Wednesday, December 9, 2009

12/10/09: CEMAC meeting

Important! Come to the:

Citizens' Election Modernization Advisory
Committee Meeting
Thursday, December 10, noon
NYS Board of Elections
40 Steuben Street

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Mayor of Woodstock on the cost of abandoning lever voting

Life got in the way of posting regularly here, but I'm back in catch-up mode. Here's a link to a post by Jeremy Wilbur, the mayor of Woodstock, about the impact of scanners on local towns. The benefits of keeping our lever machines -- election integrity, security, and cost to taxpayers.
The Mayor of Woodstock: Elections and Decent People: "Perhaps you've heard the uproar over the quadrupled costs of maintaining the Ulster County Board of Elections ($442,000 in 2005, proposed $1,677.000 for 2009). You will if you haven't; every town supervisor and mayor in the county is outraged since he or she is expected to add an incredibly spiked figure to his or her respective municipal budget."

Today, 18 counties have passed resolutions requesting that NYS make every effort to retain lever machines. I think all but one resolution passed unanimously. It's never too late in a democracy to do the right things.
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Friday, May 29, 2009

More counties pass lever resolutions; What's up with this pilot?

The number of counties resolved to keep levers is climbing, despite the illegal "pilot" that the NY State Board of Elections has announced.

Blog � Resolved: NY Communities Want Levers: "The InterCounty Legislative Committee of the Adirondacks, representing ten NY Counties, yesterday passed a resolution urging the State to allow counties to keep using lever voting systems. Delaware County passed a resolution the same day, bringing the quickly growing total of individual county resolutions to 11. More counties are expected to follow suit."
The puzzling thing is that several of the counties that have passed resolutions unanimously are listed as participants in the "pilot." Rumor has it that some have tried to drop out of the pilot without success. Others are planning a 100% count of the paper ballots and working hard to ensure that chain of custody procedures for the paper are in place.

What's the status of the pilot in your county? I'm working on determining what it is here in Ulster County. Perhaps citizen voices can bring some pressure.

Hawaii’s 2010 elections enjoined by Maui judge

A sunset from a beach in :en:HonoluluImage via Wikipedia

Looks like some people in Hawaii care enough about the integrity of their elections to ask the right questions. Brad's Blog reported on this article:
Disappeared News: Hawaii’s 2010 elections enjoined by Maui judge: "Judge Joseph E. Cardoza granted an injunction today against Hawaii’s illegal use of electronic voting machines and the illegal transmission of vote results over the Internet. A written decision will be issued in the coming weeks, he said.

The suit (Babson v. Cronin, Civ No. 08-1-0115(3) ) was brought by attorney Lance Collins on behalf of five citizens of Maui against Hawaii’s Chief Elections Officer (see background on Disappeared News in these articles). The suit challenged three aspects of the voting process, according to attorney Collins:

1. The use of electronic voting machines was not adopted
through lawful rulemaking n accordance with the Hawai'i Administrative Procedure Act (HAPA).

2. The use of the Internet and/or telephone lines to transmit
vote counts was not adopted through lawful rulemaking (HAPA).

3. The use of the Internet and/or telephone lines to transmit
vote counts is not allowed under current state law."
The suit was brought by residents of Maui who were concerned that the transmission of votes via telephone and internet could be hacked and votes flipped without the public knowing.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

American Idol, Hawaii, and Internet-based Voting

American Idol Finale - Coming SoonImage by stevegarfield via Flickr

While many of us are working to save the integrity of our election system by defeating New York's move to software-based vote counting, Hawaii and the NYC Department of Education have moved in the other direction -- internet-based voting. James Pinkerton has written an interesting commentary on the politics of vote counting, anticipating what he thinks is an inevitable move to the internet.

I include some excerpts from his piece. His questions and comments are as relevant to software-based vote-counting machines as the internet, but his solution seems as flawed as the current "certification" process.
JAMES P. PINKERTON: Will Democrats Become a Permanent Majority Thanks to Internet Voting? � FOX Forum � "So if vote fraud is already a problem, what will happen when the “vote” is simply an electronic pulse, that could have come, potentially, from anywhere in the US–or around the world? Who will oversee the e-voting process? And who will oversee the overseers?"

...But of course, the high-tech nature of digital democracy adds a new layer of complexity, as well as mystery, to the voting process. In theory, the technology is completely neutral. But theoretical technology and practical politics are two different things. Diebold, a leading manufacturer of traditional voting machines, has come under repeated fire for alleged pro-Republican bias. But the complexity of a voting machine is nothing compared to the complexity of computers and the Internet.

...So what’s needed immediately is a completely fair and transparent process to examine all facets of the transition to Internet voting. And the only way to achieve that fairness and transparency is to create a rigorously bipartisan outfit to oversee the implementation of such technology, modeled after either the Federal Election Commission, or the private Commission on Presidential Debates.

Voter fraud has always been a problem, and always will be. The integrity of our election system is based on the voters' belief that the system is impartial, observable, and secure.

A bipartisan commission of Washington lackeys sitting in a hearing room can never assure voters that a software based system -- local or internet driven -- is secure or impartial, never-mind observable. I cite the recent American Idol vote as a silly, but relevant example.

My Google Alerts for voting news were full of articles this week about the groundswell of fans who believe that AT&T manipulated the American Idol vote and that's why their favorite lost.

