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NOTE: Contrary to the article below, I've come to the conclusion that all votes should be hand-cast and hand-counted. Voting machines are an invitation to vote rigging.
The Nightmare Scenario Is Here - Computer Voting With No Paper Trail
by Lynn Landes 8/5/02
Dr. Rebecca Mercuri has a dream....and political
candidates and their supporters had better listen up unless they want to see all
their hard work go down the tube because of voting machine failure or finagling.
Mercuri is a computer science professor at Bryn
Mawr College in Pennsylvania, president of the consulting firm Notable Software,
and one of the nation's foremost experts in the field of voting machine
technology and security. Her testimony has been used in legal battles involving
voting system failures, including the Bush-Gore election.
For the last 10 years she's dreamed of the day
when voting machines can be relied upon to register and count every vote
correctly; where man and machine, paper and process, come together to guarantee
an almost fail-safe voting system. She's even given her dream a name, "The
Mercuri Method for Voter-Verified Physical Ballots."
Yes, she's a bit of a nerd and proud of it.
Yes, she's a bit of a nerd and proud of it.
But instead of seeing her dream come true,
Mercuri is living her worst nightmare. Scores of county election boards across
the nation have rushed out and bought the latest high tech 'paperless' voting
machines. And leading the herd off the cliff is Theresa LePore. That's right,
the Queen of Chad, Supervisor of Elections in Palm Beach County, Florida, who
some say single handedly cost Al Gore the presidency, is back with another
debacle. Her office is being sued by the former Republican mayor of Boca Raton,
Emil Danciu, who claims that the city council election held last March should be
re-run due to malfunctions in the new $14 million dollar computer voting
machines LePore bought from Sequoia Voting Systems Inc..
Sound familiar? But wait. There's a new twist to
this old tale. LePore is once again, and almost perversely, providing a
much-needed service by demonstrating how bungled the job of electronic voting
can get. The machines LePore purchased can't be audited through a paper trail.
There are no ballots. Making matters worse, LePore signed an agreement with
Sequoia to protect their "trade secrets," which effectively prohibits
any party contesting an election from examining the machine or its programming.
That's convenient for Sequoia and the winner, but alarming for critics who
believe the voting process should not be based on a Titanic leap of faith.
Mercuri says that in order for an electronic
voting system to have any integrity, five components must be present - a voter,
a ballot, a computerized voting machine, a printer, and an optical scanner - and
three basic steps must be taken. First, the voting machine registers a voter's
selection both electronically and on a paper ballot. Second, the machine then
displays the paper ballot behind clear glass or plastic so that the voter can
review their selection, but not take the ballot home by mistake. If the voter's
selection doesn't agree with the ballot or the voter makes a mistake, the voter
can call a poll worker to void the ballot, and then re-vote. And third, the
paper ballot is optically scanned (most likely at the county administration
building), providing a second electronic tally. If anything goes wrong with
either the voting machines or the optical scanner, the paper ballots can be
hand-counted as a last resort or as part of an audit.
And voila! We have a fully auditable voting system with checks and balances,
review and redundancy.
And voila! We have a fully auditable voting system with checks and balances, review and redundancy.
This is an extremely important issue. Due to difficulties using voting equipment, 1.5 million presidential votes were not recorded in 2000, and up to 3.5 million votes weren't recorded in the last election cycle for the Senate and state governors, according to The CalTech/MIT Technology Report of July 2001.
The chief problem with paperless computer voting, according to Mercuri, is this, "Any programmer can write code that displays one thing on a screen, records something else, and prints yet another result. There is no known way to ensure that this is not happening inside of a voting system." And Mercuri points out, "No electronic voting system has been certified to even the lowest level of the U.S. government or international computer security standards..." The Federal Election Commission provides only voluntary standards, and even those don't ensure election "integrity," she says.
As for Internet voting...forget about it. "A secure Internet voting system is theoretically possible, but it would be the first secure networked application ever created in the history of computers," says Bruce Schneier, founder of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc.
This summer Congress has been working
on H.R. 2275, which provides for the establishment of an election standards
commission. Election standards would still be voluntary, but Mercuri believes
that the technical standards, if developed by the National Institute of
Standards and Technology, will be effective. Unfortunately, the bill got tabled
until the fall.
It's not too late to fix the problem for those
counties that have already bought paperless computer voting machines, like my
hometown of Philadelphia. Election officials can simply attach a printer to the
computer and then feed the results into an optical scanner. A printer should
cost about $20-50.
Optical scanners that are hand-fed can cost $3,000 – 4,000 and scan 2,000 -
3000 ballots per hour. For populated counties automated units can cost $40,000 -
$50,000 and scan 20,000 ballots per hour.
Optical scanners that are hand-fed can cost $3,000 – 4,000 and scan 2,000 - 3000 ballots per hour. For populated counties automated units can cost $40,000 - $50,000 and scan 20,000 ballots per hour.
As it stands, the integrity of the voting process in the United States has already been damaged. Without a paper ballot and absent a voter's ability to check their selection, computer voting is an invitation to across the board malfunction and malfeasance. With the legitimacy of our representative democracy at stake, it's time to make Dr. Mercuri's dream come true.
Lynn Landes is the publisher of EcoTalk.org and a news reporter for DUTV in Philadelphia, PA. Formerly Lynn was a radio show host for WDVR in New Jersey and a regular commentator for a BBC radio program. She can be reached at (215) 629-3553 / firstname.lastname@example.org.