Thursday, November 02, 2006

More on voting

Going to revisit voting for a bit.

In my last post I discussed Diebold, as well as Galvin's ill-conceived plan to introduce DRE (direct-recording electronic) machines in the upcoming election. Since that time, I've come across some other worthwhile information.

Yesterday, put out a guide entitled E-voting state by state: What you need to know. It's pretty thorough and an interesting overview of how voting's going to go all across the country, but I'll of course focus on Massachusetts.

From that article we get the following:
Voting equipment vendors
Diebold, ES&S, Hart InterCivic
Optical scan, hand count. The Secretary of State's office announced on Oct. 27 that 28 communities will test three DRE models during the November elections, all of which (the Diebold AccuVote TSx, the Hart InterCivic eSlate [implicated in name-truncation problems in Texas and Virginia] and the ES&S AutoMark voter-assist terminal) produce a verifiable paper trail. A voter-verified paper trail is not required by law, but machines with that capability are in use statewide. State legislation requiring voter-verifiable paper trails and manual audits of randomly selected precincts has been proposed but not enacted.

If you're not sure what "name-truncation problems" are being referred to above, I'd direct you to the Washington Post. In a nutshell, in the close Virginia Senate race between James Webb and Senator Macaca, Webb's name will appear on these machines as "James H. 'Jim' ". Apparently they're "unable" to get it fixed before the election, despite this news being a couple of weeks old already. There's one big strike against the Hart InterCivic machines.

The Diebold Accuvote TSx machine is much like the Accuvote TS, but with a thermal-paper printer for voters to check that their votes were recorded correctly. I'm not a big fan of thermal-paper printers, since at least weekly I have to wait for somebody to change the roll on their cash register. Or the ATM refuses to spit out the receipt. Or everything is smudgy and illegible thanks to the paper having been stored incorrectly. The Accuvote TS incidentally has a printer attached too, the difference here is that your individual vote is printed and you can peer through a small magnifying window (it's very tiny printing) to confirm it. Why do I get the feeling that the millions of elderly voters aren't going to have an easy time checking their vote?

Furthermore, the printer is of course controlled by the software, which as we all know is easy to compromise. If you're clever enough to change the voting, you're probably clever enough to do it after printing the desired vote. These tapes are virtually unreadable without magnification, making going back over them difficult and time consuming, assuming of course it even happens.

The ES&S AutoMark I don't have as much information about (though you can find their own "case study" here (pdf)).

It doesn't necessarily matter if it has known flaws or not. One problem with all of these systems is that they allow voter disenfranchisement even if they leave a paper trail. It's quite simple. Go to a district that heavily favors someone you don't want to win and tamper with the machine. Poof! Invalidated votes. How many votes are going to be lost due to "malfunction"? How many of those malfunctions are going to be caused by vote-tampering?

There have already been reports of electronic voting machines failing, often due to a miscalibration of the screen. Imagine the machine picking up every touch 2 inches to the right, for instance. Then imagine everyone you want to vote for is on the left side of the screen. You see the problem...

The Mass. League of Women Voters has a tool up that tells you what sort of voting system your town will use. Looks like Fitchburg does indeed get the scanners again this year, which is good news.

In my last post I lamented that Bonifaz lost the primary and Galvin is a dolt. However, I neglected to mention that there is another choice to vote for. Jill Stein of the Green/Rainbow party is also running for Secretary of State, and is a definite crusader for voting reform, including my personal favorite, Instant Runoff Voting. She'll be getting my vote.

Finally, 70's Abe Lincoln mentioned Video The Vote in the comments of the last post. I'm not so sure how much help it will be, but it's definitely worth looking into.

Update: Missed another one, via the badly-in-need-of-a-graphic-designer Brad Blog. Apparently a voting machine manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems has a nice yellow button on the back you can press to enter "manual mode", at which point you can vote as often as you like. Sweet!

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