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Articles by Warren Stewart

   

Warren Stewart
As VoteTrustUSA's Policy Director, Warren Stewart advocates for election reform in the U.S. House and Senate and has contributed analysis and advice to state level activists across the country. His research and analysis of data from the 2004 General Election in New Mexico was influential in promoting public awareness of problems with electronic voting and positive legislative action in that state. He has written extensively on election issues and has been published in the Harvard Law and Policy Review, Washington Spectator, and on numerous websites, and has presented testimony before the Election Assistance Commission and the U. S. House and Senate. He also serves as the editor of VoteTrustUSA's weekly newsletter Election Integrity News. In addition to his work with VoteTrustUSA, Stewart is a conductor and cellist and serves as artistic director for the San Francisco-based early music ensemble Magnificat.

California Lawsuit Available PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
March 21, 2006
VoterAction has filed a suit in Superior Court in San Francisco, seeking to block the purchase of Diebold voting equipment and a reversal of  Secretary of State Bruce McPherson’s recent certification of that equipment.

A copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded here.

A Reuters article quoted Dolores Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America and plaintiff in the case:
"In certifying the Diebold machines, the secretary has sidestepped his duty to deny certification to voting systems that violate state and federal standards. Diebold systems have failed in security tests and in communities around the country."
The article also quoted Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for McPherson, who said her office had not seen the lawsuit, but she said the Diebold systems were safe and reliable.

"The Diebold systems that we have certified have passed the most stringent requirements really in the nation," she said. "In fact we've actually been criticized about how stringent our process has been."

Election officials in  21 of California's 58 counties have used Diebold electronic voting systems for recent voting, and at least seven counties are planning to use the new TSX system this year.

Arizona: Next Battleground Over Touchscreen Voting Machines? PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
March 21, 2006

Legal Advocacy Group cites Vulnerability and Inaccessibility of touchscreen Voting Machines

 

After a successful lawsuit in New Mexico prompted the state legislature to mandate a statewide paper ballot optical scan voting system in that state, the legal advocacy group Voter Action today announced that they are suing California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson over his recent “conditional” certification of Diebold voting systems. Now news reports from Arizona indicates that the state may be the next battleground in the debate over touchscreen voting.

 

According to an article in the The Arizona Republic:

Voter Action is ready to pick a legal fight with Arizona over some of the more than 2,100 touch-screen machines the state is ordering to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. Voter Action asserts that two of the most popular models of touch-screens, both of which are expected to come to Arizona, are unreliable and vulnerable to tampering.
The group also distrusts the machines because they do not produce a marked paper ballot. Paper ballots read by optical scanners are less subject to technical manipulation or fraud, activists say, and easily can be recounted or audited in the case of a contested election.
"My clients are not conspiracy theorists," said attorney Chuck Blanchard, a former state lawmaker whose firm is representing Voter Action. "Our problem is just that you have to assure some sense of integrity in the system."
Legal actions in other states appear likely as well.
Pennsylvania: What Can They Possibly Be Thinking In Allegheny County? PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
March 12, 2006
In a move that has left election activists across the country scratching their heads in disbelief, Allegheny County Pennsylvania’s second largest, approved an $11.8 million purchase of 2,800 Sequoia Advantages. That's $4,214 per machine for 10 year old USED computers!

As reported in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
As part of the deal, Allegheny County is getting approximately 2,000 pre-owned, deeply discounted, electronic push-button machines from Clark County, Nev., where some units have been in use for almost 10 years.
The Nevada county, in turn, is getting about 4,000 almost-new touch-screen machines from Chicago and Cook County, Ill., which will then receive a brand new version of the touch-screen unit.
What are these people thinking?

These machines are not certified to 2002 standards as required by Pennsylvania election code. These machines are not even scheduled to begin the state certification process until March 28. These machines do not meet the disability access requirements of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). These are the same machines that had a 5.28% presidential undervote rate in New Mexico in 2004.

These machines are 10 year old computers. Who buys a 10 year old computer?  In operating systems terms that would be Windows 3.1 - not even Win 98!

