Elections: Trust, but verify.

By Betsy Salter of Portland, Oregon. Betsy describes herself as "a 47 year old working mom who helped found the Oregon Voter Rights Coalition."

On March 18th, I posted a guest column ("But how do we know our ballots are counted?") on the need for election verification in Oregon, and I was glad to see so much interest among BlueOregon readers in the integrity of elections in Oregon.

Since then HB 3270, a bill to require verification of election results in Oregon has had a hearing in the Ethics, Elections and Rules Committee. In response to the testimony offered at the hearing, I'd like to offer the following reactions:

-- During the hearing several legislators described those of us concerned about the integrity of our election system as "paranoid." The fact is that our individual vote is how we transfer power to our elected officials to represent our best interests. Our right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. Having computers with secret software owned by for profit out of state corporations count our votes is inimical to our democracy. It is as if we hand our ballots to corporate employees who take our ballots behind closed doors to count our votes. We simply want our government election officials to take steps necessary to verify the computers added our votes correctly and that our elections accurately reflect the will of the people.

-- In fact, the county clerk who testified claimed that nobody cares about maintaining the public's trust in Oregon's election system more than the county clerks. We respectfully suggest that if this statement is true, the county clerks and the state elections director and the Secretary of State should support HB 3270 and help shape it so that it works for all Oregonians.

-- Testimony by the State and county election officials tried to make the case that there is no evidence of problems with electronic election equipment in past elections - in Oregon or Nationally. However, this is simply untrue. In Oregon, we have compiled a collection of documented cases of problems in past elections associated with electronic components of Oregon's election systems - some of which have resulted in overturned elections. Nationally there are numerous recent reports produced by such credible sources as the Government Accountability Office, the Elections Administration Commission, the House Judiciary Committee, and NYU's Brennan Center for Justice. For more information, please go to the Oregon Voter Rights Coalition website.

-- The Oregon Voter Rights Coalition is actively supporting development of open source election software. One of our members testified to that effect at the hearing for HB 3270 on March 19th. However, even if we had open source election software in place, we would still advocate for a system of checks and balances to ensure that the computers were adding our votes accurately. Open source software will provide transparency in our election process and serve as a critical tool for detecting and correcting malicious or improper software code in election equipment prior to the conduct of an election. However, open source cannot guarantee that malicious or improper software codes will not occasionally slip by undetected and corrupt the vote tabulation. Only a system to independently verify election results after the election has been conducted can determine whether our votes were actually counted as cast.

-- At the hearing on HB 3270 a representative of the Oregon Association of County Clerks and John Lindback, the State Elections Director, both testified. Their testimony did not object to adopting a verification method that would improve the security and accuracy of Oregon's election system. They simply wanted to know the specifics of the verification procedure so that they could evaluate whether it would be effective and implementable given available resources.

What is more important than making sure that your vote is counted accurately? One witness at the March 19th hearing made the point that in the private sector there is always a system of quality control and quality assurance in the production of goods and services. From canoe paddles to semiconductors, a company will test a product to make sure it works before it goes to market. Post market quality assurance testing is also used to identify opportunities for improvements and to ensure that the product or service maintains or increases its market share. Surely taking steps to improve our election system to ensure our votes are counted accurately is a worthy investment in protecting our democracy.

Bottom line: Is your vote more important than a canoe paddle? I know my vote is. The Oregon Voter Rights Coalition believes that elections in Oregon can be verified in a manner that will be effective and reliable and affordable. Oregon House Bill 3270 gives us the opportunity to realize verification of election results in Oregon. If you agree, please ask, Representative Diane Rosenbaum, Chair of the Ethics, Elections and Rules Committee to refer HB 3270 to the full House for a vote. Otherwise, election verification may 'die' in the committee.

Comments

  • LT (unverified)
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    While election security is an important issue, I don't see why those of us who know our own county clerk should assume that OVRC cares more about election security than an elected county clerk.

    If a stranger tells me to trust them over someone I have known for many years, tough luck. I trust the person I know.

    Is the hand count to be added to the workload of current elections dept. staff or would more people be hired for the job as temporary employees? If added workload, where does the funding come from for overtime? Or do you believe they don't have enough workload as it is and would be able to do it during regular shifts? If more people would be hired, why should we believe that temp employees are more accurate and honorable than machines? Does OVRC know the hiring process would weed out partisans? Proposals like this that are long on rhetoric like "Post market quality assurance testing is also used to identify opportunities for improvements " don't answer logistical questions.

