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Verified Voting Marks 10 Years of Safeguarding US Elections

Verified Voting Marks 10 Years of Safeguarding Elections with a Busy Start to 2014

In 2004, Verified Voting began working to make U.S. voting systems more secure. The organization sprang from the energy created when founder David Dill issued the Resolution on Electronic Voting, which today has 10,000+ endorsers including top computer security experts and elected officials. Dill was subsequently appointed to the California Ad Hoc Task Force on Touch Screen Voting by then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (now a Verified Voting Board member).

Click here to read Dave and Kevin’s look back at the origin of their relationship…

What a difference a decade makes! At the time, fewer than one-sixth of the states had a requirement for voters to be able to verify their vote on a paper record or ballot: today, nearly three-fourths do. Yet, this November, sixteen states will use voting systems that do not provide an independent means of verifying individual votes, and nearly half the states will not conduct post-election audits to verify the accuracy of election results.

So, Verified Voting is noting its milestone anniversary by continuing its hard work in these states and many others. In Virginia, we supported amendments to hold off online voting pending a review of feasibility and costs. In New Hampshire, we testified in support of post-election audits, while in neighboring Massachusetts we also spoke out in support of an audit provision currently in conference. Vermont too is considering making post-election audits a requirement instead of an option. In Connecticut we testified for audits, and we applaud a recent report from the Secretary of State spotlighting security and privacy issues with online voting. And in Oregon, we are happy to note that a bill to study online voting that was moving even after the Secretary of States' website was hacked and taken offline for 18 days has been shelved at the request of its author. Read more about what's happening in the states here.

A Look Back at the Origins of Verified Voting with Founder David Dill and Former California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley
The following is the first in a series of occasional conversations about Verified Voting by those who know it best. We begin with VV Founder David Dill and former California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley discussing their ‘origin story’:
Kevin Shelley (KS): I had been in the state legislature prior to becoming Secretary of State. During that time I worked on a number of bills to increase voter participation, which in California had been on the decline for a number of years. We passed an absentee voter measure, as well as Prop 41 which was a bond measure for registrars to purchase voting technologies and equipment, with a 3-1 match by the state. So, I ran for Secretary of State with this abiding focus on continuing this push, knowing that in that office I would oversee the election process and really be able to work to increase voter participation. I was a BIG advocate of touch screen voting machines – like so many others, I thought they were a great choice to clear up chad problems like we had seen in Florida, to provide greater access for the disability community, to reach remote voters. I felt we could use technology to increase voter participation, and I had NO sense of issues involving security. I never even thought about it.

David Dill (DD): I learned about the issue casually when I read an article in the New Yorker (Annals of Democracy – Counting Votes) in 1988 on voting machines. Other than that I didn’t think about it much. I followed the Florida meltdown and wasn’t happy about it; it very clear that the existing voting system was terrible. But in late 2002, I started reading statements about upgrading voting machines, which also resulted in a lot of conspiracy theories about why that would be a bad thing. In trying to dissect the argument, what I couldn’t answer was the question of how could you possibly make e-voting trustworthy, anyhow? From there I started talking to David Jefferson, Ron Rivest and Kim Alexander (of the California Voter Foundation), to whom I sent the first email I ever wrote on this subject. When they couldn’t explain how to make trustworthy voting machines, I knew there was a problem. I wrote the Resolution on Electronic Voting and went about getting various people to sign it. In the meantime, Santa Clara County (where I live) announced they were going to use voting machines! Barbara Simons and I immediately piled a bunch of computer scientists in a car to go to a meeting tell the Board of Supervisors that it was very bad idea, but they decided to go ahead with contract anyhow. We persisted, and attended several more Board of Supervisor’s meetings about the pending purchase. After a few meetings, we were unexpectedly getting local and even national coverage in both the print and television media. While it seemed that the general public wasn’t really aware of or concerned about the issue, it turned out that politicians were paying attention. I found that out when I heard that Kevin Shelley said publicly that “something needed to be done about the group of computer scientists who were scaring the crap out of election officials.” And that’s about the time I got a call from Kevin inviting me to come meet in his office.

KS: I had been in office for a couple of months, and I kept seeing this guy David Dill quoted in the media. As I have joked many times I thought he was nuts! I thought this can’t be real, they are just scaring us. So I called him and he came to meet with me in my San Francisco office. In a very cogent manner he articulated concerns about touch screen voting machines, in a context I hadn’t considered before. He left me a bunch of materials, and referred me to where I could find a lot of others that could help me become familiar with the issues. I began a very intense study process into the alleged problems and was horrified by what I found. Dave Dill was not only correct, but prophetic at predicting the problems to come. Everything he said at our first meeting was counter to my beliefs at the time, but it ended up becoming one of the centerpieces of what I did as Secretary of State.

