National: Here’s how hackers could cause chaos in this year’s US midterm election | MIT Technology Review

On November 6, Americans will head to the polls to vote in the congressional midterm election. In the months before the contest, hordes of foreign hackers will head to their keyboards in a bid to influence its outcome. Their efforts will include trying to get inside the digital infrastructure that supports the electoral process. There’s a worrying precedent here. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that Russian actors had targeted their election systems in the months leading up to the 2016 US presidential election. DHS officials said the Russians were mainly scanning computers and networks for security holes rather than taking advantage of any flaws that were discovered. Still, that’s no cause for complacency. Intelligence officials are already warning that Russia is intent on meddling in this year’s election too, and hackers from other countries hostile to the US could join in. This week, both DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Russia is laying the groundwork for broad cyberattacks against critical US infrastructure. Last year, the DHS designated voting technology as part of that vital framework.

National: Securing the vote: How ‘paper’ can protect US elections from foreign invaders | CSMonitor

When Logan Lamb visited the website of Georgia’s Center for Election Systems in Aug. 2016, what he found left him speechless. Although the cybersecurity researcher had no password or special authorization, he was able through a Google search to download the state’s voter registration list, view files with Election Day passwords, and access what appeared to be databases used to prepare ballots, tabulate votes, and summarize vote totals. He also discovered a vulnerability that would allow anyone to take full control of a server used for Georgia’s elections. It was everything a Russian hacker – or any malicious intruder – might need to disrupt the vote in Georgia. “Had the bad guys wanted to just completely own the central election system, they could have,” Mr. Lamb told the Monitor in an interview … There are only a handful of states in the US that are currently performing audits that start with voter-verified paper ballots. Many counties in California have conducted pioneering work with such audits. New Mexico hires an independent CPA to oversea an audit of a few key races in that state. And Rhode Island recently enacted a law to develop a voter-verified audit system. But the single most important development in this area is about to take place in Colorado.

National: Are Americans Beginning to Care About Election Integrity? | WhoWhatWhy

Nearly a year after the 2016 presidential election, many Americans have been forced, some for the very first time, to look critically at their voting protections, and recognize that US balloting systems are not nearly as impregnable as they once thought. Clearly, the US intelligence reports about Russia hacks provided a long-overdue wake up call for this issue. The good news: some progress has been made in some jurisdictions in the last year. The bad news: that progress hasn’t been as widespread or comprehensive as the problem would seem to demand. “I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Larry Norden, of NYU’s nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. “I’m heartened by the fact that, for instance, we’re seeing, in both House and Congress, bipartisan proposals to invest in increased election system security.” … Election consultant Pam Smith agreed that there has “definitely [been] a pattern towards more secure elections” across the country. Some states appear to be ahead of the game. Virginia, for example, recently earned praise for decertifying all its touchscreen, paperless Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machines ahead of the termination date required by its own legislation.

Virginia: Learning 2016’s Lessons, Virginia Prepares Election Cyberdefenses | NPR

This fall’s statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey are the first big test of security measures taken in response to last year’s attempts by Russia to meddle with the nation’s voting system. Virginia was among 21 states whose systems were targeted by Russian hackers last year for possible cyberattacks. While officials say the hackers scanned the state’s public website and online voter registration system for vulnerabilities and there’s no sign they gained access, state authorities have been shoring up the security of their election systems. One of the most drastic steps was a decision by the Virginia Board of Elections earlier this month to order 22 counties and towns to adopt all new paper-backed voting machines before November. The board decided that the paperless electronic equipment they had been using was vulnerable to attack and should be replaced.

National: Can US Elections Be Hacked? Security Experts Call For More Protections Against Election Hacking | International Business Times

More than one hundred security researchers and experts signed on to a letter sent to member of the United States Congress to warn of their belief that not enough has been done to protect against potential threats to state and federal elections. The letter, published Wednesday as a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, argues many states are unprepared to respond to cybersecurity risks that may arise during upcoming election.The signatories laid out three primary suggestions for securing the electoral process and prevent against any potential tampering that may occur. First, the experts called on election officials to establish voter-verified paper ballots as the “official record of voter intent.” Doing so would require phasing out paperless voting machines that offer no way to verify if a vote tallied by the system corresponds to the vote intended to be cast by the voter.

