Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A record nine million Californians participated in Presidential primary

The certified results for the February 5, 2008 Presidential primary were released recently by the Secretary of State. They show a record 9 million Californians voted in the election, more than in any previous primary election in California's history.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued this news release on March 15 announcing the certified Statement of Vote.

Some interesting findings from the results: 58 percent of California's registered and 40 percent of California's eligible voters participated in the election. 42 percent of the ballots were returned through the mail; 58 percent voted at the polls. (Vote-by-mail rates have remained at the same level for the past several elections, despite predictions by some that they will continue to rise). Sonoma County had the highest voter participation rate, with 76.4 percent of the county's registered voters casting ballots, followed by Marin at 75.7 percent. Merced County had the lowest participation rate, at 46 percent of registered voters, with Kings county coming in the second lowest, at 47 percent.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

CA SoS Debra Bowen wins JFK Profile in Courage award

California's Secretary of State, Debra Bowen has won this year's John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award! Kudos to Secretary Bowen, who has indeed shown enormous political courage and leadership in her efforts to improve voting equipment security in California.

This Associated Press story provides additional details. Excerpts are below.


BOSTON (AP) — The secretaries of state in California and Ohio were named winners of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Tuesday for challenging the reliability of electronic voting systems.

Debra Bowen severely restricted the use of electronic voting systems in California six months before the Feb. 5 presidential primary, after computer scientists at the University of California concluded they could be hacked.

Many county registrars were furious with her decision, which they said left them little time to get ready for the early primary.
The switch overwhelmed election workers in some of the state's most populous counties, stretching the election night count into the next morning.

Bowen said the award vindicated the work of many who had preceded her in questioning the reliability of electronic voting systems, "in many cases having been told they were off base or crazy."

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner required counties using electronic voting systems to give paper ballots to voters who requested them in the primary election held this month.

She also ordered county officials to replace their electronic voting systems with paper ballots and optical scan technology by the November general election.

The awards will be presented May 12 at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston by Caroline Kennedy and her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made decisions of conscience without regard for personal or professional consequences.

Pennsylvania Yanks Voter Site After Data Leak

The Washington Post published this story today by IDG News Service reporter Robert McMillan that describes a Pennsylvania state web site where 30,000 voter registration records, including birthdate and drivers' license numbers could be accessed online. My comments are included in the article featured below.


With voting in Pennsylvania's presidential primary just a month away, the state was forced to pull the plug on a voter registration Web site Tuesday after it was found to be exposing sensitive data about voters in the state.

The problem lay in an online voter registration application form that was designed to simplify the task of registering to vote. State residents used it to enter their information on the Web site, which then generated a printable form that could be mailed to state election officials. Pennsylvania's Department of State disabled the registration form late Tuesday after being informed of the vulnerability by IDG News Service.

Because of a Web programming error, the Web site was allowing anyone on the Internet to view the forms, which contained data such as the voter's name, date of birth, driver's license number and political party affiliation. On some forms, the last four digits of social security numbers could also be seen.

"Upon learning of this situation, the Department of State acted immediately to disable the specific page," said Department of State Spokeswoman Leslie Amoros in an e-mail message.

"The Department is reviewing the facts to determine how this information became available," she said. "We are also taking all necessary steps to correct the situation and are implementing processes aimed to prevent future occurrences."

The flaw was first reported by a reader of Digg.com, who stumbled upon the bug after filling out a voter registration form.

"Being a security conscious programmer, I decided to test," wrote the reader, identified only as mtg169, "Very bad PA...very very bad!"

The bug did not expose all registration data, just the information supplied by those who used the Web site's online form. About 30,000 voter registration records appeared to be available on the site.

"That's bad, really bad," said Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer with Web security vendor WhiteHat Security. In an e-mail, he said he hadn't seen this type of error on a voter registration Web site before, but that it was caused by a common Web programming error. "We've seen a great many vulnerabilities like this in the course of doing our work."

Many counties offer online accessto voter registration data, so that residents can check on their status, but these databases typically remove data that could be misused, such as date of birth, social security numbers and driver's license numbers.

