Friday, January 4, 2008

Will Your Vote Count?

As we begin the 2008 election cycle with primaries and caucuses, we need to know that our voting system has some integrity. Some news reports have been disconcerting.

Story after story are beginning to pop up regarding the results of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) and the new machines being employed by many states. Apparently, many voting machines are being challenged, and it is being said that they are unfit.

In Yahoo News, one report said this:
With the presidential race in full swing, Colorado and other states have found critical flaws in the accuracy and security of their electronic voting machines, forcing officials to scramble to return to the paper ballots they abandoned after the Florida debacle of 2000.

In December alone, top election officials in Ohio and Colorado declared that widely used voting equipment is unfit for elections.

"Every system that is out there, one state or another has found that they are no good," said John Gideon of the advocacy group Voters Unite. "Everybody is starting to look at this now and starting to realize that there is something wrong."
researchers in Ohio and Colorado found that electronic voting systems could be corrupted with magnets or with Treos and other similar handheld devices.

In Colorado, two kinds of Sequoia Voting Systems electronic voting machines used in Denver and three other counties were decertified because of security weaknesses, including a lack of password protection. Equipment made by Election Systems and Software had programming errors. And optical scanning machines, made by Hart InterCivic, had an error rate of one out of every 100 votes during tests by the state.
In another short article featured at Slashdot they reported about how the voting machines in Colorado have been decertified:
"On December 17, Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman decertified election equipment used by 64 Colorado counties, including machines made by Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold Election Systems. A report issued by the Secretary of State's office details a myriad of problems such as lack of password protection on the systems, controls that could give voters unauthorized access, and the absence of any way to track or detect security violations. Manufacturers have 30 days to appeal the decertification."
Another short article at slashdot reported this regarding Ohio machines:
"A comprehensive study of electronic voting systems (PDF) by vendors ES&S, Hart InterCivic and Premier (formerly Diebold) found that 'all of the studied systems possess critical security failures that render their technical controls insufficient to guarantee a trustworthy election'. In particular, they note all systems provide insufficiently protection against threats from election insiders, do not follow well-known security practices, and have 'deeply flawed software maintenance' practices." Some of these machines are the ones California testers found fault with last week.
This is all very troubling for sure, and people are even calling the Diebold machines "Liebold" machines. That's not good.

In Connecticut we have switched to scanner machines which had a bunch of problems during our 2007 November municipal elections statewide. It was a rainy day and people had problems with their ballots if they happened to brush up against them with a wet jacket or umbrella. Some people were not even sure if their vote was scanned correctly, or if their vote counted. Every vote in CT goes through the scanner system, even absentee ballots and phone call votes. You cannot vote without being included in the scanner tabulations. So if the scanners don't scan correctly, your vote may be lost. CT has been wrangling with how to do voter recounts. Websites like CTVotersCount and TrueVoteCT have been established, and both offer some very interesting reading.

There is also a national movement to stop voting machine fraud, along with many associated websites like Watch the Vote 2008 which are trying to bring awareness to the issue of voter fraud and the problems associated with computerized voting. The national lawsuit called N-CEL - National Clean Elections Lawsuit seeks to make some changes to voting systems and put a halt to the current systems which to them are suspect:
Since at least 1988, the ballots in 49 states and half of New Hampshire are hidden from the people and counted in secret by computers. This procedure violates two Supreme Court rulings. NCEL was filed in all 50 states to remedy this freedom threatening problem.
Read the National Clean Elections Lawsuit. NCEL was filed to restore hand-marked, hand counted paper ballots that never leave the sight or custody of the people until the ballots are counted and the results posted in each neighborhood polling place. This means machine-free, computer-free counts in our elections once again.

All 50 states are being sued to prevent the use of computerized voting systems during the 2008 primary and general elections and beyond. The lawsuit seeks to halt the use of machine-based voting systems and vote counting procedures that hide the ballots and the counting of votes from the People.

The NCEL complaint challenges the constitutionality of current voting procedures in the states, claiming that they “heighten the possibility of confusion, deception, frustration, and fraud.” It contends that the existing practices are constitutionally deficient and prevent open, verifiable, transparent voting, and that the use of discredited electronic voting machines and flawed vote counting procedures drastically increase the likelihood of error and election fraud. The lawsuit calls for a visible chain of ballot custody with paper ballots kept in full public view throughout the voting, counting, and tallying process. The lawsuit asks the Court to prohibit the states from conducting elections that are not open, verifiable, transparent and machine and computer free.
The validity and confidence of our voting system is of utmost importance. Yet, we do not just want to give the illusion that each person's vote counts, we have to make sure that it does. We have seen that with the Diebold machines they can be hacked such that you can get a paper verification of your vote and yet the vote tally can end up saying something else. Clearly that is a huge problem. Something will have to be done to make sure that elections are transparent, open and visible, and accurate. Thank goodness there are individuals and organizations that are committed to making sure that happens. I think that HAVA created a mess, and I certainly hope that voting confidence can be restored.

"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case." - Thomas Paine

"Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." - Attributed to Communist Dictator: Joseph Stalin

Past posts on this issue from COTG:
Rigged Voting Machines
Connecticut - Absentee Balloting And Voting With The New Scanner System

(H/T on Slashdot articles Chad T.)


Susan said...

Interesting about the failures of the OH machines. I'm wondering if those are the same machines used in the last presidential election. I bet there's a few OH voters who would like to know that one.

Great Stalin quote find!

Mary Nix said...

Those would be the ones. This is a very, very long story, but here is an article for starters.

August 28, 2003 by the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Voting Machine Controversy
by Julie Carr Smyth

COLUMBUS - The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in Ohio told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

The Aug. 14 letter from Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Inc. - who has become active in the re-election effort of President Bush - prompted Democrats this week to question the propriety of allowing O'Dell's company to calculate votes in the 2004 presidential election.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

New Mexico went to old fashioned paper ballots marked with a pen and hand-counted, checked, and re-checked. Although there are still problems with voter fraud--the dead vote here in certain precincts--people have a lot more confidence in the actual process. One unintended benefit of this method, is that the lines for voting are much shorter. This is because you can provide many study carrels for privacy for the cost of one voting machine. There was some concern with the efficiency of the method, but in our state certification of the results can take up to ten days anyway, and it is worth the wait time to get accurate results. When citizens have no confidence in the process, it undermines our republic.