Internet voting is in its infancy, and still far too unreliable, but states are starting to allow it and the trend is accelerating because of a new federal law that requires greater efforts to help military and other overseas voters cast ballots. Men and women in uniform must have a fair opportunity to vote, but allowing online voting in its current state could open elections up to vote theft and other mischief. It is often hard for military voters to get ballots, and because of distance and unreliable mail service, it can be difficult or impossible for them to meet election deadlines. A year ago, the Pew Center on the States found that more than one-third of states do not provide military voters stationed abroad with enough time to vote, or are at high risk of not providing enough time. To address this problem, the new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires states in most cases to get ballots to military and overseas voters well in advance of regularly scheduled federal elections.
This article was posted at Freedom to Tinker and is reposted here with permission of the author.
Software increasingly manages the world around us, in subtle ways that are often hard to see. Software helps fly our airplanes (in some cases, particularly military fighter aircraft, software is the only thing keeping them in the air). Software manages our cars (fuel/air mixture, among other things). Software manages our electrical grid. And, closer to home for me, software runs our voting machines and manages our elections. Sunday’s NY Times Magazine has an extended piece about faulty radiation delivery for cancer treatment. The article details two particular fault modes: procedural screwups and software bugs. The procedural screwups (e.g., treating a patient with stomach cancer with a radiation plan intended for somebody else’s breast cancer) are heartbreaking because they’re something that could be completely eliminated through fairly simple mechanisms. How about putting barcodes on patient armbands that are read by the radiation machine? “Oops, you’re patient #103 and this radiation plan is loaded for patent #319.”
The state of Maryland will be making a foolish choice if it decides to renege on its promise to replace our risky paperless touchscreen voting machines with a paper ballot, optical-scan voting system. The new voting system, with just one-fifth the equipment of the old one, would be much cheaper to operate and maintain. It would reinstill voter confidence by finally putting in place a safe, reliable voting system that records the votes as voters intended, and allows recounts to be conducted in close races. Maryland voters overwhelmingly favor a paper record of their votes and the transition to the new system is mandated by a law that passed the General Assembly unanimously in 2007. After years of debate and reams of data from computer security experts exposing a vast number of security vulnerabilities in touchscreen voting, as well as information from other states about the cost benefits of transitioning to optical scan voting, it appears that a well orchestrated effort has resurfaced at the 11th hour to mislead the Board of Public Works and others about the true costs of purchasing the new system versus the cost of trying to keep the old system on life support.
Verified Voting Blog: Hurry Up and Wait: Tennessee Senate Delays, Weakens Voter Confidence Act in the Opening Hours of the 2010 Session
On the basis of several highly questionable assumptions, the Tennessee General Assembly has voted to delay implementation of paper ballot voting until 2012, and to eliminate the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act’s provision for routine hand-counted audits of computer vote tallies. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Senate passed House Bill 614 on a vote of 22-10. The Senate’s passage of House Bill 614 was strongly influenced by a perception that there are no machines available that meet the law’s requirements. The Voter Confidence Act requires optical scan systems to be certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to “the applicable voluntary voting system guidelines.” In November, Chancellor Russell Perkins of the Davidson County Chancery Court determined that the Voter Confidence Act allows the State to purchase voting systems certified by the EAC to either 2002 or 2005 standards. The 2002 standards are deemed by Section 222(e) of the Help America Vote Act to be first set of voluntary voting system guidelines.
Voting technology expert Dr. Douglas Jones, who was recently named to the EAC’s Technical Guidelines Development Committee, testified to the court that some voting systems certified to the 2002 standard could be updated to the 2005 standard with a simple software patch. The State of New York certified an updated version of one of the 2002-certified systems, made by Election Systems and Software, to the 2005 guidelines on December 15, 2009. One day after the Senate vote, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission certified a complete paper ballot voting system to all of the 2005 federal guidelines.It is unfortunate that the vote occurred when it appears that not all Senators had access to the facts.
Google recently announced in an important change of policy that it will stop censoring search results for queries coming from China. That is interesting in its own right, but is not why I am writing this article. According to their corporate blog post, what prompted this change of policy was the discovery of “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on [Google’s] corporate infrastructure originating from China”. They found similar attacks on “at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses”. Google further said that they “have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists”. We are not likely to hear more detail in public about the attacks, but this is extraordinary news.
