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Verified Voting Newsletter -- Volume 1, Number 13

Verified voting newsletter -- Volume 1, Number 13

Voter Verification Newsletter -- Vol 1, Number 13


November 11, 2003

David L. Dill
http://www.verifiedvoting.org

For previous newsletters, see
http://www.verifiedvoting.org/newsletters.htm

To SUBSCRIBE to this newsletter, go to http://www.verifiedvoting.org/contact.asp. Be sure to include your email address and mark the checkbox at the bottom that says "Please add me to the low-volume verifiedvoting.org email list."

CALIFORNIA HALTS CERTIFICATION OF DIEBOLD MACHINES

In a public meeting on November 3, the California Secretary of State halted, indefinitely, the certification process for new voting machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems. Marc Carrel, Assistant Secretary of State, explained that his office had recently received "disconcerting information" that Diebold may have installed uncertified software on its touch-screen machines used in one county (Alameda, it turns out). The office has delayed the certification process pending an investigation.

Several California counties are planning to purchase the machines in question, including San Diego County, which is huge.

The full story is at

http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,61068,00.html

LOST VOTES IN FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA

Fairfax county used new touch screen voting systems from AVS for the first time on Nov. 4. We quote from the Washington Post:

School Board member Rita S. Thompson (R), who lost a close race to retain her at-large seat, said yesterday that the new computers might have taken votes from her. Voters in three precincts reported that when they attempted to vote for her, the machines initially displayed an "x" next to her name but then, after a few seconds, the "x" disappeared.

In response to Thompson's complaints, county officials tested one of the machines in question yesterday and discovered that it seemed to subtract a vote for Thompson in about "one out of a hundred tries," said Margaret K. Luca, secretary of the county Board of Elections.

"It's hard not to think that I have been robbed," said Thompson, whose 77,796 recorded votes left her 1,662 shy of reelection. She is considering her next step, and said she was wary of challenging the election results: "I'm not sure the county as a whole is up for that. I'm not sure I'm up for that."

Marks disappearing after a few seconds and losing a few percent of the votes are very insidious errors -- there is a good chance they would not be noticed by the voters, but they could decide an election.

We are constantly hearing reassurrances that touch screen machines are inspected and tested at the Federal level, certified at the state level, and are subjected to extensive logic and accuracy tests before each election.

Still, they lose votes.

There was also an incident where 9 or 10 machines failed in the precinct and were removed to be repaired, apparently in violation of election laws. The same article continues:

Meanwhile, attorneys for local Republicans and GOP candidate Mychele B. Brickner, who lost her bid to chair the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, went before a Circuit Court judge yesterday morning, asking him to keep 10 voting machines under lock and key and not to include their tabulations in the results. The machines, from nine precincts scattered across the county, broke down about midday Tuesday and were brought to the county government center for repairs and then returned to the polls -- a violation of election law, Republicans argued.

The full story is in

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6291-2003Nov5.html

HR 2239 PUSH

Our best hope for ensuring election integrity before the 2004 presidential election is HR 2239, Rep. Rush Holt's "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act", which is languishing in the House Committee on Administration. The current Congressional session will end sometime between now and the end of the year, so the situation is becoming increasingly urgent.

On October 15, we began asking volunteers to contact a specific list of Representatives, find out their positions on (H.R. 2239), provide information to the staff from our resources page if necessary, and report back what happened and what they found out.

Results have been spectacular:

- Twenty-one new co-sponsors signed on, bringing the total to 66.

- Many who hadn't even heard of the bill were informed about the problem by our volunteers and agreed to support it.

- Holt scheduled floor time to discuss the bill -- it was on C-SPAN on October 29.

The challenge now is to get some Republican co-sponsors, since the current co-sponsors are all Democrats. We now have volunteers working on that issue.

One problem is that the head of the House Committee on Administration, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio (18th District), is not supporting the bill. It would help greatly if his constituents would let him know of their concern about verifiable voting.