Just try to convince them they're wrong.
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Is something fishy in NYS's roll-out of uncertified voting systems?

susans fishyImage by winkydo via Flickr

I haven't posted much of late; I've been helping the Election Transparency Coalition publish their new site tracking the NY counties as they move forward passing resolutions supporting keeping our lever machines. You can find the site here. Take a look.

Meanwhile, the tenth county -- Sullivan -- has unanimously adopted a resolution. That means that of the ten counties, only one legislator, in Columbia County, voted against keeping levers.

On the other hand, the NY State Board of Elections is moving forward with their "pilot" roll-out of uncertified optical scanners.
Election Integrity: Fact & Friction: New York Rolls Out Uncertified Voting Systems for 2009 Elections: "ALBANY -- At a May 12th Commissioners' meeting, after collaborating with the US Dept. of Justice, the New York State Board of Elections cavalierly decided to risk the disenfranchisement of nearly a million of the state's voters, by allowing what one commissioner called a 'huge pilot' of uncertified software-driven electronic vote-counting systems around the state in 45 of its 62 counties."
As we've discussed here in the past, certification doesn't mean secure. It means that an independent testing lab has put a machine through its paces to determine whether that model, at that point in time, meets the criteria that the Federal Election Commission has laid out. The current criteria was published a couple of years ago; new, more stringent criteria is currently in the public comment phase. Neither set of criteria addresses security because software-based systems, by their nature, can't be secured.,

So, the NYS Board of Elections is ignoring even this watered down, but none-the-less required by law, certification process that is supposed to protect the integrity of our vote. They seem to think calling it a "pilot" makes it okay.

Is something fishy around here? Certainly smells like it! What is their motivation to ignore the law?

You can read the details at Election Integrity. Howard Stanislavic, who publishes that blog, has included links to the Board of Elections documents that dictate the terms of the pilot. He raises several legal and common sense issues. I recommend you read his post and check to see whether your county is one planning to roll out uncertified machines.

Why is the State Board of Elections in such a hurry to implement such a flawed system?
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Five NY counties to ditch lever voting machines

While many counties are preparing resolutions requesting the State do everything in its power to keep our lever machines, five counties announced they are moving ahead with machines that aren't certified, let alone secure.

Franklin County to ditch lever voting machines - Adirondack Daily Enterprise: "TUPPER LAKE - Franklin County, along with four other counties, will switch to using electronic voting machines exclusively by this year's elections.
'We believe it is time to go ahead and go forward with one voting machine instead of three different ones,' said county Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Veronica King.

The announcement from Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties followed on the heels of Essex County's passage last week of a resolution requesting the state make it legal for counties to keep lever voting machines in addition to the one electronic voting machine that is already available at each polling place in the state."

Teresa Hommel who writes Where's the Paper and chairs the Task Force on Election Integrity at Community Church of NY offered the NY State Board of Elections some sage comments you might want to echo. I know I will.

"I oppose the experimental use of uncertified scanners in real elections without a 100% hand-count on election night of all votes processed by those scanners. The hand-count must be the official tally of those votes for all purposes. Any "pilot program" to introduce uncertified scanners to staff and voters must not be the basis for counting or reporting election results.

In addition, I urge you to use this pilot experiment to implement the recommendation of the New York City Council as expressed in Resolution 228A of 2006 passed unanimously in August, 2006, and quoted below. Otherwise the pilot will be little more than a test of whether voters can insert a piece of paper into a slot on an optical scanner, and the scanner can print a reasonable-looking tally report at the end of the day. "

Conduct a Mock Election Public Test with the objective that such
Mock Election Public Test would demonstrate that:

a. Vendor documentation, training materials, and the ability to train election staff are effective, such that the vendor can train Board staff so that Board staff can: (i) independently perform all tasks to prepare the test machines for the test, including ballot programming, (ii) train election inspectors for the test, and (iii) perform all
post-election tasks to canvass the votes;

b. Votes displayed on screens and voter verified printouts, tallies, and activity and event logs for all systems under consideration are accurate;

c. Tabulating equipment associated with each system under consideration is accurate;

Send your letters to New York State Board of Elections: James A. Walsh, Co-Chair; Douglas A. Kellner, Co-Chair; Evelyn J. Aquila, Commissioner; Gregory P. Peterson, Commissioner; Todd D. Valentine, Co-Executive Director; Stanley L. Zalen, Co-Executive Director

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rewards for hacking electronic voting machines? Great idea!

Provinces and regions of the Philippines.Image via Wikipedia

Phillipine's Senator Alan Peter Cayetano's proposal to reward anyone who can hack an electronic voting machine may not be as outlandish as Manila Standard Today columnist Fel Maragay thinks.

The Phillipines, like New York State, passed a law mandating automated election machines. As in New York State, their law includes criteria the machines must meet -- 18 specifications in the Phillipines; Federal certification in NY. But Senator Cayetano knows what so many don't want to admit -- those specifications don't make voting machines secure. And he aims to prove it. [Emphasis mine]:

Philippine News -- Manila Standard Today -- Fears over poll automation -- may4_2009: "The automation law, according to its principal author, Senator Richard Gordon, requires the contractor of the automation project to comply with at least 18 specifications to ensure the 100-percent accuracy and efficiency and to ensure that the process is free from hacking and manipulation. But so extreme is the apprehension of the doubting Thomases over the threat of hacking that it has reached paranoiac proportion. This prompted Senator Alan Peter Cayetano to come out with an outlandish proposal to allocate P100 million out of the automation budget as a reward to anyone who can successfully hack the voting machines, supposedly to put in place the necessary counter-measures."

