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eVoting--Make Sure Your Vote Counts

Wednesday, August 23, 2006   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Norbert Kubilus, CCP -- Chair, Legislative Affairs
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Every AITP member who participated in the balloting for 2007 officers and directors experienced some of the best practices in electronic voting (or "eVoting"). You were able to view a copy of your selections, and change them (if you wanted) before committing your vote. You also received an email acknowledging your vote and listing your selections. If the email was not correct, there was a process to correct your vote.

Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002 in part due to the concerns about obsolete or unreliable voting machines in the 2000 Presidential election. As a result, many parts of the United States moved to more advanced eVoting machines by 2004, albeit without Federal standards. In 2006, nearly 40% of US counties use some eVoting system. So what will the eVoting experience be in your local polling place when you vote for a member of Congress, a US Senator, or state and local officials this November?

I've voted electronically now in two different states--California and Nevada. In Nevada, where we just had our primary elections on August 15th, we exclusively use eVoting machines that allow voters to check a printout verifying how they voted. Nevada was the first state to mandate use of paper-trail machines in 2004, when they were used alongside older machines. The voting receipt is shown behind a window, allowing a voter to examine/confirm his or her votes before submitting them. This voting receipt is then kept in the machine for use in case of a recount. From an eVoting standpoint, it was a non-event, with none of the controversy that has surrounded eVoting in other states.

eVoting in California has not changed much since I voted electronically there in the 2004 Presidential election. California is one of at least nine states where lawsuits have been filed challenging eVoting equipment over the last year. Similar lawsuits are pending in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Most of the suits argue that eVoting machines are: vulnerable to software tampering; don't keep a printed record to facilitate recounts; may miscount, switch or not record votes; and may even add votes from non-existent voters.[1]

My former county of San Diego has been sued to invalidate a special election held there on June 6th to fill the California 50th Congressional District seat. This lawsuit grew out of alleged breaches in security procedures around eVoting machines in San Diego County, and it calls into question the reliability of the machines themselves.[2] Across the continent, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 137-0 to approve a bill prohibiting election officials from using eVoting machines (like those used in San Diego) in 2006 primary and general elections.[3]

Not all challenges are successful. In July 2006, a Texas district judge sitting in Travis County refused to grant an injunction to block the use of eVoting machines in the Fall 2006 election, although the underlying lawsuit will go to trial in the spring.[4] Whatever the specific merits of these lawsuits, debating claims of the inherent security deficiencies in court over the next two to three months could heighten concerns about eVoting technology.

It's no coincidence that Nevada is leading the nation in eVoting. In 2004, the New York Times noted that Nevada's protective regulations of the gaming industry--in particular slot machines--are stricter than Federal and most state regulations for eVoting.[5] In fact, when Nevada introduced its new eVoting systems in 2004, the state's Gaming Control Board's Electronic Services Division, which is responsible for verifying the security of electronic gambling machines, reviewed the eVoting system and declared it secure.

Also in 2004, AITP's Legislative Affairs Committee, supported by the Association Board of Directors, drafted a proposed national eVoting standard based primarily on Nevada's gaming industry regulations. This standard calls for:
  1. Public access to the related software to permit independent inspection and confidence in its accuracy
  2. Independent testing, including random spot-checks similar to existing Nevada provisions for slot machine testing
  3. Meticulous, constantly updated standards for machines
  4. Scrutiny of manufacturers to ensure their independence from parties and candidates
  5. An independent testing lab with an arms-length relationship with the manufacturers it polices, and open to inquiries from the public
  6. A mechanism for immediate election day inspection of suspected defective machines
  7. A mechanism for voter review of paper copies of ballots prior to casting a vote, and preservation of those ballots for any required recounts
  8. An alternative voting mechanism such as early postal balloting for those who refuse to trust the machines
  9. Provide for random but thorough Election Day parallel testing of voting machines
It's too late to influence Congress or your state legislature for this year's elections, but the current concerns over eVoting offer an opportunity to affect change for future elections. Write your US Senator, Member of Congress, Governor, and state legislators. Tell them that as an IT professional you know that secure and reliable eVoting is attainable, and offer AITP's nine-points as the standard by which to assess and deploy eVoting systems.

So what will be your eVoting experience in the future? It's up to you.

Notes

[1] Patrick O'Driscoll. Spate of lawsuits target e-voting. USA Today (06/24/2006) http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-06-04-electronic-voting_x.htm.

[2] Marc Songini. E-voting security under fire in San Diego lawsuit. Computerworld (08/04/2006) http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9002204.

[3] Marc Songini. Maryland House votes to oust Diebold machines. Computerworld (03/10/2006) http://www.computerworld.com/governmenttopics/government/legislation/story/0,10801,109436,00.html?source=NLT_PM&nid=109436.

[4] Lee McGuire. Judge denies e-voting injunction. KVUE News (06/11/2006) http://www.kvue.com/news/top/stories/071106kvueevoting2-cb.1d3f8bd.html.

[5] Gamblers better protected at Las Vegas than American voters. New York Times (06/15/2004) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/13/opinion/13SUN1.html.

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