Column: Vote-tallying woes lie ahead
By: David Allen , Special to the Enterprise 04/27/2004
“Guilford County Board of Elections Director George Gilbert probably was correct when he said critics of direct-record electronic voting systems are at best misinformed, at worst alarmist.”
– High Point Enterprise Editorial 4/14/04
“I think it is a fabrication and has no foundation in reality.”
– George Gilbert Guilford Co. Board of Elections 4/11/04
As one of those much-maligned critics of electronic voting machines (EVMs), I find these statements puzzling. Gilbert is, I’m sure, a fine election director; but I must ask what are his credentials for competently evaluating computer hardware and software? I also ask why there are two different standards of proof on this topic: one for voting machine salesmen and one for computer professionals critical of the machines?
These professionals have established that EVMs are poorly designed, poorly programmed, and lack the most rudimentary security to prevent tampering. Critics such as Bev Harris have caught EVM maker Diebold lying to the public and lying to election officials. We have demonstrated that all of these machines use Microsoft Windows software at some stage of the vote tallying process, and hardly a week goes by when Microsoft doesn’t issue a patch to fix the latest security hole.
Of course, as we all know, Windows software never crashes or gives incorrect results.
We have also proven, conclusively and with hundreds of examples, that EVMs do fail to function properly, even during normal operation.
We critics come to the table with hard evidence. The voting machine salesmen come to the table with glossy brochures.
Whom do you believe?
Imagine for a moment that you suffer from kidney failure. You go to the hospital for treatment, and a hospital administrator tells you that he has bought the best dialysis machines in the country. These machines will make old-fashioned kidney transplants unnecessary. Your doctor comes in and begs to differ. First, nothing can take the place of a real kidney. Second, these new machines have lots of problems the manufacturer have kept hidden. While the machines have been certified, the manufacturer made uncertified modifications, then sold them to the hospital administrator as certified.
The administrator calls your doctor an alarmist and accuses him of fabricating his charges, despite the fact that medical professionals from all over the country have validated his concerns.
Whom do you believe?
You may accuse me of going a bit “over the top” with this analogy, but it’s exactly the situation computer professionals face when they criticize EVMs.
I’m one such professional. I’ve 20 years experience in the computer field, fixing them, building them, writing about them and teaching about them. I’ve been “in the belly of the beast” and seen the actual Diebold code. I’ve been privileged to work with Bev Harris, the voting machine industry’s most feared critic. I have heard the lies, the excuses and the rationalizations.
Repeatedly, I hear the same refrain from election officials: “The machines are thoroughly tested, are perfectly accurate and cannot be tampered with.” The words are spoken with a cocky tone, a tone similar to that of NASA bureaucrats before Challenger and Columbia. Of course, this isn’t about risking a spacecraft and fourteen lives; it’s about risking our democracy and millions, perhaps billions of lives.
Graveyards, both figurative and literal, are filled with folks who put blind faith in technology. I’m no ignorant yahoo, “terribly affeared of them new-fangled cypherin’ machines.” I’m a systems engineer with practical experience with computers and their limitations.
So, rather than dismissing or belittling us, our captains of state and industry just might want to pay attention to the iceberg we are pointing out. Unsinkable ships have an annoying habit of sinking, and computers do make mistakes.
David Allen is a PC systems engineer and contributing writer to “Black Box Voting,” which was published by his company. He lives in High Point and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©High Point Enterprise 2004
High Point Enterprise – Letter Box: Voters demand faith in count
I’ve been sitting back listening to all the rhetoric on touch-screen
voting. Very little of it is with true knowledge and common sense!
Back during the voting scam in Florida there was much said with no
substance, which is what usually happens when a new policy is wanted to
be implemented. Millions of votes have been cast on those documentation
card readers and very few people, if any, could not understand how the
Hanging chad and dimpled chad can only happen under certain conditions,
none of which could explain the so-called difficulty people were having
casting their vote. You can also do a recount with the same results each
time. The bottom line is, people want to be sure their vote is cast as
they intended it to. Get rid of the tried and true and stay on the
bleeding edge of technology. That is the mind set of most in policymaking
decisions within our governments. Business under stands “If it ain’t
broke don’t fix it.”
Try this scenario. Firm ware written within the machine is date-coded to
change every third vote from one party or candidate to another. This is
only on the day of the election between the hours that the election takes
place, after the program runs its course it can destroy itself or be
written off as a software glitch. This means that a Trojan horse is in
the place of election even though it is being carefully watched by those
who would protect our votes. This may sound ridiculous, but we have
software today that writes its own code and viruses or worms can do the
same thing. The only way to do a true recount under these conditions
would be to have everyone who voted to come back and revote.
Even with a printer giving you a copy of what you voted the vote would still be
skewed. Your vote would be recorded on paper but what was sent to the
system would be changed. You may ask why that is not true of the older
computer related machines. These machines had what is called a hardware
executive and cannot be changed.
One I’m familiar with is a company who did their backups religiously. The
hard drive goes down and they found that the backups for an entire year
where garbage. Even though they had magnetic tape and a burned CD for
back up. A date code was put on the system that showed the data as a
mirror image when the verify was done, but after so many days you would
not be able to read it. This system had no Internet access or modems. It
was the so-called sealed system. Much like what is being sold to our
boards of elections. Yes, in time the information was gotten off the CD
but not until after that company went into bankruptcy, i.e. the election
I’ve been a senior engineer in computer systems for 38 years and in
business for myself for 20 of those years; viruses are not something new.
They were used in the beginning to be sure the bill to the computer
support group was paid. If you did not pay your bill the system could be
halted by not calling in on a modem and resetting a date counter. When
time ran out, the system shut down. That means inaction (a “0” of 0’s and
1’s) can set forces into action as well as an action (1 of a 0 or 1). The
customer had to call the support group and not only pay the past due bill
but also pay for a service call to get the system running again.
All I am trying to convey here is we are heading down a slope that will
put a very few people in total control of a most important piece of our
sovereignty as a state and a nation. Yes, the old way is slow but the
assurance is by far more preferable!
ROBERT L. YOUNGBLOOD
©High Point Enterprise 2004
Column: Devices may not pay off
By: Tom Blount , Editor 05/09/2004
Little did I realize, four Sundays back, that Paul B. Johnson was on the cutting edge with his front-page story titled, “Making votes count.”
In that article, Johnson cited “a growing chorus of activists … arguing that electronic touch-screen voting machines have serious reliability problems that could lead to incorrect vote counts either through random glitches or nefarious meddling.”
In a companion story, Johnson wrote, “The State Board of Elections doesn’t want to certify any new voting machines in North Carolina until … federal standards are in place.”
In Johnson’s “Making votes count” story, Guilford County Board of Elections Director George Gilbert said critics “are at best misinformed, at worst alarmist.”
Further study and recent revelations indicate we were a bit hasty in saying, in an editorial, that Gilbert probably was correct in his assessment, as both David Allen and Richard Stimson, a couple of High Pointers who have studied the subject in depth, quickly pointed out.
