Yes, these machines will have a paper trail. The same paper trail that was found woefully inadequate in Ohio’s primary election in May. In a damning report prepared by the Election Science Institute for Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, nearly 10% of the paper trail was found to be “either destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together or otherwise compromised”. This means that audits may themselves have errors that prevent verification of the machine tally.
Yes, these machines will be optional, and are meant largely to provide disability access. But Diebold has proven again and again and again that they cannot be trusted with our elections. Once we open the door to touch-screen electronic voting machines, it will be difficult to close, because it is difficult to ask election officials to maintain two completely separate systems. We really need to ask hard questions about why the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) has sprung these machines on states without adequate time to get it right. In this case, it seems like it’s influence-peddling on Capitol Hill that’s to blame (See our earlier post for more background on HAVA). Sadly, Beacon Hill is cut from the same cloth.
Voters, take heed. You may not know that Diebold’s optical scanners, the AccuVote OS, is the predominant mode of voting in Massachusetts cities and towns. While there is no compelling evidence – that we are aware of – at this point to show that there are problems with the integrity of the vote in Massachusetts, there is cause to be vigilant.
A brand new report from the University of Connecticut’s Voting Technology Research (VoTeR) Center finds serious vulnerabilities in the Diebold AccuVote Optical Scan system provided by LHS Associates.
“We identify a number of new vulnerabilities of this system which, if exploited maliciously, can invalidate the results of an election process utilizing the terminal. Furthermore, based on our findings an AV-OS can be compromised with off-the-shelf equipment in a matter of minutes even if the machine has its removable memory card sealed in place. The basic attack can be applied to effect a variety of results, including entirely neutralizing one candidate so that their votes are not counted, swapping the votes of two candidates, or biasing the results by shifting some votes from one candidate to another. Such vote tabulation corruptions can lay dormant until the election day, thus avoiding detection through pre-election tests.”
The team of researchers goes on to recommend a series of safeguards, and the Connecticut Secretary of State has adopted these safe use procedures, including random post-election audits. Despite recommendations from Common Cause and the Brennan Center Task Force on Voting System Security for routine, random audits, the Secretary’s office has said it is not necessary because there is a low threshold for pursuing a recount.
An earlier report on security issues with Diebold’s AccuVote Optical Scan system by computer programmer Harri Hursti and consumer protection group Black Box Voting found the system supports “the alteration of the produced results each time an election is prepared.”
The optical scanners which will be widely used in Massachusetts on November 7 are preferred by election integrity advocates because the ballots may easily be hand-counted. But a comprehensive security plan must be in place to ensure that the system is accurate and verifiable. Such a security plan must include random audits.
In 2004, the Massachusetts towns of Marblehead and Uxbridge had election results determined by optical scanners overturned when hand recounts were triggered by a close election. Without providing regular, random audits of our election systems, we are not providing the vigilance needed to safeguard the democratic process as we explore, for better or for worse, a brave new world of electronic voting.
It is clear that the citizens of the Commonwealth need to take action to ensure the integrity of our elections. Check out Black Box Voting’s Citizen’s Toolkit, and see what you can do before, during, and after Tuesday’s election to help safeguard this precious, fundamental process. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to receive news and alerts in the days and weeks ahead, as we work to bring election-protection into place for Massachusetts, on November 7 and beyond.
In so doing, we are applying the wisdom of slavery abolitionist Wendell Phillips, who remarked in a speech to the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in 1852, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. We cannot afford to look the other way.