No wonder Clark County wants to get rid of them.
Read more...
California: San Francisco Stays All Paper PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
March 08, 2006

City Decides Not To "Roll The Dice" With Sequoia

 

There was a collective sigh of relief from election integrity activists in San Francisco at the announcement that the city’s  Department of Elections has pulled out of contract negotiations with Sequoia Voting Systems for Edge touchscreens. Alarm had been voiced at a Rules Committee hearing in February over the Department’s plans to purchase Sequoia equipment that have not yet been certified for use in the State. At the hearing the Sequoia spokesperson stated that the company did not intend to submit their IRV software for federal testing until May 31, leaving serious doubts about the company’s ability to meet the city’s charter requirement for ranked choice voting in the November election.

In a San Jose Mercury News article Supervisor Ross Mirkahimi was quoted "we cannot afford this roll of the dice, we should never not have a Plan B for something as critical as a clean, honest election process." With less than three months before June primaries, the supervisors decided they couldn’t take the risk.

In a San Francisco Chronicle article Sequoia sales representative Michelle Shafer, said, "The fact is that we mutually determined that we will not be working together for this June election, because we don't have a signed contract in place."

The city will instead keep the optical scan voting system from Election systems and Software that is currently the only system that is certified for ranked choice voting. Automark ballot-marking devices in each polling place will provide accessible voting for disabled San Francisco.

Pennsylvania: Touchscreens Are The Problems Looking For a Solution PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
March 02, 2006

In a House Appropriations hearing this week, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes (pictured at right) commented ‘this whole issue of a voter-verified, paper-audit trail is a solution in search of a problem.' As the individual charged with providing Pennsylvania’s voters with confidence in the electoral process this statement reveals a willful dismissal of the reality of elections in the state.

The Department of Elections appears to be spending more of their energy justifying the use of Diebold voting equipment than in running transparent, auditable elections. Cortes apparently has not done much of a search for “problems” to be solved by the “solution” of voter verified paper records.

Beaver County election officials have reported that since they began using DREs 8 years ago their undervote count has increased to about 6 times what it was when they used paper ballots. There were 820 presidential undervotes in 1996. In 1998, they began using the Unilect Patriot. Undervotes increased to 5,313 in 2000 and 4,551 in 2004, in spite of the fact that the DRE warns voters when they have not voted for a particular contest. In Mercer County in 2004, some touchscreen machines recorded presidential undervote rates as high as 83% and 8% countywide. In municipal elections in Montgomery County in 2005, three races were affected by lost votes on electronic voting machines. All these “problems” would be have been “solved” by the presence of a paper trail.

 

Then there's the problem that with touchscreen voting machines, there's no way to count votes without using software - software that is considered proprietary and hidden from public review. Election administrators no longer count votes - voting machine vendors count votes.

Read more...
Maryland: Optical Scan Solution Faces Familiar Opponent PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
February 25, 2006
Two Maryland State Delegates, Sheila Hixson and Elizabeth Bobo, have proposed legislative amendments that would allow the state to scrap their touchscreen voting machines and lease optical scan equipment for use in elections this Fall. Needless to say the idea is being fought fiercely by one of the nation’s foremost advocates for paperless elections, state election director Linda Lamone (pictured at right), who has committed Maryland to paying $90 million for paperless Diebold touchscreens.


In a Washington Post article Del. Hixson was quoted, "the controversy here is about people's faith in having their vote recorded. We want to make sure there's an accurate count in this election." In the same article, Del. Bobo was confident about optical scanners, "that are so well known and so well understood from a technical point of view, if this manufacturer says they can get them to us, we can rely on having a very secure vote here in Maryland."

Computer security experts and voting reform advocates have argued for years that electronic voting machines are vulnerable and unreliable - claims that have been confirmed in recent reports from the federal Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service. Last week Maryland’s Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr. released a scathing letter in which he blasted the state’s election administration and expressed concern about the “ability to conduct fair and accurate elections” using the Diebold equipment.

