Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New York -- Transparency vs. Certification: Fact & Friction

The Election Transparency Coalition of NY (ETC) has issued a 2 page essay entitled, Only a Transparent Vote-Counting System Can Protect Democracy, now available on their blog at the above URL and here in PDF format.

This short essay by ETC's Founder and Legal Counsel, Andi Novick, Esq., prepared with the assistance of county election officials and the E-Voter Education Project, clearly explains why:

  • New York's transparent lever voting system is superior to unobservable software-based voting technology;

  • state and federal "certification" of a software-based vote-counting system is not an adequate safeguard;

  • the risks inherent in post-election hand counting of paper ballots have caused New York to prohibit recounts of such ballots cast at polling places, except as required on election night before the election inspectors adjourn (we recognize that in other states where software-based vote counting has become the norm, post-election audits and recounts may be the best that can be hoped for to verify election results);

  • the Help America Vote Act does NOT ban lever voting systems, which can be made fully HAVA-compliant with the addition of at least one accessible voting device for voters with special needs at each polling place (as NY has done in 2008 without exposing anyone's votes to the risks inherent in software-based vote counting).
New York has yet to replace its lever voting system, and has yet to enact any meaningful post-election audit laws or regulations. Those of us who have been studying this problem for years as the battle over which software-based voting system (touchscreens vs. ballot scanners) has been waged, understand exactly what will be necessary to effectively verify election results produced by software -- independently of software -- and, where possible, with confidence approaching that provided by the current lever voting system. We also know what New York's counties will be asked to do to comply with such rules. The task ahead of us is clearly a daunting one, but moreover, it's an unnecessary one -- if we keep and properly maintain our mechanical lever voting system.

Professor Bryan Pfaffenberger of the University of Virginia, who received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the lever voting machine, has described New York's current machines as follows:
one of the most astonishing achievements of American technological genius, a fact that is reflected in their continued competitiveness against recent voting technologies in every accepted performance measure;

a technology that solved the characteristic problems of American elections;

immune to systemic exploitation, which could affect hundreds of thousands of machines;

in sharp contrast to the way Americans talk about voting machines today ... the lever voting machine—though lacking an independent audit trail—had done something today’s voting technologies have been unable do: it won the confidence of American voters and election officials
After thinking it through and weighing the available alternatives, we are forced to agree with Dr. Pfaffenberger's conclusions. Transparency trumps "certification" every time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Florida requires an audit of 2% of each county's precincts and of one category voted on. I witnessed my county's audit. It showed that half of Sarasota's four precincts had errors between machine and manual recount. Precinct 64 recorded on election day 14 more machine votes were counted than there were people registered or paper ballots. For Precinct 138 there were two more Early Vote ballots than the machine recorded. Both of these errors should have been a red flag for the elections office to investigate the other 98% of the precincts to learn how many other errors happened in the system.
Unfortunately if a county has an elections office that prefers to present to the public only evidence that the machines worked perfectly, then the audit evidence will be ignored. This is the problem with Florida's rule for manual audits of optical scanner results. The county supervisor of elections is free to ignore the audit evidence of problems.