At the end of April and the beginning of May, because of (a) opposition by computer experts to the electronic voting machines now on the market, (b) action taken by government officials in some states, (c) situations that have exposed the flaws and vulnerability of electronic voting machines, and (d) an electronic voting machine manufacturer who seems to be seriously politically challenged, the topic seems to be cooking on nearly everybody’s front burner.
Allow me to list some of the negative twists this story has taken:
Scientists told a federal panel that electronic voting isn’t completely reliable and suggested a backup paper system, one Associated Press report said.
That same article noted that Aviel D. Rubin, computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, said, “Not only have the vendors not implemented security safeguards that are possible, they have not even correctly implemented the ones that are easy.”
“Computer security experts say the Diebold machines – and those of rivals – have been carelessly developed and are to vulnerable to tampering and malfunction,” M.R. Kropko, AP business writer told readers on Friday. Kropko also said that, during the primaries, “vote counts in Maryland were delayed because of modem glitches, and machines in much of California’s San Diego County malfunctioned, potentially disenfranchising hundreds of voters.” And Diebold failed to pass federal testing until April 21 (well after the primary) and still hasn’t qualified for final certification, according to Erika D. Smith of the Akron Beacon Journal.
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertified touch-screen voting systems in his state, citing concerns about security and fraud, The Press Enterprise in Riverside, Calif., wrote. He banned use of Diebold elections systems in four counties, but gave 10 counties that use other systems the chance to recertify by complying with 23 security standards.
The League of Women Voters apparently has jumped on the Rubin bandwagon – president Kay Maxwell has declared “the 2004 election is in danger – and at least 20 states are considering legislation to require a paper record of every vote cast, according to both Knight Ridder and AP reports. Rubin contends his students hacked into Diebold touch-screens with ease and that “on the spectrum of terrible to very good, we are sitting on terrible.”
Walden W. O’Dell, Diebold’s chairman and chief executive, obviously is smart in some categories of the electronics industry. Diebold, one of three companies eligible to sell electronic voting machines, runs a company that, mainly with ATMs and safes, has built a $1.2 billion company. But, in the voting machine area, he’s either naive or just plain dumb. It has been verified that he or “people affiliated with the company made more than $325,000 in political contributions since 2000, mainly to President Bush or Sen. George Vinovich, R-Ohio,” Kropko said. Kropko also wrote that O’Dell said in a fund-raising letter last August that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes” to Bush.
On the other hand, another AP writer noted that, “since switching to electronic voting in 2002, voters in Georgia have overwhelmingly supported the system with few complaints,” citing Kathy Rogers, director of election administration as the source. And Riverside County became the first in California to use high-tech voting machines and officials have said 29 accurate elections have taken place since.
The AP reports that “about 50 million Americans this fall are expected to use the ATM-like voting machines.”
We very well may be in for another roller coaster ride as votes are counted in the November election, and, if we are, hanging chads will be minor by comparison to the ruckus that will be raised, no doubt by both Democrats and Republicans.
You may be just as successful voting on a one-armed bandit.
Anybody who uses a computer beware!
Tom Blount is editor of the Enterprise. He can be contacted at 888-3543 or email@example.com
©High Point Enterprise 2004
North Carolina’s ballot blues
By JOYCE MCCLOY News Observer 26 November 2004
WINSTON-SALEM We’ve got a problem:
“NC has the worst election problem in the country right now.” Computer scientist Dr. David L. Dill of Stanford University
“A Florida-style nightmare has unfolded in North Carolina in the days since Election Day, with thousands of votes missing and the outcome of two statewide races still up in the air.” AP Newswire, Nov 13
Our key decision-makers are ignoring the seriousness of the problem:
“Except for the lost votes in Carteret County, Gary Bartlett, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, called the problems ‘easily remedied and lessons learned.'” AP Newswire, Nov 13
North Carolina’s election problems will not be that easily remedied. This year’s disaster shows that many election workers are in over their heads.
Problems with voting machines, central tabulators using outdated and secret software, registration confusion, poll worker training, provisional ballots and absentee ballots are not easily remedied.
Add to all this the lack of a voter-verified paper ballot and you have no disaster recovery plan.
This is the case with more than 40 counties using touchscreen or “dial a vote” machines. The security of their votes depends on the software, source code and hardware of the voting machines. Election workers’ ability, or lack thereof, to operate and troubleshoot the machines can affect the security of the votes as well.
Lost: 4,500 votes in Carteret County paper ballots verified by voters and retained by the election officials would have saved these votes.
Omitted: an entire precinct of 1,209 votes in Gaston County.
Missing: 12,000 more votes in Gaston County not reported. The election director hired a voting machine technician to upload the county vote totals and did not oversee the process.
Bamboozled: Guilford County bought vote-tabulating software that used outdated technology and with insufficient vote storage. As a result, Guilford County’s public vote totals for president were off by 22,000 votes.
More votes than cast: Craven County reported 11,283 more votes for president than cast, voting with the same software as in Guilford County.
The State Board of Elections has relied on the advice of voting machine salesmen and turned a deaf ear to the good advice and warnings of computer scientists.
Voting machine salesmen gain access to some election officials via a private organization called the Election Center. This organization’s mission is to educate and inform election officials, yet it admits to accepting money from voting-machine companies. The Election Center hosts conferences for election officials at which salesmen provide parties, prizes and even a dinner cruise on the Potomac. North Carolina’s director of elections, Gary Bartlett, sits on the board of directors of the center.
Continued computer breakdowns and miscounts prove the need for a voter-verified paper ballot. This is not a receipt but a paper printout of the ballot, to be verified by the voter and kept by the election officials in case of recount, audit or computer breakdown.
The State Board of Elections can do the right thing by consulting computer scientists to recommend real requirements for our voting systems. It should also allow sufficient time for a thorough review by outside experts, to ensure that North Carolina’s voting system is the most secure and trustworthy in America.
Joyce McCloy is coordinator of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting (ncvoter.net).
Charlotte Observer Opinion
Posted on Sat, Mar. 26, 2005 Improve the election process
Electronic voting committee investigates weaknesses in system, proposes remedies
From Sens. Austin Allran, R-Catawba; Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, and Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting:
In last year’s election, several North Carolina counties experienced failures in their voting systems.
In Carteret County an electronic voting machine stopped tabulating ballots and lost 4,300 votes.
In several Gaston County precincts the number of recorded votes on the electronic voting machines did not match the number of voters.
In Onslow County a software error changed the order of finish in the race for county commissioner.
In Cleveland County precinct workers left 120 uncounted provisional ballots behind at the Cleveland County fire station.
In Guilford County the tabulation computers threw some votes away.
Soon after the election, voters began raising questions about the reliability of our voting process — the most basic of our democratic institutions. Most of the concerns dealt with the “direct record electronic” machines (DREs) — those electronic voting machines that have no paper record. The problem cited most often was the machine failure in Carteret County that held up a statewide race for three months. This time it was the commissioner of agriculture race, but it could just as easily have been the presidential race.
To investigate the weaknesses in the system and to strengthen voter confidence in the election process, the General Assembly appointed a Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting. It included legislators, state and local election officials, computer experts, security experts and representatives of interested organizations.
