Fwd: Black Box Voting: Input for real legislative reform for elections

From: Kathy Dopp <kathy_dot_dopp_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Sat Dec 23 2006 - 11:40:59 CST

BlackBoxVoting explains why it is crucial for election records to be
publicly available in a timely fashion to make elections transparent
and verifiable and thus ensure U.S. election integrity.

This BlackBoxVoting email explains why our recommendations for federal
legislation numbers 6 and 7 are so important and gives further


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Black Box Voting <blackboxvoting@worldnet.att.net>
Date: Dec 23, 2006 2:09 AM
Subject: Black Box Voting: Input for real legislative reform for elections

12-22-06: Let's get down to the root of the problem: Freedom of Access
to Elections Information
Permission to excerpt or reprint granted with link to

MUCH OF WHAT WE WANT IN ELECTION REFORM can be achieved once we have
agreement on the civil rights issues. Yes, we need paper ballots, but
that does no good unless we also have a right to information.


The American constitutional form of representative government is based
upon the principle that government is the servant of the people, and
not the master of them. The people, in delegating authority, do not
give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the
people to know and what is not good for them to know.

Elections are the mechanism through which the citizenry conveys its
instructions to the government, and therefore, elections must provide
full freedom of access to information to all citizens, which includes
access to the information needed to validate and audit the election.

Without this, it is only a matter of time before our system of
government crumbles.


We can base real electoral reform on a body of law that's already in
place: Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA). Elections are a special
circumstance, and current FOIA laws don't quite work the way they are
currently structured, but with tweaks specifying the kinds of Freedom
of Information rights we need for elections, WE might just work
wonders to make everybody happy.


FOIA has enormous potential for correcting many of the problems we're
seeing, but not until it's adapted for elections. For any election
system to work properly:

1) The information to enable citizens to oversee all aspects of the
election must actually be produced. With the move to computerized
voting, some aspects of the right to observe and the right to examine
information have been removed from public access. We need to get those

Currently, even when elections information is produced it may be
deleted or kept out of print. For example, according to responses to
Black Box Voting public records requests issued in New England,
elections contractor LHS Associates tends to do business verbally.
According to elections officials in Vermont, even purchase orders are
often not put in print! In addition, we are finding evidence that
elections vendors don't always itemize their invoices.

What we get is that "something" was done to or for the computerized
voting system, but there is no document the public can examine to
learn exactly what's going on, or even what their tax dollars are
paying for.

SOLUTION: One of the things we need to get to work on is identifying
what information MUST be produced (in written form) by whatever voting
system is used. We're also going to have to mandate sensible retention
policies for election-related e-mails and correspondence, because some
public officials are telling us they throw away their e-mail
correspondence immediately, including communications records with
vendors and directives from the state.

2) Information is not provided to citizens timely. Freedom of
Information laws are not designed with elections in mind. Almost
always, you can't get the records until weeks after the election is
certified. By then, it's too late.

And this is getting worse. When Black Box Voting obtained some early
precinct results from Georgia counties, we were astonished to find
that candidates had been unable to get hold of their own results!
While they could get their totals, the precinct detail results were
simply not available. Candidates were contacting Black Box Voting just
to get their own elections results, because precinct results were not
released until certification of the election was imminent.

3) The costs for elections-related records are prohibitive in many
states. We love Ohio and North Carolina for their willingness to part
with public records at a reasonable price, but in Texas it can cost
you $500 just to get a precinct-level report of the results for a
single county, and Michigan once tried to charge us $1,600 just to
look for a single letter, with no guarantee of finding it, and a
requirement for a non-refundable prepayment. South Dakota doesn't
really have to give you any records; one South Carolina county insists
that you have to travel there if you want to see elections records.
And San Diego, Calif. wants to charge over half a million dollars for
citizens to audit the paper ballots.

Assuming the right of Freedom of Access to Elections information can
be established more uniformly, many of the cost issues can be remedied
by requiring elections information formats with fast turnaround time,
cost effectiveness and usability in mind.

