We risk an election meltdown worse than the Florida 2000 debacle when the presidential election came down to hanging chads and chaos. This time we are looking at another razor close result and perhaps another recount. However, if a recount is required in either of two key states — Virginia and Pennsylvania — we risk catastrophe, because most of those votes will be cast on paperless voting machines that are impossible to recount. To make matters even worse, the wake of superstorm Sandy could cause disruption on Election Day. Polling places without paper ballots that lack power will have to close, resulting in voter disenfranchisement. This is inexcusable, especially as voting advocates have long urged states to provide emergency paper ballots. Other states present their own hazardous recount challenges. About one quarter of voters nationwide will use paperless direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, most of which have touch screens. Unfortunately, the DRE software can store voters’ choices incorrectly.
In an era when shadowy hackers can snatch secret government files and humble big businesses with seeming ease, it’s an unavoidable question as Election Day approaches: When we go to the polls, could our very votes be at risk? According to voting-security experts, the answer can be boiled down to a bit of campaign-speak: There are reasons for concern and there is work to be done but, by and large, we’re better off now than we were four years ago. “In general terms, the nation as a whole is moving toward more resilient, more recountable, evidence-based voting systems and that’s a good thing,” said Pamela Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation. “We’re better off than we were a couple of election cycles ago by a long shot and we’re better off than we were in the last election, too. “We’re seeing improvement, but we’re still seeing immense challenges.”
Perhaps it’s because the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee Americans the right to vote. Perhaps it’s because election officials believe (or hope) that the public has forgotten what democracy means or what fair elections are all about. Perhaps both parties opportunistically seek an advantage through fraud. Perhaps people are simply stupid. Nevertheless, it remains an almost inconceivable screw-up: in many states, including critical swing states, government officials have not guaranteed that votes can be counted, either, in some cases, counted accurately or, in others, counted at all. The mechanics of U.S. voting systems, by international standards, languish at the level of a dismal third world failure.
National: Fundamental Security Problems Plague Proposed Internet Voting Systems | MIT Technology Review
A decade and a half into the Web revolution, we do much of our banking and shopping online. So why can’t we vote over the Internet? The answer is that voting presents specific kinds of very hard problems. Even though some countries do it and there have been trial runs in some precincts in the United States, computer security experts at a Princeton symposium last week made clear that online voting cannot be verifiably secure, and invites disaster in a close, contentious race. “Vendors may come and they may say they’ve solved the Internet voting problem for you, but I think that, by and large, they are misleading you, and misleading themselves as well,” Ron Rivest, the MIT computer scientist and cryptography pioneer, said at the symposium. “If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry. These are not solved problems there.”
With the polls deadlocked just a few days before Election Day, state recount laws once again take on national significance. It is no exaggeration to say that these laws could determine who is elected president in 2012. This issue brief takes a look at some of the most critical provisions of the recount laws in the 10 states identified as most likely to be “tipping point” states that could provide the decisive electoral vote in a close presidential contest (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin). We also look at factors related to each state that could increase the likelihood of bitter recount contests. Download the Report (PDF)
Though early American elections involved shouting out your vote to the county clerk, oh, how the times have changed. Thirty-one states now use electronic voting machines; the remaining 19 rely on paper ballots or punch cards. The technological march from voices to touchscreens took hundreds of years, but widespread adoption of e-voting began in earnest a decade ago, shortly after the 2000 presidential election revealed the myriad ways in which outdated punch card and lever voting systems could throw the country into a tailspin. But now new fears have arisen: Both paper ballots and electronic systems are vulnerable to fraud, as electronic votes often leave no paper record (depending on the jurisdiction). Without paper trails, fraud is easier to perpetrate and harder to detect. Many experts say the march toward e-voting, and even the specter of Internet voting, should be slowed until we figure out a way to craft a better system and defend it from attack.
Scare-mongering ads, voter registration forms dumped in the trash and misleading statements on the stump: the list of dirty tricks sullying the US presidential election is seemingly endless. With the high-stakes race culminating with voting on Tuesday, experts warn that the unfortunately typical attempts to keep a rival’s supporters from the polls or sway voters with flat out lies could end up deciding the outcome. “If an election is close those kinds of things can matter,” said Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “We’ve had the chastening experience of 2000. And 2004 was close as well.”
As Republicans and Democrats raise alarms about potential voter fraud and voter suppression, mail-in ballots have boomed as an uncontroversial form of convenient, inexpensive voting. In the critical swing states of Ohio and Florida, more than a fifth of voters chose the mail-in option 2010. In Colorado, another battleground, the number was nearly two-thirds. But there may be controversy to come. For a variety of reasons, mail-in ballots are much more likely to be rejected than conventional, in-person votes.
On Tuesday, voters will go to the polls in what is expected to be a nail-bitingly close presidential election. Indeed, we may wake up Wednesday morning, as voters did in 2000 and 2004, not knowing who won. If we are extremely unlucky, the election will be so close that it will go to a recount and possibly to the courts. The state whose votes are pivotal to the election outcome – Ohio, Florida, who knows? – will see its election process go under a microscope with full dissection in real time over Twitter and Facebook. It would get very ugly very quickly.