    Does OVRC know that in every elections office in Oregon there is "secret software" which can only be touched by private company employees and not elections employees? I know all the stories about other states, but that doesn't convince me that all Oregon elections offices have "secret software" and were forced to buy something like that against their better judgement. And the tone of this piece almost implies that not all elections officials have good judgement--or else is saying that the definition of good judgement is to support the OVRC bill.

  • Jonathan (unverified)
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    Which legislators suggested you were paranoid? Either they should have to publicly live by that assertion, or they should have a chance to explain that they made no such charge.

  • Intercaust (unverified)
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    You can never be too paranoid when it comes to election results.

  • JMG (unverified)
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    The hardest person to trust is the one who trusts no one. When you talk election law with elected officials, they justifiy everything in the status quo by references to the need for election security and preventing people from hanky-panky ... apparently trust is a one-way street in their minds. We are supposed to trust that no elected official would ever be involved in queering an election (Hello Senator Lyndon Johnson! Hello Mayor Daley!) but that we can never let down our guard against the masses.

    As wise people have noted through the years, our laws are mainly about preventing the nickel-dime retail-scale election fraud that voters can get up to if not watched closely ... meanwhile, the opportunities for wholesale fraud are simply ignored and citizens who inquire are called paranoic conspiracy theorists.

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    The definition of paranoia is unreasoning fear. Until I see some evidence that people complaining about election security in Oregon have actually gone in to examine the system they're so afraid of (it's open to the public, people!) I think the description fits perfectly.

    But whenever I actually get into these discussions, it's inevitable that the accusers don't have a clue about the current system. They just know it's bad because it delivered a result they didn't like.

    That's why Oregon Republicans whine about phantom masses of illegal aliens, who somehow have instantly learned to speak perfect English, and are willing to sign a paper with their name address and fake social security number (all which is checked, BTW), to vote for the union-allied candidate who doesn't want them taking American jobs, over the GOP candidate who wants to blame them for all the Republican screwups for the last 6 years.

    That's easier for those neocon wingnuts to accept than the truth: that the majority of people in Oregon don't like them and their hate-filled ideology.

    There's an echo of this effect among Democratic malcontents. Goveronr Kulongoski couldn't have won the Democratic primary fair and square. It had to be fraud! That's much easier for some fractional percentage of far left wingnuts to believe.

    The irony is that by attacking our incredibly secure, audited, paper-ballot based, inexpensive, non-intrusive, and difficult to game, system here in Oregon, these people are deligitimizing the entire vote security movement nationwide. Places where there actually is substantial evidence of elections shennanigans of all sorts.

    So let me make it plain: if Florida had Oregon's Vote By Mail in 2000, we'd be discussing Al Gore's 6 years of accomplishment right now. If Ohio had had Oregon's Vote By Mail system in 2004, we'd be talking about helping John Kerry undo all of Bush's mess of his one term Presidency. Think about that when you take the tour down at your local county elections office.

    And don't complain until you do, and actually know something about what you're criticizing.

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    Can only echo the skepticism about the "problem" this article alludes exists, which LT and Steven Maurer expressed up-thread.

  • Rick Hickey (unverified)
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    Steven doesn't think Illegal Aliens are Voting? Robleto criminal case in Hillsboro ring a bell Steve? 80,000 Illegals from all over the U.S. get a License while using a VOTER REGISTRATION CARD? This is after mailing themselves an empty envelope written with pencil to their Motel, as proof of residency-Hello? or..."Today we March, Tomorrow we Vote" Remember that one? How about that we still sell a License to an Illegal and the Voter Register froms are in the same place? Speak English? Not required, they just know what a "D" next to a name means=More Tax payer hand outs for them-see "Free" health care for all OR. Children as one example.

    If I am Paranoid, why not "Trust but verify" and make sure only U.S. Citizens are Voting? Because Democrats would lose elections? No? Then why make lame excuses not to check? ARIZONA DOES and is throwing out 1/3 of all Registrations.

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    While election security is an important issue, I don't see why those of us who know our own county clerk should assume that OVRC cares more about election security than an elected county clerk.

    If a stranger tells me to trust them over someone I have known for many years, tough luck. I trust the person I know.

    The point isn't that you're supposed to trust OVRC. It's not like they're suggesting that THEY should be the all-knowing super-secret verifiers of elections.