If the NY legislature believes software-based voting is secure, let them offer a substantial reward for anyone who can hack it. They have nothing to lose. And, if they believe the experts -- that all software-based systems are vulnerable to hacking -- then they should rescind ERMA, letting us keep the lever system that has worked with so few problems for so many years.

Outlandish or reasonable. What do you think?

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Another NY County Votes to Keep Levers

Today Essex County joined the list of counties who are calling upon the State legislature to rescind or amend ERMA:

Re-Media Election Transparency Coalition: "Essex County wants to keep using its dependable lever voting machines, according to today's vote by the Board of Supervisors. Citing the 'insurmountable' costs of the optical-scan systems mandated by the Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA), the Board passed a resolution 'supporting the continuation of our lever voting machines together with Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) and rejecting the use of a computerized voting system[.]' The resolution requests that the State Legislature and Board of Elections enact the necessary laws to allow counties to keep their current election systems."
Read more at the Election Transparency Coalition's site.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Building Momentum: Essex Cty to Consider Lever Resolution Monday

The major cities and roadways of New York State.Image via Wikipedia

The momentum is growing throughout NY State. Every day we read more about the problems emerging with electronic voting elsewhere. Every day it becomes clearer that operating costs for electronic systems will far exceed the purchase costs. So the momentum behind the effort to maintain NY's lever system is escalating.

Essex to join counties demanding to keep lever voting booths - Fox 44 - Burlington and Plattsburgh News, Weather and Sports - |: "ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. (AP) - Essex County in the Adirondacks is joining a growing number of counties trying to save old-fashioned lever voting booths.

The county Board of Supervisors is expected to pass a resolution Monday morning supporting retention of the mechanical booths. The New York State Association of Towns is also calling on state lawmakers to keep the lever machines."
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Friday, May 1, 2009

Why computers are bad at counting votes

Click the box … voters from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during last
November’s presidential election hope their ballots won’t be ‘erased’.
Photograph: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Wendy Grossman had an excellent article in the London Guardian which I found in tomorrow's Taipei Times. Hmm, the world is getting smaller. Anyway, Grossman does a great job pulling together some of the recent problems with electronic voting.

Guardian "It’s commonly said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Yet this is what we keep doing with electronic voting machines — find flaws and try again. It should therefore have been no surprise when, at the end of March, California’s secretary of state’s office of voting system technology assessment decertified older voting systems from Diebold’s Premier Election Solutions division. The reason: a security flaw that erased 197 votes in the Humboldt county precinct in last November’s presidential election.

Clearly, 197 votes would not have changed the national result. But the loss, which exceeds the error rate allowed under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, was only spotted because a local citizen group, the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project ( monitored the vote using a ballot-imaging scanner to create an independent record. How many votes were lost elsewhere?"

She quotes Rebecca Mercuri, a security consultant who studied voting systems for her doctoral dissertation:
“It’s nothing new. These are all security flaws that are well known in the industry. Why are they acting as if this is the first time they’ve heard this?” The audit log problems were documented in Bev Harris’s 2004 book, Black Box Voting (

Mercuri explains that election software belongs to the class of problems known as “NP-complete,” that is, problems computers cannot solve in a known amount of time. How much time have you got to test that a given voting system will function perfectly under all possible circumstances?

“What are people going to do about it?” she asks. “Say we fixed it when it’s theoretically not possible to fix these things at any real level?”

And she points out that many of the security problems now involve insiders with legitimate access to the software, bought off by organized crime gangs because of the money they can make. They only need a USB stick in their back pocket.

Grossman continues:

At least with voting, citizen groups are motivated to push for greater transparency. In the UK, Jason Kitcat, Green councilor for Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England, organized volunteers to observe e-voting trials in the 2007 local government elections in England and Scotland on behalf of the Open Rights Group.

“We saw the same audit log issues,” he says. “We know from a computer science point of view that making an audit log that can’t be changed is impossible. But it seems as if there’s a huge disconnect between people who are computer-science literate, and the people delivering the policy.” [my emphasis]

Besides, politicians like making uncontroversial decisions. Who could fault them for trusting a company that makes ATMs worldwide? Again, it comes back to humans.

“The folks who buy ATMs [bank managers] and voting machines [election officials] don’t really want to pay for a facility that will make it easier for people to challenge them,” says Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, England.

“In the long run, of course, this ends up costing them more: fraud can lead to challenges that are systemic rather than local. Nevertheless, the purchasers may be rational. Most of the bank managers who bought crap ATM systems in the ’80s are retired now — they got away with it. With voting machines, some vendors have been discredited in some countries, but lots of money has still been made.”

That is, from us — the taxpayer and the bank customer. Kitcat says: “It is shocking that in this day and age this has been allowed to continue.”
This is a good overview of the issues today. NY has been the last holdout. Let's not let it happen here.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Election commissioners reflect on levers in the NY-20 congressional race

Automatic Voting MachineImage by R. Wahtera via Flickr

At the bottom of this article about the Murphy/Tedisco NY-20 congressional race I found an interesting discussion of voting machine technology with some quotes by the Columbia County election commissioners.