National: DHS Never Ran Audit to See if Votes Were Hacked | Daily Beast

Despite assurances from the U.S. intelligence community that Russian hacking only influenced the 2016 U.S. election—and didn’t change vote tallies—there was never actually a formal federal audit of those systems, the Department of Homeland Security said. And while DHS offered free security scans to any state that wanted them, many states—even ones that took up the DHS offer, like Michigan and Maine—either use audit procedures that are considered inadequate or don’t audit their election results at all. “I think there’s a presumption amongst both the general public and lawmakers that DHS did some sort of investigation,” said Susan Greenhalgh, who serves as Elections Specialist at Verified Voting, a nonprofit devoted to U.S. election integrity. “It didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean that something happened, but it also means it wasn’t investigated.”

Kansas: WSU statistician: New voting machines more tamper-resistant, but not perfect | The Wichita Eagle

Wichita State University statistician Beth Clarkson says Sedgwick County’s new voting machines leave less room for vote tampering than the old ones did, but still aren’t perfect. “It’s a step in the right direction,” said Clarkson, who has a doctorate in statistics and works as chief statistician at WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research. “If we would audit (the machines), that would be another step in the right direction.” On the plus side, she said, the new machines do print paper ballots with the voters’ choices printed on them. That allows voters to review their ballots and verify their selections before they feed the cards into a separate counting machine. It also will make it possible to do a hand recount in future races if problems are suspected with the machine counts, she said. On the downside, Clarkson said, the votes are still counted by computerized machinery, which creates the possibility of hacking or tampering with the software to change the outcome. Clarkson is a leading skeptic of the vote counting in recent south-central Kansas elections, citing what she says have been statistical anomalies between precincts and conflicts with the results of exit polling she oversaw last year.

Verified Voting Blog: A Democracy Worth the Paper — Ballot — it’s Written on | Mark Halvorson and Barbara Simons

As the CIA digs deep to investigate foreign influence on our election, we should recognize that we don’t need cybersecurity experts to tell us if our votes have been accurately counted. Citizen observers can do the job, if we fix the way we vote and the way we verify those votes.

Our democracy is in crisis because we have introduced computers into our voting systems without proper safeguards. First and foremost, every vote must be cast on a paper ballot marked by the voter. In addition, we must require that at least a random sample of those paper ballots be counted by hand to determine if the electronically reported election results are correct.

About 25 percent of the 2016 votes, including almost all of Pennsylvania, were cast on paperless, computerized voting machines. Since software can contain bugs, programming errors, and even malware, we never should have allowed paperless voting machines to record and count our votes, because there is no way to verify that votes are properly recorded and counted inside the machines. Voting on a paperless electronic voting machine is like speaking your vote to a stranger behind a screen and ­­­­­trusting him to cast it for you, without ever seeing the person or how he marked your ballot.

Furthermore, even states with paper ballots tabulate almost all of them using computerized optical scanners. Paper ballots provide no protection unless they are manually checked after the election to verify or correct the computer-declared results. There are only two ways to independently verify electronic tallies (that is, to confirm whether or not the person behind the screen was honest and accurate): post-election audits and recounts done by hand by examining the original paper ballots.

Editorials: 3 Reforms for America’s Vulnerable Democracy in Light of the 2016 Election | Robert Schlesinger/US News

The end is near. All remaining political disputes – recounts, in this case – must be wrapped up by Tuesday, six days before Dec. 19 when the members of the Electoral College meet in their respective states and ratify Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. The last procedural twitches of controversy from the 2016 election, in other words, are drawing to their inevitable close. But the book closing on the 2016 elections is a good time to take stock and consider reforms that this year has made painfully clear the system needs. After all, this election has inarguably highlighted serious vulnerabilities in the political system that need to be remedied because they are not unique to this year. I’ve got three common-sense ideas on that score. The first two reforms we ought to undertake are interrelated and have to do with ensuring the security, and thus the legitimacy, of the vote, whether from error – manmade or mechanical – or malicious attacks.

