Verified Voting Blog: Virginia – the new Florida?

There are many ways in which Virginia 2012 could resemble the Florida 2000 – only worse. At least in 2000 there were paper ballots to recount in Florida.  But only 7 out of 134 Virginia localities (Virginia terminology for counties and independent cities) do not use paperless  Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines. If a DRE loses or miscounts ballots, it is essentially impossible to determine the correct results.

As if to guarantee that it will be impossible ever to verify an election in Virginia, Virginia law actually prohibits manual post-election ballot audits of paper ballots, except in extremely narrow and unlikely circumstances. This prevents election verification even in the 7 localities that have no paperless DREs (Chesterfield, Gloucester, Hanover, New Kent, Wythe, Fredericksburg, and Williamburg), together with the 30 other localities that have a mix of paper ballots and paperless voting machines.  Unless the anti-verification law is repealed, Virginia will continue to be a poster child for how not to run an election, even after Virginia replaces all of its antiquated paperless DREs with paper ballot based optical scan systems, as it should. But it gets worse.

Two notoriously unreliable paperless DRE systems are still being used in Virginia, years after their inadequacies had become common knowledge. A distinctive feature of the WINVote that makes it particularly vulnerable is it’s use of wifi to communicate between equipment in the polling place. The AVS WINVote, used only in Hind County, Mississippi and in the state of Virginia, failed to qualify for federal certification in 2007, even to the lower testing of the two voting systems standards. Since then, AVS seems to have folded, with maintenance  done by Election Services Online, a Philadelphia based company with ties to the Shoup family, that founded AVS predecessor company over a century ago.

The other unreliable paperless DRE system is the Unilect Patriot, which gained notoriety in November, 2004 in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In Carteret County, N.C. a Patriot machine lost almost 4500 votes in early voting, while in Pennsylvania the Patriot appears to have lost a significant number of votes in the 2004 presidential race. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes issued a report claiming that the Patriot was not “capable of absolute accuracy” and was not “safely and efficiently usable”. Pennsylvania decertified the Patriot; it is now used only in Virginia. Should either the AVS WINVote or the Unilect Patriot malfunction on Election Day with the Presidential or Senate race hanging in the balance, our country could be in uncharted territory.

Editorials: Raise your hand if online voting spooks you | Sherwood Park News

The City of Edmonton will embark on a online election pilot later this month and Strathcona County will no doubt be watching. Despite my generation’s apparent love affair with everything technology, online voting is one of those things that should forever remain a pie-in-the-sky lust. Sort of like flying cars. Sure, flying cars sound nice — unless you realize the safest place to live is in the basement of your home because a car flown by some inebriated driver can come crashing through your roof without warning. Likewise, an online poll can be mucked with without warning. Government rules for rewarding contracts being what they are, the best security the lowest bid can buy will most likely be protecting any online vote. While I believe any bid-winning firm has what it takes to stop most hackers from having fun with the results, not every hacker can be so easily derailed.

National: Straight-Party voters face a tangled ticket | Rock Hill Herald Online

In 2008 nearly 43 percent of York County voters pushed a single button, voting for all the candidates in their party of choice. That strategy has some petition candidates on the ballot this year encouraging people to vote for the candidates of their choice. About 250 candidates across the state were disqualified from the June primary elections after the S.C. Supreme Court ruled they didn’t file paperwork properly. Among those disqualified were Republican Gary Williams, running for the York County Council District 6; Democrat Roy Blake, running for York County Council District 4; and Republican John Rinehart, running for York County Council District 2. (Joe Thompson, running as a petition candidate against Republican Wes Hayes in S.C. Senate District 15, joined the race after the primary.) Instead Williams, and others, had to get enough voters to sign a petition to put his name on the ballot. Williams is spreading the word while canvassing neighborhoods and has mailed information telling voters how to vote for petition candidates. Those details “will be in anything I mail out or hand out” until the campaign is over, he said.

