Dave Eckhardt's Voting Machine Page




April, 2012

[New!]

In late February, the Pennsylvania Department of State posted on their web site "test protocols" for re-examining voting systems currently certified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and currently used in Pennsylvania elections, to determine whether they should continue to be certified.

When I read the "test protocol" document for the ES&S iVotronic, it seemed to me that some important sources of information were being overlooked, so I wrote this report: VoteAllegheny Analysis of the Pro V&V iVotronic Re-examination Test Protocol. Copies were sent to various people at the Department of State and to the Secretary's contract examiner, but no response has yet been received.

November, 2011

In summer/fall 2011 I participated in an investigation of the primary election held in Venango County, Pennsylvania in May of 2011. The Venango County Board of Elections had various concerns and had received a variety of complaints from voters.

This investigation was variously influenced and complicated by the Venango County Commissioners, Venango County's voting-system vendor (ES&S), and the Pennsylvania Department of State. The investigation did not run to an orderly conclusion and not all results were made public, but some items did enter the public record. These are local copies of selected items (more are available on the VotePA web site).

December, 2008

Here is a report I wrote on Allegheny County's iVotronic firmware verification process. This process has some rough edges, but in the case of the vast majority of electronic voting machines used in the United States, nobody has ever checked to see whether they are running the correct firmware. In many jurisdictions, there is no cross-check on vote totals reported by electronic voting machines (because there is no voter-verified paper ballot and not even any kind of paper "audit trail").

September, 2008

Here are some notes I prepared on Speaking to County Council.

October, 2007

Here are some notes I prepared on observing Logic & Accuracy Testing of voting machines.

August, 2007

The Allegheny County Citizens' Election System Advisory Panel issued our Initial Report to County Council.

January

On Tuesday, January 31st, 2006, I made a statement to the Allegheny County Board of Elections. It was written on a deadline to address a particular go/no-go decision on Diebold voting machines and hence doesn't represent my full thinking on the topic of electronic voting machines.

Some links relevant to my statement:

Press coverage:

February

I attended, I believe, two more meetings in February and March, but did not prepare formal statements.

March

On Tuesday, March 21st, 2006, I made a statement to the Allegheny County Council. In theory this was in support of a Council resolution to move $3 million from the general voting-machine-purchase budget to a separate line item dedicated to paper-trail upgrades for DRE machines. However, the Sequoia AVC Advantage machines currently slated for deployment don't have any sort of printer attachment, let alone one with federal or state certification, so this was to some extent a symbolic gesture. And most of the VotePA testimony was actually focused on explaining to the Members why we oppose the Advantage.

My statement referred to the Verified Voting Foundation's study Are Voter-Verified Paper Ballots Cost-Effective?.

On Monday, March 27th, 2006, I was quoted in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, Professor to try to hack voting machines.

April

On Tuesday, April 4th, 2006, I made a statement to the Allegheny County Council. Formally I was supporting a Council resolution, by Bill Robinson, to create a citizen board to advise the county on voting-machine issues. I used the occasion to argue that immediate intervention by Council is necessary to steer us away from likely disaster. I was able to get through my statement in just under three minutes, so that annoying alarm didn't go off.

My statement referred to the March 21st primary disaster in the Chicago area and the March 29th fiasco during the PA certification examination of the AVC Advantage.

On Tuesday, April 11th, the Post-Gazette somewhat belatedly weighed in on the side of verifiability: Editorial: Ballot blues / The county is rushing on new voting machines. Better late than never!

On Tuesday, April 18th, 2006, I yet again made a statement to the Allegheny County Council, formally in support of a resolution calling on Congress to delay the HAVA implementation deadline. Right now the Elections Division is ramping up to deploy iVotronics in the four weeks (!!) remaining before our primary.

The bulk of my statement was related to two issues. First, County Executive Dan Onorato's office has been issuing a form-letter response to questions about the iVotronic touch-screen DRE's versus optical scan. The operative part (clipped from a April 17th response to a constituent query) is:

Please be aware that optical scan voting machines were not selected for a number of reasons. First of all, optical scan machines typically require frequent and expensive maintenance. Secondly, many senior citizens found optical scan machines difficult and cumbersome, and finally, optical scan machines are not ideal for visually impaired voters. In addition, any extraneous marks or incorrectly completed bubbles can cause problems and confusion when tallying the vote.

Of course, the Allegheny County VotePA group has been bombarding the Board of Elections and County Council with specific detailed information on these topics for months (as just one example, many counties who actually used touch-screen DRE's in 2004 elections found them to have very high maintenance costs and have switched to precinct-counted optical scan as a result). Since February I have been asking the BoE to provide a detailed cost comparison for their favorite touch-screen DRE versus a precinct optical scanner. If such a comparison exists and is favorable to the DRE this should be easy, right? And what does it mean if not?

Second, the County Executive's office says ES&S is hard at work creating and certifying a sip-and-puff interface to make the iVotronic accessible to people with disabilities sometime soon (of course, we could have had this already with either AccuPoll or AutoMark). Meanwhile, there is still talk about some sort of paper trail someday maybe. It seems as if ES&S and the executive branch of the county pay more attention to ordinances requiring things than to any amount of citizen input. So I urged Council to pass a law requiring voter-verified paper voting records.

Press coverage:

On Tuesday, April 25th I received my poll-worker training. There were some omissions.

  1. They told us about headphones (for blind voters) but we never saw them, let alone saw them in use. That is, we never received instructions on how to reconfigure the machine for a blind voter or how to instruct a blind voter.
  2. We received no instruction on removing the electronics pack from the machine body to assist voters in wheelchairs. Since then I have been told that this is an iVotronic feature, but we heard no hint of it at the training session.

May

We've received some measure of vindication with respect to Diebold--apparently there are (despite piles of federal and state certifications of the machines!) serious security flaws in their voting machines.

What next? A nationwide consensus on voter-verifiable voting machines?

Well, there was an election on the 16th, and I'll have to back-fill my report on that and what happened soon thereafter.

June

On Thursday, June 1st, our citizen volunteer voting oversight team had a press conference, expertly coordinated and led by Celeste Taylor of People For the American Way, on the steps of the City/County building. Here are temporary links to the VotePA-Allegheny contributions to the press kit: our press release and our report on iVotronic irregularities.

Press coverage:

On Tuesday, June 6th, several of us spoke at the regular County Council meeting. One common theme was our observations of the vote total adjustment process we observed on Friday, June 2nd at the Elections warehouse on the North Side.

Press coverage:

During the June 12th certification meeting of the Board of Elections, I attempted to obtain answers to a list of questions about the integrity of the voting process. After various Elections Division staff and ES&S employees answered some of my questions it became clear that it would take quite some time to address them all. It was decided that, in the interest of progressing the meeting, Tim Johnson would prepare a written response to my questions. He sent me a letter to that effect dated June 15th.

On Thursday, June 29th, I responded in writing to Tim Johnson's June 15th letter. In addition to expressing my interest in obtaining the Board of Election's report, I took the opportunity to point out that the previous two weeks saw a rising tide of public sentiment in favor of increased voting-system integrity in general and voter-verifiable paper records in particular.

By the way, a fun quote from the Common Cause report:

The [Nevada Gaming Control Board] concluded that the Diebold machines represented a legitimate threat to the integrity of the election process.

July

I heard nothing from the County throughout July.

August

On August 9th I spoke with Tim Johnson by telephone. This letter summarizes my understanding of the conversation. It is very difficult to feel that appropriate progress is being made.

On August 15th, a lawsuit was filed by a group of Pennsylvania voters and poll workers alleging that the certification by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro Cortés, of paperless DRE voting machines was in violation of the Pennsylvania Election Code. Here is the legal complaint.

On Wednesday, August 23rd I received a letter from Mark Wolosik in response to my June 12th questions.

On Friday, August 25th I commented on the Commonwealth's proposed amended HAVA compliance plan.

September

On Tuesday, September 26th, several of us spoke at the regular County Council meeting (after several hours of Council action on a county-wide smoking ban). I raised the issue of software audits and presented Council with a draft ordinance on software audits.

October

On Thursday, October 5th the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette printed a letter to the editor written by several members of the CMU Computer Science faculty: Most computer security experts agree: We need a paper trail (you will need to scroll down the page).

On Thursday, October 19th, the Pittsburgh City Paper ran a thoughtful and carefully researched piece by Marty Levine entitled Machine Nation.

On Tuesday, October 31st, one week before the November election, several of us attended the "Logic & Accuracy" testing of the ES&S M650 central-count optical scanner used to scan absentee, emergency, and provisional ballots. Our report on the testing details several disturbing security weaknesses surrounding the machines designated to run the Unity election vote-tabulation software for the election and a worrisome plan to re-wire the tabulation infrastructure the day before the election... which would result in the use on Election Night of a software configuration different from the one which underwent L&A testing.

November

Press coverage before the election:

On Tuesday, November 7th we had an election, which wasn't a widespread meltdown.

First, the party line:

That all sounds very encouraging, but it's far from the whole story.

How many problems of what nature and severity were there? All we know at present is that the situation was worse than the impression provided by media accounts of government pronouncements. Hey, here's a radical idea: the Elections Division could tell the public what really happened, and the public could then decide whether or not it was smooth enough!

After the dust settled from the election the Post-Gazette issued a call for upgraded integrity: Help the voter: It's time to address electronic voting problems (November 29th).

December

The integrity issue is heating up fast. The more people look at paperless DRE's, the less widely they are loved.

On Monday, December 4th the Allegheny County Board of Elections met to certify the November 7th general election, and a variety of election integrity activists spoke.

Supplemental Material

This is a 60 Minutes piece on what we're facing.

Here's a good piece which points out that many DRE's can't be meaningfully "recounted": Does Every Vote Count?, Rebeca Chapa, Express-News, 4/09/2006.

Here's a speech by Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, given to the Oregon Association of Counties on November 17, 2005 (approximately when Allegheny County had its voting-machine fair). Observe how far ahead of PA on the curve OR was--they already understood that public confidence matters as much as the druthers of county election officials (!!!) and had set up a financial plan for funding automatic post-election audits (of their optical-scan system, already certified and selected, including a built-in voter-verifiable paper record). Oregonians got genuine state-level leadership. Why didn't we?

Here's a Rolling Stone interview with Reverend DeForest Soaries, the Bush-appointed head of the federal "Election Assistance Commission". Judge for yourself how well the federal government did at safeguarding your right to vote.



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