The committee heard testimony on election law, the election process, computer technology and computer security, as well as from concerned citizens. Members witnessed demonstrations of what could go wrong with existing machines and viewed machines in use around the state and new machines available from vendors. The committee learned, among other things, that no perfect voting system exists. Every system has weakness, and the main weakness is susceptibility to human error.
The committee made several recommendations. One of the most popular with citizens around the state was to require that every voting machine create a paper record that can be recounted by hand in case of machine failure or a discrepancy in vote count. A paper record would also be available for any challenge that a candidate might mount.
The commission produced five bills, all of which have been introduced in the General Assembly. The major bill (SB 223/HB 238) calls for the centralization of more decisions and oversight at the state level. It authorizes the State Board of Elections to certify up to three or four vendors of optical scan and DRE machines for use throughout the state and requires the State Board of Elections to train Election Day poll workers and hire technology experts to provide assistance on Election Day.
The bill requires a paper record on all systems, with federal money from the Help America Vote Act paying for paper-record upgrades to existing DRE machines. The bill also requires the software source code to be held safely in an escrow vault so no tampering can take place, and calls for audits before and after voting takes place and random sampling to measure accuracy. To assure that there are no unfunded mandates to local governments, no changes that would take place under the bill will be charged to local governments.
A second bill (SB 224/HB 158) deals with lost votes, such as occurred in Carteret County. It would authorize the State Board of Elections to establish a process to allow those known voters whose votes weren’t counted to vote again.
To address the problem of finding enough qualified workers to staff the polls on Election Day, the third bill (SB 227) would allow government employees to work at the polls without taking a vacation day, just as they can now for jury duty.
A fourth bill (SB 226/HB 128) would allow the county board of elections to count absentee ballots earlier
The commission worked hard to address problems identified in last year’s election. If passed, the legislation will increase voter confidence in the election process.
Charlotte Observer Opinion
Posted on Sun, Mar. 27, 2005
Paper ballot backup needed
North Carolina election officials should have way to verify totals
From Joyce McCloy of Winston Salem, representing the North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting:
The N.C. General Assembly has introduced legislation that would prevent the kind of fiasco that happened in Carteret County this past November, where 4,438 votes were lost — giving North Carolina “the worse election problem in the country,” according to David L. Dill of Stanford University.
While the Carteret County loss of 4,438 votes was devastating, other counties struggled with problems of their own. North Carolina newspapers reported serious voting problems starting with the first day of early voting in the 2004 general election and continuing through Election Day and beyond.
In Craven County, touchscreens changed voters’ selections in front of their eyes. In Guilford County, tabulation equipment began subtracting votes after accumulated totals reached 32,767. Public totals for the presidential contest were incorrectly reported on election night, amended later, adding an additional 22,000 votes to the presidential contest.
In both Mecklenburg and Craven County, main tabulators miscounted or even mysteriously added votes. Touchscreens broke, froze, and stopped working in Forsyth, and skipped past important races in Buncombe County. In Burke County, one out of 10 ballots did not register a vote for president. The same machines used in Burke and Carteret counties caused simliar problems in Pennsylvania. Gaston County failed to report nearly 14,000 votes on election night. Forty N.C. counties use paperless electronic voting devices, leaving them with no disaster recovery plan. Their votes depend entirely on the software, source code and hardware of the voting machines. This software is not examined by the state for flaws, bugs or malfeasance, because the voting machine companies claim that would violate trade secrets. Furthermore, most if not all of these machines fail to meet the disabled accessibility standards of the Help America Vote Act.
Computer scientists made it clear to the Legislative Committee on Electronic Voting that any electronic voting machine can fail without warning. They testified that every vote must be backed up by a voter-verified paper ballot (VVPB), so voters can inspect individual permanent records of their ballots before they are cast and so meaningful recounts may be conducted.
Computer scientists advised that the optical scanner style voting machines currently in use in 48 counties are the most reliable and trustworthy systems. They can be augmented with a ballot marking device at each precinct to accommodate the blind or disabled. The purchase cost and operating costs are significantly lower. Optical scan voting uses a ballot that resembles the multiple choice tests used in schools.
The committee has proposed that:
• Every vote have a paper ballot so that no votes will be lost again if a machine malfunctions.
• The voting machine companies allow the state to review the source code of the voting machines to ensure that there are no bugs in the software.
• Elections officials conduct random audits of paper ballots to the machine counts to make sure that the votes are being counted properly.
When Britt Cobb conceded the race for state commissioner, he solved an embarrassing problem for our elections division, but not for voters. Thanks to the permanent loss of 4,438 votes on a paperless voting machine in Carteret County, we will never know if Britt Cobb or Steve Troxler won the contest.
Citizens can help restore voter confidence in elections by calling or e-mailing their legislators and asking them to pass the Public Confidence in Elections act (bill numbers S223 and H238). Contact our web site at http://www.ncvoter.net or go to the General Assembly web site at http://www.ncleg.net.
For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer’s, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.
Posted on Wed, Mar. 30, 2005
by Charlotte Observer Editorial Department
Verify voting results
Bills would help restore confidence in N.C. elections
N.C. legislative leaders have done a good job tackling two of the thorniest problems stemming from last fall’s general election. Both the House and Senate adopted bills that clarified the legislature’s 2003 decision to allow qualified, properly registered voters to cast ballots out of their home precincts on Election Day. And lawmakers set up a formal process to hear contested statewide elections. Those laws will help assure that votes of North Carolinians will be counted and election disputes will be resolved.
Good. Now lawmakers must turn to the recommendations of a bipartisan committee dealing with more technical issues. The Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting, chaired by Republican Sen. Austin Allran of Catawba County and Democratic Sen. Ellie Kinnaird and Rep. Verla Insko of Orange County, held hearings to explore voting problems last fall. News accounts showed that thousands of votes had been lost in improperly programmed machines, other votes had been misplaced and questions about voting abounded.
The committee’s common-sense recommendations will help restore public confidence in elections and provide a way to verify voting results when questions arise later. One key measure is pending in both the House Elections Committee and a Senate judiciary committee. It would strengthen the State Board of Elections’ ability to provide proper oversight of elections. It would empower the board to certify up to four vendors of electronic voting devices that could be used in N.C. elections, allowing election officials to develop expertise in a few systems rather than requiring them to be familiar with a longer list of systems. It would give the board sufficient staff and resources to train poll workers and provide experts to resolve technical problems.
Perhaps most important, the bill requires that a paper ballot backup be kept for all election devices — giving state and local officials a way to audit voting and verify results after elections. It also imposes certain security measures to protect against tampering with voting machine software. And it requires that the cost of any changes be paid for by the state, not local governments.
Several other bills deal with voting issues. One allows the State Board of Elections to establish a process allowing known voters whose ballots were lost during the election to cast a replacement ballot. Another would allow government employees to help staff polling places without having to take a day’s vacation.
