CFVI responds to ERC Commissioner Scott Gessler's Op-Ed
Coloradans for Voting Integrity (cfvi.us) has examined the viewpoint expressed by Election Reform Commissioner Scott Gessler, and here we offer some further “differing views” on some of the points he made in his Rocky Mountain News opinion piece of February 23, 2009, titled “A Differing View.” Our comments are in blue interleaved in Commissioner Gessler’s article, which is in black. The points in his article that we discuss are highlighted in yellow.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE COLORADO GENERAL ASSEMBLY follow our response to Commissioner Gessler.
Rocky Mountain News Monday 2/23/09
A DIFFERING VIEW
Dumping electronic voting is no compromise
Last week, the Rocky editorial board
bought into the false claim that the state
Election Reform Commission reached
compromise involving electronic voting
machines ("Mistrusting technology," Feb.
There was no compromise. Instead, the
commission chair manipulated the agenda
by forcing commissioners to vote on
two contradictory policies - halting improvements
in the machinery certification
while simultaneously abolishing all electronic
voting machines in four years. This
was a classic example of gaming the vote,
and then calling it a compromise.
CFVI: As far as the public can determine, no discussion of improved certification testing occurred as part of the Commission meetings other than a recommendation to drop the dependence on federal testing and to allow out-of-state tests to be conditionally substituted for specific Colorado Department of State tests. Election reformers would be delighted to see improvements in voting system certification, especially if this is done in a transparent manner, but only these two very limited improvements were discussed and recommended. Certification rules must allow improved technologies and multiple vendor solutions to be certified, including full testing of entire systems during mock and real elections. In dropping the federal requirement, Colorado must be doubly sure its functional testing is made consistent with real election conditions and scale.
Unlike what Commissioner Gessler’s letter asserts, the two contradictory policies supposedly compromised were the abolishing of electronic voting systems in four years coupled with the allowance of the same temporarily certified electronic voting systems during those four years, including those without potentially voter-verifiable paper records. There are thousands of technologists as well as lawyers and elected officials who have signed a statement about the unsuitability of these totally unverifiable voting systems: www.verifiedvotingfoundation.org/article.php?id=5028.
The fact is, when it comes to electronic
voting machines, individual statements
by commissioners showed that a majority
reject a one-size- fits-all approach. Coloradans
have reliably used electronic voting
machines for years, and when given
the choice, Election Day voters prefer
these machines by overwhelming margins.
In practice, electronic machinery has
proven to be trustworthy and accurate.
CFVI: Electronic voting machines (by which we mean DREs or “direct recording electronic” machines, not optical scanners for paper ballots) have been used without reported serious complaint in many places. In other places, however, huge problems have arisen, such as in Montrose, Colorado, in November 2006, when several voting machines crashed. Hundreds of voters stood in line for several hours as a result.
Preference for a certain method of voting is highly specific to which county is being discussed. The preference depends crucially on how the alternative voting methods are offered. Commissioner Gessler’s statement cannot be applied statewide. In Boulder County there was an almost 90 percent preference for paper ballots on Election Day; few voted on the electronic voting machines (eSlates) that were available in every precinct.
We have not seen any solid scientific evidence for the claimed proof that the electronic voting machines are trustworthy and accurate on the basis of a full functional test on an election scale or in an election context. Nor has such a test been accomplished in any other state that we are aware of. On the contrary, ample evidence of machine malfunctions is not hard to find; see www.votersunite.org/electionproblems.asp.
At the same time, county clerks have
invested millions of dollars in electronic
voting technology. But to throwaway
perfectly good voting equipment is an
irresponsible waste of money.
To be sure, an angry minority wants to
ban electronic voting machines based on
unrealistic, hypothetical scenarios. In
practice, electronic voting machines work
and have worked for years. In practice,
electronic voting machines give disabled
voters the chance to vote by themselves.
In practice, many other voting systems
have deep flaws, which many critics simply
ignore. Finally, electronic voting machines
continue to improve - another
practical reason to keep this option open.
CFVI: Calling any group of election integrity advocates an “angry minority” is an undeserved slur, not befitting a statewide publication.
Describing the problems and failures cited by election integrity advocates as “unrealistic, hypothetical scenarios” is an unsupported allegation. Problems with electronic voting machines are as obvious as a voter’s inability to distinguish between issues on the supposedly voter-verifiable paper record because the issues are not titled on the paper trail.
Electronic voting machines work to the extent that they produce election outcomes. There is little evidence that their accuracy in capturing the intention of the voter goes beyond this statement. Unarguable proof of that accuracy is yet to be seen. It is certain that electronic voting machines also fail and have failed in elections. Failed electronic voting machines as well as too few such machines have led to lines that cause voters to walk away without voting. In this sense, at a minimum, electronic voting machines fail to “work” from time to time.
