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Voting Technology

California Secretary of State’s Voting Systems and Procedures Panel Meeting

January 20, 2005, Sacramento, California

Certification of the Sequoia VeriVote

Testimony of Kim Alexander, President
California Voter Foundation


Dear VSPP Members:

I urge you to plan to award limited certification of the Sequoia VeriVote printer, and only do so once a county intends to use the device in an actual, upcoming election. I also urge the VSPP to convene the Technical Oversight Committee, to require testing of audio ballots, and to prohibit the use of bar codes on voter verified paper records.

Limited certification of the VeriVote

This path would mirror the previous course the Secretary of State followed when a DRE with a voter-verified paper record component was introduced in California. The VSPP awarded Avante limited certification to use its machine for early voting in Sacramento county during the Fall 2002 election. The idea was to give the vendor and Sacramento County an opportunity to learn from experience, to the benefit of other counties that might be considering future purchases of the machine. The limited certification also required the county to report back to the VSPP on their election with a voter verified paper record.

It would be wise to ensure that the VeriVote is used on a limited, one-time basis in a county with an upcoming local election before it is fully certified and allowed to be purchased by other California counties. While the VeriVote was used successfully in Nevada in two statewide elections, California has different election laws and procedures. The most important legal difference is California’s public manual count requirement.

Lack of randomness of the VeriVote’s paper records

One of the most significant policy considerations with the VeriVote is that the paper records will not be preserved in a random order. They will be stored sequentially on a single, continuous roll of paper. The members of the Secretary of State’s Ad Hoc Touch Screen Task Force were unanimous in our view that the voter verified paper records should be randomized. On pages 41-42 of our report, we stated that there are “several issues that must be addressed to give greater clarity to vendors, election officials and the public” when utilizing the voter verified paper audit trail. Among those issues listed is: “Assuring randomized out-stacking of the paper ballot copies”. This requirement was advocated by the late Robert Naegele, who served as California’s voting technology consultant for forty years and who, as I recall, was quite adamant that the paper records be randomized.

The VeriVote does not work in this fashion, and storing the voter verified paper records sequentially is significantly different from what the task force outlined. It also differs from the standards adopted by the Secretary of State, which say, in 2.1.3: “Secrecy: The AVVPAT system shall be designed to ensure secrecy of votes so that it is not possible to determine which voter cast which paper record copy and shall comply with federal and state secrecy requirements”. Article 2, Section 7 of the California Constitution states: “Voting shall be secret”.

California’s actions on the voter verified paper record requirement are likely to have an impact nationwide, since many other states look to California as a trendsetter on democracy and technology issues. If California allows a non-random paper record system to go forward, it will send a message to other states that the lack of randomization is acceptable. It would be a shame if ballot secrecy is eroded nationwide because California certified a non-random system.

Convening of the Technical Oversight Committee

In addition to recommending limited certification once a county plans to use the VeriVote, I also urge the VSPP to convene the Technical Oversight Committee also called for in the touch screen task force’s recommendations. It is imperative that this committee review the technical and policy issues that have arisen in connection to the VeriVote, and inform the VSPP of its findings, before the VSPP takes action. Ideally, the Technical Oversight Committee would monitor the election where the VeriVote is used, and provide a third-party assessment of how it went. Only by actually using the system in a real election, and utilizing the paper records to satisfy CA's manual count law, will we know the degree to which ballot secrecy might be compromised due to the sequential order of the paper records.

I realize counties need to move forward quickly with the acquisition of new equipment in order to meet the HAVA and SB 1438 deadlines. But I believe it’s in the counties’ best interest to let one county use and report on the VeriVote before it is deployed statewide on a widespread basis.

Randomization of paper records for public, manual count

To reduce the impact of the non-randomization of the paper records, I also urge the VSPP to consider requiring those paper records used to perform the public manual count be cut and randomized. This would be one percent of a county’s total precincts, and limiting the cutting requirement to those records that will be required by law to be inspected would help ensure ballot secrecy is not eroded.

Audio ballot testing

I urge the VSPP to require there be testing of the audio output for sight-impaired voters to give these voters some assurance that the paper record of their ballot that’s produced by the voting machine is a true representation of the voter’s intent. This testing can be incorporated into the pre-election Logic and Accuracy testing process.

Prohibition of bar codes

Finally, I urge the VSPP to prohibit the use of bar codes on voter verified paper records. The VeriVote currently includes a bar code, which is optional according to the vendor. The presence of bar codes on voter verified paper records will undoubtedly cause voters to wonder what data is contained in those bar codes. Some may conclude that the voter’s identity is included. It also will leave the impression that the voter verified paper record will be read by machines rather than people. Until the time that the use of bar codes serves a particular purpose, they should be prohibited on California voter verified paper records.

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This page was first published on jJanuary 20, 2005 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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