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January 3, 2007

While machine advocates try to justify electronic voting, even going so far as to add yet another electronic gadget (assuring us this is the magic bullet that will fix all our electronic voting system “glitches”), here’s a less expensive, common sense strategy for 2007.

1. Require the Secretary of State to order each county that purchased DREs to prepare to implement a hand-counted paper ballot (HCPB) system by January 1, 2008.

2. Have each set of County Commissioners send a letter to all printers in their county seeking an estimate to print paper ballots, and asking them to submit a written protocol on chain of custody, so that the ballots printed are all accounted for at every moment from production to delivery to the Board of Elections. 

3. Choose the printer according to most secure protocol, by reputation for quality and integrity, and then by cost. Each county is limited to using a local printer, and this will boost the local economy.

4. Train all counting team poll workers in the “sort and stack by candidate” method of counting, as used in New Hampshire. Train all poll workers in chain of custody protocol and other election procedures.

5. Limit poll worker shifts to an 8-hour maximum. Bring in a fresh team to count the ballots at the end of the day, at the polling site. Use people from different political parties on each counting team. Allow the public to observe.

6. Reconcile the ballots with the signatures and prepare a final reconciliation, signed by all poll workers who agree with the reported results. Have the presiding judge (the poll worker supervisor for each precinct) report the results immediately, to the room, to the Board of Elections, and by posting a copy of the results at the precinct.

7. Have two people from different political parties deliver the ballots, once they’ve been security-sealed, to the Board of Elections, along with other election materials. Those ballots stay sealed until a recount, or until otherwise legally opened for public inspection.

Printers across the State would be delighted and honored to be selected for their county. An added bonus to this plan is that it is far more credible that ballots are printed in a decentralized way, instead of having one company supply the entire state. Another benefit is that selecting one printer per county will boost the economy for more of Ohio’s citizens than the number who benefit from using a single printer. Decentralization benefits the majority.

It would take about six months to implement an HCPB system in Ohio, which HAVA allows. That’s from design, to training, to printer negotiation. I can make this projection based on hours spent tweaking an HCPB system for our parallel elections, in training our volunteers, and in talking to printers. 

This isn’t rocket science, or computer science, nor is such expertise even necessary. Ordinary citizens are quite capable of running their own democratic elections in an accurate and honest fashion. 

HCPBs Already Required as Backup

Further, “paper ballots for all voting systems are required in order for states to comply with existing federal law for IT disaster recovery plans. Pursuant to the E-Government Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-347, 44 U.S.C. 3531 et seq., Title III, the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), all states must have in place disaster recovery plans for all IT-based systems. The appropriate disaster recovery plan for IT-based election systems is backup hand counted paper ballot voting systems.” Nancy Tobi, New Hampshire election activist, in an open letter drafted December 2006. See http://www.DemocracyForNewHampshire.com.

Since we have to have paper ballots anyway, why not simply use those paper ballots instead, and discard these expensive, unsecurable, electronic systems? We already have to provide the necessary materials for this less expensive, recountable, 100% verifiable, and more secure system. Let’s stop voting on systems which provide no basis for confidence, now.

HCPBs – Most Secure, Most Accurate, Least Expensive 

When it comes to security, accuracy, cost, and recountability, an HCPB system is superior to all others. A summary of the major expert reports on various voting systems can be found here.

Research shows that paper ballots are by far the most secure system. Admittedly, absolute security is impossible. Instead, we design our systems so that it becomes too prohibitively expensive to hack. 

Decentralization provides more security. When results are hand-counted and reported at the precinct, we dampen the potential for election fraud at the county, state, or remote level. 

Paper ballot systems are also far less expensive than electronic systems that require upgrades, maintenance, and special storage and handling using expensive, environmentally-controlled warehouses. With the abysmal failure of electronic systems to provide us with discreet, recountable, voter-prepared ballots, we have grounds to stop payment on maintenance and upgrade contracts, and put our public money to better use elsewhere.

Some folks suggest that elections will devolve into chaos if we don’t use electronic tabulators. New Hampshire begs to differ, as do those of us who have run parallel elections. It takes less than 10 people to run and count an election in a precinct of 500 people – one worker for every 50 registered voters.

When precincts are combined into a single polling location, even fewer election workers are required. Our parallel election at Whetstone Recreation Center accommodated four precincts with over 3,400 registered voters. We started at 6 AM and finished counting at 2 AM. Only twenty-four people were needed to complete this project. That’s one worker for every 140 registered voters. Admittedly, we were overworked, so I would suggest one worker for every 100 registered voters.

Poll worker salaries are far less costly than computers. I prepared a cost comparison between State-run elections for the past 6 years and our HCPB system run by citizens in November, using the same categories of expenses. Our HCPB system cost $3.67 per voter, half that of the official election using electronic voting systems.

There’s plenty of evidence, from 2006 alone, to show complete product failure, especially under Ohio’s election conditions. Franklin County’s machines reported more votes than voters in two-thirds of the precincts. Putting insecure voting systems into bureaucracies that cannot or will not maintain chain of custody is an invitation to fraud. It’s not surprising machine reports exceed voter signatures.

The Free Press is compiling observation reports from around Ohio, and elsewhere, and will soon publish a report card on Ohio’s Midterm Elections. I’ve posted a few election reports, including recount observations, and a summary of major expert reports, providing citations below. 

With the mountain of expert reports damning electronic voting systems, and the investigative evidence showing impossible official results, there is no justifiable reason to continue voting on such systems. 

It’s long past time to cut our losses and begin fresh, with a system we can all rely on with much more confidence. Hand count paper ballots at the precinct, before all who wish to observe. It’s the most secure, the most accurate, and the least expensive.

Author’s relevant pieces:

Summary of Major Expert Reports on Electronic Voting Systems,” Jan. 2, 2006.

“DREs, Magic, and other Sleights of Hand: Recount and Audit Observations from Franklin County, Ohio December 2006,” Jan. 4, 2006 PDF: www.freepress.org/images/departments/2321.pdf

“Election Observation Report,” Nov. 9, 2006. Election Day actions at a 4-precinct polling site, including observation at one of Franklin County’s five election data collection centers, with pictures. http://tinyurl.com/y5y9h7 aka
http://www.guvwurld.org/Election Reform/Rady Ananda – Election Observation Report OH – 11-9-06.pdf

10-8-06 Map of Ohio showing vendor & technology by county http://tinyurl.com/ydk828 

Diebold memory cards stolen,” Oct 7, 2006. Discusses Cuyahoga’s May 2006 election in light of Election Science Institute’s report, and several other expert reports.

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