    The point is that if the election systems run on published code, then anyone (ANYONE!) can examine it and verify that it works.

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    Why make sure only US citizens are voting, when there's no evidence that anything other than that is happening?

    It's interesting that Rick poo-poohs the idea that undocumenteds are not voting, without providing a single piece of evidence to suggest they are.

    It is not a lame excuse to refuse to solve something where no problem has been established, and in fact evidence suggests there IS no problem.

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    Posted by: Rick Hickey | Apr 2, 2007 2:22:05 PM

    Wow. Nice list of hyperbolic horseshit that proves nothing but your head being filled with paranoid (and bigoted) crapola. Well done.

  • LizMcC (unverified)
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    Betsy,

    Thanks for the work you're doing on this important issue here in Oregon.

    Since the federal elections in 2000, I really jumped onto the "vote by mail" bandwagon. I'd email friends who lived in states with voting problems, and tell them how lucky I felt to live in a "vote by mail state", how easy it was, yada yada. Still, something about it all didn't sit right with me. What did happen to my ballot when I handed it off on election night (so much for actually "mailing" it in) to a stranger wearing a safety vest in front of the elections office? Did it actually make it inside to be counted? "Of course it did," I'd tell myself as I was driving away.

    Most elections in NW Oregon always seemed to turn out the way I voted, so I suppose I'd been lulled into a "That just doesn't happen here" state of mind. However, after six years of federal voting hanky-panky, I was pretty nervous last November. "What if...?" I knew the first round of counting mail-in ballots was done electronically because of how we fill them out (who can ever forget being taught, "If you want your answer to count, you must fill in the oval completely with your #2 pencil!") So that was a no-brainer. What type of machine was used, though? Was it like a Scantron machine that scores college tests by running the answer sheets through it? Dang, those are notoriously faulty; we could be in deep doo-doo here! However, the 2006 elections turned out better than I could have ever expected, so all my concerns were pushed to the back of my brain again.

    Justice may be "blind", but so are those who stick their heads in the sand and ignore what is going on around them because they don't want to be bothered. Or because it's a hassle to change, or you should just trust me because it costs too much, etc.

    Thanks for taking a stand and putting into action what was only just beginning to form a coherent thought in my frontal lobe. Sheesh, and I recently graduated magna cum laude. Yeah, I'm prepared for the real world. (Although I'm very good at taking computerized tests!)

  • JohnH (unverified)
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    Ohio proved it's not wise to trust county elections officials. Two Cuyahoga elections workers were recently CONVICTED for rigging the 2004 presidential recount for another criminal investigation. There were also issues surrounding ballot security and absentee ballots.

    In Lane County, I believe there are over 80 different configurations of the ballot, depending on jurisdiction, school district, and legislative boundaries. The software that compiles these results always gets the right parameters for distinguishing between ballots? Yeah, right. If you believe that, you've never worked with software. You probably think that PGE doesn't need to have independent auditors, either.

    The propose post-election audit will do nothing more than determine if there are problems. It takes place too late to affect the outcome. But only if problems are identified, can future legislation mandate election night auditing, which is what is really needed.

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    Maurer writes: "The definition of paranoia is unreasoning fear. Until I see some evidence that people complaining about election security in Oregon have actually gone in to examine the system they're so afraid of (it's open to the public, people!) I think the description fits perfectly."

    "But whenever I actually get into these discussions, it's inevitable that the accusers don't have a clue about the current system. They just know it's bad because it delivered a result they didn't like."

    Seems like Maurer is the one that's clueless here, as he's clearly missing the point: OR VRC is NOT accusing Oregon election officials of any misdeeds nor wringing our hands over election results. (BTW, OR VRC is non-partisan.) Oregon has a strong system that can be made better with election verifiction.

    Unwarranted complaints, Maurer? The same election equipment that counts Orgon ballots (ES&S and Sequioa) has a track record of problems nationwide... Yep, the very same optical scanners - same model #s and everything, wow! - have had problems elsewhere.

    And yes mister maurer, we've been in the elections offices; we've talked with the county folks; we've observed elctions, and you betcha, the county folks do a fine job.

    But for some reason... we just can't see what that durn software is doing...

    Maurer is again substituting ignorant sanctimony for common sense... Tell me again, what's wrong with a little quality control???

  • dw (unverified)
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    For those folks that haven't done their homework.........

