Election Integrity News - October 10, 2007


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In this issue ...

National Stories

Election Vaporware

HR 811, Unfunded Mandates, and the Protection of Civil Rights

Will House Leaders Duck Debate on Electronic Voting Compromise?

The Court Decides to Consider Voter ID: Good Grounds to Worry on the Morning After

Data on Overseas Absentee Ballots Raise Questions

Dutch Government Abandons E-Voting for Red Pencil

News From Around the States

Alaska Lt. Governor Seeks Independent Review of Stateās Voting System

League of Women Voters: Arizona's Efforts Will Disenfranchise Voters

Brennan Center Urges Justice Department to Reject Florida's Revised Voter Registration Law

GAO Wants to Test Florida Voting Machines

Secretary of State and Attorney General Agree on Paper-based Voting for Kentucky

Ohio Secretary of State Brunner Provides Background on Voting System Review

"Trust, But Verify": Tennessee Advisory Commission Issues Voting System Report


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Paperless Voting is an Accident Waiting to Happen
by Warren Stewart, Verified Voting Foundation

As they prepare to spend millions of dollars in re-election campaigns, members of Congress should be asking themselves “Do I want to be Christine Jennings?”

The certified results of last year’s election for Florida’s 13th District left Jennings 369 votes short of beating Vern Buchanan. But the touch screen machines used in the largest county in the District, Sarasota, produced an inexplicably large number of undervotes – over 15,000. The task force of the Committee on House Administration investigating the election contest heard this week from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that a further investigation of the machines will take place in November – a full year after the election.

In a Roll Call article, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who serves on the task force, noted that he hopes that the findings of the GAO will eventually allow the task force to finish its review of the 2006 race before Congress gets too much further into the 2008 election cycle, “and finally put to rest for the people of the 13th district of Florida the challenge against Congressman Vern Buchanan.”

Perhaps the question that members of Congress should ask is “Do I want to be Vern Buchanan?” The election results showed that he won, but he is forced to occupy his seat under the cloud of an election contest.

There is a profound disconnect between the nationwide movement away from paperless voting and the discussion inside the Beltway: even Sarasota County, along with the rest of Florida, has already ditched their touch screen machines in favor of more accurate, reliable, and inexpensive paper ballot optical scan voting systems.

Confirming the serious security vulnerabilities of electronic voting systems are the sobering reports resulting from the California Secretary of State’s comprehensive voting system review and similar reports from Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and elsewhere, the revelations of inadequate voting system testing by Ciber Labs, and a relentless flood of academic studies.

But Congress has yet to act. If they don’t, over 30 million voters will face paperless touch screen voting machines when they go to the polls next November with the potential for Florida-13 style contests looming in 20 states.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of problems with voting systems, Congressional leadership seems to be latching on to any excuse to slow down legislation in Congress that would require that elections for Federal office be auditable – and audited.

If leadership allows disinformation campaigns to ride roughshod over the common sense safeguards proposed in Rep. Holt’s Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 811), over 30 million voters this November will face unverifiable voting machines like Sarasota County’s of 2006.

Paperless voting is an accident waiting to happen and Congress needs to act now before it’s too late. Auditable elections and voting system security are not frivolous issues that can be put off until it is more convenient.


National Stories

Election Vaporware
by David Dill, Verified Voting Foundation - September 25, 2007

This article was published at Huffington Post and is reposted here with permission of the author.

Huffington Post blogger Robert D. Atkinson recently posted a column opposing HR 811, Rep. Rush Holt's bill to require a voter-verified paper record of each vote, because he feels that new technology which has never been used in a government election might come to the rescue at some point in the indefinite future.

Let's remember the problem that HR 811 will solve. Many states and counties still use paperless electronic voting systems. There is no way to tell whether the recorded votes in these systems have any relation to the votes actually cast.

