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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