VOTING SYSTEMS

 

REPORT PREPARED BY

Del Information Services
www.oregonparalegal.com

 

JANUARY 2001

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

INACCURACY AND FRAUD IN THE VOTING PROCESS

VOTING SYSTEMS

Punch Card Ballot

Touch-Screen Voting

Internet Voting

FEDERAL LEGISLATION INTRODUCED

REFERENCES


 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


The grueling 36-day ordeal in Florida and problems in other areas of the nation have brought widespread public attention to deficiencies in the election process. Recent failures have involved misleading ballots, contradictory counting standards, insufficient resource commitment, inferior voting equipment, and fraud. These situations have resulted in the discarding of well intentioned votes and in a lessening of voter confidence in our democratic process. The intense scrutiny given the recent election appears to have made the American public ready to support and fund needed change in policy, standards, and equipment advocated by experts for decades.

The hardware used to count votes throughout the United States has suffered long-term neglect. Inadequate funds have been allocated for elections. Antiquated voting systems are the result. Election offices are understaffed. Personnel are undertrained and underpaid. Some jurisdictions cannot even keep election directors. Tamira Bradley held this position in Longview, Washington. She was paid $1,800 a month. "I really felt that nobody took me seriously," she says. So she quit to become a waitress at a Sizzler. "I made more money," she said.

This long-term neglect has created so many errors into the process of voting, including the counting of ballots, that it is impossible to know after an election exactly what the totals are and how many people may have been robbed of their vote. Rebecca Mercuri, a computer scientist at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, estimate that at least 2 million ballots did not get counted in the November 2000 election across the country.

Nevada, in trying to make it easier to participate in the voting process, imposes very few restrictions on the use of absentee ballots. Other states such as Indiana have encouraged voter sign-ups by mail and at driver's license bureaus without adequate safeguards being in place. We must never revert back to the days when legal obstacles discouraged or even prevented citizens from voting. Of equal importance to widespread participation, though, must be the integrity of the election process.

The absence of a physical record of each vote is a flaw in direct-recording election (DRE) systems. The presence of an easily tamperable physical record in paper-ballot and card-based systems creates vulnerabilities. Most experts agree that security today is inadequate for "remote" Internet voting systems. These same experts believe that "closed" network systems used at county polling places, are secure. Most experts believe that advancements in technology, in possibly three to five years, will correct present security deficiencies in "remote" Internet voting.


 

INACCURACY AND FRAUD IN THE VOTING PROCESS


Voting systems throughout the United States are inaccurate. Many systems are obsolete. New York City voters use metal lever-action machines so old they are no longer made, each with 27,000 parts. A 1999 report, published by Roy G. Saltman of the Federal Institute for Computer Sciences and Technology, listed numerous instances of mistakes in computerized vote counting. Human error was another large factor. Mistakes include.

  • In a 1985 Dallas mayoral election, the vote-counting computer experienced a power failure on election night. When the power came back the lead was reversed. In the recount, only 89 out of 250 precincts showed the same totals. In 109 of the 250 precincts, the total number of counted ballots changed between the original tally and the recount.

  • In Moline, Illinois, a losing candidate for alderman was declared the winner after a malfunctioning timing belt in a card-reading machine deprived him of 92 votes.

  • In a 1986 election in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, some machines failed to count up to 10% of ballots per precinct.

  • In Stark County, Ohio, a recount for commissioner produced 165 more votes than the original tally and a different winner. This result was then reversed when it was discovered that the recount program failed to distinguish between voters of different political parties.

Examples of fraud or a high probability of fraud in the election process includes:

  • Alaska has more registered voters than voting-age people.

  • Indiana registration lists have hundreds of thousands of people who should not be on them. This includes felons, the dead, and many who have registered repeatedly. A reason given was that the state encourages sign-ups by mail and at driver's license bureaus.

  • In Texas, "vote whores" do favors for people in return for their absentee ballots. Sometimes the canvassers or consultants, as they prefer to be called, simply buy the ballots. Failing all else, they steal them from mailboxes.

  • The November 2, 1999 issue of The Wall Street Journal reported the official response about fraud in San Francisco. It stated, "Despite worries about the possibility of voter fraud in San Francisco elections, city officials can do little more than hope for the best when it comes to protecting the ballot box."

  • At Marquette University in Milwaukee, the campus newspaper polled 1,000 students and 174 said they voted two, three, or four times in the November 2000 election.

  • Jon Saylor, a 1999 Fairfield, Ohio city council candidate, pleaded guilty to 58 counts of voter fraud. He was elected after creating sham voters and falsifying absentee ballots.