National: Campaigns Use Social Media to Lure Younger Voters | NYTimes

In 2012, it is not enough for candidates to shake some hands, kiss a baby or two and run some TV ads. They also need to be posting funny little animations on the blogging site Tumblr. If the presidential campaigns of 2008 were dipping a toe into social medialike Facebook and Twittertheir 2012 versions are well into the deep end. They are taking to fields of online battle that might seem obscure to the non-Internet-obsessed — sharing song playlists on Spotifyadding frosted pumpkin bread recipes to Pinterest and posting the candidates’ moments at home with the children on Instagram. At stake, the campaigns say they believe, are votes from citizens, particularly younger ones, who may not watch television or read the paper but spend plenty of time on the social Web. The campaigns want to inject themselves into the conversation on services like Tumblr, where political dialogue often takes the form of remixed photos and quirky videos. To remind Tumblr users about the first presidential debate on Wednesday, Mr. Obama’s team used an obscure clip of Lindsay Lohan saying “It’s October 3” in the comedy “Mean Girls.” And on Twitter, Mitt Romney’s bodyguard posted a picture of the candidate’s family playing Jenga before the debate.

National: Courts block Republicans’ voter ID laws – for now |

Earlier this year, voting rights advocates foresaw a cloud over this year’s election because new voting laws in Republican-led states tightened the rules for casting ballots and reduced the time for early voting. But with the election less than a month away, it’s now clear those laws will have little impact. A series of rulings has blocked or weakened the laws as judges — both Republicans and Democrats — stopped measures that threatened to bar legally registered voters from polling places in the November election. “Courts see their role as the protectors of the core right to vote,” said Ned Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University. The laws were the product of a Republican sweep in the 2010 election. The GOP took full control in such states as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, and soon adopted changes in their election laws. Some states told registered voters they must show a current photo identification, such as a driver’s license, even if they did not drive. Others, including Florida and Ohio, reduced the time for early voting or made it harder for college students to switch their registrations.

National: States Deny Millions Of Ex-Felons Voting Rights | Huffington Post

Eric Bates was caught twice in the late 1990s driving with a suspended license, and then again in 2006. That third time, under then-Virginia law, Bates was considered a habitual offender and was prosecuted as a felon. He served 14 months in prison and was released in 2008. He returned home hoping to put his legal issues behind him and move on with his life. But like many of the nearly 1 million people who are released from correctional facilities each year, Bates said he has had difficulty finding steady work and making ends meet. His rather pedestrian criminal record has also come with one other lingering consequence: Bates has found himself among the approximately 5.8 million whose voting rights have been taken away because of a felony conviction. “I owned up to my crime. I served my time and I just want my rights back,” Bates, 53, an unemployed electrical engineer, told The Huffington Post. “I want to participate. But it’s just as well as if I murdered somebody. It’s a life sentence.”

Editorials: End the electoral college | USA Today

Vladimir Putin had an election in Russia. This week, Hugo Chavez had one in Venezuela. Last spring, Nicholas Sarkozy lost one in France. In each case, the outcome was decided by the majority of voters in their country. Such direct democracy is a foreign concept in the USA, where we require neither direct voting nor a majority to lead our nation. The reason is an arcane institution: the Electoral College. In the U.S., presidents are not elected by the people but by 538 “electors” who award blocks of votes on a state-by-state basis. The result is that presidents can be — and have been — elected with fewer votes than their opponents. Indeed, various presidents have taken office with less than 50% of the vote. The question is whether a president should be elected by a majority of voters of at least one free country before he can call himself the leader of the free world. The Electoral College is a relic of a time when the Framers believed that average people could not be trusted with selecting a president, at least not entirely. This was consistent with a general view of the dangers of direct voting systems. Until 1913, U.S. senators were elected not by their constituents but by the state legislators. When we finally got rid of that provision with the 17th Amendment, we failed to change its sister provision in Article II on the indirect election of presidents.

