Tuesday, March 20, 2007

So 2008 is history -- ALREADY? I don't think so, and here's why:

Some of the biggest proponents of voter-verified paper ballots, records and trails are sounding pretty gloomy lately about the chances of implementing them in time for the 2008 elections. Fortunately, there are other ways to improve election integrity.

On Dec. 7, 2006, just before the end of the 109th Congress, H.R.6414, Rush Holt's Vote Tabulation Audit Act of 2006 was introduced with no cosponsors and little fanfare. But unlike some of the provisions of this year's H.R.811, the "other" Holt bill seemed to make a lot of sense.

It was drafted last year using a much more collaborative process than H.R.811, and as a result, some of the major mistakes in the bill (such as allowing printouts of cast vote records from DRE memory to be used to correct central tabulator totals -- yikes!) were actually corrected before the bill was introduced. And unlike H.R.811, the provisions of the other Holt bill can be implemented in time for the 2008 elections, or even in time for a practice run in 2007!

The bill as written would rule out all errors in the vote count except within-precinct errors, and although these are the most dangerous and difficult to detect, they are also more difficult to generate than just switching vote tallies around in a Microsoft Access or other commercial off the shelf database program on a central tabulator PC. They say even a chimpanzee can hack an election that way, and even Hand Counted Paper Ballot tallies can be altered at the central tabulator, more properly referred to as the Election Management System (EMS).

So why not put the other Holt bill on the "fast track" for 2007 now? And while you're at it, get those EMSs off the Internet so they can't be hacked so easily in the first place, Mr. Holt!

There might still be a few bugs in this bill, but at least the major ones were fixed last year and it will get elections officials in every precinct in the nation used to the idea of auditing something. In fact, this bill requires a 100% audit of precinct totals.

Also, some of the better parts of H.R.811 could be included in the 2007 version of the other Holt bill. For example, how about disclosure of all ballot definition programming? And how about an audit of all ballot definition programming before and after every election? It would only take two trained auditors per county to do that -- one from each of the major parties, and of course those from other parties on the ballot should be welcome too!

For those who may not be informed, ballot definition programming error is an unequivocally documented source of vote miscount and is almost never examined or audited by anyone other than the few election insiders who are allowed access to it. It's an open invitation to deliberate malfeasance. But unlike e-voting source code, it's not even a "trade secret" because it's the definition and configuration of the election itself -- not the so-called "intellectual property" of the voting machine companies. Besides, a properly written law could force its disclosure anyway. So what are we waiting for?

I think a Holt Ballot Definition and Tabulation Audit Act of 2007 would be a huge step in the right direction that could be implemented now. And it would not require any voting equipment to be replaced next year -- not even lever machines!

"Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good!" That's what proponents of H.R.811 keep saying. But haste makes waste, a stitch in time saves nine, and an apple a day...well, you get the drift. Besides, the reforms in this "other" Holt bill are needed regardless of whether or not H.R.811 passes, so we might as well get with the program!

For more information on how this Holt bill could improve election integrity almost immediately, please see: Section VIII: Transparent Aggregation of Voting Results Using the Internet by Juan Jover in the DNC's report, "Democracy At Risk: The 2004 Election in Ohio", as well as the links to VotersUnite's excellent documentation of ballot programming errors above. And of course, the famous Bev Harris/Howard Dean central tabulator hack (as seen on TV).

And then call Holt's office!


Fusion said...

Re: "Hand Counted Paper Ballot tallies can be altered at the central tabulator,"

But doesn't the HCPB concept include hand summation of the individual precinct or batch totals?

And; THANKS for great explanations

Howard Stanislevic said...


HCPB should include this, but that's the point of this bill -- to check whatever method is used. I mentioned HCPB because there are folks who won't support any EI legislation that they think makes HCPB less likely. But everyone should be able to agree on this particular bill because it does not specify a counting method at the precincts.