National: Votes Miscounted? Your State May Not Be Able to Find Out. | Governing

Green Party Presidential Nominee Jill Stein’s recent requests for recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin highlight how few states routinely verify the accuracy of their vote counts: Twenty-two states do not require a post-election audit, and 15 states do not require paper records that could be compared against electronic vote tallies in a recount. With roughly 22.5 percent of registered voters living in election districts with paperless ballots, the pressure to audit vote counts is mounting. Modern electronic machines are susceptible to tampering, casting doubt on the security of the machines and the certainty of their final vote counts. Following the 2000 presidential election and the resulting legal challenges in Florida over inaccurate counts of votes cast on paper ballots, Congress distributed more than $3 billion to replace manual voting equipment with modern electronic machines. At the time, “there was a feeling among some election officials and state legislatures that it’d be best to avoid paper going forward,” said Larry Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Instead, states opted for “computerized voting machines that just told you what the totals were and you wouldn’t have to deal with the messy process of trying to figure out voter intent.” But as it’s become clear that without a paper record there’s no way to verify vote tallies, computer scientists and election activists have begun pushing for states to not only keep a paper record but to also institute routine post-election audits. Since 2004, many states passed a law requiring audits.

National: Russia probably didn’t hack US election – but we still need audits, experts say | The Guardian

The computer science experts who want the presidential election results audited don’t think a Russian vote-hacking operation is likely, either. But they’ve been upset for a decade that there’s no way to make sure. Jeremy J Epstein, senior computer scientist at research center SRI International, said the effort to audit the vote “was and is a nationwide effort over a long period of time”. The Green party candidate, Jill Stein, has applied for a recount. The Clinton campaign has said it will cooperate. “The Stein folks have somewhat hijacked the message, but I’m not worried,” Epstein said. “In fact, the goal of an audit is to verify [emphasis his] that the result was as originally reported.” Epstein describes himself as “75% confident that Trump won, and 25% that either there was an error in counting or there was a hack”. “Any accusation that it’s partisan and of-the-moment is ignorant of the history,” Epstein told the Guardian. Epstein, formerly of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, is one of the country’s foremost experts on election security and last year successfully crusaded to get insecure WinVote voting machines decertified and removed in Virginia.

Verified Voting Blog: Want to Know if the Election was Hacked? Look at the Ballots | J. Alex Halderman

You may have read at NYMag that I’ve been in discussions with the Clinton campaign about whether it might wish to seek recounts in critical states. Thatarticle, which includes somebody else’s description of my views, incorrectly describes the reasons manually checking ballots is an essential security safeguard (and includes some incorrect numbers, to boot). Let me set the record straight about what I and other leading election security experts have actually been saying to the campaign and everyone else who’s willing to listen. 

How might a foreign government hack America’s voting machines to change the outcome of a presidential election? Here’s one possible scenario. First, the attackers would probe election offices well in advance in order to find ways to break into their computers. Closer to the election, when it was clear from polling data which states would have close electoral margins, the attackers might spread malware into voting machines in some of these states, rigging the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate. This malware would likely be designed to remain inactive during pre-election tests, do its dirty business during the election, then erase itself when the polls close. A skilled attacker’s work might leave no visible signs — though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.

Could anyone be brazen enough to try such an attack? A few years ago, I might have said that sounds like science fiction, but 2016 has seen unprecedented cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the election. This summer, attackers broke into the email system of the Democratic National Committee and, separately, into the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and leaked private messages. Attackers infiltrated the voter registration systems of two states, Illinois and Arizona, and stole voter data. And there’s evidence that hackers attempted to breach election offices in several other states.

In all these cases, Federal agencies publicly asserted that senior officials in the Russian government commissioned these attacks. Russia has sophisticated cyber-offensive capabilities, and has shown a willingness to use them to hack elections. In 2014, during the presidential election in Ukraine, attackers linked to Russia sabotaged the country’s vote-counting infrastructure and, according to published reports, Ukrainian officials succeeded only at the last minute in defusing vote-stealing malware that was primed to cause the wrong winner to be announced. Russia is not the only country with the ability to pull off such an attack on American systems — most of the world’s military powers now have sophisticated cyberwarfare capabilities.

[caption id="attachment_108182" align="aligncenter" width="800"]The pink counties predominately use optical scan paper ballots, which can be examined to confirm that the computer voting machines produced an accurate count. Blue counties use paperless voting systems, which require forensic analysis. The pink counties predominately use optical scan paper ballots, which can be examined to confirm that the computer voting machines produced an accurate count. Blue counties use paperless voting systems, which require forensic analysis.[/caption]

Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.

Editorials: Five reasons why you can count on Minnesota’s voting system | Mark Halvorson/Minneapolis Star Tribune

Rigged? Fraudulent? Excuse me, but as Donald Trump might interject: “Wrong!” In Minnesota, we can have confidence in our election outcomes. For the past 12 years, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota (CEIMN), a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, has worked to ensure accurate, transparent and verifiable elections in Minnesota. As the founder of CEIMN, I helped organize seven statewide observations of Minnesota’s postelection audits and recounts. Here are five reasons you can be confident that the results of next month’s election will be accurate and verifiable.