    Question: Does OVRC know that in every elections office in Oregon there is "secret software" which can only be touched by private company employees and not elections employees? I know all the stories about other states, but that doesn't convince me that all Oregon elections offices have "secret software" and were forced to buy something like that against their better judgement. Answer: Yes, the optical-scan machines that count our votes in Oregon all contain proprietary (thus secret) software. The code cannot be read, or examined, by anyone in the elections office. I don't know if Oregon elections officials felt they were "forced to buy something like that against their better judgement". At the time, it may well have seemed like a reasonable decision.

    Question(able statement): Until I see some evidence that people complaining about election security in Oregon have actually gone in to examine the system they're so afraid of (it's open to the public, people!) I think the description (paranoia) fits perfectly. Answer: The aspects of Oregon's election system that are open to the public do, in fact, get high praise from election reform advocates. The vote-counting software, however, is NOT open to the public (back to proprietary software here), so cannot be examined.

    Assignment: Contact your county elections office. Try a Freedom of Information Act request and ask for a copy of the code that counts the ballots.

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    Rick Hickey: 80,000 Illegals from all over the U.S. get a License while using a VOTER REGISTRATION CARD?

    He's a troll, but in case anyone runs into some local wingnut loon like him, here are the facts: the Robleto case was about illegals getting drivers licenses, not voting. Most of the people didn't even live in Oregon, and they certainly didn't want to expose their shaky credentials to any kind of elections oriented scrutiny. For all Victoria Taft's screeching on the issue, there isn't a single documented case of any of the undocumented aliens actually voting. If there were, the rightwing kook press would be all over it. (Voters registrations and whether you voted or not is a matter of public record.)

    KCHanson: Tell me again, what's wrong with a little quality control???

    I'll answer that question just as soon as you can tell me what kind of quality controls our county clerks have in place already. They are considerable, believe me.

    Or don't believe me. I don't care. All I can say is you're making yourself look pretty foolish trying to pretend that ad hominem attacks are an adequate substitute for actual knowledge about the subject you're trying to debate.

  • JA (unverified)
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    Here are some facts related to Betsy's statement:

    -Almost all counties in Oregon tally their votes using either Sequoia or ES&E software. (Check yourself on www.verifiedvoting.org/verifier/) Both of these companies use proprietary software and have refused to allow their source code to be examined by anyone outside of the companies. Yes, the county clerks are using software code for adding our votes that they cannot examine or have experts examine.

    -ES&S and Sequoia software are tested at the federal and state levels, but the tests are not designed to uncover flaws (or mischief) in the software code; it would be necessary to actually examine the code to determine if such problems are present and, as I said, both companies refuse to allow the software code to be examined. Why?

    -For security? No. Diebold, the third company that is a major player nationally, allows its software code to be examined--for counting money at ATMs but not for counting our votes. We have heard no legitimate reason for ES&S and Sequoia to refuse to allow election officials to examine their software code.

    -Does this mean our county clerks are foolish? No. County clerks must use the software that has been approved as part of the federal HAVA program or find an approvable alternative. Right now, the alternative is not available.

    -Betsy is asking for the citizens of Oregon to be prudent by supporting independent verification to see whether the ES&S and Sequoia software are counting correctly.

    -Members of the Oregon VRC have cumulatively spent thousands of hours over the past two years trying to come up with a cost-effective, yet valid solution that would be acceptable to the county clerks, legislators, and the SOS. Members of the Oregon VRC spent the time observing elections, speaking with clerks about solutions, exploring cost options, speaking with the Secretary of State's Office, working with experts in statistics and election auditing, collaborating with election integrity experts in other states, and reviewing other systems nationally.

    -Betsy did not say that she or members of the Oregon VRC care more about valid elections than the clerks.

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    Maurer writes (about me) "All I can say is you're making yourself look pretty foolish trying to pretend that ad hominem attacks are an adequate substitute for actual knowledge about the subject you're trying to debate."

    Sorry, Stevo, your're projecting just a tad here.. You're the fella that started up with the smack (paranoia, whiners, accusers, "don't have a clue," etc.).

    So ya want to play Socrates, eh? Tell me then, what quality controls are in place to assure that software has counted accurately? No, no Logic and Accuracy tests don't assure this. They are calibrations, and are essentially snapshots in time before and after elections.

    What else do you have there Stevie?

  • (Show?)

    KCHanson? Go away troll. Don't come back until you grow up.

    • - JA, none of the people pushing this have ever managed to detail a method how, even with compromised code, that code would not immediately be detected during vote counting.

