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Optical scan vote by 2010 imperiled (again) in Maryland – UPDATE

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 15th March 2009

UPDATE FROM TRUEVOTEMD.ORG, 3/17

Governor O’Malley will be submitting a new budget this week with hundreds of millions in cuts and we want to make sure that the transition to optical scan is included in the new budget. Call the governor’s office TODAY — NOW — 410.974.3901 –and tell them keep the op-scan funding in place. Your message can be this simple: Please keep funding for optical scan voting in place. The transition will save Maryland two million dollars next year and over the next few years those savings will be compounded with less expensive machines and lower operating costs.”

The Maryland Senate leadership met this weekend to — as TrueVoteMD.org’s Kevin Zeese put it in an e-mail alert – “decide whether to derail the transition to paper ballot-based voting.” Zeese continues: “They are considering this action under the guise of cost savings when in fact transition to paper ballots with optical scan counting will save money.”

No word yet on what transpired at that meeting — State Senator Jamie Raskin told me today he didn’t know where the leadership is going with this issue.

Optical scan, paper ballot-based voting is a no-brainer compared to the hideously expensive, unverifiable, breakdown-prone, easily hacked DRE (direct recording equipment) touch screen voting machines currently in use in Maryland.  If you already agree that optical scan voting machines are the way to go, here are some ways you can help tonight and tomorrow:

  1. Send the TrueVoteMD.org email message at this link to some well-selected recipients — (a) members of the Senate Education, Health & Environment and Budget and Taxation Committees; (b) Senate leadership including Mike Miller, Jr., Nathaniel J. McFadden, Edward J. Kasemeyer, Lisa A. Gladden, and Robert J. Garagiola, and (c) Governor O’Malley.
  2. Join in a “lobby night” tomorrow evening (Monday, March 16) at the Senate Building in Annapolis, MD:

    “We will meet in the Senate Building, 11 Bladen St, at 5:30 in the rotunda (turn right and walk up the ramp after passing through the metal detector). There you will be organized into teams and given legislators to talk to along with talking points and other materials. In preparation for the lobby night please visit: http://mdelect.net/ and get the list of your Delegates and Senator. Please send that information to Stan Boyd, sbb223@yahoo.com and let him know you are coming so we can organize the lobby night.”

The prepared text of the TrueVote e-mail is as follows (emphases added):
Read the rest of this entry »

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Optical scan voting survives Maryland House committee vote

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th November 2007

Thanks to tenacious lobbying by TrueVoteMD, SAVEOurVotes, and other verified voting supporters — and to strong advocacy by District 20 delegates Sheila Hixson, Heather Mizeur, and Tom Hucker — optical scan voting machines remained funded in the House version of the Special Session budget to be sent to conference, and then on to the governor. Yesterday District 20 Delegate Tom Hucker wrote to TrueVoteMD activist Stan Boyd:

The Appropriations Committee tonight rejected a recommendation to unfund the machines and therefore left the funding intact. Full bill should pass tomorrow.

The switch to optical scan voting was approved by the Maryland legislature earlier this year — but made contingent on funding in the coming year’s budget.

Lest yesterday’s vote appear to be a narrow special interest victory, Maryland citizens overwhelmingly support the more secure, cheaper optical scan voting machines over the snafu-ridden electronic voting machines we’re currently saddled with. From the summary of a poll of 839 Marylanders, conducted between October 16 and 21 by Gonzales Research & Marketing:

Statewide, 64% think the Governor should fund this change back to a system that uses paper ballots counted by optical scanners, while 31% do not think he should fund this change, with 5% giving no response.

By party, 74% of Democrats think the Governor should provide funding for this and 22% think he shouldn’t; 75% of independents think the Governor should provide funding and 19% think he shouldn’t; and 43% of Republicans think the Governor should provide funding and 51% think he shouldn’t.

A majority of voters in every region of the state think the Governor should fund the change from touch screen voting machines back to a system that uses paper ballots counted by optical scanners.

(Via SAVEOurVotes.) Not only are optical scan voting machines more secure — they are ‘automatically’ backed up with recountable paper ballots — they’re cheaper, too. From SAVEOurVotes “Do The Math” flier:

Optical scan voting systems are far less expensive to operate because they require only 1/5 as many machines. Our 19,000 touch-screen machines could be replaced by just 4,000 machines. Each polling place would need only one optical scanner and one ballot-marking station to enable voters with disabilities or language barriers to mark a paper ballot. Switching to an optical-scan voting system would probably reduce our operating costs by as much as 25% to 50%, saving about $2.7 to $5.4 million per year.

The same source reports that Maryland’s State Board of Elections annual budget has skyrocketed from $3.1 million in 2000 to $29.5 million in 2007 — nearly 10 times as much — with operating costs averaging $10.7 million over the last three years.

Even with yesterday’s success, optical scan voting is not assured — it needs to survive the House-Senate conference. Following that, under Maryland’s constitution, Governor O’Malley has wide discretion whether or not to put funds in the budget, and his budget must be ratified by a final General Assembly vote sometime in the new year.

So while the governor has said he’ll do “everything in my power” to ensure the switch to optical scan by 2010, it won’t hurt to remind him of that, and to keep reminding all our elected officials that optical scan voting is cheaper and more securethan Maryland’s electronic voting system.