The joint committee considered one other good idea that would make voting easier and perhaps expand voter participation. It would allow early one-stop voting sites to remain open all the way through Election Day rather than closing several days before elections. Allowing voters to use one-stop voting sites through Election Day makes good sense.
The recommendations pending in the legislature have broad support from Republicans and Democrats. While no one argues they would cure every problem with the state’s election process, they directly address the worst problems N.C. voters encountered in the 2004 election. They deserve full consideration — and an aye vote.
Charlotte Observer Opinion
Posted on Wed, Jun. 15, 2005
Prevent election fiascoes
House, Senate bills would provide way to avoid 2004’s vote disasters
From Joseph Waymack of Elizabeth City, legislative director of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting:
A voting nightmare revealed its ugly head here in North Carolina last November. Counties with paperless voting systems were plagued with problems.
Carteret County voting machines threw away 4,438 votes forever. Mecklenburg County’s voting system counted 4,000 ballots twice. Guilford County’s central tabulators counted backwards. Gaston County’s voting system caused 12,000 votes to go uncounted. Craven County’s voting system doubled-counted ballots. And we still don’t have an elected superintendent of public instruction. The time for action rectifying these voting disasters has come.
Bills to address these problems are pending in each chamber of the state legislature: HB238 in the House of Representatives and SB223 in the Senate. These bills are the result of a bipartisan committee formed to study election problems in North Carolina. There are four major components of the bills which we must have to avoid catastrophe in the future and restore public confidence in the election system:
– Every voting machine must produce a voter-verified paper ballot so no votes will ever again be lost by computer crashes.
– The voting machine companies would have to allow state review of the currently secret source code used to program our voting machines (what actually counts our votes). We must be able to inspect the source code to ensure the bugs that have caused us so many problems in the past are caught in the future and to make certain that no rogue computer programmer decides to change the outcome of our elections.
– Election officials must conduct random audits of paper ballots to machine counts to make sure our votes are being counted and counted properly. It only takes a handful of accidental or intentional errors to cause candidate vote totals to be inverted. Just image what flipping a few races in either direction could mean for our country. If there is no funny business going on, what is the harm in responsible accounting?
– A code of ethics would be established for election officials. Our voting system is sacred to our democracy. Most election officials are dedicated, hardworking, and honest. However, some are not. Former Mecklenburg Election Director Bill Culp took over $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks in return for contracts on defective voting equipment. We need a clear code of ethics that prohibits conflicts of interest and makes it clear to election officials that they work for the people, not the voting machine companies.
Despite the overwhelming bipartisan support of HB238 and SB223, the bills have gone nowhere. Despite the fact that we need to move this year to take advantage of more than $50 million in federal funding set aside for upgrading machines, the bills have gone nowhere. Enough is enough. Let’s send legislators a clear message:
We in North Carolina want an election system free from inaccuracy, malfunction and fraud. Contact your legislators and the leadership of the General Assembly: Speaker Jim Black, (919) 733-3451, firstname.lastname@example.org; Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight, (919) 733-6854, email@example.com; and Senate Judiciary I Committee Chairman Dan Clodfelter, (919) 715-8331, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask them to pass HB238 and SB223 without amendment. See http://www.ncvoter.net for more.
Messing up N.C.’s vote
Legislation aimed at preventing voting problems in North Carolina is in danger of falling victim to special interests.
Messing up N.C.’s vote
By JOYCE MCCLOY Guest Commentary Raleigh News and Observer 14 July 2005
WINSTON-SALEM In North Carolina’s 2004 general election, Carteret County was the victim of a single computer error that threw out over 4,500 votes. To prevent a failure of this magnitude from occurring again a bipartisan committee convened for several months this winter, hearing testimony from election officials, computer experts and citizens.
However, the legislation proposed by that committee, the Public Confidence in Elections Act, is in danger of falling victim to special interests.
The act’s key requirement is that all voting systems permit voters to verify their votes on paper. The paper is kept by election officials for audit and recount purposes. This measure would have saved the thousands of votes lost in Carteret.
Today, five months after being drafted, the bill has been modified at least 25 times and now includes a proposal to turn North Carolina into a laboratory for the latest gimmicks and untested ideas from voting equipment vendors. Although the machines used in the initial “pilot program” would have paper, the stated ultimate goal of this program is a return to paperless voting machines.
Despite the fact that this very proposal was considered and rejected by the committee, the state Senate Judiciary Committee has ed the program into the bill over the vocal objection of technical experts, citizens’ groups and election reform advocates.
The program would consist of one or all of the following: video cameras in the polling booths; encryption schemes; high-speed scanners; and/or audio recordings of the ballot.
Computer scientists, including those who testified before the committee, are urging the immediate removal of the pilot program. Citizens say they feel they have been experimented on enough. Election reform experts say the committee should adhere to the original bill, a work of extensive study and compromise.
The committee that drafted the original bill was a blue-ribbon panel of computer experts, election officials, county officials, legislators, lawyers and citizen advocates.
According to David Allen, a systems engineer and study committee panelist, “We will be paying for the privilege of acting as a ‘beta test site’ for voting machine companies….You do not make an already complex system more reliable by making it more complex….These systems will have more problems that will require diagnosis by vendor technicians. When these systems fail, they will cause spectacular problems.
“Since no financial institution relies on digital transactions without a paper backup, why should we consider paperless systems?”
I hope citizens will urge the immediate passage of the Public Confidence in Elections Act, SB 223 in the Senate, and HB 238 in the House, in its original form.
08/23/2005 High Point Enterprise
Editorial: Voting machines can cost Guilford taxpayers less
We hear that in some quarters, a few folks have jokingly referred to Guilford County Elections Director George Gilbert as the “Six million dollar man.”
The moniker came about because of Gilbert’s estimate that new touch-screen voting machines needed in time for the May 2006 primaries will cost the county about $6 million. New machines are needed in order to comply with a new state statute that requires the use during elections of paper ballots or electronic equipment that can produce a paper trail for possible audits after elections.
Gilbert had asked the Legislature to authorize him to create voting centers around the county to reduce the number of new machines needed in order to reduce the cost. No legislative action was taken on Gilbert’s request, but there is an alternative route that Gilbert could have Guilford County take in order to save money – buy a different kind of voting system.
Gilbert is an ardent fan of the touch-screen, electronic voting machines that the county has used for several years. But an optical-scanner voting system – that many counties, including Randolph, already use – will far exceed the state statute’s requirements and cost less, too. Some estimates say optical-scanner systems, which involve the use of paper ballots that are scanned and tabulated, cost about a third less than electronic systems.
An optical scan voting system provides the integrity of a paper ballot at a cost lower than a touch-screen. Good sense says buy it.
November 17, 2005 High Point Enterprise, Page A6
Optical-scan voting gives confidence in results
With all due respect to Guilford County Elections Director George Gilbert, county commissioners should begin moving rapidly toward the purchase of optical-scan voting machines to replace the county’s outmoded electronic machines.
The move will save money and increase voter confidence in results. Gilbert has favored purchasing new touch-screen machines that will produce a required “paper trail” of ballots. However, those machines would cost the county $5.2 million and not provide a ballot that voters could hold in their hands, read and mark.