Read more...
Diebold in California: Who's Responsible? PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
February 18, 2006

To the astonishment and disappointment of many, Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has chosen to re-certify both the Diebold AccuVote-OS optical scan and AccuVote-TSx touchscreen machines for use in California's election this year. This in spite of the fact that computer scientists commissioned to do a proscribed but nevertheless revealing report on Diebold's AccuBasic Intepreter determined that aspects of the software that runs both systems is prohibited under federal standards. According to the report the computer scientists, David Wagner, David Jefferson, and Matt Bishop, all members of California's Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board (VSTAAB), advised McPherson that the risks posed by the presence of prohibited "interpreted code" were "manageable" and could be "mitigated" by tightening security around Diebold's voting machines.

 

In December, McPherson, in response to the revelation that AccuBasic could be used to mask pre-stuffed memory cards as demonstrated in a test election in Leon County Florida, denied certification to Diebold's equipment pending a review the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) laboratory Ciber, Inc. - the same laboratory that had certified the systems in the first place. In a published statement McPherson said "[d]uring a thorough review of the application for the Diebold system currently  pending certification, we have determined that there is sufficient cause for additional  federal evaluation." In a letter to Diebold dated December 20, McPherson noted that "it is the Secretary of State’s position that the source code for the AccuBasic code on these cards, as well as for the AccuBasic interpreter that interprets this code, should have been federally reviewed," and requested that Diebold submit the source code relating to the AccuBasic code on the memory cards and the AccuBasic interpreter to the ITA for immediate evaluation and required this additional review before proceeding with further consideration of your  application for certification in California. He concluded that "[o]nce we have received a report from the federal ITA adequately analyzing this source code, in addition to the technical and  operational specifications relating to the memory card and interpreter, we will expeditiously proceed with our comprehensive review of your application."

 

In the end the ITA apparently wasn't expeditious enough for McPherson. In a letter to Diebold dated February 17, McPherson admitted that "[t]o date, we have not recieved a report from the federal ITA, nor have we received any information regarding the status of its review from the federal ITA." Apparently the "resource constraints at the ITA" precluded the review of the AccuBasic source that was somehow overlooked during the original certification process. No problem - the Secretary of State certified them anyway. After all, no one seriously thought the "Independent" Testing Authority would act in any way that was detrimental to a valued client like Diebold. This way they are spared the uncomfortable and onerous job of explaining why it doesn't matter that Diebold's software is in violation of federal standards.

 

While McPherson's decision to side with Diebold will no doubt have significant and well-deserved fallout in November, it seems that, in the short term, he made the politically expedient decision. With a special election for Duke Cunningham's seat scheduled for April and statewide primaries in June, McPherson chose to bow to pressure from county clerks eager to buy Diebold. As Ian Hoffman notes in an Oakland Tribune aritcle this morning:

The decision is likely to set off a buying spree for as many as 21 counties, more than a third of the state, as local elections officials rush to acquire one of only two voting systems approved for use in the 2006 elections. Registrars and clerks prefer having voting systems for at least six months before conducting a statewide primary like the one in June, partly because it is California's most complicated and error-prone type of election.

But wait! Why on earth would any county spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a system that is clearly in violation of state and federal law and risk the legal exposure of using illegal voting machines?
Read more...
California To Certify Diebold? PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
February 17, 2006

One day after Secreatary of State Bruce McPherson, and representatives of voting machine vendors and their testers refused to attend a hearing on voting machine testing and certification, there are reports that McPherson has announced on a conference call with election officials that he intends to certify equipment from Diebold Election Systems - with certain "conditions". Neither the certification nor the conditions could be confirmed with the Secretary of State's office.

 

It has always been a foregone conclusion that McPherson would devise some justification to allow the 17 California Diebold counties to use their equipment in the rapidly-approaching elections this year. It was only a question of how that justification would be formulated. In the wake of the Harri Hursti Hack in Florida last December, which exploited the presence of prohibited 'intepreted code' in Diebold's software architecture, McPherson wisely sent the Diebold system back to the Independent Testing Authority that had certified them for review. There has been no public response from the ITA.

