Verified Voting Blog: Dominion Sues to Stop New York City Contract with ES&S

Update I, 2/19/10 – Court documents posted, links here

In a surprise move, Dominion Voting Systems has filed an Article 78 lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in Albany to stop the New York City Board of Elections from awarding a $70 million dollar contract for new voting machines to ES&S. If a temporary restraining order is granted, it would call into question the city’s ability to deploy new voting systems in the 2010 elections, a schedule already in jeopardy due to the City Board of Election’s long delay in selecting new systems. The competition between the two companies for the New York City contract was intense, and has raised questions of lobbyist influence, possible investigations, and even subpoenas.

In court papers, Dominion argues that the New York City Board of Elections failed to comply with New York State and New York City Procurement Laws, Rules and Regulations, and awarded the contract on the basis of illegal criteria. Further, the lawsuit argues that the New York City Board of Elections:

1) Did not conduct a lawful bidding and procurement process;

2) Did not disclose the method and criteria used in evaluating bidders;

3) Did not award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder.

The city used a point system to evaluate the two companies. In the final evaluation, ES&S received 3,417 points, while Dominion received 3,395, a difference of only 22 points. Dominion claims that the slightly higher overall score for ES&S in the city’s evaluation is due to extra points given to the ES&S DS200 scanners for an option called “Easy Startup”. This option is said to include electronic machines pre-programmed in the warehouse prior to delivery to poll sites, and the ability for poll workers to open the machines without a password (such a configuration is not only an obvious security risk, but disallowed under New York election law). The lawsuit claims that the State Board of Elections explicitly ruled that the DS200 Easy Startup option does not comply with state law, and informed the New York City Board that it would reject any contracts that included it.

It remains to be seen if what impact, if any, the suit will have on the city’s ability to deploy of new voting systems this year, a schedule already in jeopardy. And of course, if the State Supreme Court were to grant the restraining order, the reaction of Federal Judge Gary Sharpe to yet further delays in New York City’s HAVA implementation schedule will need to be reckoned with as well.

Verified Voting Blog: Responsible Use of Technology for Overseas Voting

Last November, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) contacted each State with recommendations for meeting the new requirements established in the MOVE Act with the goal of bringing the absentee voting success rate for Uniformed Service members, their families and citizens residing outside the U.S. in line with that of the general population. Verified Voting strongly supports FVAP’s specific recommendations: providing a 45 day period for ballot transit, removal of notary and witnessing requirements, participation with the Uniform Law Commission efforts towards regularizing rules for overseas voters, and the responsible use of technology to aid in providing voting materials to military and overseas citizens. As an active participant in the Alliance for Military and Overseas Voting Rights (AMOVR), we agree with the principle that “transmitting blank ballots electronically does not risk voters’ privacy while improving the process in all States.” Through these recommendations each state can meet the requirements of the MOVE Act without undue risk to the integrity of the electoral process, and greatly facilitate the voting process for the citizens serving our nation in uniform and others living overseas.

However, some States are considering going beyond these recommendations in ways that could be harmful. Experts in technology such as NIST, the GAO and internal reviewers of Department of Defense projects cite significant concerns with respect to the electronic submission of voted ballots. Such systems would rely on computers, servers and/or networks outside the control of election officials, for which criteria for testing and secure operation have yet to be established. Attacks on such systems could significantly threaten the integrity of elections or the ability of voters to cast ballots. Even minor phishing and spoofing attacks could trick voters into giving up their voting credentials to an attacker. Read More

Florida: Groups and Election Officials Warn Department of Justice that Voting Machine Vendor Merger will Inflate Costs to Taxpayers, Threaten Election Accuracy and National Security

Experts propose remedies to prevent U.S. monopoly of Voting Equipment and Election Services

In a letter to Attorney General Holder, election administrators, computer experts and fair election advocates warned that last year’s merger of the largest and second largest voting machine manufacturers has “broad-based detrimental public impact.”  They outlined serious threats to national security and election accuracy. The experts cautioned the merger produces greater capacity for predatory pricing and coercive contractual terms that raise costs to taxpayers and harm other commercial vendors. The letter suggests actions the Department of Justice Antitrust Division should take to correct major market injuries and fortify election and national security.

In September 2009, Election Systems and Software, Inc. (ES&S) announced it had purchased Premier Election Solutions, Inc. (formerly known as Diebold Election Systems, Inc.), consolidating over 70% of the U.S. voting system market into one private company.  In December, the Florida Attorney General announced its office was investigating the merger over concerns it constituted anti-competitive behavior that may seriously harm consumers. In their letter, experts cite a record of anti-competitive market practices by ES&S that include contract clauses which prohibit ES&S governmental customers from hiring other vendors to service, program or administer ES&S voting equipment and predatory pricing of goods and services to drive other vendors out of business. They claim taxpayers and election offices have been harmed by Election Eve threats to cut off services if local governments did not accept higher prices for previously contracted Election Day services.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Judge Orders Expert Review of Voting Machines in New Jersey

A judge in New Jersey has ordered a new review of New Jersey’s voting systems, this time by qualified technical experts, in a partial victory for advocates challenging the systems’ constitutionality. State law requires that voting systems be “accurate and reliable.” From our vantage point, these systems don’t meet that standard; because they cannot be audited, there’s no way to check for accuracy. A recent report from researchers at UCSD illustrated a stunning new kind of vulnerability in the type of voting system in widespread use in New Jersey (AVC Advantage), where code could be inserted, modify results and vanish without detection. An author on that study, and expert witness in the New Jersey case, Prof. Edward Felten, said preventing such attacks “requires an extraordinary level of security engineering, or the use of safeguards such as voter-verified paper ballots.”

While other requirements from the Judge address some security measures, including criminal background checks on personnel working with the voting machines and all third party vendors who examine or transport them, and protocols for inspecting machines to ensure they have not been tampered with, such checks have no impact on any tampering that may have occurred in the past (such as during the extended periods of time in which they were left unattended at polling places before and after past elections), and provide no failsafe that would ensure reliability. Voting systems can no longer be connected to the Internet, which we trust means New Jersey will now provide a more secure way to allow for the return of voted ballots from overseas voters. Read More