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National Issues

NY Times Editorial: A Bad Experiment in Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
Internet Voting
By New York Times   
September 05, 2008
This editorial was published in the New York Times on September 5, 2008.

The words “Florida” and “Internet voting,” taken together, should send a chill down everyone’s spine. Nevertheless, Florida’s Okaloosa County is seeking permission from the state to allow members of the military to vote over the Internet in November.

Internet voting is fraught with problems, including the possibility that a hacker could break in and alter the results. The Okaloosa plan, in particular, has not been sufficiently vetted.

It is laudable that the county, home to a large number of active-duty military, wants to take aggressive steps to help military voters cast ballots. The plan would set up Internet voting kiosks near American military bases in Germany, Japan and Britain. The votes would be sent to the United States over secure lines similar to ones used for bank transactions.

The problem is that too little is known about precisely how the system would work. For Internet voting to be trustworthy, it must be clear that there is no way for a hacker to break in and voters must have complete confidence in the software being used. Okaloosa has not persuasively made that case.
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How Will You and Your State Cast Ballots in November? PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Kim Zetter   
September 05, 2008
This article was posted at Wired.com's Threat Level Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

This year, as a result of a lot of changes in voting machines around the country, numerous voting districts across many states will be using new voting equipment that has either never been used in an election or has never been used in a national election involving millions of voters.

When new systems are used, problems often arise either with the equipment itself or with election officials and voters who are unfamiliar with it.

To see what equipment you and your state will be using in November and to familiarize yourself with it before the election, VerifiedVoting.org, an election integrity group that led the movement to get voter-verified paper audit trails added to touch-screen voting machines, has produced a comprehensive interactive map identifying the voting systems being used in election districts across the country. As far as I know, this is the most up-to-date list of voting equipment that exists.
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Verified Voting Announces its 2008 Verifier Map of Voting Technology PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Verified Voting Foundation   
September 04, 2008
Verified Voting announced the publication today of its 2008 Verifier map of voting technology used in the United States.

“People want to know how votes will be cast and counted this fall. Voters can benefit from knowing in advance how they will vote in their polling places,” said Verified Voting president Pamela Smith. “The Verifier map provides a comprehensive picture of America's voting technology that is useful to interested voters, journalists, researchers, and advocates.”

At http://verifiedvoting.org/verifier users can access an interactive national map of voting systems to be used in the fall. Users can click on a state to view state or territory-level maps of voting systems, and then to local election jurisdictions to obtain detailed information on voting equipment vendors,  machine models, as well as the name and contact information of local election officials  (see images below and on the following page).  In addition to a comprehensive map, the Verifier provides a map of equipment used throughout the nation to serve voters with disabilities. The Verifier is provided as a public service at no cost to users.

Thousands of Americans Faced with New Polling Locations in November PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By M. Mindy Moretti, electionline.org   
September 04, 2008
Officials move sites for a variety of reasons, from accessibility to availability

The following article appeared in electionline.org's weekly newsletter and is reposted here with permission of the author.

When the H.D. Cooke Elementary school in Northwest Washington, D.C. was closed for renovations, the Board of Ethics and Elections moved Precinct 38 out of the basement of the building to a building a block and a half away. Unlike the school, the new precinct is accessible for people with disabilities. But it is also smaller and likely to be more congested than the school.

For registered voter Charles Boone, the move, while not logistically difficult, proved difficult mentally.

“I’d been voting at Cooke for years and don’t get me wrong it had its problems [inaccessible to handicapped voters], but the move to the Festival Center has been one of those things that’s taken me a while to get used to,” Boone said.

Although Boone has had several elections to get used to the new polling site, thousands of Americans will be facing new polling locations for the first time on November 4.

The reasons why polling places need to be relocated vary as do the facilities used, from people’s homes to fire stations to churches. But one constant is change.
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How Do You Compare Security Across Voting Systems? PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Dan Wallach, Rice University   
August 20, 2008
This article was posted at Ed Felten's Freedom to Tinker Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

It’s a curious problem: how do you compare two completely unrelated voting systems and say that one is more or less secure than the other?  How can you meaningfully compare the security of paper ballots tabulated by optical scan systems with DRE systems (with or without VVPAT attachments)?

There’s a clear disconnect on this issue.  It shows up, among other places, in a recent blog post by political scientist Thad Hall:

The point here is that, when we think about paper ballots and absentee voting, we do not typically think about or evaluate them “naked” but within an implementation context yet we think nothing of evaluating e-voting “naked” and some almost think it “cheating” to think about e-voting security within the context of implementation.  However, if we held both systems to the same standard, the people in California probably would not be voting using any voting system; given its long history, it is inconceivable that paper ballots would fail to meet the standards to which e-voting is held, absent evaluating its implementation context.

Hall then goes on to point to his recent book with Mike Alvarez, Electronic Elections, that beats on this particular issue at some length.  What that book never offers, however, is a decent comparison between electronic voting and anything else.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while: there must be a decent, quantitative way to compare these things.  Turns out, we can leverage a foundational technique from computer science theory: complexity analysis.  CS theory is all about analyzing the “big-O” complexity of various algorithms.  Can we analyze this same complexity for voting systems’ security flaws?

I took a crack at the problem for a forthcoming journal paper.  I classified a wide variety of voting systems according to how much effort you need to do to influence all the votes: effort proportional to the total number of voters, effort proportional to the number of precincts, or constant effort; less effort implies less security.  I also broke this down by different kinds of attacks: integrity attacks that try to change votes in a stealthy fashion, confidentiality attacks that try to learn how specific voters cast their votes, and denial of service attacks that don’t care about stealth but want to smash parts of the election.  This was a fun paper to write, and it nicely responds to Hall and Alvarez’s criticisms.  Have a look.

