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Kim Alexander's Weblog

CVF President and Founder Kim Alexander highlights voting technology developments around the state and nation and shares her views in her weblog. Contact Kim via email at kimalex at calvoter dot org. (XML Available)

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Update on California legislative hearings

Please contribute to the California Voter Foundati...

CA legislative hearings next week on voter outreac...

CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen sues ES&S; seeks...

Waiting for election results in the Inland Empire

Who's giving? Who knows? States keep voters in the...

News coverage of Grading State Disclosure 2007 stu...

36 states pass, 14 fail nationwide campaign financ...

Nationwide study evaluating campaign finance discl...

California voting machines decertified

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Tuesday, December 28

NYT: Setting Standards for Fair Elections 

The New York Times Editorial, "Making Votes Count" series, December 27, 2004

The much-delayed work of setting federal standards for electronic voting machines is speeding up, and there is reason for concern. Voting machine companies and their supporters have been given a large say in the process, while advocates for voters, including those who insist on the use of voter-verified paper receipts, have been pushed to the margins. Election officials and machine makers may be betting that after the presidential election, ordinary Americans have lost interest in the mechanics of the ballot. But Americans do care, and it is unlikely that they will be satisfied by a process in which special interests dominate, or by a result that does not ensure vote totals that can be trusted.

The No. 1 goal of the new standards should be ensuring that the machines will not, by accident or design, produce false vote totals. It is increasingly clear that voters want electronic, A.T.M.-type voting machines that produce verifiable paper records, or other systems like optical scan machines, where votes are cast on paper as a check on the reliability of machines. California, Ohio and other states require paper trails by law, and New York appears poised to join them.

The Election Assistance Commission, a federal body set up after the 2000 election mess, has created a group called the Technical Guidelines Development Committee to propose federal electronic voting standards to Congress this spring. This committee includes outspoken supporters of electronic voting without paper trails, including Britain Williams, a retired Kennesaw State University professor who has worked closely with Georgia on its controversial adoption of Diebold voting machines. But disappointingly, the commission did not include any of the many respected computer scientists - such as Prof. Aviel Rubin of Johns Hopkins, Prof. David Dill of Stanford or Dr. Rebecca Mercuri - who have been warning about the unreliability of electronic voting in its current form.

The election commission is expected to rely heavily on standards being developed by a nonprofit association of engineers, computer scientists and other professionals with the unfortunate acronym of I.E.E.E., which develops technical standards for such things as wireless communications. But the voting machine industry plays a disconcertingly large role in this organization. The chairman of the working group preparing the standards for voting machines is a top executive of Election Systems and Software, a large and controversial voting machine maker. The head of the committee that oversees the working group has a seat on the election commission's voting machines standards committee. He is a consultant who has been hired in the past by companies in the elections field. Because of the insular nature of the engineering panel's meetings, ordinary voters - who have an important stake - have had little chance to participate. Over the objections of some members of the working group, the current draft of the election-machine standards merely makes voter-verified paper trails optional. The draft's scope is also too narrow: it fails to address many ways in which vote totals could be rigged.

The Election Assistance Commission has a chance to lead the nation to a new generation of technology that voters can trust. But if it fails, there are other routes. California has developed its own state standards for machines with paper trails, and other states could do likewise. And some of the nation's leading election reform advocates, election officials and voting machine makers are forming a new group, called Voting System Performance Rating, that hopes to develop standards in a more inclusive way. Whoever sets the standards, the process and the result need to give voters complete confidence that their votes will be accurately counted.

(# 1:47 PM)

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Monday, December 20

Please Donate to the California Voter Foundation 

CVF's year-end appeal, December 20, 2004

It's been a great year for the California Voter Foundation. In the past twelve months, CVF has:

* led the successful effort in California to implement a voter-verified paper record requirement for electronic ballots;

* collaborated with a number of other organizations to advance transparency and accountability in voting systems nationwide;

* published a groundbreaking report, "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age", providing for the first time a comprehensive, nationwide analysis of voter registration data gathering and dissemination practices;

* graded, for the second year in a row, all 50 states on the quality of their campaign finance disclosure programs in order to improve the transparency of money in politics nationwide;

* produced the tenth and eleventh editions of our "California Online Voter Guide", providing California voters with online, nonpartisan election information for both the Primary and General elections;

* conducted and reported on our statewide survey on the barriers and incentives for voter participation in California;

* redesigned our Webby-award winning web site to make our resources even more accessible and user-friendly.

