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March 15, 2007

Let’s slice thru the knotty problem of high-tech voting systems with the sword of simplicity: hand counted paper ballots at the precinct before all who wish to observe. 
Given all the expert damnation [1] of hi-tech voting systems and the exorbitant price tag to secure them, and given the global impact of U.S. elections, a transparent and honest vote count is an urgent necessity: it’s time to use fully-transparent hand-counted paper ballots (“HCPBs”). An HCPB system is the simplest and least expensive, and the easiest to secure from fraud. 

High tech voting systems effectively remove citizen oversight of elections, since very few voters are computer experts. In a democracy, elections belong to the people and our oversight of elections is required. Ninety-five percent of all democracies in the world understand this – they hand count paper ballots at the polling site on election night. 

Because public officials derive their power from public elections, it is inappropriate for us to trust reported results: the vote count must be transparent to citizens. But very few of us can read computer code, and none of us can see inside a machine. Honest elections require HCPBs, because citizens understand and observe the counted ballot.

The Audit Scheme 

All those in favor of using machines to record and tabulate our vote offer to audit a tiny portion of all ballots cast. The beauty of HCPBs is that a 100% audit occurs the very night the votes are counted. Canada counts and audits nine million paper ballots in four hours, using human hands. Canada also has universal health care and remarkably few violent crimes, compared to the U.S. (But maybe this is attributable to its smaller population, and not its fair vote count. Maybe.)

When a fresh team of counters arrives at the precinct at the Close of Polls, the first team counts the paper ballots, and a second team repeats the count. Outcomes are compared to the number of signatures – those voters who showed up. Thus, a 100% audit occurs that very night. The ballots are sealed for delivery to the Board of Elections, to be unsealed only upon a legal challenge. 

Call Your Local Printer

HCPBs can easily be implemented in six months, and tested in special elections before November 2008, when the system can be studied and improved. Paper ballots promote the local economy by decentralizing how ballots are printed. Since county elections differ, a local printer should be selected by each county. See footnotes [2] and [3] for implementation strategies. 

The Cost of Security

Unused HAVA [4] funds could be applied to training in an HCPB system, instead of the extensive training required to run and secure a hi-tech system with 120 attack vectors. [5] HCPBs can be attacked in only five ways:

Party Hacks:

1. Voter coercion: pay or threaten voters to vote a certain way;
2. Counterfeit the ballot and have voters stuff more than one ballot into the ballot box;

Election Officials:

3. Give false results;
4. Prevent people from voting (targets one or more classes of voters);
5. Mar the ballots (to void them).

Only the first of these five attack vectors is difficult to subvert. How many people are willing to subvert a fair vote count is the exact number of people who have turned their back on democracy, valuing wealth more. A portion of democracy will always rely on human integrity; the more honest we are as a people, the more honest our elections. The more honest our elections, the more honest will be our government – knowing it is truly and immediately answerable to public opinion. 

Bush was appointed six years ago, contrary to the will of the people, and is still in office. This exemplifies the failure of machine-tabulated elections, in election systems run by officials who resent and resist public oversight. On December 12, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Florida recount on the grounds it would cause “irreparable harm” to Bush. 

It would be more accurate to characterize all those people who have died since he took office, due to his strategies, as “irreparable harm.” A half million dead, not coming back to life, irreparably harmed. Thousands tortured, detained without benefit of legal counsel, irreparably harmed. Millions of U.S. citizens spied upon, their emails read, their purchasing patterns studied, their privacy irreparably harmed by high tech systems.

Now is the time for hand counted paper ballots. How do Americans really vote?

Computer security expert Chuck Herrin has dedicated one website to explain to non-experts some of the 120 ways these high-tech voting systems can be hacked.[6] He explains the theory, so that the reasons can be understood, if not the computer code. His PowerPoint® presentation [7] is ideal for non experts to present to officials, as well as Dorothy Fadiman’s “Stealing America: Vote by Vote,” in which Herrin appears. [8] 

A Fair Vote Count Is Observable

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe studies and reports on democratic elections around the globe, issuing guidelines. Nowhere in its manual [9] does it mention voting machines when discussing a fair vote count. Vote counts that occur inside a machine amount to a secret vote count, which violates international standards for democratic elections.

Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science and technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University, promotes an open process. “We want election technology that’s so transparent you can have the most corrupt people in charge and still have fair elections.” [10] 

That technology is the simplest: Hand-count paper ballots, at the precinct, before all who wish to observe. Let citizens observe the vote count, and “the most corrupt people in charge” will be thwarted. This is the most appropriate technology for democratic elections. Since U.S. elections have global consequences, it is our duty as global citizens to run the most transparent and verifiable elections. We reject systems that tabulate our vote inside a machine, away from prying eyes. 

Severing the Gordian Knot with Simplicity

A hand-counted paper ballot system is the most democratic election system available. HCPBs provide voters with a basis for confidence in reported results – without requiring us to rely on technology or experts, whose work we are incapable of verifying. We trust what we can observe and comprehend. We deserve the best available system of democratic elections. 

Lucky for us, that system is also the simplest and least expensive. 

1. See my Electronic Voting and Fair Vote Counts: 15 Expert Reports, annotated January 2007. Link 

2. See my HCPB Implementation Strategy, January 3, 2007 at Link

3. Help America Vote Act of 2002 authorized $3.9 billion in taxpayer funds for new voting systems, but not the funds to secure electronic computerized systems. See Chuck Herrin’s PowerPoint® file for an overview of computer security principles (footnote 7).

4. Brennan Center for Justice, NY School of Law, “The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Security, Accessibility, Usability and Cost,” 2006. Link

5. http://www.ChuckHerrin.com

6. Chuck Herrin, “The Effect of Computers on the Integrity of Vote Tabulation,” Jan. 7, 2005. http://www.chuckherrin.com/1

7. Stealing America: Vote by Vote, Dorothy Fadiman, Concentrentic Media 2006. 70 minutes (September 2006 preview version) http://www.stealingamerica.com

8. OSCE – Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2005, “Election Observation Manual,” 17 Criteria for a Fair Vote Count (p. 62) Link

9. Debra D’Agostino, E-Voting: Will Your Vote Count? CIO Online, August 11, 2006 Link

Posted at Progress Ohio.