District of Columbia: D.C.’s online absentee ballot request form was broken | Washington Post

A little more than three weeks remain before the deadline for D.C. residents to request absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 election. But those in need are currently unable to download an absentee application from the Board of Elections Web site. The online absentee function gives users an error when they try to display a personalized application form: “This URL is not valid. Please try again.” A resident who contacted me said the function has been down “for some days.” The alternative is hauling oneself down the board’s offices at One Judiciary Square downtown.

Editorials: On Minnesota voter ID amendment, ends do not justify means | The Forest Lake Times

This country is stronger when virtually every adult is empowered with their constitutional right to vote. Few restrictions should limit this right, and a change in those limits should only be made when it’s been demonstrated that the rights of the majority are in danger. There are two principles of a free election on which all should agree.  Those who either are not citizens or who have lost their right to vote should not be voting. Every citizen regardless of economic physical condition, politics, religious belief, race, gender or age must be given an opportunity to vote. On Nov. 6, Minnesotans will vote on a significant change in voting rights – a constitutional amendment that would require a valid voter identification with a photograph of the individual voting. If passed, the amendment also says the state must issue photographic identification at no charge.  A voter unable to provide a government-issued photograph identification would be permitted to cast a provisional ballot that can be counted only after lawful identification is provided.

Mississippi: Hinds County absentee ballots problem resolved | The Clarion-Ledger

Anyone who needs an absentee ballot in Hinds County is getting one, either in person or in the mail. Hinds County District 4 Election Commissioner Connie Cochran said she prepared the ballot Wednesday after District 3 Commissioner and the panel’s chair Jermal Clark agreed to place the names of candidates in alphabetical order. Clark told Hinds County supervisors on Monday that he didn’t know how to prepare the ballot because he’d never been trained, and that Cochran and District 5 Commissioner Lelia Gaston Rhodes refused to help him when he asked. By law, the ballot was due to Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn’s office by Sept. 22. Cochran said she initially told him he should know how to do it after serving eight years on the commission, and to figure it out – but that she later agreed to facilitate if he listed the candidates not by party, but by alphabetical order as has been done for decades. Clark had wanted in his capacity as commission chair to list them by party, first Democrat, then Republican.

New York: Digital signatures creating headaches for election officials |

County election officials are running into an unexpected problem with the Department of Motor Vehicles’ new online voter registration system: faulty signatures. Without clear copies of voters’ signatures to compare to poll books, the identities of New Yorkers who registered online might be challenged on Election Day, elections officials said. Digital scans of applicants’ signatures “are not as crisp as we are used to getting, and they could be blurry. They could be distorted,” said Louis Babcock, Rockland County Republican election commissioner. “It could be brought into question by a poll inspector.” Uncertainty over a signature would not keep people from casting a vote, but it might require them to submit an affidavit ballot, which would allow commissioners time to obtain a better copy for verification, he said.

New York: Glitch found in N.Y.’s online voter registration tool | Press & Sun-Bulletin

County election officials are running into an unexpected problem with the Department of Motor Vehicles’ new online voter registration system: faulty signatures. Without clear copies of voters’ signatures to compare to the poll books, the identity of New Yorkers who registered online might be challenged on election day, elections officials said. Digital scans of applicants’ signatures “are not as crisp as we are used to getting, and they could be blurry. They could be distorted,” said Louis Babcock, Rockland County Republican election commissioner. “It could be brought into question by a poll inspector,” he said. Uncertainty over a signature would not keep people from casting a vote, but it might require them to submit an affidavit ballot, which would allow commissioners time to obtain a better copy for verification, Babcock said.