These projects have been supported through grants from various foundations. In addition, CVF relies on donations from individuals to support our work. I hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation to CVF to support our continuing efforts to advance the responsible use of technology to improve the democratic process, in California and beyond.

You can donate to CVF by check or credit card. To donate by check, simply download and complete the online contribution form and send your check to:

The California Voter Foundation
503 4th Street, Suite B
Davis, CA 95616

You can also donate using your credit card.

On behalf of the California Voter Foundation board and staff, I wish you all a happy holiday season and thank you for your support of our efforts.

(# 1:08 PM)

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Friday, December 17

OH: Elections official doesn't believe computer was tampered with 

By Malia Rulon, Associated Press, Thursday, December 16, 2004


The Ohio elections official whose sworn statement led to a request for an FBI investigation into possible vote tampering says she doesn't think anything improper happened during preparations for a recount of the presidential election.

Sherole Eaton, the deputy director of the Hocking County Board of Elections, wrote in a signed affidavit that a software technician took apart the county's main computer tabulator to fix the battery, then put it back together and told her not to turn it off.

Her story prompted Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, to ask authorities to impound the computer and investigate "likely illegal election tampering."

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has called on Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to secure the county's computer, order a hand count of their ballots and investigate all counties where computer technicians worked on the computers before the recount.

"The integrity of using the board's computerized tabulating system to conduct the recount of the presidential election has been seriously compromised," wrote Donald McTigue, the lawyer handling the recount for the Kerry campaign.

Eaton, a Democrat, said she signed the affidavit in an attempt to document what happened.

"I never did suspect fraud and I don't now. That wasn't my intent," she said Thursday. "I was just bringing it forward. I'm not a whistle-blower."

President Bush won Hocking County in southeast Ohio by 762 votes over Democrat John Kerry, according to certified results. A statewide recount requested by third-party candidates began this week amid allegations of voting irregularities. Hocking County's recount of punch-card ballots resulted in one extra vote each for Bush and Kerry.

The FBI had not decided whether an investigation was warranted, spokesman Mike Brooks said Thursday. Blackwell and the county's Democratic prosecutor, Larry Beal, planned no investigation.

Brett Rapp, president of TRIAD Governmental Systems Inc., says the visit was standard procedure during a recount, something the Ohio secretary of state's office confirmed Thursday.

Secretary of State spokesman Carlo LoParo said every county elections board contracts with vendors to prepare their election machines. TRIAD wrote and maintains voting software used in 41 of Ohio's 88 counties.

Ohio law requires that only results from the race being recounted can appear on the county's tabulation forms. That means technicians must configure the recount file so the tabulator counts that race, LoParo said.

The software itself is not changed, Rapp said.

In Hocking County, problems arose because the county's 14-year-old Dell computer, which is used to tabulate ballots, failed to boot up. The battery was low, so the computer didn't save the information it needed to tell the hard drive how to operate, Rapp said.

To get the computer running so it could be configured for a recount, the technician had to remove the hard drive and put it into a separate, newer computer that had a viable battery to get a readout of the hard drive specifications.

The technician then re-installed the hard drive into the original computer, using those specifications to tell the computer how to communicate with the hard drive and finish booting up. To protect the battery, the computer must remain turned on, which is why the technician told Eaton to keep it running, Rapp said.

Computer experts say the company's explanation of the situation is plausible, but it underscores problems with electronic voting such as overdependence on technology and the prevalent use of outdated hardware.

"Allowing people to tweak the computers before a recount opens up possibilities for fraud," said David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said problems can arise when elections officials don't have a system for dealing with technology breakdowns.