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PREVIOUSLY: “Optical scan voting penciled in to Maryland budget” (10/30); “Maryland switch to optical scan voting imperiled?” (11/7).

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Maryland switch to optical scan voting imperiled?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th November 2007

On the heels of widespread Maryland election snafus in the 2006 primaries with electronic voting systems, Maryland’s legislature passed a voting systems reform act (SB392/HB18) mandating more reliable and secure optical scan voting technology by 2010. However, the voting system switch was made contingent on funding them in the coming fiscal year.

Given the current budget crunch and special legislative session, I was relieved to learn from Delegate Heather Mizeur last week that money for the switch had been penciled in to the first draft of the budget submitted by Governor O’Malley for a joint legislative committee’s consideration.

However, tonight verified voting advocacy group TrueVoteMD.org is alerting supporters that optical scan voting by 2010 for Maryland is in danger, citing a Delmarva WBOC-TV news report (“Budget Cuts Put New Voting System for Md. in Question“):

A legislative subcommittee mulling budget cuts on Tuesday to address a state shortfall considered cutting $3.3 million from the State Board of Elections. That money was to be used to change the current voting system to one that uses paper ballots.

Lawmakers voted last session to replace the state’s Diebold voting machines with a new system that would leave a paper record, but that bill was contingent upon funding to take effect by the next gubernatorial election in 2010.

The loss of the $3.3 million next year could put the voting change in danger, said Linda Lamone, Maryland’s elections chief.

“It would mean no new voting system would be implemented,” said Lamone, who attended the hearing but did not address lawmakers.

An analyst told the committee that Maryland needs to spend $29 million over the next five years to have the new voting machines in place by 2010. Marylanders will use the current Diebold machines in next year’s presidential election.

Appropriations Committee chair Norman Conway said it was too soon to tell whether the elections money would be cut. Unfortunately, at least some lawmakers seem to be tempted:

…Some lawmakers on the panel considering elections cuts said they don’t see an urgent need to change voting machines now that the state is in a budget pinch.

“I think the system we have now is good,” said Delegate John Wood, a Democrat who represents Charles and St. Mary’s counties. “I don’t know why we need to change it.”

Another Democrat said she didn’t see the need to change voting machines.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Delegate Barbara Robinson of Baltimore.

But it is broke. Maryland’s 2006 primary election debacle showed our election system is the equivalent of using a space shuttle to get to the supermarket — when it would be safer and cheaper to drive. We want the votes we cast to be the ones they count — but electronic voting systems like those used in Maryland invite hacking and undetectable election fraud, as well as system-wide technical glitches like those in 2006.

Fortunately, there’s a proven, more secure system available with optical scan voting machines — and what’s more, it’s actually cheaper! As the message TrueVoteMD has drafted for supporters to e-mail puts it:

It is important to know that switching to a paper ballot counted by optical scan machines will save Maryland money as it is much less expensive to provide storage, security, transportation and training for optical scan machines. You only need one optical scan per voting precinct compared to at least five touch screen machines per precinct.

It’s critical that money be allocated this year so Maryland can have safer and cheaper elections starting in 2010. Click through and send the TrueVoteMD message — and then call your Maryland Delegates and State Senators* today and tell them the same thing: optical scan voting means more secure voting for less money — and it has to be funded this year.

We’re on the verge of closing the deal on a much, much better voting system for Maryland. Let’s not let up now.
[CROSSPOSTED to Free State Politics]

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* This link lets you find your delegates and senator for your home address; if you already know who they are, here are House of Delegates and State Senate directories. For District 20, they are Delegates Sheila Hixson (1-800-492-7122, ext. 3469) , Tom Hucker (1-800-492-7122, ext. 3474), and Heather Mizeur (1-800-492-7122, ext. 3493), and State Senator Jamie Raskin (1-800-492-7122, ext. 3634).

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Optical scan voting penciled in to Maryland budget

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st October 2007

I attended a fundraiser for Maryland District 20 (Takoma Park/Silver Spring) Delegate Heather Mizeur tonight. In her remarks to everyone she said she’d been assigned the job of getting the corporate tax and loopholes part of O’Malley’s budget plan* through as a separate bill in the Assembly during the two week special session that began yesterday. Despite her support for that part of O’Malley’s plan, she also said that she’d be strongly opposing slots legislation, and that if it were passed it would be something Marylanders would regret for a long time to come.

She also said she’d be working for paper ballots as provided for in the regular session earlier in the year — turns out she’d noticed me in the crowd and knew that was something I’ve been following.

I asked her about it, once I had a chance, and she had some good news: money has been allocated to optical scan voting in the budget submitted by Governor O’Malley to the joint Spending and Affordability Committee. As Ways and Means Committee chair, District 20 Delegate Sheila Hixson is on this committee. That’s good; Delegate Hixson was the sponsor of last session’s HB18 calling for a optically scannable paper ballots by 2010, which passed unanimously in the House of Delegates. However, the joint SB392/HB18 measure put up a final hurdle, making implementation of optical scan voting “contingent on the appropriation of sufficient general, special, or federal funds in the State budget no later than fiscal year 2009…” So getting optical scan funding into the first draft of the budget was critical — and it got in.

