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Verified Voting Blog: Report on New York Voting System Pilot

Testimony on the voting machine pilot I gave at the New York State Senate Election Committee’s hearing on November 30, 2009. Full submitted testimony is posted here.

New York State was wise to do a pilot of our new voting systems. It provides an opportunity to work out the kinks in new systems and the procedures for managing them, allows us to learn from the inevitable mistakes, and to apply what we learn in the future. In my opinion, New York’s just concluded pilot was extremely valuable and revealed some important areas that need improvement. Certainly, privacy and ballot design issues often came up. However, given my limited speaking time I will submit comments on those two issues with my written testimony. Today I will discuss another pilot experience from which important lessons can be learned – the failure of some of the new voting machines and how New York can benefit from this failure.

Questions Raised in NY-23 Congressional Race
The NY-23 Congressional race had national attention, with 9 of 47 pilot counties holding elections in this race. Despite assurances from vendors, some of the new machines were inoperable on Election Day. In cases where machines failed, paper ballots were treated according to New York State emergency ballot rules, assuring that all votes were counted. Indeed, this is the great strength of New York’s new voting system – it ultimately relies on the marked paper ballot which contains a software independent record of voter intent. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: No Voting Machine Virus in New York-23 Election

Erroneous reports are circulating that a virus caused a problem in the scanners used in the NY-23 Congressional race. The reports, based on an inaccurate article published in the Gouverneur Times, are incorrect. There was no virus in the NY-23 machines. How do I know? Well, in the first place, the Dominion ImageCast scanners in question run the Linux operating system, which is nearly immune to viruses due to its inherent ability to lock out programs that lack explicit permission to run, unlike the highly vulnerable Windows operating system. Second, the State Board of Elections gave an account of the problem at their public meeting on November 10, and which I confirmed in a phone conversation with staff earlier this week. Here’s what really happened:

Let’s be clear. While no votes were lost due the ability to independently count the paper ballots, a problem did occur that affected certain machines around the state. The issue was a bug in the Dominion source code that caused the machine to hang while creating ballot images for certain vote combinations in multiple candidate elections (the ImageCast, like the other scanner used in New York, the ES&S DS200, creates digital images of each ballot which can be reviewed after the election). So if, for example, a “vote for three candidates out of five” race was voted in a certain way, the scanner would hang. This is one reason why the defect affected some, but not all machines with ballots containing this type of race, because only certain combinations of votes caused the memory problem. But here’s the thing – the problem was discovered before the election. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Enfranchising Military Voters: Michigan Legislators Protect Verifiable, Secret Ballots

In a move to enfranchise soldiers deployed overseas, the Michigan House of Representatives has passed legislation that would allow blank absentee ballots to voters overseas by fax or e-mail. If House Bill 5279 passes the Senate and becomes law, local election officials will be able to send and receive applications for absentee ballots via fax or e-mail, and also be able to send blank absentee ballots to voters electronically. Voters will then print, mark and send the completed physical ballots to their local Michigan election officials. H5279 passed the House unanimously on November 5. Senate committee action is likely in December, according to Emily Carney, an aide to Senate Campaign and Election Oversight Committee chair Sen. Susan McManus.

House Bill 5279 implements a central recommendation of the Pew Center on the States’s January 2009 report “No Time to Vote“. The Pew report stated that Michigan currently does not allow overseas and military voters sufficient time to vote because ballots have to be sent and received via postal mail. The Pew Center recommended that Michigan allow election officials to e-mail blank absentee ballots to overseas and military voters, and accept completed ballots beyond the current election-day deadline. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Email Ballots – A Threat to the Security and Privacy of the Military Vote

Last week  the state Massachusetts, intending to improve military voters access to the ballot while serving overseas, approved a law which throws the integrity and security of those ballots into question by allowing their return by email. The original bill contained excellent provisions which would have helped solve one of the biggest problems facing overseas military personnel – timely receipt of absentee ballots. Currently, absentee ballots are sent by conventional mail, which can take two weeks to reach military voters. The problem is further exacerbated when soldiers are deployed in the field where they may not receive mail for long periods of time.

In its original form, the Massachusetts bill allowed military only to acquire an absentee ballot online. The downloaded blank ballot could then be printed, voted on and sent back, greatly enhancing the availability of ballots. But, in an ill conceived last minute addition, the bill was modified to also allow return of voted ballots by email. In terms of voter privacy and ballot security, email return of ballots is one of the worst choices and should never have been inserted in the bill let alone been approved. It’s not like the data wasn’t available. All lawmakers needed to do was consult a 2008 NIST research document which lays out the problems with email return of ballots in gruesome detail. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Comments on the California Secretary of State’s Precinct Level Data Pilot Project

Thank you for inviting comments on your Precinct Level Data Pilot Project, which seeks to provide precinct-level vote tabulation data to the public. We applaud Secretary Bowen’s pilot program. Timely precinct-level election results from California counties are crucial for establishing the integrity of California’s elections, for supporting analyses of election results and for designing and conducting post-election vote-tabulation audits. We have examined the sample data from the four counties—Orange County, Sacramento County, San Francisco County and San Luis Obispo County—that provided data for the Pilot Project.1 We submit these comments in the hope that you find them helpful as the Pilot Project goes forward. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: National and State Voting Rights Groups Urge Massachusetts Governor Not to Sign Internet Voting Bill

UPDATE November 13: Massachusetts Lawmakers are listening to the concerns raised by computer scientists and civic organizations, and there is interest in correcting the oversight in the bill signed on Wednesday with new emergency legislation. Please visit the VerifiedVoting Action Center to send Massachusetts lawmakers an email urging protection of soldiers’ right to secret, verifiable ballot.

