OVC Talking Points

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Tue Feb 03 2004 - 12:42:41 CST

A writer asked me for a page or two of points to emphasize. FYI, here's
what I gave him. This might help others that are talking to people about
the OVC.


The Money

The tendency has been to throw money at the problem - especially when the
money is going to friends of people in power. Mostly this means money for
buying new equipment from existing election vendors. By comparison, very
little money has been spent on objective scientific research.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) actually calls for doing much of
the work the OVC is proposing, i.e., researching and developing new voting
technology, developing standards for these new technologies, etc. but this
aspect has been de-emphasized. Nonetheless, H.R. 2673, the Consolidated
Appropriations Act of 2004 (the conference report can be found here:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/Z?r108:H25NO3-0028:0: ) was signed into
law recently. Money is now available to states to do the types of things
the OVC is proposing.

State Election Boards are not used to directing large scientific research
and development projects. They need help from scientists and engineers that
have experience with R&D and are interested in the voting system problem.

The Technology

Computerized voting machines are here to stay. The accessibility advantages
(e.g., enabling people with disabilities to vote privately and unassisted)
alone mean that they will be widely used. HAVA calls for at least one such
machine per polling place. Other advantages of computer-based voting
machines make them desirable (e.g., eliminating voter intent issues;
eliminating overvotes; quick tabulation) replacements for older systems.

Thus far, computer-based voting machines have been deployed without the use
of a paper ballot. The votes are directly recorded electronically (DRE).
The paperless scheme creates significant vote security issues.

Malicious insiders have always existed in the voting system. Procedures
have developed to make it difficult to steal votes (add, change, or delete
ballots), but there are still holes. Paperless computerized voting machines
open large new opportunities for cheaters. It's possible that a small
number of highly motivated clever computer engineers could steal votes
without leaving a trace even where most of the election staff is
well-trained and honest.

For a county that has converted to DRE voting, it may not be obvious where
the security holes are. Over time, as the procedures for storing and
deploying DRE voting machines become known to insiders, weaknesses will

Simply adding a paper "receipt" to a DRE does not solve the problem. Even
if the voter sees the receipt and verifies that it reflects his or her
intent, it does not mean the vote was recorded correctly, and it does not
mean that votes cannot be added or deleted. We have to look at the whole
system to determine its validity.

Open Voting

Quoting Irwin Mann's description

     ... In order to ensure that such an insulated group cannot
     occur, we conceive of a condition under which this
     insulation is virtually impossible. We provide a paradigm
     whereby the voters have relevant access to the
     accountability of the voting process. We refer to such
     a system as an "open voting system".

     Such a system is defined as one where:

     - every element of every component, both hardware
        and software, is in the public domain,
     - there are built-in capabilities for independent
        monitoring of software, and

     - there are institutionalized protocols for public
        monitoring of all components and the electoral
        process, sufficient to find any hypothetical
        discrepancy from the intended design, if it
        should happen to exist.

     In particular, this means that the system can have no
     proprietary parts! It is proposed here that as a matter
     of public policy, every voting system used for a public
     purpose shall be "open" in the sense given above.

     This open protocol, in conjunction with the standard
     protocols of a rigorous auditing trail, and sufficient
     redundancy (including the existence of hard copies
     of ballots) is essential for full accountability of the system

The strength of "privatization" precludes state or federal government in the
U.S. from taking ownership of the project (note that this may not be the
case in other countries; an open voting system project was initiated by
state government in Australia). For-profit firms cannot lead the
development of open voting since they need technology to be proprietary in
order to make money.

OVC accomplishments

These are features unique to the OVC:

1) While many people have recognized the need to develop this open voting
technology, the OVC has assembled a coherent team with the right people and
correct structure. We are farther along than other efforts of this nature.

2) We have demonstrated a design for a voter verified paper ballot that can
be verified by a reading-impaired voter without compromising their ability
to vote privately and unassisted. This design includes a non-human readable
barcode (exposed while in privacy folder) and human readable text (covered
while in privacy folder).

3) We have also described a poll site procedure for reconciling the paper
ballots with the electronic record.

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Received on Sun Feb 29 23:17:01 2004

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