Editorials: Pennsylvania Voter ID hasn’t been defeated |

A judge’s ruling Tuesday that Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law does not have to be enforced for the Nov. 6 election doesn’t go far enough. The discriminatory law, like poll taxes, literacy tests, and other painful attacks on democracy, should be permanently retired. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr.’s ruling allows anyone eligible to vote to do so on Nov. 6 without showing a photo ID. But poll workers can still demand to see an ID, which leaves the door open for voters to be harassed. Simpson’s ruling was an admission that he was wrong with his prediction in an earlier ruling that no voter would be disenfranchised by the outrageous law, among the strictest in the nation. Since the state could not offer as evidence a single incident of voter impersonation, it’s too bad he didn’t also acknowledge that the law is an affront.

Texas: Voter ID push likely will be renewed |

This election year, one topic has plagued the ballot box – voter ID. On hold for now, the struck-down law to require photo identification for voters could come back up in the near future. But Daniel Llanes said just the idea of voter ID is a distraction from his mission to make sure voters even turn out to the polls. “The real work and the real task is to educate people, so that they can be informed as voters,” said Llanes. Historically, he said his East Austin neighborhood had some of the worst precincts for voter turnout in Travis County. “We used to be the lowest-performing precincts,” he said. “We’re no longer the lowest-performing precincts.”

Virginia: Voters to show gun permits as voter ID, no photo required | Examiner

Based on the chatter on gun blogs and Internet forums, it looks like a groundswell is underway in Virginia to borrow a page from Napoléon’s playbook and vote ‘to the sound of the guns.’ Thanks to a new law passed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed by Governor Bob McDonnell (R), all that it will take to vote in Virginia this year is a concealed handgun permit. This means no photo is required to vote, a far different story that the recent Pennsylvania photo-voter statute struck down by a Pennsylvania judge. A key objection to the Pennsylvania photo-voter scheme was the difficulty in obtaining photo ID by people without driver’s licenses.

Canada: Halifax council candidate says electronic voting underway too soon | Metro News

Halifax regional council hopeful Waye Mason says opening up the polls two weeks before the election is too early because that’s when candidates are kicking their campaigns into high gear and election drama becomes most interesting. “That’s when you see the media giving candidates the most coverage, people as well as the candidates are engaging more,” said Mason, who’s running in District 7. “I just don’t know that people really know what decision they want to make yet.”

Lithuania: Lithuania to reject austerity, quick euro entry in vote | Kyiv Post

Austerity-weary Lithuanians are set to eject the country’s ruling centre-right coalition in an election this month, a move likely to delay the moment the small European Union member state joins the euro and to ease ties with Russia. However, the new government, which opinion polls show is likely to be a broad coalition led by the centre-left Social Democrats, is expected to largely stick to austerity as the Baltic state cannot afford to be frozen out of debt markets. “The situation is unbearable, half of Lithuania has emigrated,” said Svetlana Orlovskaya, 65, as she headed to work as a factory cleaner in a suburb of the capital city Vilnius. She said Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, head of a four-party coalition since 2008, had not done “anything good”.

Pakistan: Free, fair, transparent elections: ECP to receive 10 million euro from EU, National Assembly told | Business Recorder

The Election Commission of Pakistan is likely to receive 10 million Euro from the European Union for holding free, fair and transparent elections. In a written reply to a question, Minister for Finance, Economic Affairs and Statistics, Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheik, told the Lower House on Monday that the total amount was 10 million Euro to be provided by the EU to Pakistan for transparent general elections. The proposed utilisation of the said amount is to assist Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and increase awareness regarding electoral laws.

United Kingdom: How British companies pour cash into the American elections | The Observer

More than one in five of Britain’s largest corporations are channelling political donations to favoured candidates ahead of next month’s elections in the US – though these sums may be only the tip of a new campaign-financing iceberg, according to leading politicians, judges and pro-transparency watchdogs. As election year reaches its climax, America is forecast to experience the most extensively corporate-influenced race for the White House, and for control of Capitol Hill, in living memory. Among the industries already well versed in bankrolling US politics are finance, pharmaceuticals, energy and defence. British multinationals such as HSBC, Barclays, Experian, Prudential, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, BP, Shell and BAE all have political action committees (PACs) that channel donations from employees to US politicians.