But that’s just the first step, so it’s still important to contact your state delegates and senator about this. A key argument at this point is that optical scan is cheaper than electronic voting machines — far fewer machines are needed, as TrueVoteMD’s Shazia Anwar pointed out earlier this year:

The best solution to our current voting problems is to implement a precinct-based optical scanner system with a ballot-marking device for disabled voters. This will ensure the creation of a paper record of your vote that will be the official record during a mandatory audit and any recount. Computer experts and election reform advocates agree that this is the most secure system available, and it is also the most fiscally responsible solution, since it would require less machines (2000 optical scanners and 2000 ballot marking devices versus 24,000 electronic voting machines + printers) and thus less operating costs for our counties.

For more information on optical scan vs. electronic voting, see TrueVoteMD‘s side by side comparison. Make sure your Maryland legislators know: optical scan voting means more secure voting for less money. We’re on the verge of closing the deal on a much, much better voting system for Maryland.

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* See “The O’Malley roadshow – Part I: budget,” 10/25.
UPDATE, 11/7: Maryland switch to optical scan imperiled?

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Voice of the Voters — in Maryland and on the Internet

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st May 2007

I happened to see TrueVoteMD.org activist Robert Lanza this weekend and congratulated him on the recently passed Maryland verified voting bill (SB392/HB18), which envisions verified voting systems in Maryland by 2010. (For those unfamiliar with the issue, the idea is that voters should be able to verify that their votes are correctly printed for counting and recounting — rather than wonder whether they were correctly tallied and transmitted by an electronic voting device.)

Lanza was happy about the win, too, of course, but pointed out that the bill only takes effect if funding becomes available soon enough:

SECTION 4. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That this Act is contingent on the appropriation of sufficient general, special, or federal funds in the State budget no later than fiscal year 2009 for the State Board of Elections to perform the functions set forth in Section 1 of this Act, and if sufficient funds are not appropriated in the State budget to the State Board of Elections by fiscal year 2009 to perform the functions set forth in Section 1 of this Act, this Act shall be null and void without the necessity of further action by the General Assembly.

Given a looming budget crunch in Maryland, it ought to be significant to Governor O’Malley and the Maryland legislature that a study of Florida’s voting expenses found voter-verifiable optical scan technology to be significantly cheaper to operate than Diebold style “DRE” (direct recording electronic) voting systems — on average nearly 41% cheaper.* There’s a straightforward explanation for the difference:

One factor that may explain why having touchscreens cost so much more than optical scanners is because the county has to own and maintain so many more machines. We estimate that one optical scanner can count handle six voter’s votes a minute (or 360 per hour) as they are cast but because it takes a voter at least three minutes to vote with touchscreens; it would take at least 18 touchscreens to perform per hour as well as optical scanners. In order not to have huge waiting lines on Election Day, most counties buy at least 10 touchscreens per precinct. Thus while one optical scanner adequately serves a precinct, the precinct needs approximately ten times as many touchscreens in order not to have huge lines of voters waiting to vote.

You can send Governor O’Malley an e-mail via TrueVoteMD.org urging him to fully fund the measure. The form e-mail is a little dated, referring to the legislative battles of late March and early April, but can be rewritten with little trouble.

Voice of the Voters Internet Radio
To learn more about electronic voting issues — and the stubborn resistance to reform by companies like Diebold and their political allies — you should check out Voice of the Voters, an Internet radio show produced by the Bucks County, PA Coalition for Voting Integrity. This Wednesday at 8pm, they’re streaming interviews with three key leaders of the fight for verifiable voting:

Steve Heller became known as the “Diebold Whistleblower” when in January 2004, he stole and exposed legal documents providing smoking gun evidence about Diebold Election Systems’ nefarious activities in the State of California. Partly as a result of Heller’s actions, in April 2004, former California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley de-certified Diebold in California for what he called their “fraudulent,” “despicable,” and “deceitful behavior.”

From Utah, Bruce Funk is the Emory County Clerk, who resigned his position rather than preside over elections that used Diebold machinery.

This week’s special guest host, Ion Sancho is the Supervisor of Elections in Leon County, Florida, and the first elected official in the country to call for and carry out independent testing of electronic voting machines in his county.

He is a legend in voting rights circles. In December of 2005, Mr. Sancho stepped onto the national stage when he became the first elected official in the country to call for and carry out independent testing of his county’s electronic voting machines.

Those in the Philadelphia area can listen at 1360 AM; anyone with an Internet connection can listen via http://duxpond.com/wnjc/listen.html, where live Windows Media or WinAmp streaming audio can be accessed. There are also “Voice of the Voter” archives if you want to listen to a show you’ve missed. (Via eRobin, “Fact-esque”.)

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* The Florida study found that both systems led to cost increases compared to punch cards and other non-electronic systems: compared to the two year period before the changeover, counties with electronic systems saw expenses go up by 57.3% in the two year period following the switch, versus 16.7% for optical scan systems — a difference of 40.6%.

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Maryland update: e-voting reform, death penalty, MCPA

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th February 2007

I went to the monthly Montgomery County Progressive Alliance (MCPA) meeting this evening to hear Stan Boyd brief the group on the state of play regarding voting reform in Maryland. Boyd is a retired teacher and citizen activist who works with Save Our Vote and TrueVoteMD.org.

Tonight, Boyd gave a succinct, informative account of what’s going on in Annapolis. I’ll try to relay it accurately from my notes; any mistakes will be mine, not his.

