Saturday, December 09, 2006

Finally, some good news regarding voting machine integrity

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

An article in today’s NY Times finally brings us some good news with respect to voting machines, new federal guidelines and legislation that has been blocked for two years. Even though it is not part of Nancy Pelosi’s 100 hour plan, there are potentially good things on the horizon which could go a long way towards ending the short but disastrous experiment in partisan run and funded, highly hackable and unreliable, non verifiable voting machines.

There is some pushback, as expected. For example, we have this little nugget of irony with respect to the proposals:

And the voting machine companies say they will argue against making the software code completely public, partly out of concern about making the system more vulnerable to hackers.


Computer experts and voting rights groups have long advocated such openness, arguing that the code is too important to be kept secret and would allow programmers to check for bugs and the potential for hacking. But manufacturers are resistant. Michelle Shafer, a vice president at Sequoia Voting Systems, said that while the industry was willing to give the source code to state and federal officials, “we feel that just putting it out there would give it to people with an intent to do something malicious or harmful.”

Concern for making it more vulnerable to hackers....(insert sound of head smacking into wall here).

But there is some real concern – albeit in the way of how this will be funded after the Screw American Voters Act Help America Vote Act mandates cost state and local governments millions of dollars to transform their voting systems to those aforementioned partisan hackable unreliable machines a few short years ago. For example, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)’s bill would provide federal aid of approximately $150 million to help states and localities make the switch to non-touch screen machines that have paper trails. However, this may still not be enough money for governments to make the switch after investing millions over the past few years for crappy machines that have proven to be a complete disaster.

In Maryland, legislators say they plan to replace the more than $70 million worth of touch-screen machines the state began buying in 2002 with paper optical scanners, which officials estimate could cost $20 million.

Voters in Sarasota, Fla., where the results of a Congressional race recorded on touch-screen machines are being contested in court, passed a ballot initiative last month to make the same change, at an estimated cost of $3 million. Last year, New Mexico spent $14 million to replace its touch screens. Other states are spending millions more to retrofit the machines to add paper trails.

New York has been slow to replace its old lever voting machines, and the state has required counties to buy screens with printers or optical scanners. New Jersey has passed a law requiring its counties to switch to machines with paper trails by 2008, and Connecticut is buying machines that can scan paper ballots.


Because some printers malfunctioned last month, election commissioners in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, said last week that they were considering scrapping their new $17 million system of touch-screen machines and starting over with optical scanning devices.

One of the biggest changes that will be part of legislation is in the area of the computer software code. Holt’s bill (much to the chagrin of Sequoia or Diebold) will require that the source code be made public. This goes further than the initial ideas of making the code open for inspection by federal authorities (in addition to more federal oversight at the polls with respect to testing). While I am skeptical about “federal oversight”, we know all too well about the way that machines were tested (look no further than Georgia in 2002 or the Ohio “recount” in 2004 to see how great it was when the private companies had control over the machines).

Of course, there is still a lot to do – the bill has to pass the House (it already has over 220 co-sponsors), and while Senator Feinstein plans on introducing a similar bill in the Senate early in January, there is also the small matter of President whiny petulant poopy-pants vetoing a bill that will make it tougher for fraud and hacking of the vote. Not only that, but there are still many many ways to disenfranchise or suppress the vote – whether it is the illegal robocalls (which legislation in a few states will outlaw), or dirty tricks as we saw in Virginia and other states, or tampering with voter registrations, or any of the other patriotic acts we saw in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Additionally, there are still some states that have not yet made or are hesitant to make changes, and there is a long way to go before we know that our votes will be counted, counted fully, counted fairly, and counted accurately. But at least it is a start and is some welcome news for a country that holds itself out as a “beacon of democracy”, while not even being able to have an election that meets the criteria of the Carter Center regarding election integrity.

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