Some disabled voters are able to use the electronic voting machines without help. Unfortunately, for a substantial percentage of disabled voters (blind voters), the electronic voting machines do not provide the opportunity to verify any of the contests on the ballot. The Automark ballot-marking device does have this capability but is not yet certified for use in Colorado. It is likely that more ballot-marking devices are going to be produced, some or all of which may allow the blind to check their voted ballot.
To some degree, manufacturers are innovating in response to other states’ requirements and to a lesser extent, their own ingenuity. Colorado has taken almost no steps to define what it would like to see in a voting system component, and therefore any improvement is proceeding without any guidance from us, in spite of the time taken by the Election Reform Commission. Electronic voting machines might “improve” in a direction that is even less satisfactory than what is currently available.
Commissioner Gessler fails to mention that the Election Reform Commission also recommended to drop the requirement for voter-verifiable printouts (“paper trails”) on electronic voting machines in Colorado. Having a voter-verifiable paper printout has long been considered a minimum standard for use of such machines. Other states (e.g., our neighbor New Mexico) are already taking steps to remove electronic voting machines from elections and to retire them immediately despite large capital investments and even though they may have the “paper trail” included. Commissioner Gessler is asking us to take the unique direction of keeping our nonverifiable, fallible, and expensive-to-maintain and expensive-to-test devices as long as possible despite widespread reports of their weaknesses.
VotersUnite.org has an Election Problem Log with 1,190 entries so far. See www.votersunite.org/electionproblems.asp.
David Dill (a top computer scientist) started a Resolution years ago (after the 2002 election) calling for allowing voters to verify their ballots and for audits of auditable machines. It has a very powerful statement of the problems with unauditable electronic voting machines. Individual computer scientists and various groups have signed onto the resolution, but the core of the list is the computer technologists, of which there are 2002 to date. See www.verifiedvotingfoundation.org/article.php?id=5028. Click on "technologists” to see this list.
Thankfully, the commission's recommendation
isn't the final word. The General Assembly
now has a chance to consider
different proposals on their own merits. I
hope our legislators won't play the same
games. More directly our legislators
should continue to allow electronic voting
machines, with the proper certification
safeguards that have served Colorado so
Scott Gessler, a Denver attorney, is a member of the
Election Reform Commission and an election law expert.
We expect the General Assembly to rise to the occasion and use a creative approach to continue the Colorado requirement that all electronic voting machines have a voter-verified paper audit trail by 2010. In these fiscally strapped times, counties with unverifiable electronic voting machines (Jefferson and Arapahoe) can at least temporarily count election day paper ballots centrally along with their mail-in ballots, as several counties currently do, so that those otherwise paperless counties could use hand-marked paper ballots for early and election day voting.
We expect the General Assembly to institute a statewide risk-limiting audit system for our elections, as recommended by the Commission. We think this audit should be designed by experts according to “Principles and Best Practices for Post-Election Audits” (http://www.electionaudits.org/principles) and run by a special ongoing and independent audit commission that includes election integrity advocates, statisticians who specialize in election methods, computer scientists, and auditors.
We also expect the General Assembly to shun the cries for instituting all-mail elections in primaries. All-mail elections have reduced election security and therefore can be more easily manipulated. Data showing an increase in turnout may be affected by the interest the public has in the specific election. Please see Dr. Charles Corry’s expose of all-mail elections on the CFVI website (cfvi.us), including data showing decreased turnout. Another important analysis concludes that when it comes to all-mail elections, “while convenient, they may create more problems than they are intended to resolve” (http://projectvote.org/fileadmin/ProjectVote/Policy_Briefs/PB13-Vote_by_...).
Finally, we expect the General Assembly to not lock Colorado into the solutions of today when better ones may be available in the near future. We suggest that the General Assembly convene an ongoing version of the Election Reform Commission whose membership would be determined by application to and selection by an academic committee from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and the University of Northern Colorado. The membership so selected should be balanced from a partisan point of view and should consist of people both inside and outside the elected and appointed political structure of our state as well as people who have technical (computer software and hardware) and scientific expertise. This ongoing commission must include people who are willing to ask the hard questions and openly and carefully look for the best answers.
The Board of Directors, Coloradans for Voting Integrity (CFVI.us)
By Harvie Branscomb, Board Member (970-963-1369, harvie @ media.mit.edu) and Mary Eberle, President (303-442-2164, m.eberle @ wordrite.com)