Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Electronic voting still unaccountable

Voting machines: Can you trust them? The issue heats up nationally as one state faces a lawsuit.

Once again, electronic voting problems have resurfaced as Topic A during the election season. sent email alerts to sign an "urgent petition asking local, state, and federal officials to require paper ballots" and cited the Sunday NYTimes Magazine cover story, "Can You Count on Voting Machines?" The answer is no. Next week, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) plans to introduce an emergency bill to fund a "push for paper ballots and vote count audits" before November 2008. With so much at stake, we can't afford to allow our next president and legislators to be decided by unreliable e-voting machines.

In Georgia, the electronic voting fight will head to court after years of battling resistance to overhaul the state's Diebold touch-screen system with a verifiable audit trail. On July 13, 2006, filed suit to challenge the state's e-voting -- a system that was nationally ranked last by the conservative D.C.-based Free Congress Foundation. Says a lot, doesn't it? When the lawsuit comes before a Superior Court judge next month, voters will hopefully learn what election remedies the state must undertake if VoterGA wins its motion for summary judgment.

The counts in the lawsuit -- which names the Georgia State Election Board, former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox (D), and Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) as defendants -- are persuasive. Via email, I received an update from Garland Favorito of VoterGA (with emphasis):

...the lawyers are currently finishing a motion for Summary Judgment in which we are asking the judge to rule in our favor on each count because the state has admitted most of our contentions in deposition.
...the evidence was clear the electronic voting machines were acquired illegally in 2001 [count No. 8] and never properly certified before use in 2002 [count No. 9].
The lawsuit was amended to include this new evidence to bolster the case. As a result, VoterGA's attorney Walker Chandler agreed to an extension giving the defendants time to examine the acquisition and certification evidence until the newly-agreed February 2008 court date.
We now have completed what I think is an absolutely compelling case and have a good chance to win some of the counts without a trial. If we win any one of seven counts we will have essentially won the suit against the current voting machine implementation and the state will be forced to make a major change. Here is an overview of the counts of the lawsuit:
[Keep reading... more after the jump!]
1. The state law currently attempts to exempt voting machines from the Constitutional requirement to produce a ballot
2. The Georgia Constitution states that elections are conducted by the people but the people cannot even verify any of the three key aspects of voting,
Choosing candidates on their ballot;
Casting their ballot;
Counting the votes.
3. The law requires that every ballot be recorded correctly and accurately at the time the voting machines are used on Election Day and it is impossible to implement any procedure to confirm that the ballots cast on Election Day were recorded correctly and accurately.
4. A re-accumulation of electronic ballots has and will always produce the same results as the original count and therefore subverts the intent of the law that entitles candidates to a legitimate recount of votes when the margin of victory is within 1% of the total votes cast.
5. The electronic voting machine implementation does not provide Constitutionally required equal protection for electronic voters vs. optically scanned absentee ballot voters because:
Electronic ballots can only be re-accumulated and not recounted for recounts
Electronic ballots can only be re-accumulated and not recounted when it is necessary to investigate discrepancies
The voter cannot verify what is on an electronic ballot as they can on an optical scanned ballot
6. The law requires that every ballot be recorded correctly and accurately at the time the voting machines are used on Election Day and the new technology piloted in 2006 still renders it impractical to implement a procedure to confirm that the ballots cast on Election Day were recorded correctly and accurately.
7. The new technology piloted in 2006 produces a sequential roll of ballots in the exact order in which the voters voted and therefore cannot ensure secrecy of the ballot as required by the Georgia Constitution
8. The electronic voting machines were procured illegally in 2001 because the law required them to have an independent audit trail for each vote cast and the machines do not have any such capability that is independent of the machine or its vote casting mechanism
9. The voting machines that were implemented in 2002 were improperly certified because:
The state is unable to produce the state certification reports required by state law
The machines do not meet the 1990 and 2002 federal standards that require them to prevent fraudulent manipulation the vote and identify each person to whom access is granted,
The machines were not recertified after they were patched in the summer of 2002
10. The judge has the authority to rule on these matters (Mandamus)
Essentially, the state's Diebold electronic voting system remains unaccountable and "cannot be verified, audited, or recounted."

Garland Favorito, one of the plaintiffs, will provide more details in the future as the case progresses. All state electors, the plaintiffs on behalf of approximately nine million voters include eight members from a wide spectrum of political affiliations -- the Constitution Party, the Georgia Green Party, a Democratic campaign worker, the Libertarian Action Network, and the non-partisan group Defenders of Democracy.

Something as fundamentally democratic as voting can bring together a diverse mix of folks. On getting e-voting right, they are united.