This problem is urgent. Only a few months ago, the Secretary of State of California commissioned a large team of world-class computer security experts to evaluate California's current electronic voting. The team demonstrated that three different systems in current use could be completely taken over by a single anonymous poll worker, who could control how the machines recorded and reported every electronic vote in a subsequent election. Read the Entire Article

HR 811, Unfunded Mandates, and the Protection of Civil Rights
by Warren Stewart, Verified Voting Foundation - September 18, 2007

A small but vocal contingent of fiscal conservatives have responded to the unwarranted complaints of elections officials about the potential of an unfunded mandate for the voting system security requirements proposed in The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007 (HR 811). Still smarting from the previous Congress’ unwillingness to fully fund the Help America Vote Act of 2002, county clerks and Secretaries of State have been skeptical that Congress will actually come through with the $1.1 Billion authorized in the bill.

However, tying HR 811’s mandate to appropriations would set a dangerous precedent for eliminating the civil rights exemption in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA). In enacting the reform measure, Congress recognized that the protection of civil rights superseded vagaries of funding allocations.

HR 811 fully funds the voting system requirements in the bill with more than $1 billion, and authorizes more funding for the audit requirements ($100 million annually) than the Congressional Budget Office deemed necessary ($50 to $60 million).  In addition, as confirmed by the text of HR 811’s CBO Score, “All provisions of H.R. 811 would be excluded from the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.

Leadership and the Appropriations Committee should calm the fears of election officials and their representatives in Congress by publicly committing to fully fund HR 811. ” Read the Entire Article

Will House Leaders Duck Debate on Electronic Voting Compromise?
by Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet - September 17, 2007

This article was published at AlterNet and is reposted here with permission of the author.

The House is expected to vote on a bill regulating electronic voting machines for the first time this week. However, it is unclear if the Democratic leadership will allow debate on a key amendment to limit the controversial touch-screen voting equipment to one machine per precinct.

"I don't have an answer for you," Nadeam Elshami, deputy communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said late Friday, when asked whether Democratic leaders will allow the amendment proposed by Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., to come before the House. "I have no way of knowing. This is a comprehensive bill. This is a process that is moving."

The bill, H.R. 811, or the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, would regulate electronic voting systems for the first time by imposing new security, vote verification and audit requirements for their use. The bill would not ban paperless voting machines as many election integrity activists have wanted, but require a paper printout of each vote cast to be reviewed by voters before being electronically counted.

Whether the "direct recording electronic" (DRE) voting systems and that paper trail can be trusted has been a focus of debate surrounding the bill since it was introduced last winter. However as H.R. 811 has moved through committees, there have been recent developments outside Washington that bolster critics who say DRE systems are too insecure and unreliable for use in elections. Read the Entire Article

The Court Decides to Consider Voter ID: Good Grounds to Worry on the Morning After
by Bob Bauer - September 26, 2007

This article was posted at Bob Bauer's Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

It is simply not gratifying to observe the Supreme Court grabbing the reins and riding off to settle the voter identification quarrel in a hurry. The Seventh Circuit decision authored by Richard Posner that it will review is unfortunate in a number of respects: a correction from the Supreme Court, affirming the importance of the right to vote, would be welcome. But to assume that Posner will be corrected on this point, but that nothing unexpected and harmful will come of the rest of the Court’s review, is to assume a great deal. 

Let's assume that the Court—the same Court that decided Purcell v. Gonzalez — decides that Posner's reasoning went too far and that it should be clear that a) voting matters, and b) states must develop more rigorous rationales for imposing ID requirements in the name of voting security. The first should be easy; the second will turn heads, but on second look, the Court could ask for a little more care but not much, effectively giving voting rights advocates opposed to ID requirements the rhetorical victory but no chance of winning the war. The Court could explain what is needed, which is not to say that it will come to grips meaningfully with the issue on the spare record before it, or show much solicitude for the voters most disadvantaged by ID requirements like those enacted in Georgia or Indiana. Read the Entire Article

Data on Overseas Absentee Ballots Raise Questions
by Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune - October 2, 2007

This article was published in the International Herald Tribune and is reposted here with permission of the author.

A new federal survey has found that a scant one-third of the nearly one million absentee ballots requested for the U.S. general election last year by overseas American civilians or active-duty service members were actually cast or counted, a result that one overseas voting advocate said felt like "a dagger in the heart."

The assessment raised questions about enormous disparities in how ballots are being issued and processed.

The report, issued this week by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, cites serious deficiencies in the collection and reporting of election data by both state and local offices, despite federal requirements imposed in 2002 by the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA. One result is that "it is impossible to calculate accurate turnout figures."

