Re: Ed's occasional clipping service: The Vote:California Secretary of State Debra Bowen Releases DraftCritera for Voting Machine Review

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Tue Mar 27 2007 - 03:11:10 CDT

I decided to write something in response to her request for comments (by Mar
30). This is a little cranky and not done. It's late and I'm tired of
typing. Please help.

We all agree that a top-to-bottom review of the voting system is an
appropriate exercise for a new Secretary of State, especially for one that
campaigned on the inadequacies and failures of the current system. We are
concerned that your proposed review focuses too narrowly on the equipment.

We want a better, more transparent, voting system. We want public oversight
of all aspects of election administration. We are interested in seeing your
plan to improve the voting system and bring sunlight to shine on the whole

It seems the only remedy you are proposing is to decertify existing systems.

     For those that do not meet acceptable levels, the review
     will help determine whether certification should be withdrawn
     unconditionally, or withdrawn subject to re-certification with
     additional conditions on use for elections in 2007 and 2008.

     Pursuant to Elections Code Section 19222, any decertification
     decision would only be effective for elections held more than six
     months later. Accordingly, a decertification decision made on
     or before August 3, 2007, would be effective for the
     February 5, 2008, presidential primary election. [1]

Several times you repeat the ominous sounding phrase, "the Secretary of
State may immediately initiate the process to withdraw certification from
the voting system." Is this realistic?

Your own testimony [2] before Congress last week seems to negate this from
the outset:

     Second, I'm concerned from a financial, logistical, and voter
     acceptance standpoint, about requiring certain changes by
     2008 that may be made obsolete by other changes that could
     be required by 2010. I don't think any of us want to require
     counties and states to buy a system that may only be used for
     one election cycle.

Real testing of computerized systems is expensive. Software of moderate
complexity can cost millions of dollars to test. Bugs still get through.
Complex software can cost vastly more to adequately test. Boeing spent
roughly one billion dollars on testing the software for the B777 [3].
Wouldn't the foundation of democracy -- our voting system -- deserve a level
of scrutiny equal to a single airplane?

On this page, I counted 70 products from ES&S, Diebold, Hart InterCivic, and
Sequoia that have been certified since 1/1/05.
There are more products listed that were certified before that but it's not
clear if any of them are still in use. That's a lot of products to "test."

Question one: How much have you budgeted for this "review?"

How many test engineers does your office employ? Who will write the test
specification, test plan, and test cases for each of these products? Will
you publish the test specification, test plan, and detailed test cases you
develop for all of these products? Who will execute the test cases? How
about the results from all the test cases?

It's easy to do some selective probing and find some bugs -- especially
where there is evidence of some problems. But real testing of computerized
systems is another matter. The test labs authorized to certify voting
systems don't do much in the way of testing. There isn't enough money for
it. A more appropriate term for what they do might be "compliance

Do you have human subjects lined up for "Disability Access Testing?" This
may be one of the more fruitful areas to probe. You will find many
problems. But will you find anything new? A lot of informal testing has
already been done in this area. You might start with Noel Runyan's recent
paper [4].

The problem with your review as outlined is that you are not giving us
anything new. The criteria you use are existing criteria. All of these
systems have already undergone "federal" and state review based on the same
criteria. We recommend that you wrap up the review sooner rather than
later. You mention an August target, but we recommend June at the latest.
That way, you can more time to look at state legislation that will still be
in the works then. And you can start focusing on solutions.

It may be that the main function of the review is self-education for you and
your staff. That's okay, but we want you to figure out where we are and
move ahead without delay.

Your testing will necessarily be selective and, therefore, unfair. You will
find many problems where you probe, but for everything else, you just won't
have the resources to do much. We don't want you to get too engrossed in
testing because that is a potential black hole. We already know a great
deal about the problems. We want you to work on ways to replace existing
systems with better ones that are open to public scrutiny -- nonproprietary.

Before you generate a lot of new data, spend time gathering existing data
and review that. Develop questionnaires targeting people, in all 58
counties, who already have much of the information you seek. Consider how
the technology is working for them, and also consider administrative factors

The biggest challenge in voting technology has to do with access for people
with disabilities. We want you to focus on that right away. We always hear
that people with disabilities need a way to vote privately and unassisted.
In the real world, how realistic is this?

Consider this from Noel Runyan's excellent paper:

     Studies have shown that 20% of the population of the U.S.
     has one or more disabilities and that approximately 10%
     of that number live with severe disabilities and that about
     20% of U.S. adults with disabilities - more than 8 million
     potential voters - say they have been unable to vote in
     presidential or congressional elections due to barriers at
     or getting to the polls.

Then consider actual usage of accessible voting machines at the polls. Some
evidence suggests that the accessible machines are used by less than 1/10th
of one percent of the voting population -- often one ballot or less cast at
a poll site. "Nobody uses them," is a common comment from people working
the polls. If we calculate the cost per ballot cast on these machines, it
sometimes works out into the thousands of dollars each. It may not be the
most popular topic, but it's time to look at this issue.

I've heard from registrars that say they know the voters with disabilities
in their county, and those voters won't use a machine no matter what. They
want assistance voting and are used to getting it. Some people vote with
assistance from friends or family. Some people vote with assistance from
election officials.

Voters with disabilities have won the right to have an accessible voting
machine at every poll site, and we support that. However, we need a better
definition of the community we need to accommodate. The barrier to the poll
booth needs to be as low as we can make it, while being consistent and well

- Who is using accessible voting machines (how many and with what
- Who could potentially use the machines but is staying home? Why?
- How do people with disabilities feel about getting human assistance
- How many feel they are better served with human assistance?
- Do people with disabilities know that election officials can assist them?
- Are mobile services available? (election official visiting disabled

I believe this is mainly a federal voting rights issue, but developing some
good data could be valuable. R&D funding is needed for this. HAVA R&D
money was never appropriated.





----- Original Message -----
From: "Edmund R. Kennedy" <>
To: "Open Voting Consortium discussion list" <>
Sent: Monday, March 26, 2007 4:04 PM
Subject: [OVC-discuss] Ed's occasional clipping service: The Vote:California
Secretary of State Debra Bowen Releases DraftCritera for Voting Machine

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Received on Sat Mar 31 23:17:07 2007

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