    County Clerks, of necessity, run ballots through in batches. Several times during the vote count, they run a test batch whose results are known. For code in a compromised machine to cheat effectively, it would have to cheat on all the real batches, but process the test batch without error. Because if it cheated on a test batch, it would immediately expose itself as broken.

    Given the configuration of vote scanning machines (not network connected, not even PC-like, kept in a secure environment, ironclad chain of custody) this is an insurmountable programming problem. You could never know which batch was real and which one they made up on the spot.

    It would be far easier for a an entire corrupt county elections office to simply forge a set of fake results and substitute them after the fact. But at that point, you're into serious tinfoil hat macroconspiracy land. I'll skip that conversation because I've learned you can't argue with true believers.

    • - DW, proprietary software is not necessarily secret. It just means that it's illegal to copy without permission from its owner. Anybody with a modicum of technical ability can open up a machine, read the PROMs and disks, and do a little reverse engineering. How do you think cracks are written, anyway?

    Hell, I could do it if I were so inclined, which I'm not. But don't let me stop you. If you want to buy a scanner and plumb it for its secrets, I'm sure there would be someone to help you. But, as an engineer with 25 years of experience, I'm just telling you from the start that you're barking up the wrong tree.

  • LT (unverified)
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    About that "Verifier" website.............. There is no street address, it appears to be a lobbying group whose Board is named but no contact information which even tells us what state they are located in, no physical address of an office or anything.

    The results page for my county has a lot of "unknown" answers, and the source of the information on the vote counting machines is someone from the Sec. of State office.

    So I will second Steven M.

    How many of you "trust but verify" folks have actually visited your local county clerk's office?

    If you are in favor of open source software, by all means state that affirmative position.

    The "don't trust your county clerk because of what the Verify site says" attitude isn't winning you any points.

    I never met the Verify site people. I have known my county clerk for many years. Telling me that all elections officials who are truly honest will support your House bill and not question the cost or any other aspect of it or they don't really care about election security is NOT going to get my support!

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    Maurer eloquently writes:

    KCHanson? Go away troll. Don't come back until you grow up.

    Oh my, is this a little like being called a Femi-nazi by Rush Limbaugh? Hmmmm, who was talking of "ad hominen" attacks. Oh yeah, it was Stevie.

    Back to the issue at hand, both maurer and LT seem to think that OR VRC (and others) advocating election verification have never set foot in an elections office or had discussion with election officials. Again, let me put it more bluntly: we have... many times.

    I think its wonderful that LT finds he can fully trust his County Clerk, but has he asked that clerk to share the operating software with him yet?

    Look, for the umpteenth time, it's NOT about trusting/mistrusting the election officials (and it's certainly not about trusting anyone in an advocacy group), it's about ensuring that elections are failsafe. The relative trust we have for our county folk is IRRELEVANT.

    (BTW, NO ONE in this discussion has impuned the integrity of any election official in the least.)

    You guys can yammer all you want about chain of custody and L&A testing, try and say we're somehow slamming the county folk, and rat-hole us by slinging names our way and repetitively accuse us of wearing tin hats, but you're missing the point. Oregon election tallies aren't verified.

    Without verification, you're putting whole and complete faith into election equipment that has documented failures nationwide.

    So I'll ask the question again...

    What is wrong with a lttle quality control?

  • Betsy Salter (unverified)
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    I just wanted to let readers of this post know that members of the Oregon VRC (including me) have met with several Oregon county clerks and elections supervisors over the past 2+ years to gain an in depth understanding of how Oregon’s election system is currently conducted. We have also coordinated and participated in election night observation teams across the state for the past several elections. Further, we have had several meetings with the State Elections Director and the Secretary of State to discuss the findings of our research and present our proposed verification methodology.

    As mentioned in my original post, according to the testimony presented by the County and State elections officials at the HB 3270 hearing, they do not object to taking steps to improve the integrity and security of Oregon’s election system. However, before they commit to taking additional steps they want to know the actual steps involved and the associated cost. Oregon VRC does not fault our election officials for taking this position.

    The proposed methodology Oregon VRC has developed has been peer reviewed by professional statisticians who have served as consultants to the State Elections Office and the Secretary of State as well as nationally recognized election reform advocates. We have submitted our election verification proposal to the Elections, Ethics and Rules committee for their consideration as we believe it satisfactorily addresses the concerns raised by the county and state elections officials.