In a nutshell, it looks good, but some timely, focused letters to your legislators will be helpful. State Senator and Majority leader Ed Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore, Howard) is sponsoring SB392, a version that starts with and improves on Sheila Hixson’s HB18 bill, itself apparently a streamlined (my word)* version of the “model electronic voting bill” from last year that passed the Assembly unanimously before stalling in the Senate.

As State Senator Jamie Raskin told me at the demonstration on the 27th, the Senate bill has added language addressing disability issues. Disability advocacy groups are concerned that any voting system should continue to be easy to use by variously disabled persons — e.g., the blind or paraplegics. Voting systems should also not be so two-tiered as to make plain which vote was cast by a disabled person and which was not. In these regards, Section 9-108 of Kasemeyer’s bill stipulates that voting systems shall

  • provide equivalent access for voters with and without disabilities
  • comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • allow voters to verify ballots by visual and nonvisual means

Boyd reports that Kasemeyer’s Senate bill is OK with at least one disability group. Kasemeyer’s bill is also good in that it applies to “each election occurring on or after January 1, 2008, that is required to be conducted in accordance with the Election Law Article”; Boyd says HB18 differs from Kasemeyer’s in both respects. Given its “model” design, Boyd is also concerned that Hixson signaled that HB18 could be amended; Ways and Means Elections subcommittee chair John Cardin may be key here, and has reportedly formed a “study group” to review the issue.

State election administrator Linda Lamone’s strategy now is to fight for delay. Her watchword now is to “get it right”– as well it might be — but to her that mainly means fighting to delay implementation past the 2008 elections. Her stated motives are the supposed difficulties and costs in switching back to optical scan. But her former chief ally, Senate President Mike Miller, may not be the rock solid Lamone ally that he’s been in the past; Miller has “come around,” says Boyd, and says a “paper trail will get done.” I wonder if last year’s election fiasco was too much for him to countenance. (UPDATE, 2/8: Boyd writes to say “come around” may not be the right description; Miller may be inclined to support Lamone’s call for a delay until 2010; see below for other updates and edits.)

While it might have been preferable to insist on “optical scan” voting technology, my reading of SB392 and HB18 is that both are agnostic on this issue, focusing instead on the features any voter-verified, well-audited election voting system should have. That is, neither bill appears to force the use of optical scan voting technology and only such technology. That’s OK: the decision which particular voting system to use can wait. Since optical scan technology is demonstrably cheaper (whatever Lamone may say), less hackable, and was in widespread use before the Maryland Diebold debacle began, I don’t doubt it will win out if voter-verified, well-audited elections are mandated.

Likewise, the issue of how well audited a given election should be can be legislated separately. Recently the National Election Data Archive (NEDA) floated a “tiered audit” proposal that (sensibly) gears the level of auditing effort to the closeness of the given election; the Maryland SB329/HB18 bills admittedly don’t do that. Although it merits consideration, the NEDA plan is not (yet?) an expert consensus proposal; meanwhile, Boyd points out, SB329 would still constitute the strongest state voting reform bill anywhere in the country. It would establish the principle of random audits, and would ensure that audits are even possible by requiring voter-verified paper voting records.

Boyd recommends that Marylanders concerned about electronic voting urge their delegates to support HB18 as introduced, except for adding SB329′s effective date of January 1, 2008 and its language guaranteeing equivalent access to verified voting for disabled citizens. Those with the time and inclination to lobby in Annapolis should consider going on February 22, when Kasemeyer’s SB329 bill may be considered by a Senate committee.

I found the MCPA meeting to be very worthwhile — and Boyd wasn’t even the only person to discuss issues with the group. James Salt from Citizens Against State Executions (CASE) also made a brief appearance, and urged us to write our delegates and state senators about ending the death penalty in Maryland. A number of Democratic politicians have been noncommittal so far about bills before the Assembly (HB225) and Senate (SB211), telling CASE “not to assume” anything and that they want to hear from their constituents about the issue. Make it so, especially if Delegate Ben Cramer (D-19), Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17), or Senator Jennie Forehand (D-17) represent your Montgomery County-area district in Annapolis. See this CASE “take action” web page for their addresses and those of other legislators whose votes are needed to end the death penalty in Maryland. There are many good arguments against the death penalty; to me, the main one is that abolishing it is the only sure way to avoid executing innocent people.

The MCPA — chaired by Mike Hersh — maintains a very active Yahoo! group tracking issues ranging from electronic voting to Iraq to the local “ICC” (Inter County Connector) boondoggle. You can subscribe to it by e-mail. It’s a great resource if you live in the county and want to stay informed about local politics and local connections to national politics.

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* I describe HB18 as “streamlined” only because last year’s HB244 contained specific instructions about not using Diebold machines in the upcoming 2006 elections; at this point, HB18 does not contain a similar specific provision of this kind — at least not in the document available online. (It does specify that the governor allocate special funds received for the bill’s purposes except(!) for federal funds received to implement the 2002 HAVA Act.) Most importantly, HB18 doesn’t specify immediate implementation like SB329 does. HB18 and last year’s HB224 otherwise appear to be essentially identical.

