Pennsylvania officials crossed their fingers and hoped for no major problems in the 2006 election as voters in all 67 counties cast ballots electronically for the first time. Despite scattered glitches, that’s what they got — thanks largely to $150 million from the federal government that helped more than half the counties obtain new computerized machines that replaced lever and punch-card systems. But voter-rights advocates concerned about the security and verification of ballots cast in the 50 counties that use direct recording electronic, or DRE, machines are preparing to argue before the state’s high court Wednesday that the devices violate state law and the state constitution. Lawyers sued Pennsylvania’s secretary of state in Commonwealth Court in August 2006 on behalf of two dozen voters. A succession of rulings by that court has gone against the plaintiffs, but the state Supreme Court could overturn those — a possibility that could have wide-reaching implications for Pennsylvania’s 8.2 million voters. At the heart of the plaintiffs’ case is the fact that the 23,500 computerized DRE machines do not create a paper record of each vote as it is cast. Instead, they create electronic records that can be printed out after the election. The other 17 counties use optical scanners to read votes marked on paper ballots, or a combination of the two systems.
Thou shall not be like Florida in 2000. To keep that commandment, state lawmakers want localities to purchase voting machines that leave a paper trail. However without state funds to back up the directive, local registrars must figure out how long they can chance using the old touch-screen machines while they find money to afford new ones. Botetourt County Registrar Phyllis Booze worries touch-screen voting equipment purchased following the Bush v. Gore debacle might not hold up to the demand of heavy voter turnout expected for the 2016 presidential contest. Under state law, she can’t buy replacements for broken or worn machines and she needs hundreds of thousands of local dollars to switch to paper-based optical scanners.
An independent nonprofit organization has released its third analysis of how each state conducts its elections and for the third time North Dakota took the top spot on the list. The Pew Charitable Trusts released its elections performance index Tuesday, which it has released every two years since the 2008 election cycle. Pew based its results using 17 election indicators including voter turnout, the percentage of military and absentee ballots that aren’t returned, online registration to vote and the wait time for being able to vote. With North Dakota being the only state in the country that doesn’t have voter registration, it is exempt from several indicators used in the performance index. In the areas North Dakota was ranked in, it rated above the national average in every single category. “When you see Pew looked at all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and North Dakota consistently ranks very high, that’s encouraging,” North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said.
A recount of the votes in the Virginia attorney general’s race will begin Dec. 16, but a number of jurisdictions, including Alexandria, are facing hand recounts thanks to voting machines considered outdated by the state’s electoral board. Only 165 votes of more than 2.2 million cast separate Democrat Mark R. Herring and Republican Mark D. Obenshain — a 0.007 percent difference that amounts to the closest finish to a race in Virginia history. A three-judge recount court in Richmond on Wednesday announced the process would begin Dec. 17 and 18 for a majority of the state’s voting districts, though Fairfax County, the state’s largest district, was given the go-ahead to begin its recount a day earlier, on Dec. 16. Donald Palmer, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, said officials would prefer the ballots be tabulated by optical scanners. In some cases, though, jurisdictions use machines that can’t isolate just one of the races that appeared on the ballot — in this case, the attorney general’s race.
An elections reform bill passed by the General Assembly has drawn national attention for its shortening of early voting and Voter ID requirements. But little mention has been given to its impact on county coffers. A 15-page analysis by the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division says local election boards will spend $4 million statewide to hold an additional primary in early 2016 and $10.9 million to switch to paper ballots by 2018, as required under House Bill 589. Henderson County will spend around $500,000 to convert from its current touchscreen voting systems to optical scanners used to read paper ballots, special machines for the visually impaired and voting booths for privacy, elections officials estimate.
How will voters cast ballots in the future? “That is the million-dollar question when I meet with other election officers and directors,” said Utah Elections Director Mark Thomas. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), making available billions of dollars in funding for states to purchase electronic voting machines — then new and controversial technology aimed at eliminating a repeat of the hanging-chad debacle of the 2000 presidential election. “The manufacturer is no longer building them,” Thomas said of the 7,500 electronic machines the state purchased with its $28 million. “The parts will get scarce, and the technology will become obsolete. We’ll work through that as best and as long as we can, but at some point we’ll have to do something different.” That “something different” has yet to be clearly defined — but as current machines age out of use, counties and states will be on the hook to devise and fund their own changes. “Money is a big driver,” Thomas said. “We had HAVA money a decade ago, but that has since dried up. “We wish we had a crystal ball,” he added.