Imagine going to vote for your presidential candidate and pushing the button on a touch-screen voting machine — but the “X” marks his opponent instead. That is what some voters in Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio have reported. Fox News has received several complaints from voters who say they voted on touch-screen voting machines — only when they tried to select Mitt Romney, the machine indicated they had chosen President Obama. The voters in question realized the error and were able to cast ballots for their actual choice. “I don’t know if it happened to anybody else or not, but this is the first time in all the years that we voted that this has ever happened to me,” said Marion, Ohio, voter Joan Stevens.
Battalions of lawyers are readying for legal challenges in battleground states after Tuesday’s election, fearing a replay of the nightmare, razor-close 2000 contest in Florida between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W Bush, who emerged victorious as President only after a Supreme Court decision. With the 2012 election again too close to call, the Democratic and Republican parties have dispatched legal advisers to polling stations across the country with a particular focus on the politically polarised states of Ohio (where Democrats are understood to have deployed more than 2,000 legal experts), Florida, Wisconsin and Virginia, whose votes could decide the election outcome.
This year, voting is more than just the core responsibility of citizenship; it is an act of defiance against malicious political forces determined to reduce access to democracy. Millions of ballots on Tuesday — along with those already turned in — will be cast despite the best efforts of Republican officials around the country to prevent them from playing a role in the 2012 election. Even now, many Republicans are assembling teams to intimidate voters at polling places, to demand photo ID where none is required, and to cast doubt on voting machines or counting systems whose results do not go their way. The good news is that the assault on voting will not affect the election nearly as much as some had hoped. Courts have either rejected or postponed many of the worst laws. Predictions that up to five million people might be disenfranchised turned out to be unfounded.
In a state where legal action often goes hand in hand with presidential elections, the Florida Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit early Sunday to force the state government to extend early voting hours in South Florida. The lawsuit followed a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for hours to do so. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, local election supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, where queues sometimes snaked out the door and around buildings, said they would allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots on Sunday. Voters in three other Florida counties also will be able to pick up and drop off absentee ballots. State election law permits election offices to receive absentee ballots through Tuesday so long as they are cast in person.
Florida: Democratic Party sues in Miami federal court to ‘extend voting opportunities’ | Miami Herald
The Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the wee hours of Sunday morning seeking to somehow extend voting before Election Day. The lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court, argues that an emergency judge’s order is necessary to “extend voting opportunities” before Tuesday, including allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in person at supervisor of elections’ offices — something already allowed under state law. Voters can turn in their ballots through 7 p.m. Tuesday. … It’s unclear exactly what more a court could do at this point. The lawsuit does not ask the court to order all early-voting sites to re-open.
Tampa-area resident and Navy captain Peter Kehring has spent more than 30 years in the U.S. military. But due to Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott’s recent purge of voter rolls, Kehring will not be able to cast a vote on Election Day, reports Tampa CBS affiliate WTSP. Florida state law requires county election supervisors to regularly update voter rolls to remove felons, deceased individuals, and those who have moved out of the county. Voters who miss two consecutive general elections (2008 and 2010, for example) are sent a letter warning them they will be removed from eligibility unless they contact county officials. Kehring, who has been serving in the military abroad for the last five years, never got his letter.
Florida: Miami-Dade to resume in-person absentee voting after temporarily shutting it down | MiamiHerald.com
An attempt by the Miami-Dade elections department to let more people vote early Sunday devolved into chaos after the department was overwhelmed with voters. The department locked its doors about an hour into the four-hour operation without explanation, then said it would resume allowing voters to request and cast absentee ballots in person. Miami-Dade had opened its Doral headquarters from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. as a work-around to a provision in state law that eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day.
Thousands of Iowans convicted of crimes are ineligible to vote Tuesday under a policy imposed by Gov. Terry Branstad, while others remain uncertain on whether they can cast ballots because of confusing state laws and guidance, records show. Branstad, a Republican, signed an order last year reversing a 2005 policy by then-Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, in which felons automatically regained their voting rights once they were discharged from state supervision. The change made Iowa one of four states in which felons must apply to have voting rights restored — a lengthy bureaucratic process.
New Jersey election officials say they will allow registered voters to vote electronically and will also accept ballots paper through Monday, November 19th, as long as they are postmarked by election day, November 5. The directive is intended to help first responders whose recovery efforts may keep them away from home and their local polling place on election day, as well as those displaced by the storm. “To help alleviate pressure on polling places, we encourage voters to either use electronic voting or the extended hours at county offices to cast their vote,” said Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno.
Using a system already accessible to military members deployed overseas, hurricane-damaged New Jersey will allow displaced residents to cast their votes using e-mail or fax on Election Day. “To help alleviate pressure on polling places, we encourage voters to either use electronic voting or the extended hours at county offices to cast their vote,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said in a statement. “Despite the widespread damage Hurricane Sandy has caused, New Jersey is committed to working through the enormous obstacles before us to hold an open and transparent election befitting our state and the resiliency of its citizens.”