 

We eagerly await the official word from the Secreatary of State. 

Why Is San Francisco Rolling The Dice With Sequoia? PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
February 17, 2006

The Rules committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors held an enlightening hearing into the status of San Francisco's conversion to a new voting system vendor. District Five Supervisor Ross Mirkahimi (pictured at right) led a probing and focused discussion that included testimony from Department of elections Director John Arntz and Election Commissions President Matthews, represenatives of Sequoia Voting Systems and ES&S as well as Steven Hill, of FairVote - the driving forcing behind San Francisco's adoption of ranked-choice, or instant runoff, voting. San Francisco faces a particularly challenging situation in preparing for primaries in June and the general election in November. On top of new federal accessibility mandates and state requirements for a voter verified paper audit trail faced by all California counties, the San Francisco charter calls for ranked-choice voting. Mikrahimi forcefully explained as the hearing began the importance of not only meeting federal, state, and local requirements but also the rightful expectation of confidence in the administration of the upcoming election.

After a controversial selection process last year, Arntz announced that Sequoia Voting Systems would replace ES&S as the provider of voting equipment for San Francisco last fall. While Mirkahimi stated early on that the purpose of the hearing was not to consider the merits of one vendor's product over another it was difficult to avoid questioning the wisdom of the decision to award the contract to Sequoia. The Sequoia system that Arntz wants to spend over $10 million in taxpayer money on has only last week received federal qualification and have begun the state certification process this week. As for certified software to handle a ranked-choice election? Well, that will be part of a different certification process that will begin with submission to federal testing on May 31st.

Meanwhile, ES&S is not only currently certified, they have actually successfully run San Francisco’s ranked choice district elections last November. The ES&S representative explained that since the city already owns the basic equipment, all of which is certified and has already managed a ranked-choice election, it would be relatively simple, and inexpensive to run San Francisco’s elections on ES&S equipment. For HAVA compliance the city would have to purchase AutoMark ballot-marking devices. While the Optech Eagle precinct scanners that the city owns are not state certified as a configuratiion, they could be used as a stand-alone device, with ballots counted centrally rather than at the precinct for the June primaries, as is being done in Santa Barbara County. By November the city could migrate to M-100 precinct based optical scanners.

 

This system would also have the benefit of a thoroughly auditable voting system in which all voters marked paper ballots that could at least potentially be read without the mitigation of proprietary software.

Read more...
Paper Ballot Victory In New Mexico PDF  | Print |  Email
Warren Stewart
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
February 17, 2006
In a the last hours of the New Mexico legislature’s 30-day session, lawmakers approved a measure establishing a statewide paper ballot optical scan voting system. The move to paper ballots had been promoted by Governor Bill Richardson and had the support of Attorney General Patricia Madrid and Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. The legislature also a capital improvement package that provides $11 million to pay for the equipment needed to switch to the paper ballots. The text of the final legislation can be viewed here.

The legislation is a victory for citizen activists and organizations  like Verified Voting New Mexico and United Voters of New Mexico that have been working tirelessly for an auditable voting system in New Mexico. Detailed analysis of the certified election data from the New Mexico General Election in 2004 revealed alarming irregularities that focused nationwide attention on the state. New Mexico has led the nation in presidential undervote rate for several election cycles (2.87% in 2004), and research revealed that 82% of the undervotes occurred on paperless electronic voting machines. At the same time, the presence of 2,087 presidential “phantom votes” (situations in which more votes were counted than ballots cast) revealed a chaotic and under-resourced certification process.

The state’s canvassing board succeeded in thwarting a recount request by the Green and Libertarian Parties, but a lawsuit that grew out of the recount effort resulted in significant revelations about the conduct of elections in the state. Public concern about election anomalies also contributed to the passage of an omnibus election bill that included a requirement for a voter verified paper record of every vote and a random mandatory audit in the 2005 legislative session.
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