The optical-scan voting system that a number of counties throughout the state currently use with little problem – including Randolph – would cost Guilford taxpayers just $2.1 million, of which state government would pay about $2 million. In addition to the cost savings, the optical-scan method involves a hard-paper ballot that could be counted as many times as necessary to ensure a 100-percent correct voting result. And that’s the most important bottom line of this issue.
The High Point Enterprise is committed to this community … and always will serve it by being an intensely local newspaper of excellent quality every day.
N.C. must redouble efforts to iron out problems with electronic voting process
published December 5, 2005 6:00 am
Efforts to shore up waning public confidence in elections, confidence eroded by the fiasco in Florida in 2000 and countless other incidents around the country, are being made in a number of states, including North Carolina.
Unfortunately, the progress in this state is on shaky ground. N.C.?s Board of Elections gave its blessing Thursday to three companies hoping to sell voting machines to the state’s 100 counties. One of those firms is Diebold Election Systems. That selection is puzzling because a judge had only days before shot down a request by Diebold. The company had requested protection from charges and fines for failing to disclose its software code, which is required by North Carolina law. Diebold said it was worried about disclosing third-party software code and was considering pulling out of competition in the state.
Critics, such as Joyce McCloy of the North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting, pointed with dismay to problems with Diebold machines in other states. McCloy said, “You are really asking for trouble. It’s going to destroy the confidence of the citizens of the state.”
That confidence was shaken in 2004, when electronic voting machine problems came home to the Tar Heel State. More than 4,400 electronic votes in Carteret County simply disappeared in the election that year, tying up the outcome of a close race for state agriculture commissioner.
In response, state leaders devised new standards and tougher requirements. However, deadlines are looming for officials to choose vendors and test machines. Demonstrations are slated for voting machines the week of Dec. 12, and counties face a Jan. 20, 2006, deadline to contract with vendors. Precinct workers would then have to be trained before May 2, 2006, primaries.
Larry Leake, chairman of the state Board of Elections, said, “Everyone needs to cross their fingers.”
We sympathize with Leake and the thousands of dedicated citizens who make our polling places run. However, with the current electronic machines, it’s the voters who apparently have to cross their fingers.
Electronic voting systems failures identified by the Government Accountability Office in a report released in October included an incident in California where some races weren’t even listed, undervote percentages of 80 percent in a Pennsylvania race and long delays in activation of electronic machines in Florida. System vulnerabilities detailed in the GAO report include systems with “easily picked locks,” and “weak security practices, including the failure to conduct background checks on programmers and system developers, and the failure to establish clear chain of custody procedures for handling software.”
There’s clearly work to be done. Voting is the most important duty a citizen of a democracy exercises. That vote has to be carried out with the confidence that it will count.
There’s time to restore that confidence, but that time is running short. The last thing we need in this state is a repeat of the Carteret fiasco – or worse – in 2006.
On the Net: Diebold Election Systems: http://www.diebold.com/dieboldes/
State Board of Elections: http://www.sboe.state.nc.us
N.C. Verified Voting: http://www.ncvoter.net
Dec 19, 2005 Raleigh News and Observer
Scanning the reasons
Regarding recent articles about voting methods, Chatham County,
like many other counties, is faced with having to buy new voting machines.
1) the fairest thing to do,
2) the right thing to do,
3) the least complex thing to do, and
4) the least expensive thing to do, coincide!
Surely it is crystal clear that the optical scan voting machines:
1) Are the simplest;
2) require the least maintenance;
3) have citizen-marked paper ballots which make transparent re-count possible, if necessary;
4) require only one machine for each polling place and
5) are the least expensive.
The touch screen voting machines:
1) Require a voting machine for each voting booth (for my polling place this would mean six machines rather than the one required for the optical scan system);
2) require a new, air-conditioned facility to store them;
3) create significantly higher maintenance costs;
4) use a machine-marked ballot, rather than citizen-marked ballot system;
5) need more difficult on-site testing;
6) are much more expensive.
We are hoping that state Board of Elections members and our county commissioners will not be misled by self-serving pressures and will come to the same conclusion.
Point of View Published: Dec 29, 2005
A law that counts
“A Florida-style nightmare has unfolded in North Carolina in the days since Election Day, with thousands of votes missing and the outcome of two statewide races still up in the air.” — AP Newswire, Nov. 13, 2004
The sorry state of North Carolina elections became national news late last year. As a result, Senate Bill 223, the Public Confidence in Elections Act, was passed unanimously by the General Assembly in August of this year.
Now that it is time to implement this law, it is coming under attack. It seems that one voting machine vendor and some county commissioners don’t like the requirements of the new election integrity law, so they want to change it.
In a letter to the State Board of Elections, Charles Owen, a lawyer for Diebold Election Systems, explained that the company “will be unable to comply with the deadlines imposed by the State Board of Elections in addition to the requirements of state law.” He added that Diebold’s “difficulty is not with our software, but with the software that is not owned or controlled by Diebold Election Systems Incorporated. This includes operating systems, drivers and myriad other pieces of code that are present in any computer system.”In the cover e-mail to which the letter was attached, Owen helpfully offered “to work with the State Board of Elections…in getting the current Session Law revised, so that all vendors will be able to comply”.
Diebold was decertified in California in 2004 because the software it placed in escrow was not the software installed on the voting machines. However, unlike in California and other states, such a violation of North Carolina’s escrow requirements is a felony
One distributor has complied with the new law and is ready to deliver two types of verifiable voting machines that can be audited and recounted on a cost-effective basis in time for the 2006 elections. Choice would be great, but the important thing is that our elections be secure.
Thanks to SB 223, our state’s reputation for voting integrity has begun to be repaired. The law is working fine in improving our voting systems and unmasking the problems of weak or unreliable vendors who disrupted our elections in 2004. There is no need to weaken the law, damage voter confidence or risk the loss of $55 million in funding from the federal Help America Vote Act just to accommodate several counties that would like even more money to buy the most expensive yet least reliable of voting systems. There is no situation requiring change to the law. It was designed to do exactly as it has done — weed out those systems that weren’t fully transparent and protect our votes.
The governor should not waste taxpayer money and endanger the federal funds to implement the Help America Vote Act by calling a special session. Citizens need our elected representatives to stand up and to tell the would-be dismantlers of the law to take a hike. We need SB 223 to stick.
(Joyce McCloy is founder of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting.)
Why should I care about voting machines?
By John Bonitz January 2, 2006
Silk Hope, NC – Here in Chatham County we vote on good-ol reliable paper ballots, which are then counted by a mechanical optical scanner device. For many years this has been our system. The machines are old and expensive to maintain, but people know them and trust them. Plus you’ve got durable paper ballots to recount, if need be.
Federal law (the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA) requires that we purchase new machines. So, our Board of Elections is shopping for new machines. The forum on Wednesday will be a demonstration of these new machines. Three kinds of machines will be shown:
1) Computerized “touch-screen” machines, also known as Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machines (which records your ballot on electrons);
2) A new Optical Scan ballot counting device (you record your own ballot on a piece of paper); and
3) Automark ballot marking device, which helps the blind, stroke-afflicted, or those with motor skill afflications, paralysis, etc., to mechanically mark a paper ballot. This paper ballot is then counted in an Optical Scan machine.