New Jersey was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and many parts of the state still lack electricity and basic infrastructure. Countless residents have been displaced, at least temporarily. And election day is on Tuesday. There can be little doubt that many New Jerseyans, whether newly displaced or rendered homebound, who had originally intended to cast their votes at their normal neighborhood polling stations will be unable to do so next week. Unless some new flexible voting options are made available, many people will be disenfranchised, perhaps altering the outcome of races. There are compelling reasons for New Jersey officials to act quickly to create viable, flexible, secure and reliable voting options for their citizens in this emergency.
Voting Blogs: Lt. Governor invites voters to submit invalid ballots | Andrew Appel/Freedom to Tinker
On November 3rd, the Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey issued a directive, well covered in the media, permitting storm-displaced New Jersey voters to vote by e-mail. The voter is to call or e-mail the county clerk to request an absentee ballot by e-mail or fax, then the voter returns the ballot by e-mail or fax:
“The voter must transmit the signed waiver of secrecy along with the voted ballot by fax or e-mail for receipt by the applicable county board of election no later than November 6, 2012 at 8 p.m.”
We see already one problem: The loss of the secret ballot. At many times in the 20th century, NJ political machines put such intense pressure on voters that the secret ballot was an important protection. In 2012 it’s in the news that some corporations are pressuring their employees to vote in certain ways. The secret ballot is still critical to the functioning of democracy. But there’s a much bigger problem with the Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s directive: If voters and county clerks follow her instructions, their votes will be invalid.
Early voters jammed county election boards across Ohio Sunday on the last weekend day before the election in a state where that presidential election may well be decided. At some sites, lines snaked several city blocks and it took hours for voters to get inside to cast a ballot. In Cleveland, more than 2,500 people braved the cold in a line that stretched two blocks and started forming two hours before the doors opened, but moved quickly all afternoon. Polling stations were open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. across the state.
A late-breaking controversy has emerged over provisional voting in Ohio. It concerns the official form used to indicate whether or not the provisional voter has shown the poll worker a valid identification. The form contains a space for the provisional voter to write down the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security Number (SSN), if that is the form of ID the voter wishes to use. Alternatively, the voter may write down his or her Ohio driver’s license number (DLN), and the form provides a separate space for that. Beyond those two methods of identification, the form also contains several boxes the provisional voter may select depending upon which other type of identification the voter presents. There is a box for “military identification card”; one for current utility bill, bank statement, or other similarly acceptable document; and another for a government-issued photo ID. Finally, there is also a box for a voter who does not possess any of the permissible types of ID and who fills out a separate form swearing so.
Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke recently joked that the possibility that Ohio could keep the nation waiting for weeks to learn who won Tuesday’s presidential election was “really a plot to fill Ohio’s hotels with lawyers.” As with many jokes, this one has some basis in fact. Because as Election Day approaches, the first wave of lawyers already is swarming over Ohio to prepare for the possibility that the election may be decided not just at the polls, but in court. The most lawyer-intensive scenario, many agree, will surface if hundreds of thousands of absentee and provisional votes in Ohio remain, by law, uncounted until at least mid-November.
With just a few dozen hours left before polls open on Election Day, here is a candidate for the most important election-law story of the weekend — a story likely to cross over into the general political debate Sunday through Monday. This early copy from the Associated Press offered a hint:
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Voter advocates are criticizing an order by Ohio’s elections chief dealing with the casting of provisional ballots. Advocates are saying on Saturday that the order by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted late Friday wrongly puts the burden of recording the form of ID used on a provisional ballot on voters, not pollworkers ….
The investigation into the arrest of a man on charges of dumping voter registration forms last month in Harrisonburg, Va., has widened, with state officials probing whether a company tied to top Republican leaders had engaged in voter registration fraud in the key battleground state, according to two persons close to the case. A former employee of Strategic Allied Consulting, a contractor for the Republican Party of Virginia, had been scheduled to appear last Tuesday before a grand jury after he was charged with tossing completed registration forms into a recycling bin. But state prosecutors canceled Colin Small’s grand jury testimony to gather more information, with their focus expanding to the firm that had employed Small, which is led by longtime GOP operative Nathan Sproul.
In the end, even the Fairfax County judge deciding a last-minute lawsuit over the rights of poll watchers on Election Day wasn’t sure what the parties were fighting over. So Judge Dennis J. Smith declined late Friday night to issue an injunction that local Democrats had sought to address what they claimed was an illegal attempt by Republicans to limit party observers — and possibly votes — in Virginia’s biggest Democratic stronghold.
Opposition parties say the government should adopt all the Electoral Commission’s recommendations for MMP reform. Labour leader David Shearer said it was “well and truly time to ditch the so-called ‘coat-tails clause’ to avoid stitch-ups like the deal done over the tea cups by John Key and John Banks last election”. The clause wasn’t actually used because ACT did not get enough party votes to bring another MP into parliament, however, the party benefited from the clause in 2008. Shearer said Labour was keen to see the government move quickly on the recommendations. The comments came after the government today tabled the commission’s final report in parliament.