Challenges to second-home voters prolong House race count:

One factor that has not hindered the vote count is voting machine technology. The two commissioners agreed that the familiar, mechanical lever machines worked well during the March 31 election. Mr. Kline called them foolproof. Ms. Martin said they were completely reliable and functioned beautifully.

Asked whether the board had considered using the new electronic ballot marking voting machines for the special election, Mr. Kline said, “It would have been a nightmare. Every paper ballot might have been contested.”

Ms. Martin said that time did not permit using the new machines, and she said the cost to taxpayers of using them would have been considerable. Just licensing software for a one-candidate election would have cost up to $80,000, with ballots costing an additional $20,000, and that’s just the beginning. Prices for ongoing services from voting machine vendors will be going up soon, she said.

Both commissioners support a resolution adopted in January by the county Board of Supervisors asking the state for permission to retain the lever voting machines while augmenting them with the new, handicapped-accessible ballot marking devices that counties all over state were required to purchase last fall."
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Clear evidence: Lever voting works -- Times Union - Albany NY

Today's Albany Times Union has an article by Andi Novick of the Election Transparency Coalition about the government's responsibility to assure its citizens that the system for counting votes is secure, accurate, and transparent. Levers provide that assurance.

Clear evidence: Lever voting works -- Page 1 -- Times Union - Albany NY: "In a democracy, it is the Legislature's responsibility to create a structure in which voting can occur in the most secure manner, one that produces demonstrably certain election results. Just as in a criminal trial, where the state must prove the defendant's guilt to the satisfaction of a jury, in an election the state must establish its innocence to the satisfaction of the public. In both cases, the state must sustain its burden with unimpeachable evidence."
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Two Election Commissioners Comment on the Op Scanners

Nov. 11, 2008 interview with two upstate election commissioners - Lewis Sanders, Essex County and Franklin County, Veronica King.

Sanders raises yet another cost component - the replacement cycle.

My apologies for originally identifying Mr. Sanders as David Mace.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Voting in cyberspace -- Page 1 -- Times Union - Albany NY

Today there's an editorial in the Albany Times Union about the NYC Department of Education's Community and Citywide Education Council elections currently underway on the internet. (Has anyone seen any commentary on this in a NY City paper?) I wrote about this election earlier this week here.

I found this section of the editorial especially interesting. The study referenced echoes the testimony before the Election Advisory Commission from a CIA employee, which I wrote about here.

Voting in cyberspace -- Page 1 -- Times Union - Albany NY: "Studies in recent years have raised plenty of red flags. A 2004 review of the $22 million Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, conceived by the Department of Defense for military and other overseas voters, raised such major security concerns that it urged the program be scrapped. It warned that using the Internet opened the door to election tampering, vote-buying, viral attacks and privacy violations. Attacks from a lone hacker or an enemy state could result in large-scale voter disenfranchisement, the study warned, and might not even be detected.

Not only is such mischief easy, the study said, but unavoidable under the present structure of the Internet. And, it noted, the temptation to hack into something as sacrosanct as an America election would be huge:

'A U.S. general election offers one of the most tempting targets for cyber-attack in the history of the Internet, whether the attacker's motive is overtly political or simply self-aggrandizement.'"

As someone who tends to err on the side of over-trusting, rather than paranoia, following this election system issue is opening my eyes. I thought of election fraud as a rather local issue, but the CIA and Department of Defense interest underscores its global implications.

The Times Union closes their editorial with this:

So experiments like New York City's are worth close scrutiny. They may point the way to a new frontier. They may reveal the flaws that need to be fixed. Or they may show us that for now, a good old fashioned trip to the polls, or a mailed-in paper ballot, is as high-tech as we want democracy to be.

The issue:

The first all-Internet election, of sorts, is under way.

The Stakes:

We're not ready to toss the voting booths just yet.

I agree.
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Most electronic voting systems can be hacked, CIA expert says

Now, just why is it that we're arguing about keeping our levers?

This is a story not to be missed! A CIA expert testifying before the US Election Assistance Commission...

The Raw Story | Most electronic voting systems can be hacked, CIA expert says: "'Computerized electoral systems can be manipulated at five stages, from altering voter registration lists to posting results,' a summary of his remarks said.

Moreover, Stigall said that the CIA believes Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have fixed a recent recount in his favor using such tactics. Chavez, he said, controlled most of the voting machines used and may have provided the program that was used to 'randomly' select machines for audit during a recount.

The voting machines Venezuela used were made by Smartmatic, a company that partnered with Chavez's government which was owned by US-based Sequoia systems until 2007. Sequoia also provides voting machines for the District of Columbia and 16 US states."
I hope you'll click the link and read the whole story. It makes the notion of op-scanners and paper ballots seem pretty silly.

And, here's the link to the Election Assistance Commissions transcript.

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How the NY-20 Congressional Race Demonstrates the Need for Lever Machines

Counting the paper ballots in the NY District 20 Congressional race is underway. I've been thinking about how lever machines make the counting different from Minnesota, or from NY if an op-scanner system is implemented.

Of course the first difference is that no one is calling for a recount of the votes cast on the lever machines. People have confidence in the lever machines. On election night, in full public view, the back of each machine is opened and the numbers are read off. All that's left are the absentee and affidavit ballots. In Minnesota, no one trusts anything. Count and count again.