  • More than 2,200 felons were removed from Iowa voter registration lists in 1998.

  • Newspaper reporters in Boston and in Mobile, Alabama tested the security of their area's voter registration system by sending in multiple fraudulent voting applications. They were processed and approved. The Boston reporter successfully registered his cat to vote three times. Alabama authorities accepted five applications with false names.

 

VOTING SYSTEMS


Harris Poll asked adults nationwide between December 14-21, 2000 whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement. "We clearly have a major problem in the way votes are cast and counted and this needs to be fixed." Of the 1,025 asked, 86% agreed, 12% disagreed, and 2% weren't sure or refused to answer. The margin of error was plus or minus 3%.

Techniques and procedures used to test and certify vote-counting equipment must be improved and be uniform per model. During certification, hardware should be subjected to rough handling and to fluctuation in temperature and humidity. Software programs should be upgraded and tested more frequently and thoroughly. A mandatory 1% machine recount comparison of vote-counting equipment should be required to insure accurate results. Although most vote-counting card readers are checked for accuracy before and after elections, the tests rarely duplicate the real-life counting process. A technique, "logic and accuracy" testing, increases reliability. "Logic" testing determines if a machine is reading the ballot correctly. "Accuracy" testing should reveal whether the card reading machine, through which ballots pass at blinding speeds, is functioning properly. After a successful test, a logic and accuracy board would sign a logic and accuracy certification.

Experts worldwide agree that there is a need for a standardized, secure process for the verification, collection, and counting of votes. Voting systems, before they're used by the publicly, undergo testing by independent laboratories and must win the approval of the Federal Election Commission and by states where they'll be used. The Federal Election Commission will soon issue voluntary standards for computerized elections. One standard calls for vote tabulation systems to be tested by one of a half a dozen or so independent testing authorities.

Touch-screen and Internet voting systems are similar in hardware design but differ in other ways. There are the two basic systems, although hybrid systems or transition systems could utilize both types, or include remote "kiosks" strategically placed in public hubs such as airports. A "Polling Place" system can transmit votes on a transactional basis, one-by-one as each vote is cast, or it can save up and transmit batches of votes periodically similar to "DRE" or "direct recording electronic" systems. "Remote" voting systems, in contrast, can only be transactional.

VIP Reports provided the following review of system types and cost comparisons. VIP has the most negative opinion of "remote" voting of any authority referenced in this report.

Internet Voting Systems can be distinguished by the following points of comparison:

Closed Systems (polling place location)

  • The entire election is under control of election officials.
  • Infrastructure is provided to the voter.
  • There is uniformity of communication, privacy, and security protocols.
  • Brick and mortar locations accommodate citizen poll watching.
  • They could include paper audit trails and additional identity verification.

Remote Systems

  • Control of the election processes is generally shared between election officials and the election vendor.
  • The voter provides the platform either directly (home/laptop) or from office, school, library, hotel computer, etc.
  • There is no uniformity of platform and an ever-widening variety of voter computers, operating systems, and devices that must be supported.
  • No control over voting conditions. No way to prevent vote observation, sale, or coercion.
  • Traditional citizen poll watching is impossible since voting takes place in private.
  • Voter verification is limited and controlled by the election vendor.

Polling place "closed" voting systems and Internet "remote" voting systems offer potential cost savings depending on how they are employed. Potential savings include:

  • If an election is entirely remote there's no need for county level election equipment.
  • Voters are able to vote from any location so ballot printing costs would be eliminated.
  • If an election is entirely remote, there would be no need for recruitment, training, and employment of precinct or county poll workers.
  • If an election is entirely remote, costs of mailing absentee ballots could be eliminated or greatly reduced.
  • If an election is entirely remote, voters would pay for most of the infrastructure of voting.

Internet voting may result in greater costs at least initially because:

  • If used in local precincts, election officials would be responsible for supplying and maintaining platforms.
  • Computer life probably limited to 3-5 years. Election equipment can sometimes be utilized for decades.
  • For some years Internet voting will be in addition to traditional systems and may include some unique transactional charges for independent verification (Verisign, etc.)
  • There may be additional software and consumer interface costs resulting from multiple platforms and voter-provision of infrastructure.
  • Remote voting would require high-volume help desks and other services to voters who have trouble voting.
  • Even if entirely remote, would probably still need to maintain a certain number of brick and mortar voting locations for voters without access.
  • Cost of authentication devices and distribution of same (keys, PINs, smartcards, etc.)

 

Punch Card Ballot


Punch cards were first put to data-tabulation use in the 1880 U.S. Census. Many experts have recommended that punch card systems be abandoned. A federal agency, now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said 12 years ago that the election mainstay, prescored punch card ballots, should be eliminated. More than 500 counties throughout the United States still use them including seven in Oregon.

A common source of error in punch card tabulation systems is "chad." These are small pieces of ballot paper that can cling to the underside of the punched ballot. As these ballots move through the card readers, a piece of chad is sometimes pressed back into the ballot or into the next ballot in the deck. When this occurs, the machine does not register a vote. A second problem is when pieces of chad pop out while ballots are wrapped, sorted, inspected, or placed for machine counting. This can create two holes and invalidate the vote. Chad within the machines can also cause the readers to report inaccurate results. Ralph C. Heikkila, assistant registrar-recorder for Los Angeles County, stated that 1% to 2% of votes cast at the polls have chad problems and that about half of absentee ballots do.

According to a Spokane County, Washington official elections report, nearly one in five mail-in ballots processed in November 1999 had both the "yes" and "no" options punched for Initiative 695. In 14 Spokane County precincts so small that voters cast ballots by mail rather than at polling places, about 5,390 ballots were not counted because they were punched twice.

The punch card ballot system has been banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire because of voting irregularities. Michael Shamos, one of three computer experts who certify electronic vote tabulation systems for the state of Pennsylvania stated, "There is no circumstance under which I would conduct an election with punch cards." The 38 counties in Florida using optical scanner ballots, a system in which a machine reads stiff paper ballots marked with black ink, had far fewer changes in the total number of votes cast compared to those using punch cards in the November 2000 election.

 

Touch-Screen Voting


These systems can be utilized along with Oregon's vote-by-mail system. They are usually used as "closed" systems, not using the Internet available to the public to handle data. Over 8% of U.S. counties have upgraded to fully computerized touch-screen systems. Systems to avoid are those that provide no paper records for recounts or disputed elections.

Touch-screen voting allows voters to push on-screen symbols of "buttons" to record their choice. Voters are prevented from accidentally voting for multiple candidates and choosing both "yes" and "no." Voters can verify their selections before the ballot is submitted. The machines, usually located in polling places, constantly and automatically count and recount vote totals. Facsimiles of paper ballots can be printed out for a hand recount if desired. Experts believe they can programmed to lie without adequate protections in place.

The nation's biggest touch-screen vote was held November 2000 in California's Riverside County using equipment from Sequoia Pacific Voting Equipment. Mischelle Townsend, Riverside County Registrar of Voters, said their $13 million system, which she described as more accurate, secure, and easier to use than the card-based ballot system it replaced, drew high praise from many voters and will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in printing and personnel costs in each major election. Such technology "greatly decreases the potential for human error in voting, and removes the potential for varied counts when the tabulation is done," said Alfie Charles, a spokesman for California Secretary of State Bill Jones.

Unisys, Microsoft, and Dell Computer are jointly creating an end-to-end electronic system. It will provide visual instructions as well as multilingual audio instructions. IBM is talking to business partners about new systems. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology have announced a joint effort to produce a new voting system. Compaq and Cisco recently put venture capital funds into VoteHere.net. It sells a network voting system that uses software to encrypt ballots. In tests, the company used Compaq's iPAQ Web "appliance" devices, which are little more than touch-screen devices and keyboards connected to a network. The cost is approximately $500 each. Self-contained units now cost about $5,000. VoteHere.net will submit its system to California, Florida, and a 37-state consortium run by the National Association of State Election Directors in March 2001. VoteHere.net expects certification by summer.

Web sites with electronic voting information are listed at the "Electronic Voting Hot List." This includes over two dozen voting equipment and services vendors, along with the Federal Election Commission's Web site that lists "Known Vendors of Computerized Vote Tabulation Systems." Companies offering portable touch-screen devices include Election.com; Canada's Global Election Systems; Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb.; Shoup Voting Solutions of Quakertown, Pa.; and Diversified Dynamics of Richmond, Va.

 

Internet Voting


Internet voting, also called electronic voting, on-line voting, and i-voting uses encryption to allow voters to transmit their secure and secret ballot over the Internet. Experts generally agree that three Internet electronic voting models hold promise. These are: automation of the current process, electronic voting at a secure Web site, and electronic voting at regional centers.

