Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Dec 20 - NC E-Voting Committee Mtg Part I

The Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting Systems met for the second time on December 20, 2004.
The Charlotte Observer did a story described the meeting and also included an interview with North Carolina computer scientist, Justin Moore, Member of the National Committee for Voting Integrity:

The meeting was held in two parts:
the first part officials were called to go over more e-voting problems and hear public comments; the second part was to view and describe current and possible voting equipment.

Additional details on problems with Onslo, Gaston, and Harnett were provided.

Onslo County Vote tabulating problems. Onslo's problem was within the reporting of the accumulated results at the county level. The order of the candidates as programmed into the ballot was not compatible with the election reporting software that compiles the county totals. Story

Gaston County administrative problems emphasized, mention of voting system failure minimized. Don Wright, General Counsel for the State Board of Elections summed up Gaston County's problems as administrative failure.

In spite of news reports that Diebold technicians uploaded the county's precinct totals un-supervised link , Mr. Wright stated that Election officials and Diebold representatives have since signed affadavits that Diebold operated under direct supervision of the Gaston County Board of Elections.

Last week, in the Dec 13th meeting, computer scientist Justin Moore described how the Diebold systems failed to upload precinct totals, and to recognize the failure as well. If the poll workers did attempt to upload the data, any malfunction should have been visible to the workers, whether they were the Diebold employees or the actual election workers.

Gaston County voter turnout still not known. Mr. Wright also advised that: neither the contractors or the County BOE noticed the difference in the number of people voting (noted in the poll books) and the number of votes. He cited sloppy poll workers for some of that problem. He said that they did not keep an accurate count of the voters.

Committee Member David Allen (systems engineer and BBV activist) asked
why would a contractor would be involved in something as critical as something of this level of importance. (uploading precint totals on election day).

Mr. Wright answered that all counties use contractors (troubling), but that while it was understandable for Gaston County's BOE to need alot of vendor support initially, that Gaston never developed any self-sufficiency, and never had IT people in-house.

*Note - many election directors farm out the programming of the ballots used in the e-voting machines. Then, when mistakes are made - it is categorized as a glitch, and state law holds no one accountable. On the other hand, some election directors use in-house programming, and that may or may not work so well. With the first you have lack of accountability, with the second you may have someone who is not practiced at this sort of thing.

More troubling is Mr. Wright's observation that (with electronic voting) "you can never separate yourself entirely from the vendor."

Harnett County Diebold Woes - or Testing 123, Testing 123...
Next, we have Cherie Tuller, Director of Harnett County Elections - describing her experiences with the Diebold AV Optical Scanners purchased in 1996.

She described problems with 16 of the county's machines failing in testing, being sent to the vendor in Texas, supposedly coming back repaired, and four of these machines failing during the runoff. Diebold supplied 4 loaners to fill in.

Next, for the General Election, 9 machines failed testing, and Diebold supplied 9 loaners.
Ms. Tuller described multiple problems with memory cards, so much that she purchased all new memory cards, 1 extra for each precinct. She attributed some problems to the aging of the equipment, mentioned deflector motor malfunctions. Biggest problem - equipment certified ok by vendor really isn't.
How expensive is e-voting, when equipment is outdated or worn out after 8 years?
Why are we buying equipment from vendors whose assurances are empty?
Imagine banks operating this way.

Groups invited to speak: 2 members of disabled community, League of Women Voters, and Democracy NC.

The 2 representatives of the disabled community had no objection to the use of voter verified paper ballots and open source code.

Representative from Advisory Counsel for Governor- Advocated having 1 system for all voters, opposes dual systems, wants 2-3 DREs at least in each precinct, in case 1 of the DREs broke down. She did not know the percentage of blind or disabled voters for our state.

Committee Member Warren Murphy (of Common Cause NC) asked if the rep opposed the use of Voter Verified Paper Ballots and open source code. She did not. Says ok if insured the integrity of vote, can verify via voice output.

David Allen pointed out that programming errors could cause incorrect audio feedback, but she seemed to be unfamiliar with such issues.

Next came Karen Clark, for the visually impaired. Wants accessible voting machines with multi-sensory features. She said that paper ballots are valid, computers aren't always reliable.

League of Women Voters thinks e-voting is efficient. Never heard of any problems.

Mary Klenz, Co-President of the North Carolina League of Women Voters stated that voting technology is efficient. She also said that there had never been any problems with the voting machines in Mecklenburg County. Ms. Klenz must not have read recent accounts of Meckelenburg's problems determining who were the winners and losers in the general election, news , problems during the primary - news, and apparently also was not familiar with Mecklenburg County's checkered past of bribery and purchase of defective machines - story. She also went on to compare e-voting to be other computerized functions, with the assumption that they were equal.

Ron Gregory, for the Election Boards Association of NC wondered why we would trust a paper ballot created by a voting system we did not trust.
*my comment: why vote on a system that is admittedly un-trustworthy at all?

Committee member John Esparza pointed out that we did not merely want to print paper ballots, but to perform a robust audit with hand counting of a percentage of the ballots.