Re-Media Election Transparency Coalition: "Unlike the recent close race in Minnesota that was decided by a manual recount of post-election night paper ballots, not shown to have been the same ballots cast at the election, today’s commencement of New York’s absentee paper ballots will be publicly observed from the moment they are cast, through the counting. Novick says, “New York’s Constitution has always required an observable, open electoral process that produces evidence of the count at the time the votes are cast, ensuring maximum protection against fraud.”

“The Republican Party will have the proof it seeks, at least this year.” “But,” she warns, “If we permit the State to abandon our lever voting system for software-based scanners, it will be the last time any one will have evidence of who won the election.”"

And the cost is different -- A lever election is cheaper -- no high price technician doing software changes, no printing of paper ballots, attorney's fees are lower, and the labor costs for election officials are lower.

And the amount of time is different -- no audit of paper ballots, or total recount of paper ballots.

The worry-level is different -- no wondering whether the software was hacked or contains bugs, the electronics malfunctioned, the audit is an adequate size sample, or -- as in Clay County, Tennessee, where election officials have been indicted -- worry over old-fashioned election fraud.

Seems like keeping levers is something we could all get behind! (I think I've said that before.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What? They'll Be Voting From Starbucks In New York City?

I was glad to read that this Department of Education on-line election is for positions that are advisory and unpaid. Otherwise, I'd have bigger problems with it. So, I'll just leave it at -- hackable, discriminatory, lacking transparency.

New Democracy Blog | by Warren Slocum: They'll Be Voting From Starbucks In New York City: "Starting April 6th and running through April 12th, NYC's, public school parents will be eligible to cast advisory votes for members of their community education councils. The unpaid council members play a role in various operational issues and help schools develop their budgets."

Slocum's post goes on the say that in the last school board election in NYC only 5% of parents participated. I suppose one can argue that if on-line voting for advisory positions can engage more parents in the business of running the NYC Department of Education, it's worth a try.

What do you think?
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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Capturing news about voting machines

I've added a new widget to the sidebar. It's an Evernote notebook where I'm collecting newspaper articles about voting machines. Now, if you click on a link in a blog post and find the article gone, just search for it in the Evernote widget. Most will be there. Here's what it looks like:

I have found that when I go back to read articles from the press they are sometimes missing altogether or the site wants me to pay to access their archives. So I have begun to collect them in a shared Evernote notebook. It's there in the sidebar for your use, too. You can search it for a particular topic.

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Greene County Lever Voting Machine Update

Greene County's legislature will vote on a save-our-levers resolution at their April 20th meeting. If you live in Greene County, make sure they know where you stand.

Somehow we need to renew Election Commissioner Burke's faith in citizen action, as well. Since he thinks levers are better, too, why give up without a fight?

The Daily Mail Online: "According to Democratic Elections Commissioner Thomas Burke, the decision is out of the county’s hands. While he agreed that the lever machines could conceivably work better than the newer optical scan voting machines, the state leaves them with no choice — everyone will soon make the switch.

“Are the new machines as good as the old ones? I don’t think so, but everyone in the State of New York will have to switch to the optical scan machine,” Burke said. “We don’t know when the change will happen, but it will happen.”

Nothing short of litigation will stop the switch, Burke added, and in other counties where that has been tried, it has failed."

Come on, Commissioner Burke, let's use every route there is to keep our levers until we can be sure a change is to an equal or better election system, and that means transparency, security, and cost.

Election Fraud in Clay County, Kentucky -- things to come in NY?

Andi Novick says that New Yorkers learned, well over a century ago, that we have to assume that election fraud will occur and do everything possible, in advance, to protect against it. That's how the NY lever system was born.

Well, here's what has happened in Clay County, Kentucky where they use an electronic voting system.

Five Clay County officials, including the circuit court judge, the county clerk, and election officers were arrested Thursday after they were indicted on federal charges accusing them of using corrupt tactics to obtain political power and personal gain.

The 10-count indictment, unsealed Thursday, accused the defendants of a conspiracy from March 2002 until November 2006 that violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). RICO is a federal statute that prosecutors use to combat organized crime. The defendants were also indicted for extortion, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to injure voters' rights and conspiracy to commit voter fraud.

Of particular interest is Freddy Thompson's role in defeating the security on the voting machines. [emphasis mine]
LEX18 - Lexington, KY - News, Weather, Sports - Several Clay County Officials Arrested On Federal Charges: "# Clay County Clerk, Freddy Thompson, 45, allegedly provided money to election officers to be distributed by the officers to buy votes and he also instructed officers how to change votes at the voting machine. The indictment also accused Thompson of a false testimony before a grand jury in Lexington."

After all these years when New Yorkers could trust the integrity of our system, is this what will happen in NY?

Counting paper ballots

The Tedisco-Murphy Congressional race offers lots to talk about, but I'm especially interested in the challenges of counting paper ballots.

NY's lever system has always accommodated paper ballots for absentee voting, provisional voting (when the voter's registration is in question and has to be researched), or a voting machine goes out of commission in the midst of an election. Most often, the number of paper ballots won't change the election results, so they don't get much attention. But, when they could, as in this election, everyone cares.

I'm always astonished at how long and the resources it takes to count paper ballots and the judgement that goes into what gets counted and what gets tossed. Let's watch this one.

No Decision Soon in Upstate House Race - City Room Blog - "Mr. Conklin hesitated to guess when a winner could be named, noting instead that in November’s State Senate race in Queens between the incumbent Republican, Frank Padavan, and City Councilman James F. Gennaro, a winner was not determined until February, and that the results were not certified by the state board until March 10.

