Friday, October 24, 2008

NY: Speaks Out for Election Transparency

I was pleased to see this rather fair and balanced account of New York's voting system produced by As Bev Harris points out, NY is the last state to resist computerized vote counting. Watch this 7 minute video, specific to New York election protection to learn why, and then, please either leave NY alone, or support the fight to retain our transparent lever voting system!:

In the above video, some of the myriad of safeguards currently built into NY's voting system are clearly explained in ways that average voters can understand, as well as the biggest immediate threat to those safeguards -- human beings (albeit of opposing political faiths) simply incorrectly transcribing some tallies from the lever voting machines to the HAVA-and-NY-required permanent paper records they produce by hand on election night. How quaint!

The mitigation of this risk is also discussed in the BBV video: the mandatory 100% recanvass of EVERY lever voting machine and paper return in the State to check for such transcription errors.

In New York City, 55 such errors (out of more than 6,000 machines) were discovered and corrected in the 2008 Presidential Primary. This is standard procedure.

We don't have a "post-election audit" in NY because our lever voting machines do not contain software. We don't audit Gravity here either because we know that if we drop something, it almost always falls. Nor does the Coast Guard require canoes to carry fire extinguishers (lots of water around and they don't run on gasoline -- get it?).

That said, in the event the lever voting machines are replaced, NY's post-election audit law is inadequate, requiring only a paltry 3% of paper ballots to be counted by hand up to two weeks after the election -- no matter how close the outcome of any contest may appear to be. But there is still hope for improvements by the State Board of Elections. Reportedly, the Republican members have been the ones insisting on some larger hand counts, but there is still time for both parties to get with the program -- if we are actually seriously considering replacing lever machines with computers.

Now, compare the old fashioned human transcription errors above to the high-tech debacles we have seen in other jurisdiction including Los Angeles, CA, Washington DC, Pottawattamie County, IA and Cuyahoga County, OH -- just to name a few -- all of which involved computerized vote counting of paper ballots (optical scan or punch card). And how about the dropping of electronic vote tallies from entire precincts by GEMS, and perhaps other EMS central tabulators?

Also, consider the onerous high-tech "white hat" hacking efforts required to protect computerized vote counting systems, such as those of experts such as Harri Hursti and the University of Connecticut. The latter group actually checks things like ballot definition programming for errors or malfeasance that could cause vote switching on the optical scanners' memory cards, before elections. Know how? By exploiting one of the very same security flaws that make these optical scan voting systems so dangerous in the first place -- the use of human-readable (and therefore hackable) "interpreted code" on their memory cards.

One could go on and on about how unprepared NY is to deal with this stuff; how the certification process is a poor substitute for transparency; how the State Constitution and case law require that voters be able to see HOW their votes will be counted -- which is clearly not possible with software-driven computerized e-vote counting systems. Not to mention that the certification process itself is failing -- not only because all the voting systems are failing the tests, but because as computer security researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have clearly stated:

"[E]xperience 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]
It might just be easier to watch the above video and see how transparent and secure NY's existing lever voting system is and why those whom Harris calls "citizens of courage" are fighting to protect it.

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