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):
(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;
(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:
[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:
[(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:
[(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.
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.