"We're left in the situation where the election official is taking the technician's word for things, and yet, we don't know who this person is," Alexander said.

(# 11:05 AM)

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Monday, December 13

More Questions for Florida -- Clint Curtis' allegations 

By Kim Zetter, Wired News, December 13, 2004

Excerpts:

A government watchdog group is investigating allegations made by a Florida programmer that are whipping up a frenzy among bloggers and people who believe Republicans stole the recent election.

Programmer Clint Curtis claims that four years ago Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Florida) asked his then-employer to write software to alter votes on electronic voting machines in Florida.

He said his employer told him the code would be used "to control the vote" in West Palm Beach, Florida. But a fellow employee disputed the programmer's claims and said the meetings he described never took place.

Many questions have been raised about Curtis, the 46-year-old programmer, who said he doesn't know if anyone ever placed the prototype code on voting machines. But this hasn't stopped frustrated voters and bloggers from seizing his story. Daily Kos mentioned the allegations, and Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog has written extensively about them.

Staff members for Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) met with Curtis last week to discuss the election allegations. Representatives for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) inquired about other allegations from Curtis that his former company spied on NASA.

The FBI in Tallahassee, Florida, has set up a meeting with Curtis, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, said it was trying to corroborate his claims about possible election fraud and NASA spying.

The group hopes that even if the election allegations aren't proven, they will inspire legislators to pass a law requiring voting software to be open to public inspection to help deter fraud and restore public confidence in the election process. The software code used in voting machines is considered proprietary and it is protected from public examination -- an issue voting activists have been trying to address.

------

In September 2000, Curtis was working for Yang Enterprises in Oviedo, Florida, a software design firm that contracts with NASA, ExxonMobil and the Florida Department of Transportation, among other clients. According to Curtis, Feeney met with him and Lee Yang, the company's president, to request the voting software.

At the time, Feeney was Yang's corporate attorney and a registered lobbyist for the company as well as a member of Florida's legislature. A month later, he would become speaker of Florida's House of Representatives. In 2002 he was elected to Congress.

Curtis said Feeney asked for code that could go undetected on a voting machine and be easily triggered without any devices by anyone using the machine. Curtis had never seen source code for a voting machine, but in five hours, he said he designed code in Visual Basic that would launch if someone touched specific spots on the voting screen after selecting a candidate.

Once the code was activated, it would search the machine to see if the selected candidate's total was behind. If it was, the machine would award that candidate 51 percent of the total votes recorded on the machine and redistribute the remaining votes among the other candidates in the race.

Curtis said he initially believed Feeney wanted the code to see if such fraud were possible and to know how to detect it. The programmer told Feeney that such code could never be undetectable in source code, and he wrote a paper describing how to look for it. But when he gave the paper and code to his employer, Yang told him he was looking at it all wrong. They weren't looking at how to find code, Curtis said she told him. They needed code that couldn't be found.

"Her words were that it was needed to control the vote in West Palm Beach, Florida," Curtis said. "Once she said, 'We need to steal an election,' that put me back. I made it clear that I could not produce code that could do that and no one else should."

Curtis says he left the company in February 2001 because he found its ethics questionable. He doesn't know if his code was ever used.

Neither Feeney's spokeswoman nor election officials in Palm Beach County returned calls for comment. But a man who identified himself as Mike Cohen, Yang's executive assistant at the time whom Curtis said was in the meeting, told Wired News the meeting never occurred. Cohen said Curtis was "100 percent" wrong and that Cohen didn't attend such a meeting. He added he knew nothing of any meeting on the topic that occurred without him.

Yang attorney Michael O'Quinn called Curtis' assertions "absurd and categorically untrue." He said Curtis is an opportunist and a disgruntled former employee furthering an agenda by telling lies. According to O'Quinn, Curtis tried the same tactic in 2002 when he leveled other charges against Yang and Feeney.