1) Routine audits of voting machines: After each general election, audits are conducted in about 200 randomly selected precincts statewide. Ballots are counted by hand to check the accuracy of voting machines. These audits are public events, and anyone can attend. Malicious attempts to influence the election through voting equipment would be difficult because we use paper ballots and we audit them.

Verified Voting Blog: What are the post-Election Day procedures states can take to confirm the election went well?

Ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the vote count can help generate public confidence in elections. Two of the most important steps happen after voting concludes on Election Day. Ballot accounting and reconciliation (BA&R) is a not-so-exciting name for a crucial best practice. BA&R is a multi-step process that is designed to account for all ballots, whether cast at the polling place or sent in remotely, and compare that with the number of voters who voted, as the first pass. After that, the next step is to ensure that all batches of votes from all the polling places are aggregated into the totals once (and only once). This is a basic “sanity check” that makes sure no ballots are missing, none are found later, none were counted twice, etc. Most jurisdictions do a good job at this task.

National: Post Election Audits Help States Confirm Election Results | The Canvass

If the term “audit” either makes you shudder or makes you want to snooze, you’re not alone. But a post-election audit can be an integral step in ensuring the integrity of the election process. Voting machines go through lots of pre-election testing. They are tested against federal guidelines and state requirements, and then election officials do trial runs called “logic and accuracy testing” before each election to ensure they are working as they should (see NCSL’s webpage on Voting System Standards, Testing and Certification). But the pre-election testing doesn’t tell you whether or not the machine actually functioned correctly during the election. To do that, many states do additional testing after the election—a post-election audit. As explained by Pam Smith from the Verified Voting Foundation, “A post-election audit is a tool that election officials can use to prove that their voting systems are working properly and a tool that the public can use to have confidence that the outcome of the election was correct.”

Verified Voting Blog: Post Election Audits for New Hampshire

No voting system is perfect. Nearly all elections in New Hampshire, as in most of the nation, are counted using electronic vote counting systems. Such systems have produced result-changing errors through problems with hardware, software and procedures. Error can also occur when compiling results. Even serious error can go undetected if results are not audited effectively.

In a municipal election in Palm Beach County, Florida in 2012 a “synchronization” problem with the election management software allotted votes to both the wrong candidate and the wrong contest; this was uncovered during a post-election audit. The results were officially changed after a public hand count of the votes. Particularly noteworthy about that example is the fact that Florida has one of the nation’s weakest audit provisions; even so, it enabled the discovery of this critical error. In another state, a software malfunction caused thousands of votes to be added to the total. A manual audit revealed the mistake and officials were able to correct the results and avoid a costly run-off election. In a Republican primary in Iowa, a manual check of the physical ballots revealed a programming error that was attributing votes to the wrong candidates. Thanks to the manual audit, the correct person was seated in office.

Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Recommendations to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration

On Election Day, long lines were produced in many cases due to voting systems that malfunctioned in multiple locations across the country. As stated in a joint letter we signed sent to President Obama last November, “While insufficient voting equipment was not the only cause for long wait times, it no doubt contributed to the problems we saw on Election Day. The need to improve our voting systems is urgent. Much of the voting equipment in use today is nearing the end of its life cycle, making equipment attrition and obsolescence a serious and growing threat.”[1. http://www.calvoter.org/issues/votingtech/pub/Election_verification_letter_to_Obama_11-20-]

In our “Counting Votes 2012: A State By State Look At Election Preparedness” report[2. http://countingvotes.org], about the 50 states’ preparedness for this major election cycle, we identified key areas of concern. We predicted many states could have problems due to:

• aging voting systems,
• dependence on machine interface for voting for the majority of voters, and
• thoroughness of policies and regulations for emergency back-up provisions in case polling place problems occur and lines start to form.

There were few surprises. As one of our technology expert recruits for the OurVoteLive (OVL) Election Protection hotline indicated:

What’s most interesting is that if you divide things into “easy to solve” and “hard to solve”, the “easy to solve” ones tend to be in places using optical scan [ballots], and the “hard to solve” in places using machines [DREs].

Verified Voting Blog: Leave Election Integrity to Chance

How do we know whether the reported winners of an election really won?

