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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