UPDATE, EDITS, 2/8: Mr. Boyd wrote to let me know who he works with, which I used to replace a less informative introduction. I also added the footnote above and struck a “Cruella DeVote” moniker for Ms. Lamone — my invention while writing, not Mr. Boyd’s in the briefing — from the body of the text. Other corrections: SB329 may be considered by a Senate committee, not the full Senate as might have been inferred; Cardin is not vice chair of Ways and Means but chair of its Elections subcommittee.

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"No problem, no problem, no problem"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th November 2006

VotersUnite.org has built a database of election problems around the country, searchable by incident type, voting machine vendor, and state. In addition to records of electronic voting machine or pollbook problems, the database also includes incidents involving absentee ballots, vote suppression, accessibility problems, registration errors, and the like. If you know of others, you can submit the news story yourself for review.

The items in the database are typically newspaper reports, although state organizations like TrueVoteMD.org also participated in the effort. TrueVoteMD.org reported 75 incidents around the state of Maryland, including the notorious fake sample ballot in PG County but also numerous electronic voting machine malfunctions.

One Maryland problem was revealed in October: it turns out a substantial fraction of Diebold machines across the state have suffered from “screen freezes” making the machine inoperable without a reboot. The problem was apparently fixed by replacing faulty motherboards in 2005, and allegedly did not result in lost votes. But who really knows? The most distressing aspect of the story was that neither Diebold nor Election Administrator For Life Linda Lamone reported the problem in the first place to the Board of Elections or state legislators investigating voting machine issues; instead, “it was always ‘no problem, no problem, no problem.’”* Furthermore, the reported 1% problem rate doesn’t match up with the 4% rate experienced by Montgomery County in 2004.

Around the country, Colorado seemed to have a particularly difficult election, especially in Denver, where e-pollbook malfunctions resulted in long lines and discouraged votes; see also Gary Farber’s account of problems there. Election officials or news accounts often invoked voter or pollworker error; here’s one example from a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Rhonda Barr:

Perhaps most disconcerting, some voters reported that when they tried to cast votes for Democrats, the voting machines showed an X by the Republican candidate’s name.

‘It was weird. I had to override it two or three times to get it to work,’ DeKalb County voter Barbara Gillies said.

DeKalb officials blamed electronic machines that were not properly calibrated —- and voters with long fingernails.

In other words, the voters weren’t properly calibrated either. If only we could design uniform voter-humans, all these problems would go away! I imagine a consortium of Diebold, FOX News, and Genentech can work up something in time for the 2008 presidential election.

Meanwhile, I’m sorry to say that my “No on Question 4″ campaign suffered a resounding defeat last Tuesday. Despite a “No on 4″ editorial by the Washington Post, I’m guessing most voters focused on the “Voter Bill of Rights” name and its positive features, such as on-campus voting precincts and safeguards on voter de-registration.

I take heart that my campaign must have been one of the more efficient ones in the country, on a votes-per-dollar basis — 412,548 “no” votes, divided by my monthly Internet access charge. While my critics might argue “Yes on 4″ must have been even more efficient, that may not be the case — “Yes on 4″ appeared on at least one official Montgomery County Democratic sample ballot I came across. I’ll mention it to Terry Lierman next time we chat.

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* Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. (R-Washington)
NOTES: Cameron Barr, Washington Post, 10/26/2006: Md. Voting Machines Had Part Defect. Rhonda Barr, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/8/2006: Machine Glitches: Smooth Day? No Way (reg. req.)
UPDATE, 11/14: Bad as things were in Colorado, the Florida 13th CD race probably takes the cake: about 18,000 votes for a Congressional representative have gone missing — unless fully 13% of voters in Sarasota County (and nowhere else) were casting protest “none of the above” undervotes. Many voters there noticed they had to go back and re-vote for their representative; it looks like thousands upon thousands more did not. No paper trail to check, of course. What a complete travesty. Via Steve Benen.

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No on Question 4: the Election Central Command and Control Act

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th November 2006

This post concludes a series arguing against Maryland’s Question 4, a referendum on election law revisions that I christened the “Linda Lamone Lifetime Appointment Act” and the “Election Technology Boondoggle Act” in prior posts in the “Free State Politics” blog.

This time I focus on another troubling aspect of Question 4: the way it allows the Maryland State Board of Elections to assume control of local election processes. When HB 1368 — the basis of Question 4 — is closely examined, it’s quickly clear that the measure also gives the state of Maryland a great deal of power over local election officials:

[2-103.]
[(b) The State Administrator shall:]
(4) supervise the operations of the local boards AND, IN ACCORDANCE WITH SUBSECTION (C) OF THIS SECTION, INITIATE A LEGAL ACTION TO ENJOIN THE ACTIONS OF A LOCAL BOARD OR THE ELECTION DIRECTOR OF A LOCAL BOARD

In said subsection C, it develops that the State Administrator may be initiating legal actions not just under the specific authority of HB 1368, but on behalf of regulations promulgated by the Board of Elections later on:

[2-103.]
(C) (1) THE STATE ADMINISTRATOR MAY FILE SUIT IN A COURT OF COMPETENT JURISDICTION TO ENJOIN A LOCAL BOARD OR ITS ELECTION DIRECTOR FROM VIOLATING ANY PROVISIONOF THIS ARTICLE OR OF A REGULATION, GUIDELINE, OR PROCEDURE ADOPTED UNDER THIS ARTICLE.

