E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

Wednesday December 15, 2004

“Christopher Danielsen’s Voting Experience and The Nature Of Accessibility [and Human Factors]”

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 12:00 am PST

Christopher Danielsen, the editor of NFB’s The Voice of the Nation’s Blind, describes his experience casting a ballot on a Sequoia AVC Advantage (a full-face button-matrix DRE) with a braile template and instructions (“On My Voting Experience and The Nature Of Accessibility”). In addition to highlighting how difficult it is to vote with tactile templates, it provides some stark illustrations of human factors issues such as environmental conditions and voter fatigue (which can be particularly heightened with the lengthy process of reading braille… not to mention that braille literacy rates have been dropping):

The ability of a blind person to vote privately and independently does not consist merely of being able to identify which button to press, or which oval to mark, or which hole to punch in order to make a candidate selection. Sighted voters receive confirmation that their vote has been cast, and on newer equipment they are told whether they have over-voted or under-voted a race and so forth. Blind people should receive responses from the voting terminal which tell us what we have accomplished. Similarly, we should be able to navigate through contests and ballot questions at our own pace, and we should be able to review our ballot before casting it as sighted voters can. A static template can’t replace this interactive voting experience, whether that template is laid over a punch card or optically scanned ballot or a touch-screen machine. We must have response from the machine to indicate that the voting machine is accurately recording our choices and that our ballot is cast as we intended. Otherwise, we will be left only with the option of having a poll worker or a person of our choice review the ballot with us to make sure our votes are cast as we intend. While blind voters should certainly be permitted to retain the option of using assistance from another individual of our choice if we so desire, the chance to have a completely private and secret voting experience must not be denied to any blind voter. It is available to every sighted voter, and thus true equality for the blind will not be achieved in voting unless it is also available to us.

Tuesday December 14, 2004

More Information Surfaces About ES&S “Counting Backwards” Feature/Bug

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 5:00 pm PST

More information has surfaced in a letter from ES&S to Guilford County, NC, Board of Elections (provided by Joyce McCloy, PDF here and text here):

We would like to explain in further technical detail what caused this issue, should you or others at the county have questions. the 32,767 capacity limitation at a singled precinct level is a function of the design and definition of the results database used by ERM. The data storage element used to record votes at the precinct level is a two byte binary field. 32,767 is 2 to the 15th power, which is the maximum number held by a two byte word (16 bits) in memory, where the most significant bit is reserved as the sign bit (a plus or minus indicator). Additionally, ERM precinct count level data is stored in a binary computer format known as two’s complement. Data on ERM results reports are printed as the absolute value of the two’s complement of the associated data in the ERM database. This means that once the 32,767 limitation is reached, additional incremental tallies of vote results would not be printed correctly (32,768 through 65,536 would actually be represented as 65,536 to 32, 768).

While this value, 32,767 is certainly higher than any practical value that could be tabulated in a single election day precinct, the consideration of reporting all absentee ballots or early voting into a single absentee or “One Stop” precinct does hold the possibility of yielding much higher totals than what may be possible in single election day precincts.

This appears to be a case where a local jurisdiction used voting equipment out of the context of the vendor’s design. If they had used an unsigned 16-bit integer variable, they could have reported 65,536 votes.

561 Votes found in Washington

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 2:34 pm PST

Washington is in its third vote-count. There was the initial count, then a recount and now a third hand count. King county has been particularly fluctuant in its reported numbers in each of these counts. Now – where the margin of victory in the Governor’s race is 42 votes according to the second recount and 88 votes counting votes found in the current recount – King County has found 561 ballots that were improperly disqualified because signatures of a few hundred registered voters had not made it into their registration database (these signatures existed on the hard-copy registration cards) (from the Seattle Times, “Error discovery could give Gregoire election”):

The King County error came to light Sunday when Larry Phillips, chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council, was looking over a list of voters from his neighborhood whose ballots had been disqualified.

Phillips spotted his own name on the list, prompting an investigation by King County elections workers that turned up 561 improperly disqualified ballots.

King County Elections Director Dean Logan said that when workers were verifying signatures on absentee ballots, they erroneously disqualified voters whose signatures hadn’t been entered into a computer system.

Instead, Logan said, they should have double-checked with signatures on voters’ registration cards on file with the county.

This is yet another reminder that the voting system is exactly that, a system. There are many points of failure outside of the polling place and even the central tabulation activities. Any part of this system can potentially affect the outcome of the race, by accident or on purpose.

Sunday December 12, 2004

More e-voting problems

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 12:00 pm PST

(I am just going to update this post as I hear of more problems as they are reported in the press…)

These are courtesy of VotersUnite!:

Monday December 06, 2004

NRC on Electronic Voting

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 1:23 pm PST

The Committee for Electronic Voting - under the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) - recently issued a call for papers for input on what questions policy makers should be thinking about given the current state of electronic voting. Here are the whitepapers submitted (listed alphabetically by author/organization):

Hand Recount of Computer Results

Filed under: — Felten @ 10:12 am PST

Two Washington counties are going to recount e-voting results by printing them out from a computer and then counting the printouts by hand, according to an AP story.
The e-voting technology stores each vote in an electronic cartridge. These cartridges will be used to create a PDF file for each ballot, which will be printed, thus allowing a hand recount of paper ballots.

This makes no sense, obviously. If the electronic cartridges are the only available records of how people voted, then the print-then-recount-by-hand procedure can only introduce further errors. (Of course, recounting voter-verified paper ballots, had their been any, would have given us useful information about how votes were cast.)

So why is this charade going on? Presumably because Washington state law requires a recount of paper voting records when recounting a very close election, such as this year’s gubernatorial election. Perhaps the current law was adopted back before anybody foresaw the possibility of computerized voting.

This kind of problem isn’t unique to Washington state. I understand that New Jersey election laws require election machines to be examined by mechanical engineers. That made sense back when all such machines were mechanical, but it’s the wrong approach for computerized machines. Technology has moved much faster than voting law.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): One of the two affected counties (Snohomish) has asked for permission to transfer the machine votes onto computer tape, and then use a computer to recount the records on the tape, according to a Seattle Times Comments (0)

Thursday December 02, 2004

Changes Found in Alabama Recount

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 2:40 pm PST

Changes found in segregation amendment recount

The statewide recount on a measure to remove segregation-era language from Alabama’s constitution is turning up variations from the official canvass, with changes exceeding 100 votes in at least three counties.

These three counites (Hale, Macon and Madison) all use the same type of voting technology - ES&S’s Optech-III Eagle optical scan machine. (Note that 75% of all of Alabama counties use the same technology… 95% of counties use optical scan (different models)).

Not surprisingly, the totals in the counties that used DRE equipment didn’t change. That’s not the kind of thing that inspires much confidence in our crowd. If they had recounted a slew of voter-verified audit trail documents and compared to a retally of electronic ballots, that would be begin to be a proper audit… as Doug Jones, pointed out in his October 2004 CACM piece, “Auditing Elections”,

One important aspect to examine is the chain of custody for each piece of evidence pertaining to the election. What machinery produced this data, who collected it from the machine, and how was it preserved? What we need is analogous to the documentation for the chain of custody required to bring evidence to court in a criminal case.

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