    Most importantly, our verification methodology will assure all Oregonians that the certified election results for statewide races are accurate. Under this verification procedure, if the hand-counted sample of paper ballots indicates that the machine-tallied results may not be accurate, then a full hand recount will be conducted to ensure that the certified election results accurately reflect the will of the people. For more information on this method, see our website.

    We also have a Q&A document that we prepared to respond to the main reasons we hear from the various county clerks about why they believe they should not have to verify election results.

    Protecting our democracy requires the use of checks and balances – not “blind faith.”

    P.S. All Oregon VRC members are Oregonians, although one steering committee member recently relocated to Texas to be closer to his son. We are all volunteers. The only contributions we receive are from individuals who attend an occasional speaker or conference that we may sponsor in Oregon or from someone who links to Powell's Bookstore from our website. We use the funds we raise to pay for reproduction costs of materials we produce for meetings with legislators or other government officials as well as to hand out at appropriate progressive oriented events. Funds are also used to sometimes cover the cost of the gas it takes to attend meetings across the state with Oregon county clerks or when we are requested to give a presentation to grassroots organizations interested in learning more about election reform issues in Oregon. However, due to limited funds, we usually cover such expenses out of our own pockets.

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    Sorry Steven, Kari and KC are spot on.

    Whether or not the process of counting ballots is transparent (it is -- very), there is no good reason not to do a manual audit of the results as reported by these machines, nor is there a public interest reason not to make the codebase for the software that actually does the counting equally transparent.

    Oregon elections law already presupposes the potential for human or machine error in our elections -- a recount is required under Oregon law in any election decided by less than half a percent.

    If there were no possibility of error, why was that protection written into the law?

    Aside from juvenile rants about tin hats and wingnuttery, what is the basis for opposing an audit?

    The only concern that I would have, and it's a big one, is how would a truly random audit be performed? In my race, I had a solid lead in the early returns that were tabulated by 8 pm, which I lost as results from the last 5-6 days were counted. A sample that drew heavier from early or late returns would not have been an accurate reflection of the count.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "The only concern that I would have, and it's a big one, is how would a truly random audit be performed? In my race, I had a solid lead in the early returns that were tabulated by 8 pm, which I lost as results from the last 5-6 days were counted. A sample that drew heavier from early or late returns would not have been an accurate reflection of the count."

    Even before the days of electronic vote counting, there were recounts including the "recount from Hell" which happened to Charles McNary. Steve Neal (graduate of McNary High School) wrote an excellent McNary biography which included this story: In a statewide election, counties E. of the Cascades were recounting ballots when someone opened a closet in one of the county courthouses and found a bunch of ballots in a box in the closet weeks after the election.

    My grandfather was a state AG back East when there were a couple of contested elections with evidence like more people voting (by double digits as I recall) than the number of registered voters, and some sort of clever scheme to deface the ballots with blue pencils. Someone went to jail over the latter story and manipulations which went on in the legislature.

    My point is that even if all here agreed to advocate for open source software in all election machines, do a random hand recount of all ballots, not worry about the cost of the proposed House bill or the logistics of selecting the sample for the recount and hiring the staff to do it (or should we make election workers do double shifts and not expect them to be tired?), that still would not account for human nature.

    I would like to know the physical address of the board of directors of the Verifier site. I would also like to know why someone on a blog thinks they can tell me not to believe a county clerk I have known for over a decade--because I should take the Verifier site on faith??

    Strange things happened in Ohio and Florida, and strange things sometimes happen in local elections. But if anyone advocating a change wants me to take them seriously, they need to tell me when they visited their local elections office, what they saw, who they talked to.

  • JA (unverified)
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    LT stated:

    "The 'don't trust your county clerk because of what the Verify site says'" attitude isn't winning you any points."

    If you misquote, you lose points. You misquoted. Why not take the actual quote and respond to it? Instead, you invent your own statement, attribute it to someone else, then respond to your own statement as if you are making a point.

    Maury stated:

    "County Clerks, of necessity, run ballots through in batches. Several times during the vote count, they run a test batch whose results are known. For code in a compromised machine to cheat effectively, it would have to cheat on all the real batches, but process the test batch without error. Because if it cheated on a test batch, it would immediately expose itself as broken."

