Friday, August 29, 2008

Proposed Mitigation for GEMS (and other EMS) Vote Deletion

Updated August 29, 2008 to emphasize the point that this is NOT just about "electronic voting machines", undisclosed software, or paper ballots, as some have suggested. It's about Election Management Systems, software bugs (disclosed or otherwise), checks and balances, and good old common sense.

So Diebold/Premier's Global Election Management System (GEMS) drops votes from precinct-based tabulator uploads. Surprise, surprise!




Even if this were not happening all by itself, it was demonstrated four years ago that it's trivial for an insider, or an outsider with GEMS access, to make this and even worse things happen by way of GEMS' Microsoft Access database and perhaps other vendors' "central tabulators." Therefore the potential for central tabulator vote miscounts, as well as manipulation, is nothing new -- and it does not necessarily depend on the use of "electronic voting machines." Any voting system is at risk if there are no checks and balances!

The GEMS code has been reviewed from "Top to Bottom" and this latest bug was not detected, proving yet again that NIST researchers had it right when they said that
"experience in testing software and systems has shown that testing to high degrees of security and reliability is from a practical perspective not possible." [Emphasis added]

During the last 4 years, no federal legislation, other than the ill-fated H.R.6414 in the 109th Congress, has been proposed to deal with this problem, even though the problem could be widespread and can be easily mitigated. (See this March 2007 post here at Election Integrity: Fact & Friction for more information.)

So Fix It Already!

The audit that needs to be conducted to find precinct aggregation errors is called a precinct aggregation audit. It could in fact be a 100% audit or "recanvass" of all precincts' election-night tallies, including but not limited to those produced only by software. While post-election auditing usually means comparing hand counts of a sample of paper ballots or VVPATs to software-determined counts of the same votes, in this case the audit need not be limited only to paper. See this story about how the Iowa Democratic Party made such an audit possible for their 2008 caucuses, which are actually voice votes.

Paper is not a requirement for such an audit, except for the permanent paper record produced by the voting system according to HAVA Section 301, which can be used to correct central tallies found to be in error in the event there are no voter-verified paper records to count by hand to make such corrections. This should be a requirement for all jurisdictions and could apply to paper-based, paperless, lever machine, and even hand counted paper ballot voting systems.

As for jurisdictions who do vote on paper, on July 18, 2008 here in NY, where fortunately we still don't have e-vote counting, we proposed regulations to deal with this sort of thing in the future. They coordinate the usual post-election "spot-check" audit (and hopefully a better audit that will eventually be approved by the State Board of Elections) with NY's existing 100% recanvass law that is already applicable to lever machine tallies. Here is the text of the proposed regulation for anyone interested in writing one for their state, or telling the NY State Board of Elections to approve this one and our other improvements to Part 6210.18 preferably before the State rushes headlong into unreliable e-vote counting for no particularly good reason.

As always, the term "election district" in NY is synonymous with the more generic term, "precinct."

Section 6210.18 Recanvass and Audit of Vote

A. Prior to the audits required by this section, the recanvass of vote in every election district (ED) in the state shall be conducted pursuant to NYS Election Law Section 9-208 by comparing all electronically displayed, recorded, printed or transcribed tallies of the vote in each ED, including those displayed, reported or aggregated by any centralized election management or tabulation software. Any discrepancies found in the recanvass of vote shall result in an immediate manual recanvass of all the voter-verifiable paper audit trail records produced or counted by any machine or system used to tally the vote in any ED in which such discrepancies were found. Pursuant to NYS Election Law section 9-211(5) and notwithstanding any other provisions in these regulations, if a voting machine or system is found to have failed to record votes in a manner indicating an operational failure, as evidenced by a discrepancy between two or more electronically displayed, recorded, printed or transcribed tallies, the board of canvassers shall use the manual tally of the voter verifiable paper audit trail records to determine the votes cast on such machine or system, provided such records were not also impaired by the operational failure of the voting machine or system. Such recanvass of votes made pursuant hereto shall thereupon supersede the returns filed by the inspectors of election of the ED in which the original canvass was made.
Now the State Board of Elections has not approved this proposed regulation....yet....but they haven't certified any e-vote counting systems either. So as usual, we are treading water here in the Empire State. Things could be worse.

We can only hope that this and other proposed regulations to deal with e-vote counting will actually be adopted -- prior to the implementation of such high-risk systems to replace lever voting machines. But better yet, let's forget the whole e-vote counting thing, keep the lever machines, and get back to running free and fair elections! That would be real progress.

As for the rest of you who actually have your votes counted on this junk, please try to get with the program before there's an election or something!

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