The Guilford County Director of Elections, George Gilbert, spoke next. Gilbert is completely opposed to voter verified paper ballots. Fortunately the other election directors did not state such an opposition. Gilbert even purchased electronic poll books for Guilford County, yet removing another important part of the audit trail in
e-voting. link (scroll down page to Electronic Poll Books).

Broward County (Guilford), North Carolina. Guilford County suffers from ES&S vote subtraction, in the same way as Broward County, Florida. (Broward Cty Fla link )
( Guilford County NC link )

Guilford County off by 22,000 votes for the presidential contest.
The central tabulator (which totals all of the votes from the voting machines) began subtracting votes after counting up to 32,767. This happened because the tabulator had too little memory (80's technology) and also because some brilliant programmer set it up to subtract after 32,767.
NO voting software should EVER subtract votes.

Experts explain how ES&S election software subtracts votes here

I also question how this happened. Didn't Gilbert know the capacity of his software?
Did the vendor mislead him, or did he even ask?

Anyway, Gilbert seemed to be the lone ranger in opposition to Voter Verified Paper Ballots, going on and on about how voter verified paper ballots would create so much work for election workers, wasn't necessary, blah blah blah. He even came up with some bizarre numbers on how it would take weeks and weeks to hand count paper ballots.

Sorry, but I won't be asking him for voting machine advice after his snafu with his central tabulator.

Bob Hall, Director of Democracy NC, testified that his group endorsed voter verified paper ballots and transparency in elections. I don't have all of his words, and invite him to add or email them to me for better representation.

Again, the DRE counties had the worst of it for the General Election.

North Carolina had a warning in 2002 in Wake County, (ES&S iVotronic DREs)
when voting machines lost 436 votes during early voting, due to a software flaw. link

North Carolina had a kick in the gut in 2004 in Carteret County, (Unilect DREs)
when voting machines lost 4,532 votes ten times as many lost as in 2002. link

And we still don't know how many people actually voted in Gaston County,
so did voting machines lose votes there?

NC E-Voting Committee December 13th meeting

First Meeting of Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting Systems, website:

The State Legislature appointed Electronic Voting Committee met for the first time on
December 13th, 2004. NC Voter Blog begins with this event.

N.C. Voter did not write this account. I will be happy to forward comments and compliments to the writer, who gave permission to use this account:

Remember the parable of the blind men and the elephant?
Today’s meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting Systems would have reminded me of that, if not for the earnest and energetic efforts of a few of the committee’s members struggling to get their arms around this complicated issue.

This was the first meeting of the committee – convened at the request of the state Legislature. The committee’s membership seems quite balanced to my eye:
It includes state Senators and Representatives of both parties, two computer experts, state and county election board officials, a moderate GOP attorney, a Republican realtor, an Orange County commissioner, a Common Cause activist, and an “all-star” litigation attorney.

Here’s a brief story further describing the committee: story
And here’s a link to contact info and names for all the committee members: link

After introductory remarks by Sens. Ellie Kinnaird and Austin Allran, and Rep. Verla Insko and Ms Susan Adams, members of the committee made statements about their goals and expectations.
David Allen came out swinging by stating as plain fact that it is the private makers of election equipment who are in control of elections – not the citizens nor their representatives, and that the profit motive and public elections are simply incompatible. Go David!

Committee staffers gave reports on federal and state laws concerning voting equipment. This revealed that Congress has appropriated about $65.5 million to North Carolina for HAVA implementation. (The state legislature has kicked-in about $5.2 million.)
From Gary Bartlett, Executive Director of State Board of Elections (SBoE), we learned that SBoE has a plan for spending these funds (which Bartlett was quick to characterize as preliminary). The HAVA Implementation Plan is 60+ pages long, available here or here as a PDF: here:

His “myths debunked” are truly powerful ammunition in the fight against black-box voting. They are a must-read.

Perhaps the most important thing that happened during Justin’s talk regards the debate over open-source versus closed-source computer code. This is the question of whether or not our computerized voting machines should be proprietary black-boxes or if their design should be open to public review and scrutiny.

For those who are new to this debate, open-source software is essentially peer-reviewed, and as such, the resulting products are far more robust, stable, and secure than proprietary or closed-source software. (Here’s more info: http://open-vote.org/ )

Sen. Austin Allran (R, Hickory) started asking serious and bold questions about open-source computers. He asked the question, “can we pass a law forbidding closed-code software on DREs?” And he went on to say that if a DRE vendor didn’t care to offer an open-source product then they didn’t deserve North Carolina’s business. Wow! Exciting words from a ninth term, socially, fiscally, and politically conservative Republican.

Shortly after this, Justin Moore gave some concluding remarks, then officers from several county boards of elections gave brief reports on their trials and tribulations. These escaped my note-taking because I was engaged in conversation with Mr Ed Pond.The meeting was adjourned and the next meeting set for the same place and same time, next Monday. That’s December 20th, at 10:00 am in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. Map & directions: