"Electronic Voting is a Touchy Subject/" San Diego Union Tribune, 10/29/2006

From: Ed Kennedy <ekennedyx_at_yahoo_dot_com>
Date: Sun Oct 29 2006 - 16:28:21 CST

Plenty of bogus stuff from my home town.

 

Ed Kennedy

 

Electronic voting is a touchy subject

County registrar is confident that machines are secure

By Leslie Wolf Branscomb
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

October 29, 2006

Next week's election will usher in a new era of electronic voting, whether
Americans are ready for it or not.

On Nov. 7, more than one-third of the nation - including many in San Diego
County - will cast touch-screen ballots on electronic voting machines for
the first time.

NADIA BOROWSKI SCOTT / Union-Tribune

Joyce Jones, a worker at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, on Monday
prepared electronic voting machines made by Diebold. More than 10,000
machines are being prepared for Election Day.

The move to high-tech voting has generated a huge amount of controversy,
tinged with a touch of paranoia. Concerns have been raised about mass
confusion, long lines, fraud and electoral integrity.

Backers of the machines say these fears are overblown. But two years ago,
the county's first attempt at electronic voting was marred as some poll
workers got blank screens when they tried to turn on newly purchased Diebold
machines.

County elections officials say different machines will be used next week and
that past problems, attributed to drained batteries, have been remedied.

A growing number of people, including computer programmers, university
professors and political candidates, believe the machines can be hacked and
elections stolen by the technologically savvy.

Tova Wang of The Century Foundation, a public policy research institution,
sees trouble ahead.

"There's a rather combustible confluence of events going on right now," Wang
said.

"Congress hangs in the balance, and we have a whole slew of new rules and
new machines.".

She said many states also have new voter registration guidelines, including
California, where residents now must show a driver's license or other
identification when registering for the first time.

"I think at the end of Election Day, we may find ourselves with stacks of
paper and long, drawn-out election counts. This is not going to do much for
voter confidence."

San Diego County Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas believes fears are
overblown. Haas said the electronic voting machines used here are secure.

"Yes, you can disable a unit. You could do it with a sledgehammer," he said.
"But we'd probably figure it out."

Each machine, once the ballot software is loaded, is locked and sealed with
a "tamper evident" red tape. When any part of the tape is lifted or even
scraped slightly, it shows previously invisible words in white letters:
"VOID OPEN."

Princeton University researchers who studied Diebold machines say a
malicious virus can be introduced by anyone who has access to a voting
machine or its memory card. Researchers had to open the unit with a
screwdriver or pick the lock, making any such intrusion obvious.

The Princeton experiment was conducted on an older-model Diebold machine no
longer used in California.

NADIA BOROWSKI SCOTT
/ Union-Tribune

Many San Diego County voters will cast touch-screen ballots when they use
the electronic voting machines on Election Day.

Some say hacking the machines may have happened already. They offer no
proof, saying it would be impossible to know if the machines had been
compromised.

"At least when we had hanging chads in the 2000 election, we knew what we
didn't know, and that was the voters' intent," said DeForest Soaries, the
former chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which
oversees implementation of the Help America Vote Act.

"Now, with the growth of electronic voting, we won't know what we don't
know. Just because we don't know something was hacked doesn't mean it didn't
happen."

Some bloggers suggest there is a government conspiracy, aided by the media,
to keep the public in the dark.

Suspicions were stoked by a 2003 fundraising letter to Republicans from
Diebold Inc. Chief Executive Officer Walden O'Dell, who wrote that he was
"committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next
year." O'Dell wrote the letter as a volunteer fundraiser for President Bush,
not as a representative of the company.

A number of bloggers erroneously reported that O'Dell had promised Diebold
would deliver votes to Bush. O'Dell resigned from the company in 2005,
citing "personal reasons."

Locked and loaded

More than 10,000 machines are being prepared for Election Day in the massive
warehouse behind the county Registrar of Voters office in Kearny Mesa. Gray
Diebold voting machines sit on row upon row of tables while computer
technicians load them with software containing ballots for each of the
county's 1,650 voting precincts.

Then the machines are locked, sealed, folded like portable picnic tables and
stacked on carts, awaiting delivery.

Poll workers will unlock one of two doors on the machine just before voting
begins to run a "zero tape," which verifies that no votes have been recorded
for any candidate or proposition. The other door, with a memory card that
records votes, remains sealed until polls close at 8 p.m.

An official panel of observers - including city clerks and representatives
of political parties - will watch memory cards being uploaded at the
registrar's office as the votes are counted.

Four-hour training classes for county's 7,000-plus volunteer poll workers
began last week. At the end of the session, each precinct's designated
"touchscreen inspector" takes the machines for that precinct home, with
instructions to secure them and return them to polling places on Election
Day.

Taking the machines home has been condemned widely by those who fear
hacking. Some believe the "sleepovers" used in San Diego and other counties
effectively invalidate election results, because the "chain of custody" of
election results cannot be ensured.

Haas disagrees. "We know exactly who has the machines," he said. "We know
where they live."

Why let poll workers take the machines home? Transporting them before dawn
on Election Day from the registrar's warehouse to polling places as far as
Julian and Borrego Springs in time for the 7 a.m. opening of the polls -
during rush hour, no less - likely would be impossible, Haas said.

Delivering them to polling places the day before would be impractical and
less secure, as some sites are in schools, community centers and other
public places that are unguarded at night, Haas said.

Paper record required

The changes to voting procedures stem from the Help America Vote Act, passed
by Congress in 2002. The law was enacted after widespread concerns about
voting irregularities in the 2000 presidential election. It was meant to
standardize voting practices and increase accountability.

San Diego County has spent $31 million on Diebold touch-screen machines.
Since being used for the first time in March 2004, the machines have been
retrofitted to include paper records of ballots cast.

Lack of a paper record to verify electronic votes was widely criticized in
recent years. Now 22 states, including California, require a printed backup
record of each ballot cast.

Voters can cast ballots in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog and
check their votes on paper as they cast them. A tally of votes cast at each
precinct will be posted at polling places when they close.

Haas says the machines are user-friendly and will make voting less
confusing, despite the fears.

So far, more than 1,000 early voters have cast ballots using the new
machines at the registrar's office.

"From the feedback we've gotten, voters say this is great," Haas said.

Will it take long to cast ballots? Perhaps. But most of that is because the
average voter is looking at 55 propositions and races, Haas said.

For anyone who refuses to use the machines, paper ballots will be available
at each precinct. California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson sent a
letter to all county registrars Oct. 3 requiring that backup ballots be
available should machines malfunction or if a voter simply chooses not to
use one.

Human error and machine malfunction will occur on Election Day, Haas said.
He said no election is trouble-free. Some 350 computer technicians will be
roving the county, replacement machines at the ready, he said.

Others aren't convinced. Some experts predict long lines and delayed vote
counts as voters and poll workers get used to electronic voting.

The Help America Vote Act "was clearly intended to have a positive impact
and improve upon the election processes," said Ray Martinez, former vice
chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission. "Three years later,
I think it's fair to say we've made progress, but we still have a lot of
work to do."

  _____

Leslie Branscomb: (619) 498-6630;
<http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/MAILTO:leslie.branscomb@uniontr
ib.com> leslie.branscomb@uniontrib.com

  _____

 

 

 

 

 

Find this article at:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/20061029-9999-1n29voting.html

 

 

 --

 

Edmund R. Kennedy, PE

10777 Bendigo Cove

San Diego, CA 92126

 

 

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