The 2010 primary election season is in full swing. As in every election cycle, there are a number of extremely close races, with recounts looming for some. So far this year, state-mandated automatic recounts are likely for the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, and for the Republican primary for Ohio’s 18th U.S. Congressional District. In Oregon, a recount is possible in the statewide race for superintendent of schools. Some of 2010’s recounts will include the hand-to-eye examination of actual ballots; for example, Oregon mandates that recounts be 100% hand-counted. But too many “recounts” this year will depend upon the correct functioning of computer software or firmware. We believe that this state of affairs is not tenable. When a state does not provide every voter with a reliable, physical ballot showing his or her intent, or does not conduct computer-independent recounts of those ballots, then an effective recount – a process that should provide the strongest possible evidence of the intent of the electorate – is not possible.
This week the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) released public comments submitted on their draft UOCAVA Pilot Program Testing Requirements. The EAC document spell outs testing and certification requirements for Internet voting pilot programs for military and overseas voters, partly in response to the requirements of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act passed in 2009. The MOVE Act required many excellent improvements that increase opportunities for voters overseas to be able to cast their ballots in time to be counted. These changes include the electronic delivery of blank ballots and information, but not the electronic return of voted ballots. The Act also included a provision for experimental programs involving voting via the Internet. At least three states (AZ, CO, WV, and possibly GA and FL) are planning to carry out voluntary pilot programs this year. Despite the short time available for comment, many substantive comments were submitted, including from Verified Voting. While we do not mention them all here, there were many insightful comments and we urge you to read through them. Many of the comments expressed recurring themes:
Audits, Security Standards and Procedures: Verified Voting noted that an equipment manufacturing standard alone is insufficient to provide anything resembling “reasonable assurance that the pilot systems will operate correctly and securely”, as stated in Section 1.1.3 of the EAC Draft. We assert that a comprehensive security plan is required, not merely an equipment testing plan. Robust post-election audits are essential to demonstrating correct and secure operation of any voting system, be it remote or local.
For members of the military, their families, and other United States citizens living overseas, voting has always presented unique challenges. Some of these problems include reliable delivery of blank ballots to the voters, secure and timely return of voted ballots, and authenticating that ballots were completed and returned by the same person they were sent to. According to an EAC study, Voting from Abroad: A Survey Of UOCAVA Voters:
“There are no reliable data available on the number of [military and overseas] voters dispersed around the globe; some estimates hover around 4 million. Active-duty military are estimated at 1.5 million and family of military another 1.5 million.“
In 1986 and again in 2009, Congress passed laws looking to improve access to voting for military and overseas voters. And today, as communication technologies like fax and email have become available, states are moving forward with plans for electronic transmission and receipt of ballots, all too often without sufficient regard for the privacy and security issues involved.
With many states already deploying a form of Internet voting, email return of voted ballots (see map), it is important that requirements for remote voting systems and the pilot programs that test them reflect the highest standards for security. On April 30, 2010, Verified Voting submitted comments to the EAC on proposed testing requirements for military and overseas voting pilot programs that use remote technologies such as Internet Voting. In a letter to the EAC, president Pam Smith said that the comments focused on “the broad outlines of the pilot program and core precepts to which we believe any pilots should adhere.” Sending voted ballots over the public Internet “is in a security class by itself,” the letter noted, and these ballots are vulnerable to attacks from a wide range of individuals, organizations, and even governments. “Voting systems for UOCAVA voters should not be held to a higher security standard than domestic absentee voting,” the letter said, “nor should UOCAVA voters be required to use a system that is less secure than those used by voters back home.”
Over the past year, election auditing experts, including Verified Voting staff, have been working with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office toward improving California’s audits. Now legislation authorizing the Secretary of State to work with a minimum of five volunteer counties to conduct pilot risk-limiting audits in 2011 is making good progress. The Secretary of State will report to the legislature on the risk-limiting pilots, and how their effectiveness, efficiency, and cost compare to those of the current 1% manual tally. Currently, California law requires hand counting all contests on ballots from one percent of randomly selected precincts in each county, and comparing those hand counted totals with the announced election results.
On March 27 and 28, 2010, Verified Voting and Common Cause sponsored a meeting of in Washington, D.C. to share experiences and ideas for improving post-election audits. The participants included election officials, statisticians, computer and political scientists, election integrity advocates, and voting system vendor technical staff. This meeting marked the first time that diverse stakeholders, including voting systems vendors, met together for the explicit purpose of identifying the potential benefits and challenges of using small batches of ballots (i.e., smaller than precincts — down to and including individual ballot records) to make audits more effective and efficient.