Some details of Curtis' statements don't check out. West Palm Beach city didn't use touch-screen machines in 2000, something Curtis didn't know when Wired News spoke to him. It was the pregnant chad controversy in that year's presidential election that led Palm Beach county, where West Palm Beach resides, to replace its much-maligned punch-card system with touch-screen machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems in December 2001.

But Curtis said the program could have been adapted for use in the counting software used with punch-card machines and optical scan machines, or it could have been used on the new touch-screen machines in 2002, the year Feeney was elected to Congress.

Adam Stubblefield, a graduate student in computer science at Johns Hopkins University who co-authored a now-famous report (.pdf) about Diebold's voting machine code last year, thinks the chances that Curtis' code was used in a voting machine are nil.

"(Curtis) clearly didn't have the source code to any voting machine, and his program is so trivial that it would be much easier to rewrite it than to rework it," said Stubblefield.

Stubblefield also found fault in Curtis' statement that any malicious code would be detected in a source code review. This would be true only for unsophisticated malicious code, like Curtis' prototype.

Despite Curtis' concerns about statements Yang and Feeney supposedly made regarding election fraud, Curtis didn't tell the FBI or election officials in West Palm Beach about them, even after the 2000 election thrust Florida into the international spotlight.

He said he didn't worry about the code or Yang's statements because he believed if anyone installed malicious code on a voting machine authorities would find it when they examined the code. It wasn't until he read a news story last spring indicating that voting software is proprietary and is not open for inspection once it's certified that the earlier conversations began to concern him.

He claims he did later tell the CIA, the FBI, an investigator for Florida's Department of Transportation and a reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal about the voting issues when he gave them other information about Yang and Feeney. But so far this has not been corroborated. The FBI did not return calls for comment. The Department of Transportation investigator is dead. And writer Laura Zuckerman who worked closely with Curtis on several stories for the Daytona paper, told Wired News he never mentioned the voting software code.

(# 4:56 PM)

National Academies Remarks, December 9, 2004 

"The Need for Transparent, Accountable and Verifiable U.S. Elections by Kim Alexander, December 9, 2004

Last week I addressed a committee of the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications board, which is developing a framework for the questions to be asked about e-voting.

I participated in this committee meeting, which took place in Washington, D.C., via teleconference from SRI International in Menlo Park, CA. Others gathered at SRI who spoke to the committee included Ren Bucholz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and computer scientists David Wagner, David Jefferson, Drew Dean and Peter Neumann.

--------

Excerpts:

The loss of transparency has been underway in this country for 40 years, ever since punch card voting was introduced.  In most places, the software that is used to tabulate the vote is not verified.  This is propriety software, made by private companies, which is being managed by thousands of people with limited computer skills.  This software is not required by federal law to meet any security, accuracy or reliability standard.  It is unregulated by the federal government and in most states, is poorly regulated. 

There are ways to verify the software that’s used to count votes, but in most places it simply isn’t.  Now, with the onset of paperless, computerized voting systems, we are moving from voting systems that rely on some degree of software which can be checked for accuracy (but typically isn’t), to systems that rely solely on software and cannot be checked for accuracy.

Election issues arise quadrennially—like a blip on a radar.  Now information about the lack of transparency moves at lightening speed across the Internet.  This occasional blip in the radar is catalogued.  Speculation runs rampant.  But due to the opaqueness of the results claims of voter fraud cannot be confirmed or denied.

--------

Cathy Cox, Georgia’s secretary of state, recently wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “every major case of vote fraud” in her state has “involved paper ballots” and goes on to describe various ways vote fraud has been committed on paper voting systems.

The thing is, vote fraud doesn’t disappear just because we change voting systems.  We must be realistic and accept the fact that people can and will always try to cheat in elections. 

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If someone suspects there has been a software error, or tampering, they must request a recount.  In most places, only candidates can request a recount, and must pay for it up front.  Most campaigns have no financial resources left after the election to pay for a recount. Requesting a recount is also a very unpopular choice for a defeated candidate, who must endure being called a “sore loser”.  And many election officials shudder at the suggestion of a recount, because it calls their performance into question. 

