The PowerPoint document* that accompanies this article (Download as PDF) is intended as an introduction to Montana's electronic voting process, which is handled for the 40 of Montana's 56 counties that use electronic voting, by Election Systems and Software (ES&S) of Omaha, Nebraska. (The other 16 counties, mostly smaller ones, still use hand-counted paper ballots.) (For easy reprint, you can download the black and white version of the Montana ES&S Security pdf.)
Montana has generally had good results from the use of the ES&S machinery--with the recount of the Missoula Mayoral primary in 2005 serving as a good example of how elections should be run. The hand recount of the ES&S op-scan ballots only changed vote totals by two votes and both candidates in the run-off were very pleased with the accuracy of the results.
That said, ES&S, which is the nation's largest voting machine company, has had serious delivery, accuracy and contractual problems in at least seven states during the 2006 primary elections, and is currently being sued by the West Virginia Secretary of State; is being asked for refunds for poor fulfillment or inaccurate results in two states, and because of inaccuracies in the way it printed and counted ballots has had at least two elections overturned by hand recounts of the actual paper hand-marked or optical scan ballots. For stories see the last part of this document.
Additionally, no public hack test of ES&S machines has ever been conducted; while both of its main competitors have had their machines successfully hacked in public demonstrations that left no evidence that the hacks were performed. Like its competitors, ES&S also jealously guards its programming so that no public analysis of the software is possible. 95% of polled computer security experts feel that the dangers of electronic voting are so significant that they strongly recommend a number of safety procedures to protect against electronic voting machine fraud or error.
After the 2004 Montana election, in which control of the Montana House of Representatives was only decided over a month later by a judicial decision on recount totals, the 2005 Montana Legislature enacted a number of voting safeguards and required that all electronic voting machines produce a paper ballot and that in the event of any recount, required that the recounts be done by had on the paper ballots.
However, Montana State law still leaves large security holes in needed election protection procedures, including:
1) Requiring that only one election official look at ballots in a recount, in spite of general national understanding that at least two examiners, (one each from opposing parties), should examine each recounted ballot.* Ed. Note: When you open the PowerPoint presentation it will need to be rotated in a clockwise manner to be readable. After you open the PDF in Adobe Reader, go to the View menu, and then to the Rotate View option. Select the Clockwise rotation and continue to select it until the PDF is viewable in a landscape perspective as it was intended to be read.
2) Montana recount law only allows recounts in elections where the vote difference between candidates is generally 1/2 of 1% or less, in spite of the fact that electronic voting errors have regularly produced errors in vote totals of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, and in one instance, thirteen million votes. After the 2002 Alabama election, the Alabama Supreme Court denied Gov. Don Siegelman the right to recount or even examine the paper optical scan ballots, even though an ES&S tabulator error on election night had reversed the results of the election. Siegelman's suit was denied because Siegelman's 6,000+ vote loss, resulting from a 12,000+ reduction of his state-wide totals by the tabulators error, was outside the accepted recount percentages.
3) Montana has no rules governing the out-of-state, usually anonymous election technicians who come in for a few days to run the state's voting machines. These technicians have no required level of technical competence, are not subject by Montana law to background or criminal record checks, nor are they required to disclose any partisan relationships to Democratic or Republican political organizations. (And, given the well-known voter suppression/manipulation of political organizations such as the Democratic Daley machine in Chicago and the Florida Republican majority, it seems prudent to ensure that we strongly vet the out-of-state technicians (or better yet local technicians) who produce the final Montana election results.
4) Montana also has no requirement that there be an election-day mandatory random recount of the election ballots. Generally, as in California, a five percent random audit is done in order to ensure that there were no programming, production, machine-based or fraud-based errors in the vote totals. Twelve other states also require mandatory Election Day random audits.
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