There’s no perfect way to count votes. To paraphrase Ulysses S. Grant and Richard M. Nixon, “Mistakes will be made.” Voters don’t always follow instructions. Voting systems can be mis-programmed, as they were last year in Palm Beach, Florida. Ballots can be misplaced, as they were last year in Palm Beach, Florida, and in Sacramento, California. And election fraud is not entirely unknown in the U.S.

Computers can increase the efficiency of elections and make voting easier for people who cannot read English or who have disabilities. But the more elections depend on technology, the more vulnerable they are to failures, bugs, and hacking. Foreign attacks on elections also may be a real threat.

Even if we count votes by hand, there will be mistakes. How can we have confidence in the results?

Verified Voting Blog: Recount Roulette

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.

Colorado: Voting in Colorado

Arapahoe County Colorado was in the news the week with the Denver Post reporting that envelopes containing absentee ballots mailed to over 230,000 voters included “I Voted” stickers, which rubbed up against the ballot and in some cases left a faint, near-linear mark that appeared exactly where voters draw a line to select their candidates. The Secretary of State has issued a list of procedures to address the potential of un-readable ballots and because there is a software independent record of the voted, officials are confident that the problem can be resolved. Unfortunately not all potential problems with the Colorado’s voting technology can be resolved.

For polling place and early voting, Colorado uses Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines and paper based optical scan systems as well as at least two counties doing hand count of paper ballots. About 70% of ballots cast in Colorado are returned by mail. Some counties have only residual use of DRE to satisfy HAVA requirements, others collect substantial votes on DRE in precinct polling places. Some counties receive paper ballots at polling places but count them centrally by optical scan.

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.

Verified Voting Blog: Report on second risk-limiting audit under AB 2023 in Monterey County California

The second risk-limiting audit under California AB 2023 was conducted on May 6 in Monterey County. The contest was a Special all-mail election for Monterey Peninsula Water Management District Director, Division 1.  Monterey uses Sequoia equipment. There were two candidates: Brenda Lewis and Thomas M. Mancini, and write-ins. 2111 ballots were cast in all.  The reported totals were 1353 reported for Lewis, 742 for Mancini, and 13 write-ins. The remaining 3 ballots were recorded as undervotes and overvotes.  Lewis was reported to have 64.18% of the valid votes.

Two members of the public observed the entire audit process, which took roughly 90 minutes including some preliminary explanation of the procedure. They confirmed that their interpretation of the ballots agreed with mine and the elections officials’, and they helped roll the dice used to select ballots at random.  In conversations afterward, they seemed quite satisfied with the transparency of the procedure (although perhaps not utterly convinced by the mathematics that justified the details).

The audit was performed as follows. After the ballots had been tabulated officially, elections officials Bates-stamped each with a unique serial number (1962 ballots that were scanned had been stamped prior to audit day; the remaining 149 were stamped as part of the audit). It is my understanding that stamping the ballots took about 5 person-hours in all.

Verified Voting Blog: Flawed Wisconsin Race Proves Need for Transparency, Accountability in Election Procedures

When Wisconsin voters flocked to the polls on April 5, one of the factors driving the high turnout was the State Supreme Court contest between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. Prosser, whose term ends July 31, often casts the deciding vote on the seven-member court. He is a conservative Republican former Speaker of the Assembly seen as closely allied to Wisconsin’s controversial Gov. Scott Walker. Kloppenburg, a virtual unknown who was given little chance of success when she entered the race several months ago, was buoyed by the high passions stirred by Walker’s actions to strip government employees of their collective bargaining rights. Though the race is officially nonpartisan, it was seen as both a referendum on Walker and a chance to affect the Supreme Court’s ruling on Walker’s actions, which are likely to be reviewed by the Court in its next term. Election night results were considered too close to call, but the next day when seemingly all the votes had been tallied, Kloppenburg claimed victory with a margin of 204 votes of the more than 1.4 million total votes cast. A recount seemed inevitable.

[pullquote align=”left”][media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldCVBB-ruKY” width=”360″ height=”240″ jwplayer=”controlbar=bottom”][/pullquote]Then one day later, County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus of Republican stronghold Waukesha County suddenly announced in a dramatic press conference that she had forgotten to include the votes of the county’s second-largest city, Brookfield, in her tabulation. The more than 14,000 votes she added now gave Prosser a lead of almost 7,316 votes of the 1,498,880 votes cast, or 0.488%. Wisconsin picks up the tab for recounts where the margin of victory is less than 0.5%, so this falls just barely within the margin of a state-funded recount.