The last four digits of a social security number are often used as a security question, required to access certain types of billing accounts, and a skilled identity thief could use a driver's license number, name and address in a check forging scheme, according to privacy experts.

"There are so many alarming things about this," said Kim Alexander, president of California Voter Foundation, which has studied voter privacy across the U.S. "It just seems to be a case where you have government agencies using sophisticated technology in thoughtless ways."

With an important presidential primary set to occur in Pennsylvania on April 22, it's particularly worrisome that this data could have been accessed by anyone, she added. "All kinds of dirty tricks could be played," she said. "In heated campaigns we've seen cases where someone will call a whole bunch of voters and tell them that the election date has been changed."

While states may make these databases available for political purposes, their use is strictly controlled and sensitive information like driver's license numbers is removed. With the data on the Web, this is no longer possible, Alexander said. "You lose all those protections when you have this data available on the Internet."

"It's unprecedented that this information would be so freely available on the Internet," she added.

Ironically, with many voters already avoiding voter registration because of privacy concerns, Pennsylvania's efforts to help voters may end up backfiring, said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse "When word gets out, it will be one of those things that will deter people from registering to vote," she said.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Review, video and audio of Joint Legislative "double bubble" hearing

On Friday, March 7 I went to Los Angeles for the joint legislative hearing examining voting problems in the February 5 primary election, particularly the "double bubble" fiasco which resulted in 12,000 Angelenos' votes for president not being included in the certified election results.

The hearing was well-attended by legislators and election integrity activists alike. Lawmakers there (all Democrats) included Senators Jenny Oropeza, Ron Calderon, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Dean Florez and Assemblymember Curren Price. Florez said he was "shocked" that local registrars of voters have the power to decide whether to count votes in question, and suggested the law could be changed to give the Secretary of State authority to count votes in dispute at the county level.

Oropeza engaged in some tough questioning of Conny McCormack, and criticized the former L.A. county registrar for not seeking additional staff support from LA County supervisors when she was unable to meet the demands of the office. McCormack had testified that she had been unable to address the double-bubble problem prior to the election because the elections office was "consumed" by the Secretary of State's review of the county's InkaVote voting system. Oropeza stated that she thought there was a cultural, psychological problem within the elections department that prevented the former registrar from seeking out help when it was needed.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen testified that currently there is no form of instant communication available to get a message out to the precincts. Such a system would have been useful when reports started coming in early on Election Day from throughout the state that pollworkers were not giving decline-to-state voters partisan ballots to cast, as they were entitled to do.

The California State Senate has made this audio recording of the hearing available. Video recordings of testimony presented by several witnesses, including me, is available from the BradBlog web site. My written testimony is also available.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

12,000 Uncounted vote results posted online; hearing coverage from the Daily Breeze

The Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters has posted the vote counts for the 12,013 Primary decline-to-state ballots that could not be counted with 100 percent accuracy and so were not included in the certified results. This action helps bring greater transparency to the "double bubble" fiasco and I congratulate the county for doing it.

Today's Daily Breeze features this article by Gene Maddaus about yesterday's hearing. It is featured below.


Los Angeles County elections officials came under fire Friday for voting problems that caused more than 12,000 presidential votes to go uncounted in the February primary.

At a hearing conducted by state legislators in Los Angeles, Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Redondo Beach, criticized former Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack for not doing more to prevent the "double bubble" glitch that initially threatened to disenfranchise about 60,000 nonpartisan, or decline-to-state, voters.

McCormack, who retired in January, argued that her office was so consumed with the effort to recertify the InkaVote system as a whole that it did not review the nonpartisan ballot design. The ballot, which has been in place since 2002, required decline-to-state voters to mark an extra bubble to indicate whether they were voting for a Democrat or for an American Independent candidate.

McCormack argued that the ballots were designed to accommodate the complexity of California's primary system, in which parties can choose whether to allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in their elections.

