26 June 2006
As noted by a Sentido reader, paperless touchscreen balloting machines are not the only machine-based voting technique vulnerable to tampering. Punch-card readers can be calibrated to miss, exaggerate or misread marked votes. And optical-scan paper ballots can record figures not accurately representing the markings on ballots.
The standard for human certainty is a heavily monitored manual count, but this is both impractical as a universal practice and contains obvious security flaws, including human intent and procedural manipulation. So hand counts are required as a stabilzing recount measure, while the gold standard now seems to be a printout ballot which the voter can verify as representing his or her true intent and which must be readable both by the naked eye and by a secondary electronic reader.
The crisis in security for American elections is about paradigms more broadly. Until 2000, much without the knowledge of the general public, it had become routine to discard thousands of ballots, or even tens of thousands, as "spoiled" or illegible. The 2000 election debacle generated a national demand for reforms and for more dedication to a precise rendering of "the voter's intent".
So, the punchcard paradigm —a computational system more than 200 years old—, which can easily generate ballots marked incorrectly, and which the voter would never recognize as such, is the first and most obvious concern. Then, there's the optical scan, where spaces are marked by hand and which can, as with standardized testing, lead to machines skipping lightly made marks or irregularly shaped marks, or even reading an entire page incorrectly, due to miscalibration.
But a new paradigm combining several vital security features, could be the key: the touchscreen ballot is problematic because of the detachment between the voter's action and the "marking" of the ballot, presumably an electronic file. A voter-verifiable paper trail is considered a minimum security standard by watchgroups, allowing the voter to double-check the paper printout, before filing it in the hard-copy ballot-box.
But to guarantee a stronger connection between the voter's action, the electronic ballot and the paper record, the paper print-out would need to contain bar-codes and serial numbers representing the individual candidates. Such bar-codes, one for each item on the ballot, would have to be based on a numeric reference or 'serial number', which is listed with the candidate or ballot item on the ballot itself, so the voter can cross-check each item, and the code that will make the paper trail both machine and hand-readable. [s]
The 2000 election process gave clear evidence that the established system for running elections and counting votes in the United States is not cohesive, not fool-proof and not secure against tampering. Congress took action to reform voting standards nationwide to "Help America Vote". But that legislation suffered one fatal flaw: while promoting the shift to touchscreen ballots, it did not require that electronic balloting machines produce a paper record that could be hand-checked.
Most states' elections laws require manual recounts in cases where extremely narrow margins of victory occur, or where there are anomalies or evidence of possible wrongdoing. But as the transition has been made to electronic voting machines, many states have failed to implement solutions that permit their own laws being carried out in such cases.
Repeatedly over the last 6 years, spot tests, "red-team" intensive exercise testing, and scientific studies, have shown that the most widely used touchscreen machines, which lack any hard copy of the voting process, can be tampered with, altering or even erasing vote counts or candidate selections. Without a paper record, there is no way to return to the "will of the voter" —an important legal standard— to confirm what the real substance of the electoral process was. Votes literally disappear. [Full Story]
Since the 2000 election, voting technology has become a major issue in US elections regimens and regulations; touchscreen balloting machines, which legislatures seem to have favored as a way to record votes accurately, eliminating the 'hanging chad' problem, were designed with no paper record and have proven insecure and susceptible to tampering. Now, 26 US states have passed laws requiring paper trails, and 13 more, plus Washington, DC, have proposed laws "not yet enacted". [Full Story]
Reports have emerged that according to the San Diego registrar of voters, poll workers in San Diego county took tamper-susceptible Diebold voting machines home on the eve of the election. In some cases, poll workers may have had unsupervised access to the machines for a week or longer. [Full Story]
New documents show Justice Department lawyers unanimously found the Texas Congressional redistricting plan to be illegal. But that finding was overruled by top Justice officials and the staff involved in the research and analysis "were subjected to an unusual gag rule", this according to the Washington Post. [Full Story]