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.