaign finance data enables voters to make informed election choices and hold politicians accountable," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, in a statement. "This study helps the public determine how their state's disclosure programs compare with others, and provides resources and incentives to help states improve."

Finally, as Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is in the news for how he has been spending campaign cash, Alexander notes that California is one of only two states that do not require politicians to identify the date that an expenditure is made.

The New Mexican: Campaign-law study again flunks N.M., by Steve Terrell, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

The New Mexico Legislature has resisted proposals to require greater disclosure. Last month legislative leaders from both political parties denied that there is need for more disclosure and questioned the motives of those pushing for reform.

The coalition began evaluating states in 2003. New Mexico, which has received failing grades in the previous three studies by the coalition, was one of 14 states to get a flunking grade in the latest study.

Legislators this year tried to gut a state law requiring electronic filing of campaign finance reports. The electronic filing law is the only area in which New Mexico received a grade of "A" in the study. The Legislature passed a bill this year that would have made electronic filing optional, but Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed it.

The study noted some improvement this year in the Secretary of State's Web site -- but not enough to give it a passing grade.

"Though plans for a searchable database of campaign data were reported in Grading State Disclosure 2005, New Mexico's disclosure site still does not offer this valuable tool," the report says. "Despite the move to electronic filing in 2006, more timely access to disclosure records online has not followed," the report says. For months after the 2006 general election, the final campaign finance reports of many candidates were not available.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office has said several times that budget restraints have hampered that Web site.

Argus Leader (South Dakota): S.D. gets an 'F' for campaign laws., by Terry Woster, October 18, 2007. Excerpts:

South Dakota received a failing grade for 2007 in campaign disclosure laws from a California-based group that says changes made in the last Legislature should improve future scores.

- - -

The grade doesn't surprise House Democratic Leader Dale Hargens of Miller, who said the state could strengthen its law. "I think we improved it somewhat this last session," he said. "We'll see how it works out. When you make changes like we did, within the next two to four years you often have to go back in and fix some problems you caused."

- - -

"Reports can be browsed in PDF, but itemized data cannot be sorted, searched or downloaded, which is the main reason South Dakota received an F for disclosure content accessibility again in 2007," the report stated.

Nelson has said the state considered a searchable database but questioned whether the cost would be justified for the relatively limited number of filings each year.

Republican Rep. Joni Cutler of Sioux Falls asked the same question.

"What would we get that would be meaningful for the people of South Dakota?" Cutler asked. "What kind of improvements will that make, compared to the cost?"

The Olympian (Washington): PDC wins No. 1 ranking for campaign disclosure, by Brad Shannon, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

For the fourth time in as many years, the state Public Disclosure Commission ranks No. 1 in the country for campaign disclosure.

That's according to the Campaign Disclosure project, which awarded Washington an A-minus grade, tops of any state. No. 2 was California, followed by Oregon, Florida and Hawaii, all with B-plus grades in the fourth year of grading by the project.

Oregon was rated most improved in 2007. In all 14, states had flunking or F grades, 36 states passed and 21 had higher grades than in previous years.

The Associated Press: Wyoming earns 'F' for campaign finance disclosure, by Mead Gruver, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

"Wyoming's law overall is keeping the public in the dark about disclosure data, particularly before an election," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Association, which organized the study.

However, Alexander said Wyoming's secretary of state's office seemed willing to increase disclosure, provided it got help particularly funding from the Legislature.

Wyoming's elections director, Peggy Nighswonger, said Wednesday that she was working with lawmakers on a bill that would require electronic filing of campaign finance data. The bill would go before the Legislature this winter.

"That will really bring our grade up," she said. "That's what they really knock us down on, is that we don't have a searchable database where people can see campaign finance information online."

Nighswonger said she's been advocating for years to put more campaign finance data online.

"The Legislature has not wanted to go this way," she said.

Wyoming got an "F" grade and ranked at or near the bottom in all four areas assessed:

The state's campaign disclosure law ranked 47th. The report pointed out that Wyoming candidates don't have to report their occupation or employer, and they don't have to disclose their donors' cumulative contributions.

Wyoming has no way for candidates to file information electronically. Still, the state ranked 41st for electronic filing because the bill being drafted for next year's legislative session would implement electronic filing in Wyoming in 2010.

Along with Montana, Wyoming is one of just two states that does not post campaign finance information online. In Wyoming, people seeking such data have to go to the secretary of state's office or request copies for 15 cents a page. Wyoming ranked last for accessibility to campaign finance data.