The optical scanners that will be used to count Pima County votes in November’s general election were bought in the 1990s, when the technology was already old. “It’s like flying around in an old DC-7,” said Charles Geoffrion, chairman of the county’s Election Integrity Commission. He was referring to a 1950-60s’ era propeller airplane. The machines are being disassembled, cleaned and tested. Worn-out parts are being replaced with parts the county acquired by tracing the scanner supply chain. The original manufacturer no longer supplies them. Pima County Elections Department Director Brad Nelson hopes to buy new equipment next year, but he anticipates that the current scanners will be adequate for this election.
In the next several years, new voting equipment will need to be begged, borrowed or bought in most of the nation’s jurisdictions. This raises at least two questions: In an age of galloping technological advancement, what should we buy? And, who’s going to pay for it? … When levers and punch cards went out, what came in? Two systems, one based on electronics (often with a touch screen) and the other based on optical scanners that “score” hand-marked paper ballots in the same way that standardized tests are scored. The electronic machines (aka DREs, short for “direct recording electronic” voting machines) dominated the market in the early part of the 2000s; but by 2008, optical scanning equipment had become more common. (See the map provided by Verified Voting.org for details.) A debate still rages between advocates of the two systems. Those who distrust electronic machines say they make votes hard to recount when an election is contested. Additionally, “there should be a way that a voter can check on a hard copy—independent from the software—that their vote was captured as they intended it to be,” says Pam Smith of Verified Voting.org, an organization that advocates for a voter-verifiable paper trail for elections.
Columbia County’s election commissioners have counted 100% of the paper ballots in every election for the past two years, ever since the county switched to using new voting machines as part of a federal mandate. Their approach can delay the final vote tally and it may seem an odd when technology has taken over so many manual tasks. But they question the accuracy of the results for the new machines and see no reason to stop checking them by hand. “The most accurate and reliable method is a 100% visual audit,” Elections Commissioner Jason Nastke (R) said Tuesday. He referred to multiple scanner miscounts in Greenport in a past election. “The machines are not completely reliable,” he said. “Hand counting allows for voter intent to be taken into consideration,” said Election Commissioner Virginia Martin (D). “If someone has circled rather than filled in the ovals, it counts when the ballots are hand counted, but with machine counting, the only allowed discrepancies involve machine error, not human error.”
In more than half of Vermont’s cities and towns Tuesday’s Town Meeting Day ballots will be counted by hand. The state has the technology to change that, but many towns are not making the switch. Calais Town Clerk Donna Fitch is getting ready for Town Meeting Day, when ballots will be counted the same way they were when she was a little girl–by hand. “It’s nice to have all of us sit around and count the ballots and everybody takes it very seriously, but it does mean we are often up late,” she said. Fitch will work with a team of ten to count the votes in the town of 16-hundred. It’s the same way 142 of Vermont’s 246 cities and towns will tally their totals.
The Election Day is fast approaching in every state in the country. Security experts and researchers from Vulnerability Assessment Team or VAT at Argonne National Laboratories made a video that demonstrates a simple and non-cyber man-in-the middle or MITM attacks on the voting machine – the Diebold AccuVote TS Electronic Voting Machine. The researchers Jon Warner and Roger Johnston inserted customized hardware costing only 10 dollars into the Diebold AccuVote TS.
They were able to read the touchscreen vote using it and they were able to alter the information that was stored within. Changing the electronic votes isn’t really new; however, with the addition of a 16 dollars, the team was able to have a remote control that can operate and perform the MITM attacks even if they were miles away from the machine.
It was even stated that the levels of sophistication needed to accomplish the deed was comparably easy; even starters can accomplish it without any hardships. The same multi-disciplinary team of Argonne National Laboratories that is composed of physicists, digital computer forensics experts, computer engineers, white hat hackers, security researchers and also social scientists has demonstrated the same flaws on the machines of Sequoia Voting Solutions.
After testing its new paper-ballot voting machines, Mahoning County Board of Elections officials say they are ready for today’s general election. Board officials tested the equipment Monday at their office in Oakhill Renaissance Place on Oak Hill Avenue on the city’s South Side.
“We feel pretty confident,” said Thomas McCabe, the board’s director, about the new voting machines. It’s been “busy” at the board since July, he said.