The funny thing is that most computer scientists say that paper ballots are the only reliable way to vote. Justin Moore, a computer scientist at Duke University, says he could never trust voting on a computer. He just knows too much about how easily they fail. Chuck Herrin, a “white-hat-hacker” from Winston-Salem (and a staunch Republican) hates computer voting machines. He once showed me how easy it is to hack into a Diebold GEMS vote tabulator. I don’t know much about computers, but I understood it. I was stunned to realize how little skill it would take to manipulate thousands of votes with a few keystrokes.
But let’s put aside conspiracy theories for a moment. Computerized voting is still not trustworthy: In Carteret County last year, a DRE computer voting machine lost more than 4,500 ballots. Poof. Gone.
Irretrievably. Four thousand and five hundred people’s votes were lost forever because the ballots were only recorded on electrons. The state of California recently rejected Diebold voting machines because of a 20% failure rate. 20% is one out of five votes.
The wonderful thing is that paper ballots and Optical Scan machines are cheaper than DRE computer voting machines! If Chatham County buys the DRE computer voting machines, we’ll have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of our tax-paid money. If we choose Optical Scan machines, the grant funds should cover all (or almost all) of the cost.
Please feel free to email me or call if you would like to learn more about this important issue.
I hope everyone who votes in Chatham County will attend the Board of Elections Forum on Wednesday night (6:30 to 8pm) in the Pittsboro Ag Building Basement.
New voting machines for Chatham County By Ken Boggs
Posted Monday, January 16, 2006
Pittsboro, NC – I am concerned and bewildered with the decision making process Chatham County is going thru in preparation to purchasing new voting machines. I am no stranger to how we vote having been a Chief Judge at a major polling site. Nor am I unfamiliar with the technologies involved having worked in computer systems product development for over 30 years.
The bottom line is that DREs (touch screen/computer based machines) are a bad solution fraught with risks and problems while the latest optical mark machines, supported by a HAVA compliant machine for the disabled, is the current best choice. How do I know this?
Some of the technical reasons for not trusting the DRE results are evident in what has already happened in their use in elections. Note these problems have occurred without the responsible election officials having any idea they were happening at the time.
DREs have lost valid ballots
DREs added inappropriate ballots
DREs have provided the wrong ballots
DRE tabulating has failed to count properly
DREs have handed votes to the wrong candidate
DREs are prone to breaking down during the election
DRE printer results are not usable for a manual recount
Some of the managerial reasons for not using DREs include:
A DRE is required for every 150 to 300 eligible voters, which results in a large number of DREs required for every polling site. This increases the time, effort, and complexity of pre-election testing, polling site setup, need for backup machines, security of machines, and associated materials.
DREs require additional poll workers. In some cases, it takes one poll worker for every three machines. Already, Chatham County has had difficulty in obtaining polling place workers. If DREs are used, it is obvious that this situation is made worse and/or the polling sites are under man’d to the disservice to the voters.
DREs require far more training for both the poll workers and the back-office election staff. Contrary to expectations of simplifying the election process, DREs significantly increase the front-end load on both groups. Further, this load is experienced during every election since the setup for each election is unique.
DREs life expectancy is not well understood and could result in the necessity to replace them within a few years. It is commonplace with personal computer system technology, that is the basis for the DRE, that such machines are obsolete roughly every two years.
It will be a sad day if we trust our democracy to these DREs. We can do much better with the opti-scan.
I hope everyone who votes in Chatham County will attend the Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday night (6:30 pm) in the Old County Courthouse.
Digital voting fears are grounded in facts December 04, 2005
New River Forum
By Justin Moore
I wanted to comment on two articles I have seen on your Web site, both concerning the WINVote machines specifically and paperless electronic voting in general.
The first, “Voter paper trail might be a blind alley,” contains a relatively standard defense of paperless machines from Registrar Randall Wertz, based on security steps the state and localities take against tampering.
All of these steps are useful and necessary, but in the grand scheme they are nothing more than a sugar pill. The software that collects and tallies votes is complex, written to meet poor standards and has a history of failure. We, as computer scientists, know how to write good code — it runs our airplanes, our pacemakers and our military equipment — but we don’t know how to do it on the cheap. Boeing spent $2 billion over five years to write the control software for the 777, and the final product contains less than one-fourth of the total amount of software that runs on your voting machines.
If airplane code were written to the same standards of reliability as voting machines, every day about 10 planes flying out of Baltimore/Washington International would experience a software failure during flight.
Testing can only reveal the presence of problems, not their absence. Otherwise, automakers and other companies would never have to issue a recall; their testing would be sufficient.
Hacking is not the primary threat. Failure due to an honest mistake is, such as the one in the 2004 general election in North Carolina. Election officials carried out all the steps Wertz described, but a single mistake led to the permanent loss of 4,500 votes, throwing two statewide races into disarray for nearly a year.
“I know we’ll always have conspiracy theorists,” he said. “They’re sure the government people are out to get ’em.”
Do these “conspiracy theorists” include the Association for Computing Machinery, the largest and most prestigious organization for professional computer scientists? The ACM supports strong development standards combined with a non-electronic (i.e., paper) record of every vote. This position is supported by more than 95 percent of its members: http://www.myacm.org/opinion/poll.cfm.
Again, honest mistakes have been far more damaging than the bogeyman of “hackers” that election officials mock and use as a strawman argument.
The second article, by Dave Price titled “Voters need not fear the digital age,” contains chest-thumping bluster, but few facts. I — and the other members of the ACM — do not fear the digital age. We just understand the limitations of the technology.
Price wrote, “I have a degree in information systems management, a national certification in computer repair and am fluent in several computer programming languages. The one thing I am sure of is that once you write a program and extensively test it, as Advanced has done, the darn thing works the same way every time.”
For this statement alone, his certificates should be revoked. Program correctness depends on how well it was written and if the programmers considered every possible event, along with the correct way to respond. What if someone mashes the screen too hard and holds his finger down? What if the disk is full? Will it tell the voter to come back, or will it just throw his vote away? There are literally millions of “what ifs,” and unless the programmers have the correct course of action for each, the machine will fail.
Price asserted that “Without a connection to the Internet, or a place to insert a floppy disk, they can never be subject to the horrors of identity theft, Trojan horses or e-mail phishing … .”
This statement would be comforting if it had any basis in reality. Every WINVote machine has a wireless connection that it uses to get ballot layout information and report final results (WIN stands for “Wireless Information Network”). A van parked out of sight of election officials and protective procedures could connect to these machines, or at the very least observe the traffic between them, unnoticed.
Price referred to a summary screen as a way for voters to check accuracy. The machines in Carteret County, N.C., showed that kind of screen, too. Right before they discarded the electronic copy because there was no room on the hard drive, and flashed a message to the voter saying, “Thank you. Your vote has been successfully recorded.”
