A brave new world of voting, part II.Since the cover story on voting machines in the January/February 2004 issue of the Humanist, just two months ago, more difficulties have come to light--both with the machines themselves as well as the corporations manufacturing them.
For starters, on January 10, 2004, the Washington Post cited a Republican committee report to the effect that, in the November 2003 elections, voting machines in Fairfax County, Virginia Fairfax County is a county in Northern Virginia, in the United States. As of 2005, the estimated population of the county is 1,041,200; making it by far the most populous jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and larger than seven states. , were a "failure," producing one of the slowest vote counts in history, despite manufacturer assurance that the speed of ballot tallying would be vastly accelerated. Earlier, in 2002, Montgomery County, Maryland Montgomery County of the U.S. state of Maryland is situated just north of Washington, D.C. and Southwest of Baltimore. It is one of the most affluent counties in the nation, and has the highest percentage (29. , experienced similar problems with its new machines.
Yet the theory behind electronic voting machines is that, with effective computerization com·put·er·ize
tr.v. com·put·er·ized, com·put·er·iz·ing, com·put·er·iz·es
1. To furnish with a computer or computer system.
2. To enter, process, or store (information) in a computer or system of computers. , many common voting mistakes can be avoided. As Rebecca Mercuri, assistant professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr College, at Bryn Mawr, Pa; undergraduate for women, graduate coeducational; opened 1885 by the Society of Friends, with a bequest from Joseph W. Taylor of Burlington, N.J. Modeled on a group curriculum plan at Johns Hopkins Univ. in Pennsylvania and president of Notable Software (a computer consulting firm), stated in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Not to be confused with the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE).
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or IEEE (pronounced as eye-triple-e Spectrum, "New vote-tallying systems, which count the marks made on ballots, should be faster, more accurate, and cost-effective and better able to prevent certain types of tampering (such as ballot-box stuffing) than older products. And voting online might enable citizens to vote even if they are unable to get to the polls." Wired magazine lists other possible advantages to touch-screen voting systems, such as fast reprogramming Reprogramming refers to erasure and remodeling of epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation, during mammalian development. After fertilization some cells of the newly formed embryo migrate to the germinal ridge and will eventually become the germ cells to accommodate last-minute changes to the ballots and translations into other languages. Also, at the closing of the polis polis
In ancient Greece, an independent city and its surrounding region under a unified government. A polis might originate from the natural divisions of mountains and sea and from local tribal and cult divisions. ballot tallying could be accomplished much more quickly--"fast enough for TV networks to name a winner before the bars close."
Yet Wired goes on to say, soberly, that "for all the ostensible advantages, digital voting's recent history plays like a Marx Brothers movie." And Mercuri warns, "Making these methods work right turns out to be considerably more difficult than originally thought."
Mercuri relates the story of Palm Beach County, Florida Palm Beach County is a county located in the state of Florida. As of 2007, the county had a population of 1,351,236 according to the University of Florida, Bureau of Economic and Business Research. , in its recent purchase of thirty-eight hundred touch-screen voting machines for $14.5 million from Sequoia Voting Systems Sequoia Voting Systems is a company based in California, and one of the largest providers of electronic voting systems in the US. Some of its main competitors are Diebold Election Systems and Election Systems & Software. , a San Francisco-based company, If voters in Palm Beach had hoped that this investment would protect them from difficulties of the hanging-chad caliber, they were sorely mistaken. Upon tallying the results of the September 2003 primary elections, it was discovered that, somehow, a large number of undervotes had occurred. As a number of the elections were very close, two losing candidates--Albert Pagfia and former Boca Raton Mayor Emil Danciu, whose results showed a 3 percent and 8 percent undervote un·der·vote
1. A ballot that has been cast but shows no selection in a given race or referendum.
2. The number of such ballots cast in an election. , respectively--contested the election.
After a number of appeals the case, calling for an independent inspection of the voting machines, was brought before the Palm Beach County Fifteenth Circuit Court. There it was discovered that the contract between the county and Sequoia prohibited such an inspection, actually making such an act a third-degree felony. The court ruled that, as per the contract, all that would be allowed was an examination of the outer box of the machines. The case is still under investigation. But one assumption can easily be made: the electronic machines didn't make voting any easier than the previous punch cards.
Wired tells an equally problematic story. In the 2000 Riverside County, California Riverside County is a county located in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of California, stretching from Orange County to the Colorado River, which is the border with Arizona. , elections, a server manufactured by Sequoia suddenly froze and began counting backward. This, to be fair, was the state's first use of electronic voting machines. But in 2002, rive rive
v. rived, riv·en also rived, riv·ing, rives
1. To rend or tear apart.
2. To break into pieces, as by a blow; cleave or split asunder.
3. hours before the polls were to close in San Luis Obispo, California San Luis Obispo (IPA: [sæn 'luɪs ə'bɪspoʊ]; Spanish for St. Louis, the Bishop) is a city in California, located roughly midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the Central Coast. , the machines suddenly, unaccountably, began reporting totals. With stories such as these, it becomes more and more difficult to believe in the promised ease and efficiency of this technology.