    Maury: Where (which county) did you see ACTUAL ballots, not test ballots, run through in a batch to test accuracy? That is not the correct protocol. What is done is a set of ballots, such as 1,000, are marked by hand by election officials and then run through the machine to determine if the machine counted the same as the hand counted ballots. It is a machine calibration test, not a test of the outcomes of specific races. This test is generally done in "test mode" to avoid contaminating the actual results. So, you know for certain that the software counts the same way in "test mode" as in "real mode?" And you also must know that this test only tests a few votes per candidate? If malicious code is not set to trigger until say 1,000 votes have been cast for a particular candidate, then the above test would be worthless; you know this also, of course. To program such an effort, triggering a change in the vote count after many votes had been counted, would take the expertise of a typical high school student. We therefore know that can never happen.

    You, on the other hand, have the expertise to crack into the ES&S election source code and determine whether it has mischievous code? Is that what you are saying? If you are saying that, then perhaps you can also crack into the source code and CHANGE it? Are you saying that too?

    Are you saying that you are a genius who can do something almost no one else can do or are you saying any competent engineer can do this and therefore the software is not safe?

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    I believe that Oregon's county clerks and election officials are good, upstanding people.

    I believe that the systems we have in place are designed to prevent fraud and technical miscounts, and do so quite well.

    But I also believe that the vote-counting source code should be made public, so that any member of the public can verify it for themselves. (And no, buying a machine, hacking it, and reverse-engineering it doesn't count.)

    For all those who are opposed to the making the vote-counting source code public, I have one question: What's the downside?

    Even if you believe that everything inside is goodness and light (and I do), what's wrong with proving that to everyone?

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    Kari Even if you believe that everything inside is goodness and light (and I do), what's wrong with proving that to everyone?

    And how do you do that, Kari? Even if the source code is published, that's no guarantee that that's what's running inside the machine.

    Again, my proplem with this isn't that you couldn't find some fractional improvement in the system. (A vision springs to mind of armed Republican and Democratic engineers staring at each other with hostility as they carefully decompile PROM assembly.) Rather, it's that real cases of vote fraud are usually much more banal, involving the mysterious appearance or disappearance of ballots in close elections.

    People may not want to admit it, but we only have so much money to spend on this issue. It makes far more sense to be focusing on places where actual vote fraud exists. Oregon's system is presently one of the best in the country in terms of security. But what will really sell it to counties in Florida and Ohio is that it's cheaper too.

    At least it is right now. Hand counts are extremely expensive. So expensive that even Canada is moving away from it.

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    Steven - OVRC is not suggesting a full hand count. They are suggesting an audit of a subset of the data. Also, there are plenty of binary file comparison tools, and best practise methods for ensuring that a piece of compiled code is the same as another.

    LT - OVRC is not telling you not to trust your county clerk. I know and trust mine. They are saying that we should do a hand audit of the count across the board to help minimize, insofar as it is possible, the possibility of mistakes and/or fraud in our elections.

    I've worked with several of the OVRC people through DFA. This is not a group of nameless faceless people.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "Steven - OVRC is not suggesting a full hand count. They are suggesting an audit of a subset of the data. Also, there are plenty of binary file comparison tools, and best practise methods for ensuring that a piece of compiled code is the same as another. "

    Sal, you may be right. But if you had won the election, you would still have needed to convince 30 other members of the House to vote for this bill and then 16 in the Senate. And I just don't think what you said to Steven would do that sort of convincing, esp. given the cost. It always raises red flags for me when people want to talk theory and not cost/logistics.

    Doing a hand count is by definition labor intensive. Either the regular Elections Division staff would have to do it (and would current staffing levels allow that in the time period proposed?) or else temp staff would have to be hired. No one from OVRC seems to want to address that concern.

    And you might want to tell your friends from OVRC that words like this,

    "In fact, the county clerk who testified claimed that nobody cares about maintaining the public's trust in Oregon's election system more than the county clerks. We respectfully suggest that if this statement is true, the county clerks and the state elections director and the Secretary of State should support HB 3270 and help shape it so that it works for all Oregonians. "

    are not going to win over people who say "OK, this bunch of strangers says all good people should support our bill--who are they, where do they come from, how long have they been involved in this issue, why should we believe strangers over people we know?".

    This isn't just about whether OVRC are the greatest group to come along this century. This is about people who have been around politics sometimes for decades being told "trust this group because we say so", as if nothing else matters. There are old political veterans who would rather drop out of politics than be told who they should trust and who they should not trust.