"In hindsight, we can see 20/20," McCormack said. "We don't sit around thinking, `How many people can we disenfranchise today?' That's not what we do."

McCormack praised Acting Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan for taking steps to resolve the problem. But the audience - largely made up of election protection activists - greeted Logan with boos. Logan has been criticized for initially saying that it would be impossible to count any of the nonpartisan ballots in which voters had not filled in the second bubble.

Responding to a public outcry, Logan ultimately was able to count about 48,000 of those ballots. Sen. Hillary Clinton won those votes by a 51-42 percentage over Sen. Barack Obama, roughly equal to her victory margin statewide.

It was assumed that nonpartisan voters would more heavily favor Obama, and it was the Obama campaign that drew the most attention to the "double bubble" issue on election day. In response, the Clinton campaign accused the Obama campaign of cynicism and of trying to cast doubt on the outcome of the California primary.

The 48,000 nonpartisan ballots that were recently tabulated did not affect the allocation of delegates in the presidential primary.

Logan has said the "double bubble" design will not be used for the June 3 primary.

Election specialists have urged the county to dispense with the InkaVote system in favor of a system in which the candidates' names would appear on the actual ballots, as is done in every other county in the state. That would allow voters to be sure they had voted for the correct person.

Oropeza, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Integrity of Elections, said she planned to draft legislation to improve poll worker training, ballot instructions and communication between the Secretary of State's Office and the county registrars.

She also criticized the culture of the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's Office, saying it had shown a tendency to be "rigid in one's point of view, and to not listen when there's going to be a problem."

Oropeza said she would also urge other legislators from Los Angeles County to get together to advocate that the InkaVote system be scrapped.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Testimony from today's hearing in Los Angeles

Here is the testimony I delivered today in Los Angeles at the Joint Legislative Hearing examining voting problems in the February 5 California Primary, particularly L.A. County's "double bubble" fiasco. I made the following three suggestions:

1) There needs to be a full accounting of all of the Decline-to-State ballots;

2) There needs to be a thorough, outside investigation; and

3) Los Angeles needs to move to a paper ballot voting system where the candidates and choices appear directly on the ballot.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

12,000 presidential votes go uncounted in Los Angeles

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County certified its election results from the February 5, 2008 presidential primary. Under the additional counting methods suggested by the Secretary of State, the County Board of Supervisors and LA County Counsel, the registrar's office was able to count 80 percent of the "decline-to-state" voters' ballots that were cast in the presidential contest where voters failed to mark the party preference bubble. 12,013 votes could not be counted because their votes were in ballot positions shared by two candidates and voter intent could not be determined with 100 percent accuracy.

This article by Alison Hewitt in the Whittier Daily News provides additional details. Excerpts are below. On Friday, there will be a joint legislative hearing in Los Angeles to examine the "double bubble" fiasco and other voting problems in the Feb. 5 California primary. I will be testifying at the hearing; an agenda is available online. Unfortunately, there will be neither a video or audio live webcast available.

County election officials announced Monday they tallied nearly 80 percent of the uncounted "double bubble" presidential ballots cast by nonpartisan voters in February's primary election.

Officials had estimated 50,000 uncounted ballots, but that total increased to 59,174 when a final count, including provisional ballots, was taken.

The count, completed Sunday, had no effect on the outcome of the primary.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton received 51 percent of the 47,153 votes that were counted. Barack Obama gained 42 percent of those same ballots.

Just over 12,000 votes could not be interpreted, said Dean Logan, the acting registrar-recorder/county clerk.

"You never want a situation when votes cannot be counted," Logan said. "But given the situation and the extraordinary effort that went into interpreting voter intent, I'm very satisfied with being able to count 80 percent of these."


Conversations with the Secretary of State's Office and county counsel helped Logan develop a plan to legally interpret and count most of the votes, precinct by precinct. Votes in bubbles 11-15, which were assigned to Democratic candidates, were all counted. Votes in bubbles 8-10, which were assigned to both parties, were counted only if voter roles showed all the nonpartisan voters from a precinct asked to crossover Democratic.