If you would like to help, please send email to pass2239@verifiedvoting.org.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OPINION ON VVPT

(from Kim Alexander)

The United States Department of Justice has issued an opinion, through its Office of Legal Counsel, stating that the inclusion of a voter-verified paper audit trail as a feature for a Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machine would be consistent with both the Help America Vote Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, so long as the DRE voting system provides a similar opportunity for sight-impaired voters to verify their ballots before those ballots are finally cast.

The opinion is dated October 10 and was issued in response to an August 12th request from California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. It is online at: http://www.usdoj.gov/olc/2003opinions.htm

This opinion is important because many elections officials who support the voter-verified paper trail are concerned that implementing this requirement would invite lawsuits from disability groups claiming the voter-verified paper trail violates the rights of blind voters. This opinion should put to rest those concerns.

Here's the summary:

"A direct recording electronic voting system that produces a contemporaneous paper record, which is not accessible to sight-impaired voters but which allows sighted voters to confirm that their ballots accurately reflect their choices before the system officially records their votes, would be consistent with the Help America Vote Act and with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so long as the voting system provides a similar opportunity for sight-impaired voters to verify their ballots before those ballots are finally cast."

Here's a great excerpt from the opinion:

"The ability to verify one's ballot before casting it is essential, cf. § 15481(a)(1)(A)(i), but the availability of multiple techniques by which to do so is not. Disability accommodations often result in a greater range of methods by which non-disabled persons can accomplish their goals, yet such accommodations are not deemed to deny equal opportunities for disabled persons for that reason alone. Consider a building that provides both a set of stairs and a wheelchair ramp to its outdoor entrance. Non-disabled persons have more means to enter the building (they can use either the stairs or the ramp), while the wheelchair-bound person can use only the ramp. But no one would contend that such a building has deprived disabled persons of the "same opportunity" to access the building. That is because the essential requirement of access -- the ability to get to the front door -- is available to all. The means to achieve that end differ, and non-disabled persons have a greater number of options, but provision of the ramp suffices to provide disabled persons with a similar (though not "identical") opportunity. So too with the DRE voting systems, as you have described them. "

CLAIM DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE

"A broad coalition of pro-democracy organizations has joined to organize a major conference on the theme of Claim Democracy: Securing, Enhancing and Exercising the Power of the Right to Vote . The conference will take place at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center on the weekend of November 22-23."

http://www.democracyusa.org/events/conference.html

The issue of voting machine security and voter verifiable audit trails will be discussed in a panel and in a debate.

This is a great opportunity to show the depth of public concern with this issue, as well as meeting many others who are concerned with improving our democratic processes.

ANOTHER VENDOR ACCIDENTALLY RELEASES CODE

Déjà vu. It's recently been discovered that Sequoia, too, made its "secure" voting software available to the public on an unprotected server. The software was stored- unencrypted and unprotected - on an FTP server owned by Jaguar Computer Systems, a Riverside firm that provides election support to a California county. After the discovery was made public, Jaguar blocked public access, but before that the FTP server had allowed anyone to access it anonymously. The software is used for placing ballots on voting kiosks and for storing and tabulating results for the Sequoia AVC Edge touch-screen system.

Unlike the Diebold incident earlier this year, this is NOT the software that runs in the voting machines.

The security breach highlights the deficiencies of the arguments that total secrecy aids the security of software. In fact, secrecy prevents criticism that could strengthen the security of the system -- but the secrets leak out anyway.

Read the whole story at:

http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/0,1848,61014,00.html

ANOMALIES IN THE CALIFORNIA RECALL ELECTION EXPLAINED

Right after the California recall election, an alert person in another state noticed anomalies in the vote totals -- some minor candidates had inexplicably large vote totals in some counties. While the number of votes were too small to affect the outcome of the recall election, the discrepancies were difficult to explain. The candidates did not have any connections with the counties, in most cases, and had no explanations themselves. There were even charges of vote fraud on some internet sites (and in my incoming email).

I spoke about this with Hiley Wallis, Election Division Manager in Tulare County. The ballot is 8 1/2 X 18 inches, and there are three columns. The minor candidates who received unexpectedly large vote totals were those who were next to a major candidate.