“That’s one of the perils of the whole paper ballot system,” Mr. Conklin said. “This will be a massive undertaking, and this is only dealing with the absentees. Out of 155,000 votes cast, we’ll be arguing over the 6,000-plus that come back.”"

Of course, proponents of op scanners (and ERMA) say a sample of paper ballots will verify the electronic vote. And, they say, the existence of paper ballots will make it easy to do recounts.

Do you think paper ballots, either as a sample or as a method for recounts, is the way to go? I think it brings another unnecessary layer of expense and delay, and could throw us into chaos. Imagine having to hand count 155,000 votes.

Photo: from the NY Times - left, Tim Roske/Associated Press; right, Hans Pennink/Associated Press James N. Tedisco, left, and Scott Murphy are neck-and-neck in the special election for the 20th Congressional District.

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How to test electronic voting systems - the next iteration

I'm catching up on voting system news after being out of commission for a few weeks, so you will probably see a flurry of activity here over the next few days. (Some of my posts may seem backwards since I'm working from the most recent back in my Google alerts.)

Let's start here. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has just issued draft standards for testing voting systems. The public comment period ends July 1, 2009.

NIST Tech Beat - Apri1 1, 2009: "NIST Issues Open and Transparent Methods for Testing Electronic Voting Systems

GAITHERSBURG, MD – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today opened for public comment detailed new methods for testing future electronic voting systems' compliance with voluntary federal standards. Touch screens, optical scanners and other kinds of electronic voting systems now appear at polls across the nation.

The new draft tests can be viewed at"
I haven't looked at the draft yet, and I'm not a geek, so I may not be able to understand them when I do look, but here are the questions that immediately occur to me:
  • What can I count on if a machine passes these tests? Does it mean that the machine is tamper-proof?
  • Is every machine placed in a polling place certified, or just the company's prototype?
  • If a machine is serviced for a problem or software update, is it re-certified? If not, how do I know it hasn't been messed with?
I'll be watching and listening to what the geeks have to say, and I'll try to wade through the material myself. If you take a look, please share your thoughts here in the comments.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

What about this question of maintaining lever machines?

sunglasses repairImage by striatic via Flickr

Update 3/21/09: On March 18th International Election Solutions released a statement that they can provide the full aray of services on the 3.2 Shoup Voting Machines. PDF of the statement here.

2/09/09: Several recent articles mourning the end of lever voting make comments that the only company that maintains them has gone out of business. Fortunately, that's not true.

The Voting Machine Service Center in Gerry NY wrote a January 23, 2009 letter, now archived on Remedia Election Transparency Coalition's website, that confirms that they have been in business for 32 years, continue in business, and that they "can say, with confidence, that the AVB lever machines in the State of New York could be maintained indefinitely."

Here's the link to the pdf of the letter.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Get behind these budget cuts, NYC

The NYC Board of Elections is complaining, and threatening suit, against Mayor Bloomberg's budget cuts.

C'mon, guys, let's get real.

  • The Feds have extended the deadline for states to use federal funds to modernize voting systems
  • The proposed system is probably unconstitutional in NYS
  • The optical scanners have yet to be certified as performing to standards so low that they don't/can't assure voters that the machines can't be hacked
  • Paper ballots required to give us confidence in the integrity of a software-based system are so fraught with opportunity for election fraud that they were replaced by levers in NYC with bi-partisan support in 1926
  • Even if certified, the optical scanner-based system can't be implemented in time for 2009 elections.
Now you're going to spend more money suing the city? Give us a break!
Budget cuts endangering city elections, Board of Elections says: "The cuts come during the two most demanding election periods - last year's presidential elections and this year's municipal elections - when all city offices will be on the ballot.

The budget cuts also come as the board is preparing to switch to new electronic voting machines for this year's elections - although Cederqvist acknowledged that developments on the state and federal court levels could postpone that switch for another year.

The mayor's proposed cuts for the new budget would not leave enough money to run all the elections expected this year, including possible runoff elections, Cederqvist said."
All this when, according to Andi Novick at the Election Transparency Coalition, this same body, the NYC Board of Elections, ran an illegal paper ballot recount on Staten Island recently. You can read their blog post here.

I hope the NYC Board of Elections reconsiders its position. We have a perfectly good lever system augmented with ballot marking devices to meet the HAVA requirements. Let's retain it.

Isn't this a budget reduction that New Yorkers can get behind?
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Madison County - The Opposition's Argument

This week, Wanda Warren Berry, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, spoke to the Madison County Board of Supervisors warning against our efforts to retain our lever voting system with ballot marking devices to meet the HAVA requirements.

Berry implies that levers offer voters less protection of our constitutional election standards rather than more.
Voting advocate pushes for new system in Madison County - "'I know how fond many of you were of the lever machines - and how frustrating the long process of getting scanners certified has been,' Berry said Tuesday to legislators in Wampsville. 'But the lever machines do not measure up to the standards for election integrity that most people now hold and that New York's Election Reform and Modernization Act requires.'
This doesn't make sense when you consider that:
  • The optical scanners Berry supports have not been certified
  • The certification standards that are currently in use do not include security against software changes that can occur, without a trace, after testing in the certification lab
  • No software-based voting machines can be secured against hacking, given current computer technology; that's why that protection isn't in the standards
  • NY State moved to lever voting because paper ballots were the source of so much election corruption
  • Statisticians agree that the audit -- 3% sample of paper ballots -- is poorly conceived, statistically invalid, and offers no reassurance
Optical scanners meet standards for election integrity? These seem like pretty low standards to me.