(Emphasis added.) Thus, even were you in full agreement with everything else in HB 1368, you’d still be unwise to vote for Question 4 because of the sweeping powers it grants to the State Administrator to enforce future Board of Elections regulations — however unwise, arbitrary, or unfair they might be.

As elections activist Robert Lanza has pointed out, one direction this could take is the simple removal of local elections judges in favor of contractors like Diebold favored by the State Board and/or Administrator. There’s little I see in HB 1368 to prevent it, and more to suggest it. Specifically, when the powers of local election directors and the local election board are enumerated, the word “MAY” precedes powers such as appointing employees, training election judges, and processing absentee ballot applications, while the word “SHALL” precedes duties such as getting State Administrator approval of precinct boundary changes or Board approval of locally adopted election regulations. If Linda Lamone got it into her head that hired election “judges” would outperform the local volunteer variety, there might be less standing in her way than we’d like.

With greater control comes correspondingly greater power to manipulate elections. The manipulation need not take the form of actual vote-changing — the valid “black box” worry about electronic voting — but may instead be bureaucratic, aggregate election suppression. A local precinct chair has noted,

Montgomery County has traditionally run very efficient elections. Under Lamone’s direction, both materials and equipment were very late in coming. Three-fourths of judges had been trained when new directives came from the state. There is a fear that this will happen again in November. Training on e-poll-books was too late. … Yes, there was human error, but there was gross mismanagement from the State Administrator.

(Emphasis added.) While it’s always been possible that a given county elections board might encounter difficulties, HB 1368 and Question 4 would make it more likely than ever that the State Board of Elections or State Elections Administrator could set it up for failure — whether intentionally or not.

Conclusion
In previous posts I’ve argued that passage of Question 4 would make it too difficult to remove the election administrator from office, and that it places too much trust and emphasis on “technology” per se without similar emphasis on safeguards and feasibility. Here I assert something that seems to be a different topic — local versus centralized authority and control over the election process.

But it’s all connected. Whether or not it’s the intent of Linda Lamone and her Diebold suppliers, the fact remains that the system they envision allows the central, networked command and control of elections. After all, that’s the flip side of electronic voting: programmable voting machines electronically tallying their results and uploading them to central election computers.

The situation is reminiscent of the famous mutually beneficial relationship between algae and fungus that creates lichen. In this case, the symbiosis is between a technology supplier and a new political power center. The supplier of electronic voting and registration-checking equipment gets a lucrative and — thanks to the “technology boondoggle” clause — never-ending relationship with the State Board of Elections and its administrator. For their part, that board and especially its administrator become a new and all but invulnerable under-the-radar force in Maryland politics.

Screwups like the recent September 12 election meltdown in Montgomery County, or the suspicious inability to squeeze James Webb’s last name onto Virginia voting machine screens, might be accidental at first. But they might not be so the second time — and the system we’re creating in Maryland, with its NASA-like pre-election checklists and proprietary black box voting machines, is riddled with opportunities for mischief.

Luckily, this Tuesday Maryland can vote for the first step back to common sense, voter-verified balloting and elections and away from unaccountable, excessive bureaucratic power over those elections: vote “No” on Question 4.

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CROSSPOSTED to “Free State Politics.”

UPDATE, 11/5: The full 2003 SAIC report on Maryland’s voting machines — a.k.a. “the Pentagon Papers of e-voting” — has been leaked by a “a patriotic high-level state official,” and has been made available at “The BRAD BLOG“. Rebecca Abrahams first obtained the document. She writes that “the report is considered to be a serious “smoking gun” by the very few computer experts who have seen it. It is evidence, they say, of a very purposeful plan by Diebold to hide the operational and security flaws on the machines that count all of the votes in Maryland and Georgia and many of the votes in states across the country.”

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No on Question 4: Maryland’s election system is bad enough already

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th September 2006

Maryland’s “Question 4″ election law referendum language is summarized at the State of Maryland’s Board of Elections web site. Of course no link to the actual language is provided there, that would have been way too transparent for the Board of Elections.

So I’ve reproduced the summary below, emphasizing parts I think are particularly bad ideas, and adding the link to the actual language that Linda Lamone’s agency couldn’t be bothered to provide:

Question 4 – Statewide Referendum

Election Law Revisions

Special Note: Provisions of this legislation would have amended prior legislation providing an early voting option to voters in primary and general elections. The early voting provisions of this legislation have been declared unconstitutional by court action; the remaining provisions of House Bill 1368 that are subject to this referendum are summarized below.

Requires power and duties assigned to the State Board of Elections to be exercised in accordance with an affirmative vote by a supermajority of the members of the State Board; requires local boards of elections to establish new precincts to serve certain higher educational institutions; requires local boards to adopt regulations concerning voter registration and to allow public notice and comment concerning proposed changed in precinct boundaries; requires local boards of elections to make public reports concerning deletion of individuals from the voter registry and concerning the number of voter registration applications received; authorizes the State Elections administrator to take specified actions to ensure compliance with State elections laws by local election boards and personnel, requires that certain provisions of this legislation apply only to certain jurisdictions and will remain effective until June 30, 2008; requires all polling places to be equipped with computers containing a record of all registered voters in the county.

(Amending Election Law 2-102, 2-103, 2-202, 2-202.1, 2-206, 2-301, 2-303, 3-501, 10-302)

Now not all of this measure is bad on its face; public notification and comment on precinct boundaries seem like good things, as does more transparency about voter registration lists and why people are stricken from those lists.