“No identity theft, no Trojan horses, no e-mail phishing, no fraud. I made sure of that,” Price wrote.
It’s a relief to know he performed a source-code audit and confirmed that the code was written to military standards, checked the audit logs and did a forensic analysis on every machine to ensure that no tampering or errors occurred, and did extensive usability testing to ensure that no voter was confused by the interface on the machine. Perhaps Price could share his techniques with the rest of the computer science community, which has struggled to understand how to do these things in a quick and reliable way for seven decades.
Unless he didn’t do all of those things, in which case this final statement is meaningless bluster, akin to kicking a car’s tire and — assuming it fails to explode — declaring it a well-engineered piece of equipment.
Justin Moore is a computer scientist at Duke University who testified before the Hugo Commission in Richmond regarding electronic voting. He served as a chief judge at a Durham County, N.C., precinct for the 2005 election.
Point of View: Oct 30, 2007
Instant runoff needs scrutiny Perry Woods
RALEIGH – Supporters of instant runoff voting are touting Cary’s recent experiment with this new method of casting, counting and valuing votes as a resounding success and a reason to expand its use to other cities and towns. A more thorough examination of what happened in Cary casts serious doubt on that conclusion.
As a test market, Cary is not a representative sample for most of North Carolina. Its income and education levels are far higher than the average North Carolina community. Atypically, 90 percent of its citizens have access to the Internet. It doesn’t have representative minority populations.
In the at-large Town Council race, two candidates, Susan Lawson and Roger Hill, were concerned that their presence in the race might throw the election to another candidate, Tommy Byrd, so they dropped out and endorsed Erv Portman. Susan Lawson was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to dilute his chances, even by one vote.” On its own, this undermines the argument that instant runoff voting worked.
However, the primary reason to question the success of the new system in Cary is that it likely changed the outcome of an election, the one in District B.
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THERE IS AMPLE EVIDENCE TO CONCLUDE that Vickie Maxwell would have defeated Don Frantz in a November runoff election, which was not held because of the “instant runoff” that counted voters’ second- and third-choice preferences. Instead, Frantz will take office receiving less than 40 percent of the first-choice votes cast, and less than 50 percent of the votes of people who showed up on Election Day.
In a runoff, the third-place finisher, Nels Roseland, would have endorsed and actively worked for Vickie Maxwell. She was supported by the energized Davis-High House organization as well as by most of the activists from the successful Harold Weinbrecht mayoral campaign. After their stunning victory in the other three races, they would have been motivated to work hard to ensure Maxwell’s success in a runoff.
Compare this with Frantz, who aligned himself with losing Mayor Ernie McAlister. McAlister supporters would not have been so enthusiastic in the second go-round.
Due to instant runoff voting, Frantz won with a lower percentage of first-choice votes than McAlister received in being soundly defeated (there was no instant runoff in the mayoral race). The result is that an ally of the incumbent Republican mayor in an election (officially nonpartisan) in which that incumbent was overwhelmingly rejected won in the most Democratic district in town, a district that strongly voted to throw that mayor out.
IN DISTRICT B, IT WOULD HAVE MADE SENSE to have a runoff election, as the previous voting system allowed. The incumbent, Roseland, was defeated, and the two contenders were under 40 percent support and within 5 percentage points of each other.
Voters were denied that opportunity. Elections are about providing a clear expression of the public’s will, and in this case it is questionable if that happened.
It is apparent that “instant runoff voting” is a misleading name, because it implies that it achieves the same result as a real runoff. “Ranked choice voting” would be a more appropriate label. The system used in Cary is not the same thing as a runoff “instantly,” but a different way of counting and valuing votes.
Ranked choice voting violates a key principle in electoral confidence, and that is simplicity. Determining when to conduct a runoff could be made more complicated by adjusting thresholds, but voting itself should remain simple.
Increasing voter participation will depend more on local government’s relevancy to citizen’s lives than to any method of casting and counting votes. Clearly, Cary voters spoke loudly. They were not happy with special-interest influence on Town Hall and felt the system was gamed against their will. It is not clear that ranked choice voting reflected that unhappiness.
The new system becomes an even bigger concern when you have more than three viable candidates. Who to rank second or third, or should you rank at all? Voters should not need a calculator to figure out whether they are helping their cause or hurting it by ranking candidates or not, and how to do so in the most effective way.
Principally an academic model, ranked choice voting may yield unintended consequences. Before other communities embrace it, an open and thorough examination of all the data from the Cary experiment needs to occur. As well, other reforms should be explored. For municipalities, those could include changing thresholds for holding runoffs, or public financing of elections. A frank and transparent debate on these issues is healthy for our democracy.
(Perry Woods is a Raleigh-based political consultant. In the recent Cary election he worked for mayoral candidate Harold Weinbrecht and for Town Council candidates Erv Portman, Gale Adcock and Nels Roseland. He assisted council candidate Vickie Maxwell during the vote tabulation process.)
Instant runoff voting is confusing and not best choice for N.C.
by Joyce McCloy
published December 6, 2007
Your recent headline claims Hendersonville voters understood the new instant runoff ballot. In fact, more than one- third of voters polled didn’t understand it.
For fewer than two-thirds of voters to understand how to vote is, well, deplorable.
Put another way, choosing your candidate shouldn’t be so complicated.
When did our standards drop so low? (No wonder our lawmakers are willing to accept that other voting problem —straight-ticket confusion that causes N.C. to have the highest undervote rate for president in the entire United States.)
My standards haven’t dropped; I believe every vote should count as the voter intends, not just two-thirds of the votes.
Since when is it a good thing that one-third of the voters may be disenfranchised?
Voters faced an unfamiliar voting system that asked them to rank three candidates in order of preference.
More than one-third of those polled said they were not prepared.
Even a candidate in Cary incorrectly advised voters to rank him for their first, second and third choice — which meant that their second and third choices would not count.
Instant runoff voting is a misleading term anyway. It really is a different way of casting, counting and valuing the vote.
It provides a different outcome than traditional runoffs and deprives voters of the opportunity to learn more about the top two contenders.
An example is the Cary “instant runoff” for the District B City Council contest.
The winner of the District B contest won because of a reallocation of second-choice votes for him that were added to first-choice votes.
In a one-on-one contest the outcome could have been completely different.
What most folks don’t understand about instant runoff voting is that you have to keep track of the vote totals for each choice and the ballots on which each choice was made.
The counting of the votes depends on the other choices made on each ballot.
If no one wins the “first” round of voting, then all candidates are eliminated except for the top two.
Second-choice votes for the top two are then reallocated to them in the second round.
It’s not enough to say that X voters listed Joe Smith as their second choice because the second choice is counted only in a runoff in which the first choice was eliminated.
If more than a third of voters were confused, what about election officials trying to audit the vote?
Instant runoff voting’s implementation may threaten North Carolina’s highly praised and hard-won verified voting law.
Uncertified end runs
Because our voting machines lack instant runoff voting-compatible software, our State Board of Elections has put together uncertified “work-arounds” — circumventing the legal method of manually sorting and counting the “paper trails” and ballots to check the vote tallies for accuracy.