DD: I showed up at Kevin’s office not really knowing what the agenda was, not knowing much about Kevin, and knowing nothing about politics. For his part, Kevin knew nothing about technology, yet here we were at the intersection of the two. Generally policy makers just want to increase voter participation. I had gotten a negative reaction from some other groups and individuals in the public policy arena, but Kevin turned out to be very open-minded. My philosophy has always been to have the facts and try to tell the story in a credible way. I think Kevin really got it.

KS: Dave’s presentation was very compelling. To follow up I created the Touch Screen Task Force, which I asked him to join along with David Jefferson, Kim Alexander, staff from my office, and a number of local Registrars of Voters. They held hearings around the state, collected input, and came up with two reports: A majority report that concluded that touch screen voting systems were sound and there was no need for a voter verified paper audit trail, and a minority report which stressed the need for exactly that, among other areas of focus like ballot security. After spending a weekend reading though these two distinct and voluminous reports, I concluded that the majority report written by my staff and the Registrars had it wrong, and that I would move forward with Dave, David and Kim’s recommendations.

DD: That Task Force was a miserable experience. It started out polarized, there was not a lot of listening. We had to work hard at giving our side of the story. The security proposals seemed completely hollow…when we tried to get certification labs and manufacturers to come talk to us, only one would come, and all they would say was that everything was proprietary. We offered to have the conversation by phone or email and still they wouldn’t agree. This stonewalling on providing information on the quality of their own machines was, to us, very eye opening. These vendors were either not giving or misrepresenting facts to the Task Force, and ultimately the Secretary of State’s office.

KS: For the statewide primary in March 2004, I had ordered that a number of security measures be implemented, including the availability of paper ballots at polling places. The RABA Report on Diebold touch screen electronic voting systems had come out of Maryland; I adopted the recommendations and ordered the Registrars to initiate them. Only the Secretary of State can decide policy on voting machines and technologies, and so I ordered the counties to implement the recommended security processes and I asked the voting machine vendors to abide as well. I can only describe what happened next as being ‘blown off’. The vendors assured the Registrars they could and would pull off a good election. But that’s not what happened. There were notable failures in multiple locations, where precincts couldn’t open because machines were not working or the operating cards didn’t work, and there were no paper ballots available. Voters waited for hours or just left in frustration. I ended up decertifying not only specific machines that had failed, but also all the machines in California. Vendors could apply for recertification of specific machines which would be tested to see if they met the RABA report standards. In the face of a lawsuit from various groups that didn’t comprehend the security issues, the Court agreed with the decertification and the November elections proceeded with our security measures in place.

DD: At the end of the day, it’s about having a credible voting system. We are not alleging fraud like many conspiracy theorists have done. We are simply saying, as we have through the years, that elections should be trustworthy. And we have worked to make them so, because they are critical to democracy.

KS: Dave’s approach was critical to my truly understanding the issue. I can say that today, awareness on this issue is night and day from where it was when we first met. We are back to primarily paper ballots and audit trails, light years from where we were headed.

DD: Still, there is work ahead. People keep coming up with bad ideas for election technology. There will always be a need for organizations without political agenda to focus on making sure our elections are trustworthy and administered better and better every year.

Voting Technology Continues to Evolve: RIP Punch Cards, We Knew You Well

Following closely on the heels of Mechanical Lever Machines, which were phased out in 2010, the days of the Votomatic punch card system are approaching their end. In 2014, they will be used in 2 counties in the State of Idaho, and nowhere else. Back in 1980, these voting systems were used by 43 and 31 percent of voters, respectively. By 2004, when Verified Voting began its work, those numbers had dropped to 14 and 13 percent and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines (29.5 percent) and Paper Ballots with Optical Scans (35 percent) had taken up much of the market share. In 2012, the latter surged ahead to serve some 67% of all voters, while DREs served 29%. This means nearly a third of voters could not verify their vote was recorded as they intended. In a close election there would be nothing to fall back on for a recount, should one be needed.

The Votomatic and its punch cards introduced electronic technology into our election systems by proving a scan-able ballot for computers to read. They also hastened the rush toward touch screen equipment when voters and officials felt betrayed by them in 2000. So as we bid farewell to the punch card and its history, we are grateful to have helped steer the conversation back toward a common sense approach to voting systems incorporating better voter verifiability and audit capability.

VV Receives Honors at Election Verification Network (EVN) Conference
The 10th Annual EVN Conference was held in early March in Verified Voting's adopted home town of San Diego. VV founder David Dill was recognized for his contributions to election verification, as was VV Board Member Kevin Shelley. President Pam Smith, who received the John Gideon Award for her long time commitment to advocacy on election issues said, "We are deeply humbled and appreciative, as we know our work is impossible without your work and support." This means you, so thank you for all you do!!


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