In short, we have placed the burden of verifying elections on candidates, when in fact it is election officials who should be routinely and publicly verifying election results, no matter what the margins are. 

There must be a step in between an automated count and a recount, and this is what’s missing in the vote counting process right now—routine and public verification.

-------

Election officials who have adopted electronic voting repeatedly assure the public that the results are accurate.  We should not have to take their word for it.  After all, every election the government is on the ballot.  And most election officials work for the same politicians who are running for office.  While many election officials strive to be  impartial and professional in their duties, some take on roles in political campaigns or are active members of political parties.  Such activities raise legitimate doubts in voters’ minds about whether elections and vote counting are conducted in a fair and impartial manner.  Such doubts could be easily put to rest if computerized election results would be routinely and publicly verified.

It is not enough that election officials, or equipment vendors, or even computer scientists tell us that the results are accurate.  Any reasonable person deserves the right and opportunity to see for themselves that the results are accurate.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes Article 21, which states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” and “shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections”.

Until we achieve greater transparency and accountability in our voting process, U.S. voters will continue to question how genuine our election results truly are. Congress may reconsider HAVA in the upcoming year, and when it does, it must step up to the election security plate in order to protect the legitimacy of its authority.  The United States deserves so much more than this rickety system we have today.  We need a voting process that serves as an example, not an embarrassment.  We need a process that utilizes computer technology in a responsible, not reckless, manner.  Such a system by design must include a voter verified paper record, routine verification of computerized vote counts, and mandatory federal security standards.



(# 4:49 PM)

Groups detail voting problems in 2004 election 

By Frank Davies, Miami Herald, December 7, 2004

Last week several organizations sponsored a forum on Capitol Hill to discuss voting problems in the November 2004 election. The forum was attended by more than 500 people, and was sponsored by The Century Foundation, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and Common Cause, which also issued a "Report to the Nation" summarizing voting problems. More coverage of the forum is also available from the Common Cause

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Excerpts from the Miami Herald story:

During a day-long forum on Capitol Hill, state officials, computer experts and voting rights advocates detailed a series of flaws that persisted this year, despite reforms and upgrades since the 2000 election:

* Long lines in Ohio, New Mexico and during Florida's early voting made it difficult for some voters to cast their ballots. Because of a lack of machines and staffing problems, some Ohio voters waited seven hours in the rain to vote.

* Registration problems, including counties struggling to update rolls of new voters, prevented thousands of people from voting easily. On Election Day, many voters could not get through by phone to local election offices and had difficulty casting provisional ballots.

* While much of the new technology performed well, serious flaws occurred. A computer malfunction wiped out 4,400 votes in Carteret County, N.C., and 3,893 extra votes were recorded for President Bush in Franklin County, Ohio.

* Election offices were often late to get out absentee ballots. Thousands sent out by Broward County, Fla., were lost in the mail.

"The election did not go smoothly, despite the fact that a president was chosen without court intervention, and without the chaos that many observers feared," the Common Cause report concluded.

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While no electronic voting fraud has been discovered yet, a "malicious code" to do that would be easy to write and hard to detect, warned David Jefferson, who heads California's oversight committee on the security and reliability of voting systems.

"It is a potential weapon of mass electoral destruction," Jefferson said.

Beyond technology, there was some good news in the area of voter education, reported Ted Selker, an MIT professor and computer expert. He noted that Los Angeles County "reduced its error rate significantly" in votes cast this year through a TV public-service campaign.

(# 4:40 PM)

Shattering the Myth: An Initial Snapshot of Voter Disenfranchisement in the 2004 Elections 

news release and report from People for the American Way, December 6, 2004

People for the American Way, one of several groups involved in the Election Protection Coalition, produced a preliminary report on the problems identified through the Election Incident Reporting System. A more thorough analysis is due next year. In the meantime, this report provides an overview of specific problems reported in key presidential election battleground states, such as Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

------

Excerpt from the news release:

The preliminary review, “Shattering the Myth: An Initial Snapshot of Voter Disenfranchisement in the 2004 Elections” surfaces a myriad of systemic problems. In addition to the long lines and unreasonable waiting times that kept many people - disproportionately urban minority voters - from being able to vote, the top five problems overall were registration processing, absentee ballots, machine errors, voter intimidation and suppression, and problems with the use and counting of the new provisional ballots mandated under new federal law.

