Monday, February 15, 2010

"Auditing" Regs Confirm Op-Scan Vulnerabilities

I need to reiterate: the crux of ETC's opposition to software-based voting systems, which include the Op-Scans, is that they institutionalize secret vote counting, violating our constitutional right to see that our votes are counted as cast.

Recognizing the inferiority and vulnerability of the op-scans the NYS Legislature in enacting ERMA included the requirement for an "audit", a post-election night recount of a percentage of supposedly randomly chosen paper ballots which the public was to believe was a check on the accuracy of the optical scanner counting. (Of course post-election night ballot recounts are illegal in New York, a fact that seems to be irrelevant to our officials.) But the so-called "auditing" procedures which have been developed by the state board of elections are themselves an indictment of the very proposition that software-based voting systems are an accurate and secure way to run an election.

The audit procedures are worth reading in full. But I have highlighted here what, if we could all still laugh about this, would be some of the more comical instances of doublespeak and oxymoron:

"Ballot Marks
o Valid votes that have been marked by the voter outside the vote targets or using a marking device that cannot be read by the vote tally system shall not be included in making the determination whether the voting system has met the standard of acceptable performance. "

What does this mean? Did the machine count the vote or not?

"Scanners will easily recognize votes that are marked with a density that is within the calibrated thresholds. In an audit, the human eye may perceive these marks differently that the scanner, however the audit team members and observers alike should understand that the scanners, in accordance with Section 7-201.1e provide each voter with a notification of any mark the system perceives as questionable and provides each voter with the opportunity to remark their ballot or cast it 'as-is'. "

In an audit the eye may perceive the mark differently? How did the voter who made the mark perceive it? Did the machine override voter intent? Silly voter.

"The problems in Cuyahoga County, Ohio in 2004, where audit supervisors rigged the ballot selection so that no discrepancies would be found, exemplify the danger of auditors hoping to find perfect matches and to avoid the difficult questions and additional work that might result if the records do not match."

i.e. Beware of fraud. Two Cuyahoga County election workers were convicted for the illegal manipulation of ballots during the 2004 recount.

"To counter the understandable temptation to make the paper and electronic records match..."

Understandable, especially if you are trying to cover-up machine rigging or because underfunded, understaffed elections boards will often cut corners . Who could have imagined....And what is the counter to that? More expensive, finicky, non-transparent, easily compromised machines?

Manual counts may sometimes reveal different voter intent than machine counts of ballots. Overvotes, marginal marks, hesitation marks, and other stray markings on manually marked ballots could cause optical scan voting machines to misinterpret voter intent that a human reviewer would be able to discern."

... and if we make enough exceptions to cover discrepancies between hand and machine counts, then almost any machine, even rigged ones, will pass "audit."

- JL

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentines Day Lever Machines

Mechanical Lever Voting Machines were first used in Lockport, New York in 1892. Four years later Rochester became the first large city to adopt the machines and the entire state soon followed.

On February 14th, 1899 voting machines were approved by Congress for use in federal elections.

Anniversary information courtesy of Sowing Culture the Blog of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS.) Photograph Courtesy of Connecticut History Online.

Voting machine, Hartford (CT, 1912)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All Things Considered: Electronic Voting Costs Dollars and Democracy

So far the New York Board of Elections has not shown it can learn from the experiences of others that software-based voting not only creates unpredictable short and long term costs but endangers Democracy. The following report is from NPR Affiliate KXJZ in Sacrament0 and was aired on All Things Considered on February 8th and the following day on Morning Edition.

Thanks to for the link.

(Sacramento, CA)

California elections officials say their computerized voting booths are in need of upgrades, but they can’t afford to make big improvements.
Capital Public Radio's Steve Shadley reports...
Two statewide elections are coming up later this year but local elections officials say they’re working with outdated electronic voting booths.

Private companies that sell the equipment say the state and counties would be better off buying new systems rather than trying to modernize the old equipment.

That would require millions of dollars that governments don’t have right now.

At a public hearing on the issue in Sacramento, some citizens urged the officials to get rid of electronic voting, period.

Tom Courbat is with the Riverside County group “Save Our Vote”...
Courbat: “We’re not convinced there is enough security in these voting systems to justify continuing to purchase them. We have seen demonstrations over and over again of machines being hacked...”
Courbat says it would be more secure if voters cast paper ballots that would be counted by hand.

But advocates for the disabled say not everyone can fill out a paper ballot.

Note: Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) are one means by which special needs voters can create a ballot independently . BMDs are provided at every polling place in New York State. These BMDs are separate from the Optical Scan Voting Machines and the ballots created can be counted by hand. The issues should not be confused as they often are, including in the above report.

Monday, February 1, 2010

County Government Committee of Columbia County Supports Joining Litigation

After a January 26th report on the state's required switch to optical scanners, presented by Columbia County Election Commissioners Virginia Martin and Jason Nastke, Supervisors on the Columbia County Government Committee agreed that the county should support litigation to have ERMA declared unconstitutional.

As reported by Francesca Olsen of the Register-Star:

  • Democratic Commissioner of Elections Virginia Martin and Republican Commissioner Jason Nastke presented documentation on the State’s required impending switch to optical scanners and ballot marking devices at the January County Government Committee meeting Jan. 26.

    Martin said that several counties, including Nassau County in Long Island, are interested in joining proposed litigation to declare the state Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005 (ERMA) unconstitutional. Supervisors on the committee were in general agreement that Columbia County’s involvement in the litigation was the right move.

    All counties in New York are expected to use optical scanners for the 2010 primary and general elections. Nastke told the committee that just to print the paper ballots from BMDs — ballot marking devices — and optical scanners, it would cost the county $100,000 per year. “The county could put that towards a bridge!” he said. “There’s nothing for us to lose by joining in this lawsuit.”

    “Election administration gets a lot more complicated, and there are a lot more opportunities for errors,” Martin told the committee about the switch from lever machines to BMDs and optical scanners. For example, the paper ballots the new machines use (and the machines themselves) can take up a lot of space, and must be stored securely year-round with “fort-knox style security, bipartisan locks, environmental controls,” according to materials handed out by Martin at the committee meeting.

    It was suggested that if the lawsuit just delays the implementation of ERMA, it would save taxpayers the cost of new machine implementation for a little longer. “I’m not too thrilled with these scanning systems,” Nastke said, “but I’m required by law to implement them.”

    Optical scanners were certified by the State Board of Elections in December, and ERMA would require the discontinuing of lever machines. “There’s a difference with what the federal government asked, and what the state wants us to do,” said Supervisor Leo Pulcher, R-Stockport.

    The Help America Vote Act of 2002 does not require states to replace their lever voting machines.