From Discover magazine’s blog:
What’s Easier to Rig—the U.S. Presidential Elections or a Slot Machine?
Steve Freeman, a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, compared the vulnerabilities of the two in his book, with some pretty alarming results. Among the problems he found:
–Unpredictable voting machine software is kept secret, while gambling software must be kept on file with the state.
–State inspectors randomly inspect gambling machines to ensure their software and computer chips haven’t been tinkered with. Voting machines don’t need to be checked, and no one knows what’s in them anyways.
When will we have a transparent verifiable election system?
The SacBee gives us some follow-up information to the decision to tally votes centrally in Sacramento:
mproper maintenance of some of Sacramento County’s voting machines – and the tint of the Feb. 5 ballots – were to blame for malfunctions that sidelined vote-counting scanners and delayed results of last month’s presidential primary, according to the county’s top election official.
The problems have been corrected and the scanners are expected to be used in the June election, Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine said in a report to the county Board of Supervisors.
Because of the malfunction, all ballots had to be counted in the election department’s central command in south Sacramento – instead of some being processed as usual at the precincts.
During its investigation, the county said that the vendor that supplies and maintains the scanners, Elections Systems & Software, conducted improper recalibration and preventive maintenance on the machines in December.
- I’m glad to see that there was some sort of quality testing that occurred so that problems were noticed.
- I’m surprised that the issues were universal at all precincts. For a problem of that scale you would expect that someone (ES&S – the vendor?) would be contractually responsible for their mistakes.
- I’m not very comfortable with the resolution which was to use central tabulation. Central tabulation requires that there are observers of the counting and a strong chain of custody for the ballots. Precinct level counting is more robust in this regard. Perhaps a fall-back to manual precinct level counting might have been better.
From the Chicago Methods Reporter comes this story about poorly trained election administrators and misapplied overrides. One of the affected voters writes:
“Jim and I went to vote at 7 a.m. We were given Democratic ballots and pens. But when I got to the booth, my pen didn’t work — it was like a felt-tip marker with no ink. So I went back to the desk and was told — along with several other confused voters trying to swap out their nonfunctional pens — that these were “invisible ink” pens that would not leave marks on the ballot but would absolutely be read by the scanners.
Except that they weren’t. The optical scanners were spitting out ballots until one of the election judges used a key to override the system and get the ballots into the box. After my ballot was rejected once, I got a confirmation that my vote “counted” (when the number on the ballot box blipped from 19 to 20), but Jim was given a regular ballpoint to fill in his, and it counted right away.”
The voter made enough of a fuss that they managed to get the precinct to try to “make good”. They did this by contacting the first 20 voters at that location and inviting them to re-vote.
The Chicago Tribune covers this too.
(Aside: There are voting systems that really do use special pens. For example the soon-to-be publicly described Scantegrity II system uses invisible ink on part of the ballot that is only visible when highlighted.)
Rick Carback of punchscan has asked me to help publicize a project of his.
He describes it here as a discussion board-like setting for discussing the latest VVSG Draft.:
This week I started disseminating news of my latest project, the VVSG-OF. The idea is to provide a discussion board-like setting for discussing the latest VVSG Draft. The hope is that, through open discussion, a few new ideas might come up that would not otherwise happen in the short times available in conferences on the document.
This is not to be confused with EAC’s own comment tool, which is a convenient, albeit mostly one-way, avenue to express your opinions on the document. When the comment period is over in early March, I will print out all the comments and mail them to the EAC (by me on behalf of each commenter).
If you are at all interesting in the voting process and where that will be heading in the coming years, I urge you to take a look!
Bob has a short, well written article on election integrity entitled Conspiracy Theorist. It’s a good resource to point people to whose reaction to election integrity issues is to ask “What’s the problem? Just vote and trust that the votes will be counted accurately.”:
“We should at least get votes back on paper and get people counting them by hand.”
This is not what I’d like to be writing about. Our nation’s soul is bleeding, its future up for grabs. The candidates jockey for a mandate — our mandate — and they’ll define it as narrowly as possible unless we define it for them.