It is plausible that a small percentage of voters marked the place in the ballot to the right of some candidates instead of to the left, so a small percentage of errors were diverted from the major candidate to the minor candidate through voter error.

California has a legal requirement that 1% of the precincts be manually tallied (in this case, that's two precincts, one of which was quite large). The manual tally showed that the machines had counted the ballots accurately (as it always does, apparently). It seems that the ballots were counted as marked.

"Ballot rotation" rearranges the order of candidates on the ballot, so that candidates don't have an unfair advantage due to their position on the ballot. But rotation is done by assembly district, and the majority of voters in Tulare county are in the same district.

The recall made for some unique ballot layout challenges because there were 135 candidates for one race. Normally, it is not such a problem. The next time she has a race with that many candidates, she might consider adding a warning to the instructions, since she doesn't have a lot of leeway to go to another ballot layout.

Lessons:

* Elections should be closely scrutinized for a lot of reasons, including not only the possibility of fraud, but other problems.

* If problems are investigated in elections that are not close, they can perhaps be fixed before they end up deciding an election.

* If there is a paper ballot, it is possible to determine whether a an anomaly results from machine error or voter error.

It was reported later that a polling firm had analyzed the anomalies and come to similar conclusions.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A37523-2003Oct29.html

SCHUYLER COUNTY (NY) PASSES RESOLUTION FOR VVPT

On Tuesday, October 14th, 2003, Schuyler County (New York) Legislature passed a resolution favoring voter-verified paper trail and urging New York State to amend its HAVA implementation plan to include the provisions. The Legislature also requests support from "our U.S. Senators, our U.S. Congressman, our State Senator, Assemblyman and our Governor as well as Sheldon Silver and Senator Bruno."

This resolution was passed unanimously by four Republican legislators and three Democrats. This is an important indication of the growing non-partisan awareness of the problem.

We have reproduced the text of the resolution in a link from our Resources page

http://www.verifiedvoting.org/article_text.asp?articleid=138.

STATE LEGISLATORS GET INVOLVED IN THE MARYLAND VOTING SITUATION

The Maryland legislature has decided to become involved in the pending $55.6 million purchase of Diebold machines. On October 21, the Washington Post reported that Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County) and Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery) officially requested the Maryland Department of Legislative Services to examine the SAIC report on security weakness in the Diebold systems. The say they do not trust Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to resolve the matter on his own.

Hollinger, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees electoral issues, said "We first want to know what's going on. The legislature has not been involved at all. Whether there's a problem or not, the only way to determine it is we do it independently.

"Elections are for everybody, 'D's and 'R's and 'I's and everybody else on the ballot. In the next election, everybody ought to feel it's not influenced by partisanship."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55918-2003Oct20.html

A REQUEST FOR HELP FROM THE UK

Jason Kitcat of the free e-democracy project has asked our help in acquiring signatures for their resolution. He writes to VerifiedVoting.org:

"In the run up to the UK Government deciding whether to pilot e-voting in the 2004 European elections the free e-democracy project and the Foundation for Information Policy Research have put together a resolution calling for voter verifiable voting.

"As a friend of our work we're asking you to help our 'soft launch' by endorsing the resolution and passing on the link. Once we have collected a good set of signatures we will launch the resolution to the press and the wider world. http://www.free-project.org/resolution/"

PLEASE UPDATE YOUR ENDORSEMENT PREFERENCES

We have recently become more proactive, as our HR2239 push shows. As a result, we've discovered that we could really use more information about our endorsers and those of you who have signed up for the newsletter. For example, if you only want to receive the newsletter, we don't want to send you any other emails. But if you want to help with our activities, we want to know that, too, so we can send you our requests for volunteers.

Our webmaster has been working long hours to develop a page you can use to update your preferences so we can respect your wishes and use your talents in exactly the way you prefer. So, when you get a chance, please go to the update page and complete the form.

http://www.verifiedvoting.org/endorserupdate.asp

The first time you login, you'll need to have us send you your password. There's a link for that above the sign-in.

*** ENDS ***

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