What do you think? Be sure to tell the Madison County Board of Supervisors.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Schuyler seeks state OK to keep lever voting. Thank you, Schuyler!

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
It only took one email and a phone call or two to let the Schuyler legislators know that they weren't alone in this. They passed a resolution to keep the lever machines.

So, think what you can do in your county. If they haven't passed a lever resolution yet, make a few calls. Email your representatives. Show up at the Greene County hearing at 6 pm on March 16th.

Schuyler seeks state OK to keep lever voting | | Star-Gazette: "MONTOUR FALLS - Schuyler County legislators on Monday night asked the state to allow New York's counties to continue to use lever-style voting machines.

The request was added to a resolution originally focused on asking for more funding for local governments to replace existing machines. The replacement was ordered by the state's Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005, a response to the federal government's Help America Vote Act, known as HAVA, approved by Congress in 2002.

The new language was based on a resolution approved last month by the Ulster County Legislature.

'The state's statutorily required elimination of lever-style voting machines is unnecessary, inappropriate and costly,' the unanimously approved resolution states.

'To throw out lever machines that haven't needed repairs in years is senseless,' Legislator Glenn Larison, R-Odessa, said."

We're making progress! Thank you, Schuyler County!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Schuyler vote machine conversion costs more. Why not stick with levers?

ORLEANS PARISH, LA  - NOVEMBER 7:  Voters stan...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Do you know anyone in Schuyler County? Do you know Schuyler County Executive Timothy O'Hearn or Legislator Dennis Fagan? Or anyone else in a leadership position? Call them. Email them. The time is ripe for them to take a stand.

The Schuyler County Legislature is considering two resolutions Monday night related to the exorbitant cost of implementing optical scanner voting machines. Although they, too, wish they could keep their lever machines, they seem to have accepted the change as a fait accomplis. We need to reach them with the message that other counties have decided to fight the change.

They've already spent $193,000 for machines that have yet to be certified and will never be secure. Now, they're learning about the additional, on-going costs.
Schuyler vote machine conversion costs more | | Star-Gazette: "Fagan and O'Hearn said counties initially were led to believe that federal funds would cover all costs. Now, counties are finding out local taxpayers may have to pay for the software necessary to program the ballots. That expense could be upwards of $100,000.

Fagan said counties asked the state for permission to share the software. The request was denied, he said, 'and vendors see no reason to cooperate with us.'

Schuyler also requested to have a single, central location for a voting machine accessible to disabled voters. That, too, was denied, and one machine was purchased for each of the county's 17 polling places.

Those machines were available for use in the November election, but not one was used, officials said.

'This whole thing is a huge joke,' Fagan said. 'It's costing the counties and towns thousands of dollars needlessly. It's very frustrating.'

The Help America Vote Act, known as HAVA, was enacted by Congress in October 2002 to help states replace antiquated voting systems and ensure access for disabled voters.

Schuyler County officials have said they would have preferred to keep the county's lever machines. Those machines probably will be used again in elections this year, Fagan said."
Well, the public sentiment to rescind ERMA and keep our levers grows as the price tag to implement op scanners grows.

Isn't this a budget cut we could all get behind?
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Staten Island Paper Ballots - a Follow-up

Rose/Mitchell City Council Election

Last week we posted a story about the North Shore City Council special election recount of paper ballots scheduled for this past Wednesday on Staten Island. The Court said that candidate Tabacco should go back on the ballot. The Election Commission said it was too late to reprogram the lever machines; the election would use paper ballots.

Here are some telling comments from Staten Island Advance columnist Tom Wrobleski's polit.bureau as these Staten Island politicos reflect on the problems

Strictly Political for March 8, 2009 - SILive: Island Politics: "'They should have just put Tabacco on the ballot in the machine, [prior to the court ruling]' Lavelle said. 'The simplest way was to have him on there and then lock the lever so nobody could pull it for him.'

Attorney Marty Connor, a Democrat who used to represent part of the Island in the state Senate, agreed.

'There's no way to tamper with those machines without leaving a trace,' said Connor, the former Senate minority leader who is lawyering for Mitchell during the recount process.

Having the paper ballots also brought another interesting dynamic into play: What happens if the number of ballots in an election district is greater than the number of signatures in the voter books at the poll site?

Simple: BOE workers randomly remove ballots, in the presence campaign witnesses, so the numbers match up.

In a positively Colonial era procedure, seven ballots were removed from 'overvoted' districts during the first day of the recount.

The ballots were shuffled by hand like playing cards and placed in a plastic bin. Then Republican and Democratic BOE officials turned their backs and took turns removing ballots.

The ballots were folded without being examined and sealed in an envelope."
Wrobleski had an earlier column, Recount Notebook, which tells a fascinating recount story. But since this blog is focused on the benefits of keeping our levers, let me share these comments from his column:

While occasionally mind-numbing, the process is a good "spring training" for what's coming down the line.

When the city begins using optical-scanning machines sometime in the near future, paper ballots marked by voters in pen will be the standard. No longer will votes use the familiar lever machines.