In last week’s post, I reported on the surprise decision of New York State’s Nassau County to dump it’s 450 Dominion ImageCast voting machines after an intense effort and behind the scenes deal making by ES&S. As the purchasing proposal shows, ES&S spared no expense to convince this large county to dump the small upstart competitor who had won the contract, offering perks, discounts, and a highly unusual arrangement to resell Nassau’s current ImageCasts and split the profits with the county. But the real surprise here, and surely one that will be of interest in the rumored upcoming DOJ investigation into the ES&S/Diebold merger, is that ES&S is actually paying more for Nassau’s used ImageCasts than the county paid for them new! According to the contract pricing posted by New York’s Office of General Services, Nassau paid $11,097.50 per ImageCast (assuming they received the 3.5% discount).
We respectfully urge you to vote No on House Bill 614, which seeks to delay implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act and fatally weaken its provision for manual post-election audits of electronic vote tallies. HB 614 is on the Senate’s calendar for Tuesday January 12, 2010. Rejection of the bill is warranted based on the determination of the Chancery Court regarding the TVCA and its requirements for federal certification of voting systems, and on the State’s still un-met need for verifiable ballots and hand-counted audits of electronic vote tallies.
In November 2009, the Chancery Court of Davidson County, after receiving information from voting technology experts, corrected the assumption that the TVCA required new voting systems to be certified by the United States Election Assistance Commission (the EAC) to the 2005 version of the Federal voluntary voting system guidelines. The Court issued a Conclusion of Law noting the TVCA allows voting systems to be certified by the EAC to either the 2002 voting system standards or the 2005 guidelines, and ordered the State Elections Division to proceed with implementation without delay.
According to an article in the New York Post a lawsuit is expected to be filed by the Department of Justice that would seek to block the already-completed merger of the nation’s two largest voting-machine makers, Election Systems & Software (ES&S) and Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems). The article cites “a person close to the situation” that the DoJ lawsuit, “if successful, would effectively undo the merger of Diebold’s Premier Elections Solutions with Election Systems & Software, a $5 million deal completed in September.”
The OSDV Foundation and TrustTheVote Project are pleased to have an opportunity to provide comment on an increasingly vital aspect of broadband in the United States: its use in civic participation and the processes of democracy. We encourage the Commission to develop a comprehensive national broadband plan that particularly includes a plan for the use of broadband infrastructure and services to advance civic participation. To the extent this Plan includes consideration of broadband infrastructure for election processes and services, we advise careful consideration of what the architecture for a broadband‐based voting system should look like and call upon experts and stakeholders to facilitate that understanding.
Clearly the digital age and increasingly mobile society can benefit from digital means for such civic participation services. However, the extent to which the challenges discussed herein can be adequately addressed remains unclear. However, any such Plan should consider the possibility that broadband infrastructure may be called upon in the future to support and sustain elections services in some capacity, whether strictly for back‐office functions or all the way out to ballot casting and counting services. We do not recommend reliance on home or personal broadband connected digital devices for citizen‐facing voting services for the foreseeable future or until such time as the challenges discussed herein are resolved to the satisfaction of the public.
There was lots of reporting last week about the decision to award New York City’s huge voting machine contract to the ES&S, but the really interesting story slipped by nearly unnoticed – Nassau County, home to nearly 1 million registered voters, announced they were abandoning their recently purchased Dominion ImageCast machines for ES&S systems. This announcement came as quite a surprise because Nassau County has been using the Dominion machines for accessible voting in all polling places since 2008, as well as spent time and money training poll workers in the use of the new systems. So how is it that ES&S managed to snatch away Nassau County, in terms of voting system sales the second largest prize in New York State, from the much smaller Dominion? The answer is a cautionary tale about the power of a near monopoly to force smaller competitors out of the market.
ES&S has long been one of a handful of voting machine companies dominating the United States market. But recently, with Sequoia Voting Systems struggling financially, and the absorption of Diebold into ES&S (a move opposed by many), the company already has a near-stranglehold on providing voting systems and services to election officials. In New York State however, ES&S faces a small competitor from just across Lake Ontario in Canada, Dominion Voting. Dominion designed and built the ImageCast, a new scanner and accessible ballot marker combination system that many County Boards of Elections around the state, including Nassau, liked enough to order and use in 2008 and 2009 [Note – initially Dominion partnered with Sequoia to bring the ImageCast to New York, but Sequoia later pulled out and turned the contract over to Dominion]. Indeed, even if New York City chose the ES&S DS200 scanner, a decision finally made this week, little upstart Dominion would still have provided over half of the Empire State’s huge number of voting machines! But big companies like Wal-Mart and ES&S don’t stand around idly letting small competitors take what they see as their market share. And the way they do it is by being big enough to offer customers deals that are simply too good to pass up. And that’s exactly what ES&S did in Nassau County.