Maybe they thought the added complexity would deter cities and counties from volunteering to be in the pilot.
Lawmakers and citizens get that we need our verified voting law, and we need to implement it correctly.
Our standards for voting systems, certified software and vendors are key to protecting our voters from harm caused by uncertified software or unscrupulous vendors, and we ignore those at our peril.
If the objective of an election process is to discern the will of the voters, then that process must be the simplest, most enfranchising method for all voters.
Joyce McCloy is the founder of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting (www.ncvoter.net), a nonpartisan, all-volunteer grass-roots organization focused on the “machinery” of elections and advocacy for simple checks and balances to protect every vote and voter.
Raleigh News & Observer. Point of View: Jan 14, 2008
Worrisome realities mar instant runoff
WINSTON-SALEM – The State Board of Elections will soon be reporting to lawmakers on the success of recent experiments with instant runoff voting in two North Carolina municipal elections. With the instant runoff voting system, voters casting a ballot in races with more than two candidates mark a first and (if desired) second and third choice for each office. If no candidate receives a majority during the first round, the second choices of losing candidates are reallocated to the top two contenders.
A news release citing exit polls proclaimed the experiment a success, but failed to consider some complexities and unintended consequences.
“Instant runoff voting” is actually a misleading name, because it implies that the method achieves the same result as a real runoff. The system used in Cary is really a tally and elimination scheme, retallying without revoting (reallocating), and repeating until a majority of votes are reshuffled into one pile.
Instant runoff voting can provide a different outcome than traditional runoffs, and, compared to a system with a different-day runoff in close races, deprives voters of the time and opportunity to learn more about the top two contenders.
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WE SHOULD CONSIDER HOW THE SYSTEM AFFECTS VOTERS and the integrity of our elections.
In October, town-election voters in Cary faced an unfamiliar voting method and had additional choices to make. But not surprisingly, Cary’s performance was above average, just as Cary is above average in income and educational levels and Internet connections.
Hendersonville, however, had poorer results — over one third of voters polled were not prepared to rank their choices. Instant runoff voting relies on voter education, something North Carolina does poorly. Our state has the highest “undervote” rate for president in the country, because voters can’t even vote a straight ticket correctly.
Consider the experience of two different municipalities, one using instant runoff voting and one not.
In the Cary experiment, the winner of an “instant runoff” in the District B Town Council contest took office with less than 40 percent of the first-choice votes cast, and less than 50 percent of the votes of people who showed up on Election Day. It is possible that in a one-on-one contest the outcome would have been different.
In Rocky Mount, where there was a traditional runoff on a separate day, more voters had a say than would be possible with instant runoff voting.
In Rocky Mount’s October election, City Council member Lois Watkins trailed a better-funded challenger, Tom Looney, by 12 votes. In a November runoff between the two, 448 more voters came to the polls than had in the October election. Watkins won the election with the votes of 60 percent of all those who showed up. This would not have been possible with instant runoff voting.
Instant runoff voting’s implementation may also threaten North Carolina’s highly praised and hard-won verified voting law.
Since North Carolina voting machines lack instant runoff voting capability, the Wake Board of Elections had to manually sort and count the “instant runoff” votes on Cary’s optically scanned ballots. One small error cascaded into a miscount that had to be corrected at another date. To automate the process, Cary would have to purchase new machines.
For Hendersonville, a touch-screen voting machine county, the State Board of Elections put together uncertified “work-arounds,” circumventing the legal method of manually sorting and counting “paper trails.” Without this workaround, it is doubtful Hendersonville would have volunteered for the pilot program.
No instant-runoff capable equipment meets North Carolina’s standards — so will we gut those standards?
Lawmakers and citizens understand that we need our verified voting law, and we need to implement it correctly. Our standards for voting systems, software and vendors are key to protecting North Carolina voters from harm caused by uncertified software or unscrupulous vendors. We ignore those at our peril.
If the objective of an election process is to discern the will of the voters, then that process must be the simplest, most transparent and most enfranchising method for all voters.
(Joyce McCloy is founder of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting.)
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
The Wake County Board of Elections is holding a public forum on instant runoff voting in Cary on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cary Town Hall, 316 N. Academy St.
Opinion Published on Internet but not in Print Media:
NOBODY VOTES UNASSISTED ON A COMPUTER
Advocates of computer voting sometimes argue that we need the computers so people who cannot see
or manipulate a pen can vote unassisted.
(Never mind that many such people need assistance anyway, to find and access the polling place
and the computer.)
But the absence of assistance is in fact an illusion. Nobody votes unassisted on a computer.
Everyone who votes on a computer is “assisted” by anonymous programmers.
Everyone who decides to trust the computer is “assisted” by the “experts” who tell the rest of us
that the system is okay (probably over the objections of other “experts”).
Instead of asking those with certain types of disabilities to get help voting,
we are asked to accept a system to “help America vote” –a system that forces all of us to accept “help voting” from persons unknown and unchosen by us, in a system we can’t see work.
Calling that a solution is true blindness.
– Mark Ortiz, candidate for congress, 8th district. See Mark’s website
Also hear Mark’s radio interview about Black Box Voting on the Dave Emory show:
All computer voting violates a central principle of inclusiveness and democracy
All computer voting violates a central principle of inclusiveness and democracy:
the voting and vote-counting process must be transparent and verifiable to all citizens,
or the largest number practicable.
Much is made of the alleged advantages of the computer systems for people with disabilities,
particularly those who cannot see or manipulate a pen. For some reason, inclusiveness trumps everything else here, even though it is obvious that most people who can’t see will need assistance finding the polling place and the machine in the first place;
that most touch-screens do not have raised buttons, and cannot have raised buttons;
that paper ballots could be generated in Braille.
For some reason, we are to bend over backwards to accommodate voters who can’t see or hold a pen,
in a country where half the people don’t vote anyway, mainly because they (quite rightly) believe the whole system is crooked in various ways.
Yet when it comes to verification of the validity of the count,
many of the same people who say it’s a violation of inclusiveness to require a blind person to vote
with another person’s assistance suddenly see no violation of inclusiveness in asking practically
everybody to trust IT experts. This is double-think.
If we keep pushing for “good” computers, here’s what we’ll get:
endless disputes among the experts about what systems are good enough; endless introductions of new equipment, with arguments every step of the way; corruption of the spot-checks of the paper backup ballots, and endless arguments about whether that has occurred;
endless worries about whether the system that supposedly couldn’t be hacked yesterday can be hacked today; a fully justified loss of confidence by the public, because even if the count is accurate, they can’t tell.
Not only is observed manual counting the only method verifiable by most people,
it is also the only allegedly verifiable voting technology that will be physically available nationwide in time for the 2004 election.
I am not opposed to “verified” computer voting because I am too hard-headed to compromise.
I’m against it because it’s a bottomless can of worms, and a solution to a largely non-existent problem.
I will continue to hold out for observed manual counting of paper ballots, and I will not waste my time
and effort on anything else.
– Mark Ortiz, candidate for congress, 8th district. http://www.markortizforcongress.org/