(# 4:08 PM)

Jimmy Carter on NPR's "Fresh Air" 

NPR : Fresh Air from WHYY for Thursday, October 21, 2004

Back in October, former president Jimmy Carter appeared on "Fresh Air" and spoke at length with host Terry Gross about U.S. elections. The entire interview is available online in audio format. Below are excerpts from the transcript.

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GROSS: President Jimmy Carter is my guest and his novel, "The Hornet's Nest," which is a Revolutionary War novel, has just been published in paperback.

One of the things you do with your Carter Center is to monitor elections around the world, and you've monitored over 50 elections around the world. We are facing a US presidential election here and I'm wondering if America was a foreign country and it had asked you to monitor the election, would it meet your criteria. Could you monitor the American elections if you were asked?

Mr. CARTER: No. We wouldn't think of it. The American political system wouldn't measure up to any sort of international standard for several reasons. One is that there has to be a provision in the countries where we monitor--we've just finished our 52nd one--that all the qualified candidates have equal access to the public through the media, through television and radio, and they don't have to pay for it. Whereas in this country, there's no way that you can hope to be the nominee of the Democratic or Republican Party unless you have the proven ability to raise nowadays $100 million, contributions from special interest groups. Some of the interest groups are benevolent, I might hasten to add. That's one thing. We wouldn't qualify.

GROSS: Why do you have that as a qualification, as a criteria?

Mr. CARTER: Why?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARTER: Well, because we think that the ability to run for office and be seriously considered as a candidate should not depend on how much money you can collect to pay for the right to give your campaign platform explanations to the public.

GROSS: OK. Other reasons why we would not fulfil your criteria.

Mr. CARTER: The second reason is: We don't go into a country unless there is a central election commission that is recognized generally as being non-partisan or bipartisan, and that is a balanced position between or among the different parties. We have nothing like that. As you know in Florida, in the year 2000, the secretary of State there who was in charge of the Florida election was an avowed and fervent and very obvious Republican activist.

GROSS: This is Katherine Harris.

Mr. CARTER: Katherine Harris, and she was later elected to Congress because of the Republicans appreciated what she did for President Bush. And this time, the new secretary of State, who replaced Katherine Harris, was not elected, she was appointed to that very important partisan position by the governor who happens to be President Bush's brother. So there's no semblance of a balanced commission that would be objective among the different candidates. I mean, they don't even deny the fact that they are fervent Republican activists.

Another facet of requirements is that all the people in a country or certainly a state should vote in exactly the same way, either punch cards or touch screens or whatever. Whereas in Florida and many other states, it depends on which preferences the county officials have. So you might have like in Florida in 2000, multiple ways to vote. And quite often, the more affluent districts or precincts are the most certain to have the votes counted accurately because the rich people insist on it. Whereas the poor people don't really have the political
influence to insist that their votes be handled properly. That's another very important facet.

And the third thing is that--a fourth thing I think now, is that if there is a technological advanced way to vote, there must be some way for a physical recount if it's very close. We just finished an election not too long ago in a Third World country that had a touch-screen technique, the system was developed in the United States, previously in Spain, but in addition to casting their vote, after they punched the touch screen final button, out comes a paper ballot showing you exactly how you voted. So you look at the paper ballot and you make sure that that is the way I wanted my vote to be cast and then you fold the ballot and put it in a box. So afterwards, if there is a doubt about the technology or the touch-screen techniques, since it's all secret and you can't see it and you can recount by using the paper ballot.

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GROSS: What do we do now with the electronic voting machines that don't have any kind of way of recounting? We're just, you know, days away from the election.

