At Verified Voting we work to establish relationships in the states with policy makers and elections officials, in order to ensure they are educated on how to keep our votes secure. We’ve started 2014 with lots of activity around the country, building on a very strong and determined energy around voting issues, much of it unfolding on the state level. We have a great network of people in place and continue to work to make our voices heard. For more Download the current Verified Voting Newsletter (pdf)
The following is a quick look at some of the Hot States on which we are focusing:
Virginia: This session, House and Senate bills sought to initiate electronic return of voted ballots over the Internet by overseas military voters. Amendments made to the bills called for security protocols to be examined and review of the feasibility and costs involved prior to initiating actual ballot return, thanks to intense outreach with our allies Virginians for Verified Voting, a lot of letters from VA supporters (thank you!), and an op-ed penned by Justin Moore (who is on VV’s advisory board) in the Richmond Times Dispatch. The amended version of HB 759/SB 11 was conferenced and passed, with these crucial stop-gaps and a clause requiring that the provision be re-approved in 2016 before any ballots are sent over the Internet. As the review process takes place over the coming 18 months, we will be participating actively. Ensuring that technologists are at the table as the conversation moves forward is critical, as is feedback from Virginia voters. See the Bill summary here.
Connecticut: In 2013, VV was deeply concerned about a bill in the CT legislature that essentially called for Internet return of voted ballots. We testified against the bill’s lack of security and privacy safeguards for military and overseas voters’ ballots, but the bill passed with language that required the Secretary of State to identify a method for accomplishing this “giving due consideration” to security and privacy by last October, and to note any existing statutes that would have to be changed in order to enable ballots to be returned online by January 2014 (see Public Act No. 13-185 “An Act Concerning Voting by Members of the Military Serving Overseas”).
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill issued a report of findings on January 1, 2014, showing that distribution by email, fax or other internet-based conveyance would involve significant risks to the ballots. Just as importantly, her report detailed the significant increase in military voter participation made possible by a 2009 Federal law that called for sending blank ballots electronically (but did not require the much riskier electronic return of voted ballots). That law also enabled ballots to be tracked and expedited, resulting in much faster return times. The Secretary showed that the military and overseas ballot return rate in 2012 was 94%, higher than most if not all states.
Other findings were that there would be significant costs incurred in establishing any electronic ballot portal, and that if Connecticut were to deploy online return of voted ballots it would run counter to the Constitutional requirement for preserving the secrecy of the ballot. We applaud Secretary Merrill’s dedication to safeguarding the right of Connecticut voters to ensure their ballots are counted as cast, and the stellar performance of the state’s election officials to date in enabling a very positive rate of ballot return through safe means. We also encourage the legislature to wait until such time as the security and privacy challenges can be satisfactorily addressed before subjecting these important votes to undue risk. See the article here.
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire House Election Law Committee held a hearing in January on the subject of post-election audits, and VV President Pamela Smith was invited to testify. Passage of an audit provision in New Hampshire would mean that all the recommendations of an earlier study committee on important election integrity reforms had been set in motion. While there are still issues to iron out (e.g. to make sure that a new audit provision meshes with existing recount provisions appropriately) before passage, we look forward to NH joining the ranks of states conducting routine post-election audits on a regular basis.
Massachusetts: We are hopeful also that Massachusetts will soon have a post-election audit requirement on the books. In January MIT Professor Ron Rivest (a member of VV’s Board) and VV president Pamela Smith sent a letter to lawmakers in Massachusetts about the value of conducting post-election audits, and many of you in MA have sent letters in support of audits on a number of occasions (thank you!!). Audit bills have been floated over the past several years, but when a large election reform bill was being compiled this winter, advocates and allies in MA were able to fold those recommendations into it. The Senate and House versions are now being conferenced. Cross your fingers!
Vermont too is considering post-election audit legislation. Although VT has had an optional audit provision on the books for a number of years, S. 86 introduced last year would make that audit a requirement rather than an option. Our allies in VT have been keeping an eye on this and urging the state to do strong audits for some time. The bill was heard in the House Government Operations committee earlier this year and VV submitted testimony for the record.
Oregon: The Oregon Secretary of State’s office endured a harrowing experience when the Campaign Finance and Central Business Registry sections of their website were hacked and subsequently taken offline for 18 days weeks while investigating the matter and seeking to bring the systems back up securely, at significant expense. Secretary of State Kate Brown said, “We think it’s a wake up call for not only my agency but other state agencies and local jurisdictions to make sure that we do everything we can to have the security in place that we need.” See the story on Oregon’s problems with Internet security here. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1515 to establish a work group to study the feasibility of internet voting had been moving forward in the Oregon legislature! We applaud the bill’s author for his subsequent shift in position about the subject, when In response to the circumstances and strong opposition from critics, he requested that the bill be shelved: “…what I would suggest perhaps is that for the time being, we let this idea of even studying Internet voting rest… it’s probably not the right time.”
The author of the legislation says he became interested in Internet voting after a visit to Estonia, where about a quarter of voters do cast ballots online. However, what likely was not clear to him and to many others is that there are still fundamental issues with Internet voting that are not yet resolved. Even aside from the security issues, Estonians have a national ID card required for using the system; the US does not have such a system and is not likely to for the foreseeable future.