The difference is that that ballots will be tabulated by an optical-scanning machine, like those used to grade standardized tests.

Still, there could come a time when the individual paper ballots in a tight election might have to be recounted by hand.

Officials and other observers here are dreading the possibility that a recount might have to be done in a mayoral, congressional or borough presidential race, where there could be tens of thousands of ballots in the pool.

Well, it took four days to recount the 11,177 votes cast. Unofficially, Ken Mitchell won the City Council race by 342 votes . 51 votes were removed due to overvotes or other reasons. It becomes official when the results are reported to the Supreme Court Justice next Wednesday.

Four days for 11,000 ballots. Shouldn't we just keep our levers?

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Why Fight to Keep Our NYS Lever Voting System?

Our lever system works

The lever machines and election procedures that constitute our New York State lever voting system provide us with the only system that can meet our constitutionally- guaranteed right to a reliable and transparent election process. In the 1880s and 1890s, paper ballots were at the core of NY’s history of rampant voter fraud. This fraud stimulated our state’s commitment to finding a system that minimized the risk of tampering. By 1925, the entire state used lever voting, except New York City, where Tammany Hall fought levers to the bitter end. The 1926 election results reassured Democrats and Republicans in NYC that lever voting machines meant clean elections. Since then, and precisely because lever machines are mechanical, the NY election system, equipment, and accompanying procedures, have evolved to the point where New Yorkers have great confidence in and affection for our lever system.

Ballot marking devices make the lever system HAVA compliant

The claim that retaining our lever machines keeps NY out of compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is erroneous. The Federal Court accepted the State’s plan to comply with HAVA by installing ballot-marking devices for people with disabilities in every polling place. That plan was implemented in 2008.

Why spend this money now?

In this time of economic crisis, New York taxpayers should be spared the excessive and recurring costs imposed by a switch to an optical scan voting system. Let’s decrease, not increase, costs.

An electronic system requires funding for equipment purchase, initial and on-going staff training, and recurring costs for climate-controlled warehousing, sophisticated system maintenance, software verification, and technicians on call. Certification requirements will change over time; the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is presently debating new standards, imposing additional costs to recertify previously purchased scanners and replace those that can’t meet the new standards. All of this would cost New Yorkers millions of additional dollars, even in small counties.

Why spend these millions when our current lever system has proven reliable and tamper-proof over many decades, and maintainable at very low cost? In 2006, our state legislators passed the Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA) which requires that the Election Commission use certified, software-based voting machines – far beyond what HAVA requires. Reversing the electronic voting requirement is a budget cut we could all get behind.

The technology proposed to replace levers doesn’t secure the vote

Some believe that “certification” means secure, tamper-proof, or not hackable. It doesn’t; nothing in NY’s standards or the EAC (2005) standards currently in effect guarantees it, nor does anyone claim that it does. Computer scientists currently agree that, today, threats to the security of touch-screen and optical scanner software continue without foreseeable solutions. Maybe someday a system to handle these threats will emerge, but currently software, by its nature, can be tested today and hacked tomorrow; verified now and changed minutes later, without a trace.

Many believe that the law includes a solution to the software security issue -- voter-verified paper records for audit purposes. However, three issues remain unresolved: determining 1) a statistically valid sample size and methodology for audit; 2) a process for resolving discrepancies; and 3) a chain of custody procedure for the paper ballots.

Statisticians warn that ERMA's 3% sample is inadequate to ferret out fraud and no methodology for selecting the sample ballots or resolving discrepancies exists. Historically, most vote tampering occurred during the transport of paper ballots from the polling place for counting or recounting elsewhere. Paper ballots must be counted in plain view before they leave the polling place, or strict chain of custody procedures must be in place. NY State’s present law calls for neither.

Here’s what you can do
  • Sign the petition
  • Contact your elected representatives at all levels of government to let them know where you stand on this issue; ask them to follow the lead of Dutchess, Columbia, and Ulster Counties and the NY Association of Towns by passing a resolution urging the State to keep the lever system.
  • Write a letter to the editor; ask why they aren’t paying attention to this issue
  • Share this information with your friends; get the buzz going

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Broome County Election Budget Impact

This unnecessary switch to op-scanners has some hidden costs taxpayers should know about. Nancy Dooling, a staff writer at in Binghamton, cited some interesting budget numbers in her article, Old lever machines may count vote again, on January 25th.

Officials are already looking at the expected cost of the [optical scan with paper audit] system. For instance, if the new system is in place, the board will have to purchase enough paper ballots to meet state guidelines. No one knows if this will be one, two or three ballots per voter, Faughnan said. The state hasn't yet made up its mind on the issue.

At 65 cents each and with up to 116,000 potential voters in Broome, the cost for paper ballots could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. With one countywide race this year, all of Broome's voting districts will likely need different ballots, especially with some local offices up for re-election this year.

Factor in the cost of training more than 1,000 local elections inspectors and the price will continue to mount, Faughnan said. A public campaign to help Broome voters become familiar with the new system is also expected to cost money in overtime and in practice paper ballots.
The sidebar at the site includes a concise overview of the replacement issue, but neglects the issues inherent in replacing levers with a software-based system. The final comment, my emphasis, says it all:
Broome's machines have been certified for use by disabled voters, Republican election commissioner Eugene Faughnan said. They haven't been certified to state standards for all voters. Fortunately for voters, the old lever machines remain safe in storage.

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