A few states, like Alabama and Tennessee, provided almost no data. Ed Packard, Alabama supervisor of voter registration, said the responsible official under a previous state administration "basically didn't collect that information, or did limited amounts of it."

He said the state was working to rectify the problem. Read the Entire Article

Dutch Government Abandons E-Voting for Red Pencil
by Thomas Ricker - September 27, 2007

This article was posted at engadget.

About a year after the Dutch government began seriously worrying about the integrity of e-voting machines, they've literally pulled the plug on the venture. The biggest flaw was the lack of a paper trail according to a special committee which reported its finding this morning. As such, Nederlanders will return to the "red pencil method" in upcoming elections until an automated paper-counting solution can be deployed... and then hacked.

To be perfectly clear, the regulation allowing e-voting machines has been withdrawn -- i.e., effective immediately, there is no more e-voting in the Netherlands. However, the Dutch government will make an overarching decision in the next two months "to regain the trust of the public in our voting system." Given that the government commissioned this study themselves, the decision is expected to be a simple rubber stamp approval.

From Around the States

Alaska Lt. Governor Seeks Independent Review of Stateās Voting System
by Warren Stewart, Verified Voting Foundation - October 9, 2007

Joining the ever-growing list of states that are initiating voting system reviews, the Peninsula Clarion has reported that Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell has asked the University of Alaska to conduct a review and recommend possible changes to the state's electronic voting system.

According to the Clarion article Parnell wrote a letter to University Chancellor Fran Ulmer, a former lieutenant governor and overseer of the Division of Elections herself noting the stringent security measures established by the California Secretary of State as a condition for the use of electronic voting equipment. Parnell claimed that Alaska already met or exceeded the measures undertaken in California but wanted to consider additional measures to improve voting system security.

Alaska employs a paper ballot optical scan system manufactured by Diebold Election Systems statewide, with one Diebold TSX touchscreen voting machine in each polling place to provide accessibility for voters with disabilities. These systems were included in the California review and were found to be “vulnerable to malicious software, was susceptible to viruses, failed to protect ballot secrecy”, and lacked “adequate controls to ensure that county workers with certain accesses would not exceed their authority.” Read the Entire Article

League of Women Voters: Arizona's Efforts Will Disenfranchise Voters
League of Women Voters Press Release - August 31, 2007

Download Arizona Sexcretary of State Jan Brewer's Statement at EAC Hearing

Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer today announced that she will sue the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to force the commission to accept an ID requirement as part of the federal mail voter registration application form.

"The League strongly opposes this move," said Mary G. Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. "We all understand that an ID requirement will undermine voter participation, especially by older women, minorities, and persons with disabilities," she said.

"We had hoped that using states' rights as a way to disenfranchise American voters was a thing of the past," Wilson said. "It is disturbing that any public official could be comfortable knowingly disenfranchising voters," stated Wilson. Read the Entire Press Release

Brennan Center Urges Justice Department to Reject Florida's Revised Voter Registration Law
by Brennan Center Press Release - September 17, 2007

Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, along with the Advancement Project, asked the U.S. Department of Justice not to approve Florida's revised law on voter registration drives because the new provisions unduly harm the state's minority communities and violate the Voting Rights Act.

Last year, in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Cobb, the state's restrictions on voter registration drives were declared unconstitutional.  After the ruling, the Florida state legislature went back and reenacted the law with slight changes.  The revised law is now awaiting approval from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the Brennan Center urges the DOJ to reject this unconstitutional law.

"Black and Hispanic voters and people from Spanish-speaking households are twice as likely to register to vote through these third-party voter registration drives than white voters or voters from English-speaking households," said Renée Paradis, Counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.  "By making it difficult to conduct voter registration drives, Florida reduces the electoral participation of eligible voters from communities protected under the Voting Rights Act." Read the Entire Article

GAO Wants to Test Florida Voting Machines
by Kim Zetter - October 2, 2007

This article was posted at the Wired.com Threat Level Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

The Government Accountability Office, which has been looking into what happened to about 18,000 votes in a controversial Florida election, released a preliminary report today saying it can't exclude the possibility that voting machines were responsible for the undervotes in that race. The GAO says that initial tests on the voting machines conducted by Florida election officials after the election were insufficient and that the GAO needs to conduct more tests. Though the GAO also said that such tests may not be able to provide absolute assurance that the machines were or were not at fault.

