October 24, 2006
Vermonters for Voting Integrity continues to push for better security with the Diebold electronic voting machines used throughout our state. Recently, the Secretary of State handed us a major setback.
If you have been following the situation, we recently shared the good news that Secretary of State Deb Markowitz announced there would be a random audit on November's election. This means that for the first time, some of the machines will be tested for accuracy. All other industries except the voting machine industry conduct regular audits on their systems, and this is something that virtually all computer security experts recommend. In fact we have been supporting a letter writing drive to ask the Secretary to conduct audits for some time, and only recently has the office admitted it's a good idea (only a few months ago Director of Elections Kathy DeWolfe wrote, "I do not believe that we do not need random audits in Vermont.")
So naturally we were pleased when we found they have changed their minds, and there will an audit this November.
Since then, we have been trying to get details about the audit, to no avail until now, and the information we are getting is not good. We have recently been told by the Secretary's office that the audit will in effect be a secret audit. The office will not disclose how many precincts are going to be audited. And the very worst of it is, the precincts will NOT be randomly selected. The fact that they will not be randomly selected greatly diminishes the effectiveness and integrity of the audit.
It's obvious to most, if the precincts are not randomly selected, how can we really be assured that someone didn't know ahead of time which precincts were going to be counted? We have seen trouble along these lines in the past in other states, where representatives of the voting machines have gone to "service" only the machines that were going to be audited.
But rather than speculating, let's see what the experts have to say about random audits versus secret audits. The Brennan Report is widely considered to be the most comprehensive report on electronic voting systems. Out of its six key recommendations, 4 of them are related directly to audits. Here's what it says:
1. Conduct automatic routine audits comparing voter verified paper records to the electronic record following every election.
4. Use a transparent and random selection process for all auditing procedures. For any auditing to be effective (and to ensure that the public is confident in such procedures), jurisdictions must develop and implement transparent and random selection procedures.
6. Institute clear and effective procedures for addressing evidence of fraud or error. Both automatic routine audits and parallel testing are of questionable security value without effective procedures for action where evidence of machine malfunction and/or fraud is discovered.
-Recommendations from the Brennan Report
Now when Deb Markowitz went on the radio nearly 2 months ago and said that the Brennan Report was "affirming" because "the procedures we have in place are the recommended procedures" we assumed back then that our audit was going to be random. So at least recommendation #4 was covered. But now we have learned that our audit is not automatic, transparent, or random, and there are no procedures for addressing evidence of fraud, other than turning it over to the State's Attorney's office and let them decide what to do.
It kind of makes you wonder what Deb was thinking when she said that the Brennan Report was "affirming," and which recommendations she was thinking about when she told the public that we already have them in place.
In fact, out of the 7 recommendations, I can tell you that Vermont is only in compliance with ONE, and one other does not apply to us because we don't use touchscreen voting machines.
This is simply unacceptable. As citizens of Vermont, we have a right to hear the facts as they are. It is not right to tell us we are in compliance with the recommendations of a report when we are not. If we are going to have an audit, we deserve an effective one. And as the Brennan Report states clearly, in order for it to be effective, "jurisdictions must develop and implement transparent and random selection procedures." It even says this is partly to ensure public confidence in the process. WE AGREE.
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