    Trust is EARNED. The idea sometimes expressed over a period of many years that "we're so great, you should trust us and not ask any questions" is not one I accept.

    You know them. You should talk to them privately about addressing the specific concerns instead of making it sound like those who don't agree with them don't care about the issue.

    I'm old enough to remember obnoxious people decades ago saying "if you don't agree with our proposal to end the Vietnam War, you are pro-war". All that did then was breed discord. People still argue about what really ended the Vietnam War. If it strikes a nerve with me that total strangers are saying "all good people support our bill and don't ask detailed questions", the way to earn my support is not to tell me good people support the bill. It is to answer the detailed questions.

    As I understand it, some of the legislators are worried about cost and logistics. Seems to me the way to convince them is to address cost and logistics.

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    Sal, Kari, Ms. Salter, let me conclude by saying that I respect what you're doing, and still can be moved.

    My bottom line issue is this: my support (for whatever it's worth) hinges on the county clerks. Day in and day out, they're the ones closest to the issue. They're the best judge of election procedures benefits and costs. So if you can get them on board with this proposal, or some altered version, then I have no problem with it.

    But if you go at this issue in the same way that so many Republicans pretend they're pro-education - by making proposals that make schoolteachers roll their eyes, or just flat out attacking them - then I won't. Public Servants deserve our respect. They're highly intelligent, and as a group, are far more knowledgeable about their subject than the amateurs - no matter how dedicated - kibitzing from the sidelines.

    And that especially goes for the people working under Bill Bradbury.

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    If I understand Steven correctly, there already is a code-test done multiple times during the count--a known distribution of votes is placed through the machine, and if the machine tally correctly mimics it, the machine is working. I accept the logic that source code manipulation could not anticipate a random check like that, unless the designed impact of the manipulation is so small that multiple samples happen to miss the iterations when the votes are being altered.

    So there's that. As for the public interest in not releasing source code publicly, I'm not sure there is any--unless it's in the public interest to allow private interests to maintain confidentiality about how their products work. Not anonymity, mind you--confidentiality. I see no reason to make the code public. What is necessary is that the information be vested with the elections department in some way, and it's true that many companies won't even allow that. I'm totally in favor of companies having to make source code available to the elections department.

    And let's keep in mind, other than the old levers you used to crank (I voted on those things until I left VA in 2002; they were awesome), as I understand it optical scanners are the most accurate of possible systems save a 100% hand count, and are the most reliable of all. So I have some sympathy for the people who say there IS a theoretical limit to the amount of openness and cost/complexity involved in conducting an election.

    So I say, anyhow...that and a quarter buys you 20 minutes out front of the Capitol.

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    I see no reason to make the code public.

    Have you taken the time to read the Diebold email archives that Dennis Kucinich published to his website shortly after Diebold threatened to sue voting rights activists used those archives to expose some problems that had a real impact on real elections?

    In some cases, Diebold was lying to elections divisions about the nature of both their security and systems checks and then using the proprietary nature of their software and confidentiality agreements to prevent verification of their claims.

    I'd suggest that you do a little more research into the topic, and into the various kinds of open source licensing that can be used to protect these companies economic interests without allowing them to pull some of the shenanigans that Diebold and others have participated in before passing judgement on this.

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    Woah... hold up there, Sal. There's a world of difference between Diebold's voting kiosks - which record the vote only on ephemeral magnetic media, use one of Microsoft less secure OSes, are "secured" by a cheap luggage lock, and have no chain of custody - and what we're talking about here.

    Scanners simply help automate the process of counting paper ballots. If worst came to worst, and a lightning strike fried out every machine in an elections office, you could always go back to those paper ballots and have a valid vote.

    If the same thing happened on a voting kiosk (Diebold or otherwise), those votes would be literally lost. A just might order a second election (or more likely these days, just declare the Republican the winner).

    That's why I keep saying that Open Source is a red herring in terms of elections security. You're not going to fix the problems with Diebold kiosks by publishing the source code. Not when, with 2 minutes of unhindered access behind a voting curtain, a skilled engineer can entirely reset the machine and put whatever code they want into it.

    The entire concept of electronic voting kiosks is flawed. No matter how it is implemented, if ballots aren't heavy, people will find a way to alter them without detection. (And by heavy, I mean physically heavy - in an electronic system 240,000 votes is a number - in a paper based system it's 240,000 pieces of paper you have to hide if you're trying to pull something.)

    Let's not mix apples and oranges here.

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