4) The claim of proprietary trade secrets gets in the way of access to
critical information. Some of this is solvable with open source, but
not all. Black Box Voting has obtained a letter from the lawyer for
Election Systems & Software claiming trade secrets on its customer
list -- mind you, their customers are the PUBLIC counties and
municipalities that use their voting system. ES&S also claims trade
secrets on costs and contracts, for equipment and services purchased
with taxpayer money!

The big voting system companies are also farming key election
functions out to subcontractors. In West Virginia, Casto & Harris has
control over programming ES&S memory cards; in Texas it's DecisionOne.
You'll find Printelect, LHS, Harp, Control Central, and Fidlar, along
with many others when you dig around to find out who really has
intimate access to the chain of custody for your electronic ballot

None of these firms seems to feel that they should be subject to your
civil rights under Freedom of Information law, even though they are
supported by YOUR tax money.

Good luck trying to find out:
- The names of their programmers, much less their qualifications for
the job of programming your election
- The prices they charge
- What, exactly, they do

By placing key elections information outside of government custody,
these firms have effectively removed your civil right to oversee your
own government elections.

5) Even when the necessary information is produced, it is not
generated in a usable form. Currently it takes a small wheelbarrow and
two months of free time to audit a single jurisdiction, assuming you
can get the records timely, which you cannot.

Much of this is solvable by requiring that the necessary information
be aggregated into the same report rather than parsing it out into
several different reports. Currently, trying to make sense of the
reports is literally like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together


FREEDOM OF INFORMATION -- The fundamental civil right embodied in
Freedom of Information laws is that people must have access to
information on the workings of their government in order to oversee
the instruments of government they have created.

Elections-related information at the local, state, and federal levels
needs to be made available to any person under the civil rights
principles embodied in the Freedom of Information Act, in a way that
addresses the special circumstances in elections.


- First, the information necessary for citizens to validate elections
must actually be produced by the voting system and its accompanying
elections procedures. To the extent that it is not produced, reporting
mechanisms must be enhanced.

- Second, when information to validate the election is requested
timely, it must be provided timely, that is, before recount and
contest periods have expired. To the extent that this is overly
burdensome for elections officials, consideration needs to be given to
the design of systems that free up their information quickly,
accurately and easily.

- Third, the information must be provided in a usable and
cost-effective format. To the extent that this is not possible,
alternative solutions need to be explored, like the groundbreaking
proposals involving public release of ballot images, originally
suggested by Finnish security expert Harri Hursti, introduced to the
public in 2005 by Black Box Voting, and now on the horizon for real
elections with concrete, cost effective proposals in Humboldt County

- Fourth, citizens must be allowed to access elections-related
information without restrictions imposed by proprietary claims, and
without removal of access to the information by placing it outside of
governmental custody.


To these ends, we need to first agree upon what information a system
must produce. At a minimum, it must be no worse than the traditional
hand counted paper ballot system in terms of the information and
observation provided for
the citizenry.

Next, we must implement more efficient and information-rich reporting
systems, a task that is probably not difficult once we have consensus
on what information is really needed.

And last, we need to eliminate the concept of proprietary secrets from
the areas that citizens need information on to validate the integrity
of elections.

America has prospered not only because of our freedom, but because of
our collective ingenuity. We can do this thing.

* * * * *

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from
the consent of the governed." -- Declaration of Independence

* * * * *
Black Box Voting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501c(3) organization
dedicated to ensuring fair and accurate elections. We are supported
entirely by citizen donations.
We are currently accumulating Freedom of Information documents for a
series of research papers to be published in Jan., Feb. and March 2007
which will illustrate the problems and solutions for elections in the
USA. These Freedom of Information requests are costly -- we are
frequently quoted prices of over $250. We have already launched
requests in more than 2,500 counties. We have collected 20,000 pages
of documents so far, including some rare items, and have purchased a
new server to release all the documents.
To help us continue our important work, please take this opportunity
to make a tax-deductible donation:
or mail to:
Black Box Voting
330 SW 43rd St Suite K
PMB 547
Renton WA 98057
* * * * *
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Kathy Dopp
National Election Data Archive
Dedicated to Accurately Counting Elections
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Received on Sun Dec 31 23:17:16 2006

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