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National Issues

Election Officials and Election Activists PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
October 29, 2006

At a public hearing of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) last week, I was was asked by Commissioner Donetta Davidson what advice I would give to election officials to help counteract the growing crisis of confidence in the election process. I offered some initial suggestions and agreed to provide an expanded list. Many election officials have adopted some or all of these suggestions already and they are to be commended.

1. Audit. Fourteen states will be conducting random hand counted audits of their electronic voting machines this November. This is the single most powerful action that a state election administrator could take to demonstrate their commitment to accuracy and security.  Citizen concern about electronic voting machines is not only motivated by fear of hacking or tampering – there have been dozens of cases of ballot programming errors that have affected election results.


Conducting a publicly-observed manual hand count of a meaningful percentage of paper records is a win-win proposition. If the audit shows that the electronic tallies were accurate, then voters are reassured. If the audit uncovers irregularities, then further audits should be undertaken and the cause of the irregularities should be investigated. Either way, you have established that your top priority is the accuracy of the election results.  
2. Work with computer security experts. In an op-ed piece last week, EAC Chairman Paul DeGregorio wrote “I strongly encourage experts and others with concerns to join forces with election officials and identify the real security risks - set up mock polling places with all of the Election Day safeguards, including poll workers.” This of course is exactly what happened last December in Leon County, Florida.


Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho invited computer security experts to show whether an election could be hacked – a mock election with all of the Election Day safeguards. But the result was uncomfortable - the experts demonstrated that election results could be altered undetectably. One would think that this revelation, and the revelations of countless other studies, would lead election officials to demand that the machines not be used until the vulnerabilities were addressed. However, while a few states did institute stronger security procedures, most did not, and the flaw exploited in Leon County remains in the equipment, which will used in dozens of states across the country next week.


Chairman DeGregorio is right, state election officials should be encouraged to work with activists & IT security experts to identify real security risks by conducting testing in the real world environment of elections: the processes he describes in this editorial, going all the way from the vendors to the national testing laboratories to state testing to the conduct of elections to the counting and reporting of the results.  


3. Post as much information as possible. Provide your voters with as much information as you possibly can on your official website and make it easy to find. Never decide that no one will be interested in this certification report or that precinct-level election data. I am interested and I know plenty of citizens in every state who are interested too.

4. Avoid using voting industry talking points. Election integrity activists read the manufacturers’ press releases and marketing materials and we recognize when the same message comes from vendor representatives and election officials. You were elected or appointed to serve the citizens of your state, not to act as a public relations representative for the voting machine manufacturers and their products that you have spent taxpayer money to purchase.

5. Don’t dismiss citizen concern. Voters are tired of being dismissed as uninformed and naive. There are dedicated activists in every state that have committed years  of their lives to learning about the complexities of election administration, the Help America Vote Act, their state election code, and the voting technology being used in their county. They, in turn, represent thousands of voters that may not be as sophisticated but have serious and legitimate concerns about the voting machines on which they cast and count their votes.

When something goes wrong - admit it and fix it. Rather than dismissing election integrity activists who draw attention to election irregularities, engage them in improving the process. In several states election officials have embraced citizen activists, involving them in election reform task forces and audit teams. Election officials and voting activists share the same goal – fair elections - and we should be working together toward that goal.
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