Verified Voting Blog: Paper Ballots – New York Courts Don’t Get It

New York State’s highest Court has upheld lower Court decisions to stop any further counting of ballots and declare a winner in the 7th Senate District race. The decision is unfortunate on many levels, not the least of which is that it sets legal precedent in the State for how we verify election results by auditing and recounting paper ballots. New York’s Courts have now ruled, in essence, “We do not use paper ballots to verify elections.” The Court, displaying a lever-machine mindset, believed it’s okay to trust the machine. It never was of course, but New York has never had a way to verify election results before. The Court didn’t understand why we need to compare machine reported results with a manual inspection of ballots in the audit, failing to grasp that the way we get to the real result is counting the paper, not avoiding it at all costs.

Verified Voting Blog: New York SD 7: Count the Paper

In the first test case of how we verify election results using New York’s new paper ballots, the State Judiciary is in the process of setting an egregious precedent – Judges are free to nullify audits and recounts in the interests of having a quick decision. In Nassau County’s contested 7th Senate District (SD7) race, two State Courts that have heard the case to date have made very bad decisions. Ruling that even if New York’s audit laws require a further hand count of paper ballots, accepting the machine results and declaring a winner outweigh the public’s right to know who really won the election. [ See news reports here and here.]

The Johnson and Martins dispute demonstrates the typical dynamic in close political contests when paper ballots are available to inspect – regardless of party affiliation, the candidate in the lead wants to stop further ballot counting, the candidate behind wants to continue. And the Courts almost always become involved in one way or another. In the SD7 case, Johnson asks the Court to order a full manual recount, since several machines failed the initial 3% audit. Martin’s legal team on the other hand argues that “At the end of the day we must balance accuracy with finality”. The meaning here is hardly disguised – stop counting ballots, we’re more interested in winning than getting an accurate result.

Verified Voting Blog: States May Use Federal HAVA Funds for Post-Election Audits

Post-election audits of electronic vote tallies are inexpensive.  The process is simple: a sample of precincts (or batches of ballots that have been tallied electronically) is chosen randomly, counted by hand, and compared to the corresponding computer tally.  To mention just two examples, North Carolina conducted an audit of  the Presidential election in 275 precincts (almost 10% of the total precincts in the state) for a statewide total of $31,000, and  Connecticut’s November 2008 audit costed 11 cents per audited race on each ballot.

Still, in these straightened times, States and counties with auditable voting systems might be concerned about the costs of manually counting ballots.  In May, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission gave such jurisdictions excellent but little-noticed news: the Commission ruled that States may use Federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to pay for the cost of post-election audits.  The EAC concluded that funds allocated under either Section 101 or Section 251 of HAVA may be used to fund audits.

Verified Voting Blog: On the South Carolina Primary – A call for recountable, auditable voting systems

Last week’s surprising outcome in a party primary in South Carolina for United States Senate was accompanied by anecdotal reports of voting problems on election day, and many questions about the accuracy of the vote count. Whether specific reports of irregularities in this election are confirmed, the most important fact about South Carolina’s voting system…

Verified Voting Blog: The 2010 Primaries: More Recounts than Recountable Elections

The 2010 primary election season is in full swing.  As in every election cycle, there are a number of extremely close races, with recounts looming for some.  So far this year, state-mandated automatic recounts are likely for the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, and for the Republican primary for Ohio’s 18th U.S. Congressional District.  In Oregon, a recount is possible in the statewide race for superintendent of schools. Some of 2010’s recounts will include the hand-to-eye examination of actual ballots; for example, Oregon mandates that recounts be 100% hand-counted.  But too many “recounts” this year will depend upon the correct functioning of computer software or firmware.  We believe that this state of affairs is not tenable.  When a state does not provide every voter with a reliable, physical ballot showing his or her intent, or does not conduct computer-independent recounts of those ballots, then an effective recount –  a process that should provide the strongest possible evidence of the intent of the electorate – is not possible.

Verified Voting Blog: California Legislation Calls for First Risk-Limiting Pilot Audits

Over the past year, election auditing experts, including Verified Voting staff, have been working with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office toward improving California’s audits. Now legislation authorizing the Secretary of State to work with a minimum of five volunteer counties to conduct pilot risk-limiting audits in 2011 is making good progress. The Secretary…