Governor Patrick Must Protect Military Voters’ Right to a Secure, Private Ballot

To exercise their voting rights, Americans in uniform serving overseas must have better access to the process of casting a ballot. Equally important, the process of casting a ballot must be no less secure and verifiable for them than it is for voters at home.

In an effort to remedy longstanding deficiencies in the voting process for overseas and service voters, the General Court enacted House Bill 4310 on November 10. Most of H4310 is laudable, but Section 4 of the bill would create a high-risk voting system for overseas and service voters by allowing voted ballots to be returned via fax or e-mail.  This provision is unnecessary to solve the real problems faced by overseas and military voters, and we urge Governor Patrick to return the bill to the Court with a recommendation to delete it. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: On the Proposed ES&S Merger

Bad for the country, bad for New York

On the face of it, it would seem that the proposed merger of Premier Voting Systems (aka Diebold) and Election Systems & Software (ES&S) shouldn’t matter much to New York State. After all, Premier pulled out of the state over a year ago, and ES&S splits the state’s voting system sales with a competitor, Dominion Voting Systems. But there’s plenty of reason for New Yorkers to be wary of further consolidation of the rapidly shrinking voting machine industry. Recall the not so distant past when ES&S, along with Sequoia Voting Systems, jointly decided that paperless voting was New York’s future and offered only touch screen DREs to the state. When New Yorkers for Verified Voting organized the first ever demonstration of a paper ballot system with an accessible Ballot Marking Device and an optical scanner at the Albany State Capitol, the makers of the AutoMark ballot marking device, with whom we had arranged the demo, were ordered by ES&S to remove the scanner because it didn’t fit their product plans. The New York Daily News reported this story in 2005:

At the Capitol recently, a lobbyist managed to shut down a demonstration of optical scanning by getting his client to pull its machine from the display. Assemblywoman Sandra Galef of Westchester called the company to object and was told that New York is “a touch-screen state.” ” I said, ‘We are?’” Galef recalled. “I’m a legislator. I don’t think I’ve voted on anything.”

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Recommendations to NIST on Post Election Audits

Verified Voting today joined with computers scientists and advocacy organizations in signing the following recommendations on post-election audits to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

We, the undersigned, participated in a working meeting on vote tabulation audits hosted by the American Statistical Association (ASA) on October 23 and 24, 2009. We write to emphasize that future iterations of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) should facilitate effective vote tabulation audits. We applaud the VVSG II’s requirement for independent voter-verifiable records (IVVRs). This requirement is necessary to enable verification of election outcomes independently of the tabulation systems; it should be adopted as soon as possible. However, if election outcomes are to be verified efficiently, vote tabulation systems must meet requirements that go well beyond the draft VVSG 1.1. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Paper Ballots, Photocopiers, and Security

When I heard that New York City had found that a photocopy of a ballot could be successfully scanned by both of the two systems being used in New York State, my first thought was that this is Sun-Rises-in-the-East news. It didn’t surprise me, and the first line of defense against attacks involving any type of fake ballot, photocopied or printed, is well designed and implemented ballot management security procedures. But this is a complex issue which bears some discussion.

Before discussing the security threat, let’s look at a technical question – should a scanner be able to detect a photocopied ballot? One of the challenges posed by modern high resolution copiers and printers is that they are capable of producing all manner of difficult to detect counterfeits. This became an extremely serious problem in the 1990’s as convincing counterfeit currency became easy to produce using the off the shelf copiers. In response, the United States has been replacing currency with new bills containing anti-counterfeiting features. So it’s no surprise that a modern copier can create a ballot that can be successfully scanned. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Improving the 2010 EAC Election Day Survey

The Election Day Survey plays an ongoing, important, and unique role in collecting and publishing data on election administration in the United States. Balancing the right of the public to know how our elections function with the burden of reporting useful data by those who administer our elections is clearly a complex task but one we feel is extremely worthwhile. There are several categories of data we believe are very useful to collect, and our recommendations address those categories specifically.

Voting System Reports

Beginning in 2004, Verified Voting collaborated with various partners to collect voters’, observers’ and others’ reports about incidents or malfunctions including those involving voting systems, the mechanism by which voters cast their votes. These reports came to the “Election Incident Reporting System” (EIRS) primarily via calls to a hotline operated by the Election Protection Coalition, part of an effort to protect the rights of voters to cast a ballot and have confidence that their ballot was counted. We made available a free public dataset of those reports. The project was cited in a GAO report  about electronic voting security and reliability in 2005. Read More