Mr. CARTER: I think now it's just too late. You can't change a whole technology. But when we have gone into countries, as I say, we have insisted whenever possible that there be a paper trail and the technology is completely available. In fact, the same companies that prepare these machines with the printed affirmation are the ones that we've used in other countries.

GROSS: What's your best guess about why we're not using the ones with the paper trail?

Mr. CARTER: Part of it, I think, is the pride of America. You know, we don't need other people to tell us how to run our elections. We are the greatest democracy on Earth. We are above any outside criticism. That's part of it is pride, and I would say sovereignty of our country or our state. Another one is that there are people who are very deeply interested in maintaining the outcome of the election under partial control. Our country favors incumbents strongly.

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GROSS: Now let me ask you, though, some of the electronic voting machines being used in the country are manufactured by the Diebold Company.

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: The head of that company is a very partisan, very pro-Republican. Some people think that that means that those machines might be tampered with, that there might be partisan interference. Other people see that as a really silly conspiratorial point of view. From your point of view, is that something we should be concerned about?

Mr. CARTER: I think it is. I would like to see there be a uniform standard around this nation before the next presidential election, at least, that any machine used of a touch-screen type had to have a paper trail so that you could subsequently monitor or confirm the accuracy of the vote as just. And in most touch-screen systems, including those of the Diebold Company, I understand, there's no way to recount. You have to trust the manufacturer of the machine and you have to trust the people who set the machine up, who program it, and you have to trust the people who get the decipherment of the vote out of the machine when the election's over.

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GROSS: There's so much concern about whether the election will be fair and whether the votes will be fairly counted and there are so many lawsuits in the works now, do you think that elections have become more problematic than they've ever been before? Do you think that's just a question of the fact that the election was so close in 2000 that we're more sensitive to inaccuracies that have actually always existed?

Mr. CARTER: I don't have any sound evidence on which to base my answer. But my own opinion is that there have always been improprieties and distorted results promulgated by powerful local and state election officials. And it was only the Florida debacle that was going to result in the choice of a president that became so highly visible for the first time. My guess is that in the state of Georgia and in the state of Florida and maybe in the state of Pennsylvania and obviously there have been allegations about Illinois--when John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, there were claims that 120 votes were transferred to Kennedy by Mayor Daley and others. So I think that in the past, there have been those improprieties and a distortion of accuracy. I think now it may be a healthy thing that because of the year 2000 in Florida, that people are more aware of a threat and maybe there'll be some more cleansing.


(# 3:18 PM)

National Federation of the Blind on E-voting and Accessibility 

Voice of the Nation's Blind: Electronic Voting in the 2004 Election by Michael Nutt, December 1, 2004

Review of a Braille overlay on an electronic voting machine by Christopher Danielsen, December 1, 2004

Accounts of blind voters' voting experiences by Michael Nutt, December 1, 2004

AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal Demonstration by Michael Nutt, December 1, 2004

The December issue of "Voices of the Nation's Blind", a publication of the National Federation of the Blind, features a series of articles about blind voters' experiences in the November 2004 election as well as thoughts about how to move forward with both accessibility and security.

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Excerpts:

Accessible voting machines are finally a reality. The Automark and many other voting machines accessible to the blind are finally in production, while the laws of our nation require the states to purchase accessible machines and make the entire process of voting accessible to the blind. The machines are only part of the system, though. There are many parts to the voting system, ranging from voter registration procedures, to election procedures, to the security and verifiability of the ballots once they have been cast. Not only must the system work, it must be seen to work, and it must have the confidence of all voters.

Many states have started requiring voter-verifiable audit trails. While in theory this could be done without paper, in reality, proponents of such audit trails argue, with some survey data to back them up, that the majority of voters in the country would not have faith in a system that lacked a paper audit trail. We are confronted with the reality that paper audit trails will be with us for the foreseeable future. Laws requiring them are now on the books in California, Nevada, and Ohio, to name only a few, and there are strong sentiments for such laws in many other states.