Wyoming ranked 45th for how easily people are able to find campaign information online. Even though Wyoming doesn't report campaign finance figures online, the report said the secretary of state's Web site is easy to navigate and generally offers good information.

"The public is also able to view complete, detailed lists of candidates that include the name, office sought, party affiliation as well as candidates' contact and Web site information," the report said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

36 states pass, 14 fail nationwide campaign finance disclosure assessment

Today the California Voter Foundation released Grading State Disclosure 2007, a comprehensive, nationwide study of states' campaign finance disclosure programs. 36 states received passing grades and 14 failed in this year's assessment. 21 states' grades improved since 2005, the last time the Grading State Disclosure study was conducted.

Among the most significant findings, 40 states now permit campaigns to file disclosure reports electronically; of these, 30 require electronic filing by statewide candidates, and 23 of those states also require legislative candidates to file their reports electronically. Having campaign data arrive in a digital format enables disclosure agencies to place it on the Internet where it can be accessed immediately by the public. The study found that 90 percent of states that operate electronic filing programs also provide searchable, online databases of campaign contributions; among states with no electronic filing program, only 40 percent offer searchable, online contribution databases.

The assessment was conducted by the Campaign Disclosure Project, which seeks to bring greater transparency and accountability to money in state politics. The project is a collaboration of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law and is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts. For more details, see today's news release.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nationwide study evaluating campaign finance disclosure to be released Oct. 17

On Wednesday, October 17, the California Voter Foundation will release Grading State Disclosure 2007, a nationwide study that evaluates, grades and ranks all fifty states' campaign finance disclosure performance. The study will be online at The assessment was conducted by the Campaign Disclosure Project, which seeks to bring greater transparency and accountability to money in state politics. The project is a collaboration of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law and is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

California voting machines decertified

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen withdrew certification of every voting system in California, and recertified several components with certain conditions. Her decertification orders and recertification/use requirements were issued literally at the stroke of midnight. Several TV camera crews were camped out at Bowen's office all afternoon and late into the evening waiting to find out what she would decide to do about California's voting equipment. Recent studies by UC researchers found the hardware and software of many of the components were vulnerable to attacks or viruses.

Secretary of State Bowen is allowing the Hart electronic system to be used, with certain conditions. The Sequoia Edge and Diebold TSx machines can only be used on a limited basis for accessible and early voting, subject to a 100 percent manual recount of the machines' voter verified paper records. ES&S' Ink-a-Vote system, which is used by Los Angeles County, was decertified because the company failed to meet the Secretary of State's review requirements.

Although August 3 was the deadline for decertification decisions, there is no deadline for recertification. I expect many of the vendors, counties, and the Secretary of State will be working together over the next few months to figure out how to meet the recertification requirements.

The decertification orders are available online. Today's Riverside Press Enterprise story by By Michelle DeArmond and Kimberly Trone, below, provides an excellent overview.

Electronic Voting Decertified
Riverside Press Enterprise
August 4, 2007

Riverside and San Bernardino counties, which have been at the forefront of the electronic voting movement in California, might be using paper ballots in the February presidential primary, Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced early Saturday.

After hours behind closed doors, Bowen announced a decision to decertify electronic voting systems across the state just minutes after a midnight deadline, which is six months before the presidential primary in February.

In a document outlining the new requirements, Bowen gave local governments and electronic voting manufacturers 45 days to provide comprehensive security plans for their systems, but it was unclear early Saturday how that might affect the machines' use in February.

Before any machines are used in the primary election, Bowen is requiring that they be reinstalled with voting system application software obtained directly from the federal testing laboratory or her office.

Bowen also laid out numerous rules aimed at increasing transparency and bolstering citizen participation in the elections process.

Registrars in Riverside and San Bernardino counties could not be reached for comment early Saturday.

But recently Riverside County Registrar Barbara Dunmore told county supervisors she would be prepared for whatever decision Bowen made -- even if it meant a return to paper ballots.

Bowen, who campaigned in 2006 as an outspoken critic of the state's voting system, has been critical of the Sequoia Voting System's machines used in Riverside and San Bernardino counties for months.

In May, she ordered a review of electronic voting systems in use throughout the state. California law requires periodic reviews and the electronic systems fared poorly in Bowen's five-week analysis.

Computer experts from the University of California tested the electronic voting systems and found vulnerabilities in the Sequoia machines that made it easy to change the recorded votes. They found similar problems with Diebold Election and the Hart InterCivic systems as well.

Other counties that used touch-screen machines, including Alameda, Merced and Solano, already have switched from to paper-based systems in the wake of the growing scrutiny and complaints.