Why, then, must I divert my attention from matters such as this and ponder . . . memory cards and molded plastic deflectors? Ah, democracy! We can’t simply leave it to the voting machine vendors any more than we can leave it to the politicians. The O-rings and gusset plates of democracy are poised to fail in every election; every vote does not count. The media and most government officials are still in denial about this, still dazzled by glitzy, electronic voting technology or maybe just trapped in their billion-dollar commitment to it. Besides, when has technology ever gone backwards?
But the call for paper ballots and hand counting — however jarring and quaint it may sound in the 21st century — comes most urgently not from Luddites or flat-Earthers but the technophiles and self-proclaimed geeks who understand computers most intimately, and know their vulnerabilities.
While security concerns are paramount in our financial and just about all other dealings…, we maintain a remarkable sense of denial that hunger for power could ever lead to breaches of democratic integrity. What are you, a conspiracy theorist?
No, but I’m from Chicago and I cut my teeth as a reporter back in the waning days of the Daley (Senior) Machine, when precinct captains didn’t need no conspiracy to know they needed to deliver their precinct, or else, and would do what it took. The quest for political power is raw and all too often dirty. That basic truth hasn’t changed.
- I’m glad to see more attention to the problems with electronic voting machines
- The praise for the ritual of placing a ballot into a ballot box is bogus. That is just an argument for status quo and could be used to justify all sorts of poor practices – such as having voting occur on a workday (Tuesday).
- I’m not a fan of electronic voting machines but it is unfair to say that there are no benefits to using them. I list a few benefits and problems below. To me the problems far outweigh the benefits.
- Some benefits of electronic voting machines are: faster initial reporting of results, ability to handle many ballot variations with minimal waste (eg: variations for each precinct and for language preference), improved disability access.
- Some problems with electronic voting are: very serious election integrity issues, cost (in my understanding), limited number of machines available in a location so unacceptably long waits when sufficient number of machines are not in a precinct, potential use in vote suppression via technology and access barriers.
From the SacBee, Sacramento County machine flaws to delay results:
Problems with Sacramento County voting machines will stall Feb. 5’s election results for hours. Results may not come until well after your morning coffee – the next day, county elections officials said Wednesday.
“It might be slow, but it will be accurate,” offered Brad Buyse, a spokesman for the local election office.
He said the county discovered problems with the equipment used to count ballots in neighborhood polling places a couple weeks ago.
After days working with the ballot printer and election machine vendor to try to solve the problem – and Feb. 5’s presidential primary only days away – elections officials decided to take the faulty machines out of the mix.
So rather than scan ballots at each of the county’s 548 polling places, ballots will be taken back to the central office and tabulated using larger, faster machines that have passed required tests.
Tuesday election results usually come in by midnight. This time around, it could be 9 a.m. Wednesday before all the ballots are counted, Buyse said.
- An 8 hour delay in knowing election results is not an issue in my view
- It would be nice to understand what specific issues were found with the machines.
- In addition to not providing feedback about over/under votes (brought up in the article) there is an election integrity concern with moving from precinct tallying to central tallying. The chain-of-custody of the ballots becomes more suspect and the possibility of tampering while ballots are in transit or storage arises. Most election integrity advocates (who are not pushing for end-to-end verifiable systems) advocate for counting the ballots at the precinct level so that chain-of-custody issues are less pressing. For an example of recent chain of custody issues with central counting, consider the case of New Hampshire’s democratic primary (scroll down to the “Butch” and “Hoppy” part).
I stayed up late on Tuesday to watch the late screening of Uncounted at the Crest Theater in Sacramento.
The whole experience was great. The movie was lucid and clearly demonstrated that our voting system has serious election integrity issues and that these issues are exacerbated by the use of electronic voting machines. I liked it so much that I bought a copy of the movie so that I can re-watch it later, look through the extended interviews, and show it to friends.
After the screening there was a panel discussion and Q&A session with David Earnhardt (the director), Peter B. Collins (local progressive radio host), and Brad Friedman (investigative journalist focused on election integrity).
I chatted with Brad a bit during the first screening. Continue reading