The NFB does not oppose such paper trails in principle, but we insist that they must be just as accessible to the blind as they are to sighted voters. All reputable advocates of paper trails agree with our position, and have stated their agreement, although perhaps not as vociferously as we might have liked. Nonetheless, it is still there, not just in the statements of groups like the California Voter Foundation, the League of Women Voters, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and VerifiedVoting.org, but also in the laws of our nation and of many of the individual states within it. Where state laws and regulations do not provide for the means of verification to be accessible to the blind, we must make sure they are changed to reflect that imperative.

Most advocates who are concerned about voting agree that the American election system is in dire need of reform, and not just in the technology employed in the voting booth. In the NFB, our primary concern is that we preserve the right for the blind to cast our ballots independently and in secret; however, we should not stand in the way of voting reforms that do not conflict with that goal, and we should bear in mind that all voters have the right to know that the system insures that all votes are counted properly.

(# 2:58 PM)

Touchscreen voting supplier experiencing organizational turmoil 

By Jay Goetting, Napa Valley Register, December 6, 2004

Excerpt:

The company that manufactures the touchscreen voting devices, as well as other elections equipment, used in Napa County is experiencing some organizational turmoil.

Sequoia Voting Systems' parent firm, British-based De La Rue, has indicated it may sell or close Sequoia's operations. Sequoia's headquarters is in Oakland.

Tuteur said he heard last week that there could be a restructuring of Sequoia's management and that the firm that supplies Napa County is for sale.

"I don't expect any change for us," he said, although he said he will be watching with interest as events unfold.

A report in The Times of London said the action taken is "to the relief of many." De La Rue also said it will cut 350 jobs. The moves follow the closure of a major De La Rue plant in Surrey, England last year.

Sequoia has been part of De La Rue since 2001, when the Hampshire, UK business bought 85 percent of the company. The remaining 15 percent was retained by a firm known as Smurfit.

De La Rue is a multi-national firm that prints currency for a number of countries and is a leader in tamperproof technology. Among its products are American Express travelers' checks. De La Rue invented the secure cash-counting mechanisms used in automated teller machines.

The bottom line in the London Times business report regarding De La Rue stock: "Sell."


(# 2:36 PM)

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Thursday, December 2

Election surprise actually an error 

By Bill Ainsworth, San Diego Union-Tribune, December 2, 2004

An electronic reporting error made by San Diego County resulted in appearing to change the outcome of Proposition 72. Such errors routinely occur and illustrate the value of having election results that are publicly verified. When errors do occur and must be corrected it is crucial that election officials can demonstrate the revised results are accurate. Without a voter verified paper record and routine verification of software vote counts, the public is less likely to accept the validity of revised results.

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Excerpts from the San Diego Union-Tribune story:

A reporting error by San Diego County briefly caused a state Web site to incorrectly show that Proposition 72, a health insurance ballot measure defeated on Election Day, had actually been approved by voters.

But a proper transmittal by San Diego County yesterday reaffirmed the Election Day results. The correct figures show that the measure lost by about 200,000 votes statewide.

Proposition 72, which would have required businesses with at least 50 employees to provide health insurance to their workers or pay a fee into a state insurance fund, was the subject of a hard-fought campaign between business and labor.

The measure was narrowly defeated Nov. 2, but the brief posting of contrary results Tuesday night startled both supporters and opponents.

On Tuesday, 17 counties, including San Diego, reported final results to the state both by mail and electronic transmission, a state official said.

In the process of transmitting results electronically, San Diego County ran into a glitch that reported results of ballot propositions from 60A to 72 out of sequence, according to San Diego County Registrar of Voters Sally McPherson.

Consequently, the San Diego County totals for a popular ballot measure, 60A, which directs revenue from the sale of surplus property to pay off state debt bonds, were submitted incorrectly as the results for Proposition 72, she said.

"The wrong numbers went into the wrong spaces," McPherson said.

Those extra votes, when added to the statewide total, were enough to make it seem like Proposition 72 had experienced a stunning come-from-behind victory.

In San Diego County, Proposition 60A won approval from 77 percent of San Diego County voters, while Proposition 72 won approval from 44 percent of county voters.

(# 3:51 PM)

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