David Beirne, executive director for the Election Technology Council, a trade association of electronic voting manufacturers based in Texas, said Bowen's security test was flawed.

Electronic voting systems manufacturers paid for Bowen's $1.8 million review.

Beirne said researchers were given unfettered access to voting systems without the "real world" safeguards local elections officials use to prevent elections tampering, which they have acknowledged.

The council encouraged the testing to include experienced election officials and to apply the common physical security measures such as locks, tamper-evident seals and adequate password requirements.

Tom Courbat, founder of the elections integrity group that has lobbied for paper ballots used with optical scanners and criticized Riverside County's security, hailed Bowen's decision.

Courbat, whose group is called SAVE R VOTE, said that with the absence of any comprehensive plan to safeguard the systems' integrity, electronic voting machines would be used on a limited scale for disabled voters and then completely audited.

"Voters in Riverside County can breathe a sigh of relief," Courbat said.

The decision follows years of conflict between the secretaries of state and counties that use touch-screen voting machines. In the latest debate, attention on Riverside County's system and leaders has intensified amid growing criticism of the machines.

Riverside County supervisors late last year appointed a panel of retired judges and public servants to review the county's elections process in the wake of complaints about long lines and technical malfunctions at the November polls.

After several public hearings, expert testimony and study sessions, the panel recommended last month that the county immediately return to paper ballots.

The commission found no evidence of any significant error or defect in the county's touch screen system but said it hadn't gained voter confidence and failed to meet expectations of reliability and cost savings.

Retired Superior Court Judge Robert George Taylor, a member of the panel, told the Board of Supervisors that after months of reviewing information about the electronic system he had lost trust in it.

Riverside County, which has spent $25 million on the ATM-styled devices, was the first in California to put electronic-voting systems to widespread use in 2000. San Bernardino County started using a newer version of the same system in 2004.

Shortly thereafter, then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley revoked the certification of all touch-screen machines in the state, declaring them unreliable and subject to security breaches.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties sued the state, but a federal judge ruled Shelley had the right to decertify the machines. After three months of negotiations with Shelley, both counties dropped out of the lawsuit and agreed to comply with additional security measures in order to get their machines recertified.

Sequoia Voting Systems, which provides machines for both counties, also had to comply with new security measures in time for the November election.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan the California Voter Foundation, said she knew changes in technology and security standards have posed ever-changing challenges for registrars.

"I'm sympathetic to the registrars. They would like to feel like the ground is not continuously shifting underneath them," she said Friday. "We've been in a state of transition for six years in California now."

Nonetheless, preventing voter disenfranchisement and protecting the integrity of the results trumps other concerns, she said. Additionally, Alexander said the long-term costs of switching to a paper-based system likely would be cheaper.

Reach Kimberly Trone at 951-368-9456 or

Friday, August 3, 2007

Voting system evaluations, reports and decisions

Well, it's been a long time since I've blogged -- it was nice having a break these past few months. Now things are getting busy again, and there is so much going on that I decided it was time to post a new blog entry with links to some important reports that have recently been released.

The big news in California is that the Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, recently completed her "top-to-bottom" review of voting systems. Computer scientists and other academics from UC Berkeley and UC Davis led the review. Most of their public reports are now available at the Secretary of State's web site. (We are still awaiting release of the third and final set of reports, completed by the documents review team.) See the Secretary of State's July 27 news release for more details.

On Monday, July 30, Secretary Bowen convened a public hearing on the review at her auditorium in Sacramento. The hearing lasted all day, beginning with testimony from UC Davis computer science professor Matt Bishop, followed by statements from respresentatives of the three vendors whose systems were evaluated (Sequoia, Hart and Diebold). Numerous citizen activists opposed to electronic voting spoke during the day; so did many county election officials, most of whom expressed disappointment that the review was not conducted in a "real-world" environment, taking into account procedures in place at the local level the prevent security violations.

I spoke at the hearing as well, and said that voting system security should not be dependent on procedures being carried out at the local level. Procedures vary widely from county to county, and with 58 counties, 25,000 precincts, and 100,000+ pollworkers in a statewide election, it is impossible to monitor or verify compliance in all polling places. Video from the California Channel and a transcript from the Secretary of State are available.

If you're wondering what all this means, there are a few blog postings that help sort out these important developments. In particular, take a look at recent posts from Ed Felten, Avi Rubin, and Matt Blaze.

Also released was the Post Election Audit Standards Working Group report to the Secretary of State, outlining numerous ways that auditing after the election could be strengthened to increase voter confidence and improve the auditing process. I served on this committee, and the options outlined in our report will be beneficial to the Secretary of State and counties as they consider ways to address security problems in our current voting systems. The audit working group's report is online, along with a news release from the Secretary of State announcing the report.