The California Internet Voting Task Force was convened by Secretary of State Bill Jones to study the feasibility of using the Internet to conduct elections. Over two dozen experts in the field of data security, elections, and voter participation volunteered their time and expertise in the development of the report. It was released in January 2000 and is available on the Internet. The task force concluded that additional technical innovations were necessary before "remote" Internet voting could be widely implemented. The report stated, "If the voter is voting from a home PC, the most insecure, uncontrolled part of the end-to-end path is inside the computer used by the voter. Any i-voting protocol will transmit the ballot in encrypted form, which guarantees that it cannot be read by any third party, and that it cannot be modified by a third party without detection. Therefore, the riskiest part of the trip that the ballot takes is inside the vote client, before it is encrypted." The task force found current technology adequate to allow voters to cast a ballot over the Internet from a computer at county-controlled polling places.

Arizona's Democratic Party Presidential Preference Primary was held in March 2000 using technology by election.com. Their Web site provides an interactive demonstration. State election officials mailed a personal identification number (PIN) to voters at their registered address. Voters were required to provide their date of birth and partial Social Security number during the voting process. Total turnout was 86,907 for which 35,768 Arizonans cast their vote through the Internet from their home, work, school, or a library. An additional 4,174 voted at designated polling sites using the Internet. Over 700,000 Americans used election.com online voter services to register to vote or to request an absentee ballot for the November 2000 election.

David M. Elliott, Assistant Director of Elections for the State of Washington said, "Web voting could be accomplished as an imitation of the current absentee process, using ballots requested and distributed via secure e-mail. The ballot would be marked by the voter and either printed out and returned via hardcopy with hard signatures through the USPS, or returned to the election office via secure e-mail." The Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles cast their votes with election.com Web-based technology. Over 1 million students participated in the first national registration and online voting in American history through Youth-e-Vote 2000.

Several groups are studying Internet voting. Many are researching and testing the models, software, and/or ideas for standards. Groups include: The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) at the Pentagon; The NASED ITA Subcommittee; The National Science Foundation, by request of the President; The Internet Voting Technology Alliance; and The Brookings Institution and Cisco Systems, Inc.


 

FEDERAL LEGISLATION INTRODUCED


Legislation introduced in December 2000 included the McConnell-Torricelli Election Reform Act of 2000. It would establish the Election Administration Commission by merging the Federal Election Commission's Office of Voting Administration with the Department of Defense's Office of Voting Assistance. This commission would continually monitor election procedures and machinery and provide technical assistance to state and local governments. It was introduced by Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Robert G. Torricelli (D-NJ). Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) is one of nine cosponsors. This legislation would:

  • Create an separate agency called the Commission on Election Reform.
  • The Commission would study all aspects of election administration and make recommendations to the states and localities for their implementation of methods and technology to improve how elections are conducted.
  • The Commission would provide matching grants for implementation to those states and localities willing to adopt their recommendations.
  • Preserve the rights of the states and localities to make their own decisions about what works best for them.

 

REFERENCES


latimes.com: A 'modern' democracy that can't count votes (published by The Oregonian, December 13, 2000) — http://www.cnn.com/2000/ALLPOLITICS/stories/12/11/latimes.votecount/index.html

Sacramento Bee News: Riverside pioneers touch-screen voting: New system drew high praise, says county registrar — http://www.capitolalert.com/news/old/capalert04_20001115.html

California Secretary of State Web site: California Internet Voting Task Force — http://www.ss.ca.gov/executive/ivote/

David Elliott, Assistant Director of Elections State of Washington: Examining Internet Voting in Washington — http://www.electioncenter.org/voting/InetVotingWhitePaper.html

Voting Integrity Project (VIP): Is Internet Voting Safe? By Deborah M Phillips and David Jefferson — http://www.voting-integrity.org/text/2000/internetsafe.shtml

The Associated Press/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 3, 2000.

Sequoia Pacific Voting Equipment — http://www.spve.com/

USA Today, January 12, 2001

The Oregonian, TechNW, January 8, 2001

Electronic Voting Hot List — http://www.research.att.com/~lorrie/voting/hotlist.html

Election.com — http://www.election.com

Examining Internet Voting — http://www.electioncenter.org/voting/inetvoting.html

Youth-e-Vote — http://www.youthevote.net/

The Federal Voting Assistance Program — http://www.fvap.ncr.gov/

Internet Policy Institute — http://www.netvoting.org/

The Future of Internet Voting — http://www.brook.edu/comm/events/20000120.htm

Thomas Web site: The McConnell-Torricelli Election Reform Act of 2000: — http://thomas.loc.gov/ (Type "S.1" in "Search by Bill Number")

 

OregonVoting.org
www.OregonVoting.org