Special Report: The Myth of Widespread Non-Citizen Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
Voting Rights
By Truth in Immigration   
August 20, 2008
In a recent segment, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs told viewers that substantial evidence suggests that large numbers of non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, are voting in federal elections and could be the deciding factor in November’s elections. The story primarily cites a recent report published by the Heritage Foundation. The report is written by former recess-appointed FEC Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky, whose troubling record on voting rights caused him to withdraw his name from consideration for a permanent FEC seat. Von Spakovsky’s report contains gross distortions and represents an attempt to support a policy agenda that would disenfranchise many U.S. citizens. 

Truth in Immigration has written a report scrutinizing the claims of the Heritage Foundation study. To read the report, click on this link.
Statement by Commissioner Gracia M. Hillman In Response to NY Times Article on Voting System Flaws PDF  | Print |  Email
Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
By EAC Commissioner Gracia M. Hillman   
August 19, 2008
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has posted the following response to "Officials Say Flaws at Polls Will Remain in November",  an article which appeared in the August 16 edition of the New York Times.

On August 16, The New York Times (NYT) ran an incomplete and outdated article that reports on “a government backlog in testing (voting) machines’ hardware and software.” The article suggests that the backlog has been created by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) voting system certification process and leaves the impression that EAC is doing nothing while States are left to fend for themselves to fix problems before the November elections. 

The essence of the NYT article reports on “flaws” in voting machines and needed software fixes or upgrades that presumably won’t be fixed before the November election in states that require federal (EAC) certification. The systems at issue were certified by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), which terminated its program toward the end of 2006, just as EAC was finalizing the details of its own voting system testing and certification programs, as mandated by the Help America Vote Act. Information about EAC’s programs is available at www.eac.gov under Program Areas (http://www.eac.gov/program-areas). 

EAC’s testing and certification programs, which took effect in January 2007, contain all of the right components to provide rigorous testing. The programs require that all systems, whether currently in use or newly manufactured, undergo and pass end-to-end testing before they can receive EAC certification. A period of transition is underway from when NASED ended its certification and when the first systems will receive EAC certification. Caught in the abyss are the NASED systems that have “flaws” and need software fixes and/or upgrades. 
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VotersUnite.org: Vendors are Undermining the Structure of U.S. Elections PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By VotersUnite.org   
August 19, 2008
 “As we approach the 2008 general election, the structure of elections in the United States — once reliant on local representatives accountable to the public — has become almost wholly dependent on large corporations, which are not accountable to the public,” states a report released today by VotersUnite.Org, entitled “Vendors Are Undermining the Structure of U.S. Elections.”

The report — based on interviews with state and local election officials, news reports, reports from governmental agencies, vendor contracts, and other public documents — focuses on the pervasive control a handful of voting system vendors exercise over election administration in almost every state and how officials and ordinary citizens can strengthen public control before this year’s election.

While local election officials across the country are legally accountable for election administration, decisions at the federal and state level have rendered most of these hardworking public servants unable to administer elections without the equipment, services, and trade-secret software of a small number of corporations, whose contracts disclaim all accountability.

Case studies of local jurisdictions show a sampling of the difficulties this double bind causes for state and local officials and illustrate some of the ways in which vendors exploit the situation.
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Electronic Voting Bill PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Senator Dianne Feinstein   
August 12, 2008
This letter was published by the New York Times on August 11, 2008

Washington, Aug. 6, 2008

To the Editor:

A Bad Electronic Voting Bill” (editorial, Aug. 3) criticized the fact that a bipartisan bill being considered by the Senate Rules Committee would require that all states provide voters with a paper record or other means of verifying votes on electronic voting systems.

I have said over and over again that I personally favor voting systems with paper ballots that are read by optical scanners. But I am convinced that there is no way we could move such a bill through Congress. Such paper-only efforts have failed in the House, and have no bipartisan support in the Senate.

About 35 percent of the voters currently use touch-screen systems and another 55 percent use optical scan systems. Therefore, the important thing is to see that these systems are accurate, reliable and secure.

I believe that the Bipartisan Electronic Voting Reform Act, which I sponsored with Senator Robert Bennett, Republican of Utah, is the best we can do right now. So I am pleased that my ranking member joined me through long rounds of negotiations to produce this bill.

Dianne Feinstein
Chairwoman, Senate Committee
on Rules and Administration

2008's First Disenfranchised Voters: Injured and Homeless Veterans PDF  | Print |  Email
Voting Rights
By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet   
August 11, 2008
This article was posted at AlterNet and is reposted here with permission of the author.

The first large block of voters to be disenfranchised in 2008 are the wounded warriors from recent wars and homeless veterans living at hundreds of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, according to veterans and voting rights activists.

"President Bush and Karl Rove are attempting to block voter registration of at least 200,000 and possibly as much as 400,000 veterans," said Paul Sullivan, president of Veterans for Common Sense, referring to injured former soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in various VA treatment facilities, veterans living in the VA's nursing homes, and homeless veterans living in VA shelters.

"We may have all kinds of hurdles," Sullivan said. "We may have the clock running out on us, but we will not give up. This needs to be shoved in the face of every single elected official in the country. We can fix this in a second We are talking about two or three sentences in legislation. We are talking about the integrity of our democracy."

In recent months, the Department of Veterans Affairs has resisted efforts by U.S. senators and top state election officials to allow voter registration drives in its facilities. Just last month, the VA issued new rules that banned election officials -- whether local registrars or secretaries of state -- from registering voters, saying it was a partisan activity that interfered with its medical mission. In most states, any time a person changes their residence they must update their voter registration in order to vote.
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