Meanwhile, elsewhere around the country....

The much-anticipated report, "Post Elections Audits: Restoring Trust in Elections" was recently released. A joint production of The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, the report details how few states are fully equipped to find sophisticated and targeted software-based attacks, non-systemic programming errors and software bugs that could change the outcome of an election. See the news release for addtional highlights.

In Florida, a new report was issued this week by the Security and Assurance in Technology (SAIT) Laboratory at Florida State University. The SAIT researchers examined Diebold's latest version of its electronic voting machine, found numerous problems and recommended the state not award certification.

Another report about Florida's election was also issued today. It comes from the Government Accounting Office, which examined Sarasota County's voting system after 18,000 undervotes were cast in a closely contested congressional race last November and issued this progress report to Congress.

Monday, February 5, 2007

U.S. Senate Hearing on Electronic Voting Wednesday, Feb. 7

This Wednesday the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration will hold a public hearing titled, "The Hazards of Electronic Voting: Focus on the Machinery of Democracy". The hearing begins at 10 a.m. Eastern time, in room SR-301 of the Russell Senate Office Building. There is a robust lineup of witnesses including: Congressman Rush Holt, author of federal legislation to mandate a federal voter-verified paper record requirement; Lowell Finley, California's new Deputy Secretary of State who has litigated successful challenges to voting systems in California and other states; Professor Dan Wallach of Rice University; Conny McCormack, Los Angeles County's registrar of voters; and Warren Stewart, policy director for Vote Trust USA.

Hopefully the hearing will be carried on TV via C-SPAN; from looking at their web site, it appears that the hearing will be webcast live on the site

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Social Security data puts 1.3 million voters at risk

Yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times featured this story by Art Golab reporting on a class action lawsuit that was filed Monday stemming from the release of more than 1.3 million registered voters' Social Security numbers by the Chicago Board of Elections. Excerpts are below.


Lead plaintiff in the suit is 43rd Ward aldermanic candidate Peter Zelchenko, who discovered the security breach and who also uncovered a similar problem last October on the board's Web site. The most recent release of at least 100 compact discs to alderman and ward committeemen, with another six discs unaccounted for, was revealed on Monday in the Sun-Times.

The suit, filed by attorney Nicholas Kefalos, alleges the board violated the Illinois Personal Information Protection Act and seeks unspecified compensation for all Chicago voters whose Social Security numbers were disclosed.

"Actual damages could be $50 or $100 for each person to at least establish a credit watch," Kefalos said.

The CDs also included birth dates, phone numbers and addresses.

"You couldn't have come up with a better threat for identity fraud if you had orchestrated it," Zelchenko said.

But board spokesman Tom Leach said most of the CDs were distributed three years ago, and that since then there has been "absolutely no evidence" of identity theft.

"We don't want the message to get out that there should be panic in the streets," Leach said.

The board is attempting to retrieve the discs.

Though required by law to notify voters of the breach, Leach said the board will not do so individually, but will instead advertise.

So, right now, voters have no way of knowing whether their information was exposed.

But since the board stopped collecting full Social Security numbers about three years ago, those who registered earlier are at greater risk.

Kefalos said that people who register with Zelchenko's Web site,, will be notified if their Social Security numbers were exposed as soon as the courts give permission.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Debra Bowen Sworn in as California's 30th Secretary of State

Today, Debra Bowen was inaugurated as California's Secretary of State. According to her office's news release, she is only the sixth woman elected to statewide office in California.

Delaine Eastin, who served with Secretary of State Bowen in the Legislature for many years and was the fifth woman elected to statewide office, was the "mistress of ceremonies" for the inaugural event, which took place this afternoon in the Secretary of State's auditorium in Sacramento. The inauguration was attended by several hundred people, including statewide officeholders, past and present California lawmakers election verification activists, past and present agency staff, a few registrars of voters, and lobbyists.

Secretary of State Bowen spoke quite a bit about transparency during her speech, and about having an "open process" in her office. She said she wants to eliminate the use of private, invisible, proprietary software that prohibits the public from seeing what's counting our votes. She also stated that Kevin Shelley was right about a lot of things, which brought cheers from the activists in the room.

She said, "We choose our own futures through voting and participation," and said she will work to rebuild people's faith in the integrity of the electoral system.

Secretary Bowen has also changed the address of the Secretary of State's web site -- the official address is now (though the old address still works, too.)