But the HB 1368 “Voter Bill of Rights” title is really disingenuous, given the supermajority item — which I hereby christen the “Linda Lamone Lifetime Appointment Clause. From the text of HB 1368 (Acrobat .PDF document; line numbers removed):

2-103.
(a) There is a State Administrator of Elections.
(b) The State Administrator shall:
(1) be appointed by the State Board, with the advice and consent of the Senate of Maryland, and serve at the pleasure of the State Board; [...]

(7) provided the State Board is fully constituted with five duly confirmed

members, be subject to removal by the affirmative vote of four duly confirmed members of the State Board for incompetence, misconduct, or other good cause except that:

(i) prior to removal, the State Board shall set forth written charges stating the grounds for dismissal and afford the State Administrator notice and an ample opportunity to be heard; and

(ii) subsequent to a valid vote for removal by at least four duly confirmed members of the State Board, the State Administrator is authorized to continue to serve until a successor is appointed and confirmed by the Senate of Maryland;

and

(8) be the chief State election official.

I’ll admit, there was a time when I might have applauded anything that clouded Governor Ehrlich’s day, but Ms. Lamone’s deceptions and incompetence on behalf of her electronic voting project and her allies at Diebold have shown me the error of my ways.*

Someone like Ms. Lamone should be removeable by a simple majority of the board, and the deputy administrator should thereupon immediately assume the chief administrator’s duties (and not just upon her death or resignation, as the referendum statute also provides). Lamone shouldn’t get to linger on after her removal by the board until Mike Miller (ally and Democratic Senate Majority leader) gets around to finding a replacement for her.

2-103 (b)(6) is another stumbling block for me:

[2-103.]
[b) The State Administrator shall:]
6) implement, in a uniform and nondiscriminatory manner, a single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list;

Yes, by all means: let’s let the administrative and IT geniuses at our state and county boards of elections set up a single centralized, interactive computerized voter registration target for hackers. Let’s also put a big “KICK ME” at the top of the Maryland state web site while we’re at it. The “electronic poll book” provision has a similar problem:

10-302.(B) (1) EACH POLLING PLACE SHALL BE EQUIPPED WITH A COMPUTER DEVICE THAT CONTAINS A RECORD OF ALL REGISTERED VOTERS IN THE COUNTY AND THAT IS CAPABLE OF BEING NETWORKED TO OTHER POLLING PLACE COMPUTER DEVICES.**

Networks are a security weakness for even a small scale network. From computer science professor and election judge Aviel Rubin’s account of his work as an election official on September 12:

So, a couple of hours into the election, when one of the poll books seemed to be out of sync with the others, the judges came and brought me to have a look. It appeared that this poll book was not getting synced with the others. I tested it by waiting for someone to sign in with a different poll book, and then a few minutes later trying to sign in that voter on the one in question. The voter was shown as having not voted yet. I repeated this test for about 20 minutes, but it never registered that voter as having voted, and the poll book was falling behind – about 30 by then – the other poll book machines.

That is, far from guaranteeing magical voter registration verification, an unnecessary technology fix introduced an opportunity for mistakes and/or mischief. Moreover, I have little doubt there will be a video demonstration like this one a month or a year from now showing how to ruin a network of poll books by propagating a records-deleting or -altering virus. In this case, for this purpose, paper (or other hardcopy) records don’t need to be networked. They just sit there and are what they are. They’re better.

The measure also gives Linda Lamone more power over local election officials:

[2-103.]
[(b) The State Administrator shall:]
(4) supervise the operations of the local boards AND, IN ACCORDANCE WITH SUBSECTION (C) OF THIS SECTION, INITIATE A LEGAL ACTION TO ENJOIN THE ACTIONS OF A LOCAL BOARD OR THE ELECTION DIRECTOR OF A LOCAL BOARD;

The whole Maryland Board of Elections approach to elections is wrongheaded. In a way, the most insidious feature of the proposed law is this:

2-102. [...]
[(b) In exercising its authority under this article and in order to ensure compliance with this article and with any requirements of federal law, the State Board shall:]
(7) maximize the use of technology in election administration, including the development of a plan for a comprehensive computerized elections management

Absent any statutory constraint on “maximiz[ing] the use of technology,” why, the sky’s the limit. Any tomfool, gee-whiz election technology that comes along — voter kiosks at the mall, biometric ID, imputing undervotes for all I know — and there’s literally a built-in imperative to adopt it. You might object that of course the drafters meant something like “when appropriate, feasible, secure, and tested,” but (a) this doesn’t say so, and (b) you probably haven’t watched our election officials in action over the past many years.

Opponents of electronic voting and elections systems are often called Luddites, technophobes, and the like. The reality is diametrically opposite. Time after time, it’s the people with the real understanding of computer science who expose the flaws in these systems, and time after time it’s naive “technology cheerleaders” who think that using words like “computerized,” “interactive,” and “maximizing technology” makes them look smart and modern.

Really, it’s people like Lamone and Miller who are the rubes and bumpkins saying “gee whiz” to anything with a screen and an off-white plastic case. Elections are actually a very hard problem for computer technology, since the features that make computers attractive to many — networking, programmability, and the expert’s or hobbyist’s pleasure of mastering them chief among them — are at real odds with what you should demand in an election: invulnerability, transparency, and trust.