"Absolute assurance is impossible to achieve because we are unable to recreate the conditions of the election in which the undervote occurred," the report notes. But further tests could "reduce the possibility that the iVotronic DREs were the cause of the undervote and shift attention to the possibilities that the undervote was the result of intentional actions by the voter or voters that did not properly cast their votes on the voting system."

The report, published here provides details about how the GAO has conducted its investigation so far, including the documents and software it has examined. Read the Entire Article

Secretary of State and Attorney General Agree on Paper-based Voting for Kentucky
Kentucky Secretary of State Press Release - October 3, 2007

Download the Kentucky Report

Secretary of State Trey Grayson, chair of the State Board of Elections and Kentucky’s Chief Elections Official, received a report today commissioned by Attorney General Greg Stumbo that, among other things, encourages Kentucky to move to optical scan voting machines as Grayson has advocated.

“I appreciate General Stumbo’s willingness to work with the State Board of Elections to further strengthen our election laws and procedures.  This effort marks a continuation of our offices’ efforts to work together in a non-partisan way to root out election fraud in the Commonwealth,” remarked Grayson. “We will review this report and act accordingly to ensure that Kentucky election procedures remain a national model for other states to follow.”

The Office of the Attorney General requested that Mr. Jeremy Epstein, a voting systems expert, issue a report to further strengthen voting systems in Kentucky.  Mr. Epstein was granted permission by the State Board of Elections to attend the voting systems examiners meeting on September 17, 2007 where many of Kentucky’s current voting systems were examined. Read the Entire Press Release

Ohio Secretary of State Brunner Provides Background on Voting System Review
by Ohio Secretary of State Press Release. - September 25, 2007

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today received unanimous approval from the State Controlling Board waiving competitive selection of firms hired to test Ohio's electronic voting systems

Secretary Brunner initiated this project on January 8, 2007, the first day of her administration, and staff developed a request for proposals that was introduced publicly on June 18, 2007. Brunner's administration received five proposals in mid-July and determined that the best and most responsive proposers were SysTest Labs, Incorporated and MicroSolved, Inc. Included in the SysTest contract will be the work of four universities to conduct independent parallel testing, including an operational review, as subcontractors to SysTest. The four participating universities are: Cleveland State University (performing operational review), Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania and WebWise Security, Inc., a research group of professors and PhD Students of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The project will be managed by the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio and will include collaboration and advice from a representative, bipartisan group of Ohio's local election officials.

Read the Entire Article

"Trust, But Verify": Tennessee Advisory Commission Issues Voting System Report
by Verified Voting Foundation - September 27, 2007

Download the TACIR Report

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) is releasing an interim report on their thorough study of voting systems and that they will present at a hearing in Tennessee today. TACIR’s report presents a range of recommendations for improving the security and reliability of its voting systems, shown in context of the current state of systems nationally. Its report includes a discussion of many of the significant recent developments that have affected the debate about voting technology, notably the ground-breaking California “Top to Bottom Review” reports, the most comprehensive study of voting systems of its kind. Ohio is embarking upon a similar review of their state’s voting systems, and Alaska is considering such a review.

VerifiedVoting.org strongly endorses many of the Commission’s recommendations, which closely parallel positions that we have advocated since our inception. Key among those is that without voter-verified paper ballots, it is not practical to provide reasonable assurance of the integrity of electronic voting systems by any combination of design review, inspection, testing, logical analysis, or control of the system development process.

Recognizing that the paperless DREs used in 93 of Tennessee’s 95 counties “allow no check on the electronically-generated count other than the same machines and software to recount the same electronically recorded votes,” the Commission appears to support the adoption of a paper ballot optical scan voting system in conjunction with ballot marking devices, with which we agree strongly. Optical scan balloting systems are reliable and cost-effective, and with ballot-markers, more accessible than most DRE systems.

The Commission correctly notes that a paper ballot would facilitate another of their recommendations: mandatory post election audits. Such audits are routinely conducted in a number of other states and are neither difficult nor expensive to do; the benefits accrued in voter confidence and security are immeasurably greater than any costs involved. Read the Entire Article

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