Re: [ElectionIntegrity] Re: Conference call on federal legislation?

From: Barbara Simons <simons_at_acm_dot_org>
Date: Sat Nov 18 2006 - 14:46:40 CST

Dear Suzanne,

I think you are mistaken about Common Cause. Common Cause has been
talking with computer scientists. We know about Vote-PAD, and many of
us have been encouraging election officials to purchase it. Common
Cause also knows about the AutoMark and Populex ballot generating
systems that have Accessible Voter Verified Paper Ballots. DREs by
contrast "verify" what is on the screen, not necessarily what is stored
inside the computer.

Do you know Noel Runyan? He is a blind computer scientist who has done
some very impressive analyses of ways in which DREs are inadequate or
even unusable for people with disabilities. Noel is also a big
advocate of Vote-PAD.

Having precinct based optical scan paper ballot systems combined with
Vote-PAD, the AutoMark, or the Populex machines together with mandatory
random manual audits and no secret software would go a long way towards
reforming voting in the United States. There are many questions still
that would need to be answered, such as how to make sure that the
selections for the audits are truly random, determining who is in
charge of the audits, deciding what percentage should be audited
(possibly a function of the size of the vote), and determining how much
of a discrepancy should trigger a total manual recount. (A one vote
discrepancy among 500,000 ballots cast strikes me as too demanding a
threshold, but I don't know what an appropriate threshold might be).

In the battle against nuclear power fought a couple of decades ago, the
Union of Concerned Scientists used a very clever and ultimately
effective strategy. They did not attempt to eliminate nuclear power
plants. Instead, they demanded stronger and stronger security. As
their demands were implemented in law, nuclear power plants became
financially infeasible. That is why none has been built in the US for
a generation.

I believe that a similar thing is happening with DREs. If you try
head-on to eliminate them, you'll get tremendous push-back. But it
becomes harder for the opposition to fight if you make demands, such as
public software, that are easy to defend. Diebold et al absolutely
don't want their software made public, because it's so damn insecure
and poorly written - as we know from numerous studies that have been
made of Diebold. I expect that the other software vendors (eg the mess
in Sarasota and elsewhere in Florida with ES&S DREs) have equally lousy
software - or worse. Exposing them to the light of day will, I think,
have a significant impact.

So, we are on the same side in this struggle. The debate is over
strategy. Instead of rejoicing that the Holt bill may have a chance of
passing in the next Congress and trying to help with improving those
areas in which it is weak, some people on these lists seem upset with
the prospect of passage. I understand the desire for paper ballots,
but meanwhile we all have to worry about the 2008 election. If the
Holt bill does not pass, I believe that in 2008 a large percent of the
country will be voting on DREs in states in which there is no mandatory
audit or, even worse, in which there are significant obstacles put in
the way of doing an audit.


On Nov 18, 2006, at 12:13 PM, Suzanne wrote:

> I wasn’t going to post to the whole group until it was absolutely
> necessary, but, in good conscience, I can not remain silent.  One
> reason why Common Cause is so adamant about DRE’s is that they
> erroneously believe that DRE’s are the only accessible means for
> people with disabilities to cast an independent and private vote.  As
> a blind voter, I know that is not the case.  With the Vote-Pad, even a
> deaf-blind person can cast an independent, private, and verifiable
> vote.  I have seen the Vote-Pad, have testified before the Wisconsin
> Board of Elections on its behalf, and would certainly be willing to
> demonstrate it before Common Cause, Representative Holt, or anyone
> else you think should see it.  
> As a blind person, I value my right to cast an independent, private,
> and verifiable  vote.  If you’ve ever had to rely on a committee
> person to cast your vote, you’d know what I mean.  Absentee ballots
> are not the answer for blind people, either, since you have to rely on
> some one else to read them , and there is a chance that the ballot
> could get thrown away by mistake.  I’ve thrown away important mail,
> thinking it was junk. 
>  But, because my right to vote is important to me, I want to make sure
> it is not going to be counted incorrectly.  I do not trust machines to
> do an adequate job.  In this situation, there really is a way to have
> your cake and eat it, too.
> Suzanne Erb
> Blind Voter

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Received on Thu Nov 30 23:17:09 2006

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