And the risks are incommensurately greater for elections than for, say, credit card or ATM machine transactions. If someone figures out how to hack an ATM machine by Googling cryptographic keys from a manufacturer’s web site(!!), you and I can wince for the bank’s sake, but go on about our business. If the same happens for an election held with Diebold or other DRE (direct recording equipment) voting machinery, or with the electronic poll books used as gatekeepers to that election, then our very system of government is undermined.

Far better that we work with paper voter registration lists to ensure that no one who’s entitled to vote is kept from doing so. And far better that we demand voter-verified electronic voting, or even use paper ballots than that we expose our democracy to the risk of a hacked or crashed election.***

And I think the next step towards both of those goals is to vote “no” on Question 4 this November.

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NOTES: this post was prompted by a comment at MoCoPolitics. ATM hack item via Michael Silence.

* I’ll compile a bill of particulars on that soon. If you just on the edge of your seat and can’t wait, go out and buy Brave New Ballot, by Aviel Rubin; he’s tangled with Ms. Lamone on a number of occasions.
** Just one device? I guess having more than one doesn’t contradict having “a” device, and you’d better have more than one, in case of crashes. Paper doesn’t crash.
*** In Germany, for instance, the count is done manually by local civil servants, overseen by volunteer citizen observers.

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When Ehrlich’s right, he’s right: for paper ballots in November

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd September 2006

Dear Ms. Hixson, Ms. Mizeur, Mr. Hucker, and Mr. Raskin,

First of all, congratulations again on your wins in the primary election on September 12. I’m confident you’ll all win in November as well (extremely confident in Jamie’s case!), and that you’ll all provide progressive voices of leadership in the upcoming legislative season.

In fact, I respectfully suggest you can provide that leadership right now. As you know, Governor Ehrlich has called for Maryland to return to paper ballots in the November election. Much as I am surprised to say it, when he’s right, he’s right. Science and common sense are on his side in doing away with the flawed and overly complex electronic systems this state’s Board of Elections have visited upon Maryland voters. I know that you’re each in favor of verified voting – and paper ballots are the ultimate verified voting.

I therefore hope you’ll all speak out on behalf of paper ballots for the November election. While you’re at it, you might consider speaking out for removing Linda Lamone and Gilles Burger from their posts on the state Board of Elections as soon as possible; they have been arrogant defenders of their own poor decisions at the expense of Maryland voters, and it’s long since time for them to go.

This is a chance to say early and clearly that progressive voices will not be swayed by the politics of the past – including politicians on either side of the aisle like Mike Miller who seem more interested in defending sunk costs and poor decisions than clearly assessing what’s right to ensure the integrity of our votes.

I’m mindful of the politics of the situation, and for whatever it’s worth, I too have been outspoken in condemning Ehrlich’s politics and style in the past. But that’s all the more reason for Ehrlich not to gain an issue he can run with in the coming weeks. Let’s just open the door he’s trying to run through, and take this off the table as an election issue. I’d particularly urge you to speak with our Democratic candidates for governor and the Senate and ask them to join you in supporting Ehrlich’s initiative. The sooner we make this a nonpartisan issue, the better.

I’m also mindful of the difficulties in switching systems at this point in the 2006 elections process. But let’s not overestimate those difficulties on the say-so of state and county boards of elections. Frankly, it looks to me (and, I suspect, to most voters) like those guys will have trouble no matter what; let’s make it easier to spot and fix their mistakes by putting votes on hard copy and not just on bytes inside an unverifiable electronic system. It’s not as if we’ve never run paper ballot elections in Maryland before.

Meanwhile, respected Johns Hopkins computer scientist, electronic voting expert, and experienced elections judge Avi Rubin (author of Brave New Ballot) today said he agreed with Ehrlich’s call. If anything else, Democrats should not suddenly let Republicans be the ones to take sober, technical, expert advice seriously while they even appear to calculate the short-term partisan advantage of opposing that advice. I know all of you are not such Democrats, and hope that you’ll take a stand now against this state’s flawed electronic voting systems.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Thomas Nephew
[address withheld]

PS: If you haven’t already seen it, please have a look at the Princeton University video showing how to make Diebold AccuVote machines yield inaccurate results with a computer virus, and how to spread that virus to multiple machines with “infected” voting cards.

PPS: I’ll be posting this e-mail to my blog later in the day. I’ll also be contacting outgoing Delegates Murray and Franchot and outgoing Senator Ruben with the same message, in case the special legislative session … occurs. [...]

I sent the above e-mail to my likely future representatives and senator in the Maryland legislature, CC’d the state and Montgomery County boards of elections, and added an invitation to respond.

I’ve now spoken to or corresponded with several of the recipients personally and cordially several times over the last several months. I value that greatly, and don’t enjoy jeopardizing it with an arguably cheeky e-mail and public blog post. But I can’t let this opportunity pass to try, with all the small means at my disposal, to help end nonverifiable electronic voting in Maryland now.

Even though they won’t all be voting on it if it comes before a special legislative session — Ms. Hixson is the only incumbent among the four — all of these future legislators’ voices matter in this question; indeed, their own elections and their supporters’ votes will be affected. I hope they’re considering supporting the prompt switch to a paper ballot system in November.

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