Diebold, Inc., the software company that is the second largest voting machine manufacturer, has had similar problems. In 2003 Bev Harris, an activist currently writing a book on voting machines (now available for purchase or free downloading online at www.blackboxvoting.org), came across thousands of Diebold's internal memos. They are telling, stating such grave employee concerns as "I have been waiting for someone to give me an explanation as to why Precinct 216 gave A1 Gore a minus 16022 [votes] when it was uploaded" and succinct criticisms such as "I have never been at any other company that has been so mismanaged."
Rather than responding with embarrassment and an avowal An open declaration by an attorney representing a party in a lawsuit, made after the jury has been removed from the courtroom, that requests the admission of particular testimony from a witness that would otherwise be inadmissible because it has been successfully objected to during the of improvement to its products, Diebold instead expressed outrage. According to the Center for American Progress The Center for American Progress is a progressive American political policy research and advocacy organization. Its website describes it as "...a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. , Diebold "threatened legal action against dozens of individuals who refused to remove links" to information that evidences the company's security problems. As John Schwartz of the New York Times puts it, Diebold was "waging legal war against grass-roots advocates, including dozens of college students."
Diebold has since retreated, however, agreeing "not to sue voting rights advocates who publish leaked documents about the alleged security breaches of electronic voting." But this wasn't good enough for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which is now suing Diebold under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law which implements two 1996 WIPO treaties. It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services that are used to measures that control access to copyrighted works (commonly for "intimidating Internet service providers" to eliminate detrimental information about Diebold. An EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Francisco, CA, www.eff.org) A non-profit civil liberties organization founded in 1990 by Mitchell Kapor and John Perry Barlow. It works in the public interest to protect privacy and freedom of expression in the arenas of computers and the Internet. lawyer explains that Diebold's actions put a "chill on free speech that stopped discussion of electronic voting issues without ever getting before a judge."
Yet lawsuits aren't the only scandal to come out of the public release of the memos. The state of Maryland, after buying Diebold machines and witnessing their flaws, began considering the idea of requiring voter-verified paper printouts, the widely accepted proposed solution for the problems in electronic voting. As reported in the December 10, 2003, Maryland Gazette, in a discussion on the matter, one Diebold employee named Ken suggested, "They already bought the system. At this point they are just closing the barn door. Let's just hope that as a company we are smart enough to charge out the yin if they try to change the rules now and legislate voter receipts." He later clarified his meaning, which was to make "any after-sale charge prohibitively expensive."
This might not be so telling had Diebold not subsequently charged Maryland, according to the Center for American Progress, an additional $20 million for the paper printouts. When questioned, Diebold spokesperson David Bear denied any link between the high price and Ken's e-mails, stating he "could not comment on the email or its authenticity but ... no one person can set pricing policy."
And Diebold isn't the only electronic voting company taking advantage of the fact that paper printouts are, according to Mercuri and most experts, the only truly effective way "to provide auditability" as well as "enhance voter confidence." According to the North County, California, Times, Sequoia will charge an additional 15 percent of the original $3,200 cost for each machine; in California, this will mean an extra $55 million to $65 million throughout the state.
Nonetheless, the voter-verified printouts are absolutely necessary considering the potential errors otherwise. House Resolution 2239, a bill introduced by Rush Holt (Democrat, New Jersey) which requires printouts, is still pending in Congress. Constituents can contact their local representatives through www.visi.com/juan/congress or state election boards at www.blackboxvoting.org/htdocs/dcforum/DCForumID29/47.html
In addition, www.VerifiedVoting.org, an online organization which "champions transparent, reliable, and publicly verifiable elections in the United States The United States has a federal government, with elected officials at federal (national), state and local level. On a national level, the head of state, the President, is elected indirectly by the people, through electors of an electoral college. " is seeking citizen endorsements for its open letter to the House Administration Committee. The letter demands that H.R. 2239 be passed immediately. The American Humanist Association The American Humanist Association (AHA) is an educational organization in the United States that advances Humanism. It is the original Humanist organization, and embraces secular, religious, and other manifestations of Humanist philosophy. has already endorsed this letter; individuals and organizations are still encouraged to do the same.
No action is too small. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says, "Let's be clear: the credibility of U.S. democracy may be at stake."
Ilana BoMe is the editorial associate for the Humanist.