"Where nothing can go wrong... go wrong... go wrong..."
So went the tagline for "Westworld," the chilling 1973 thriller about a resort where the androids go off the rails. Fiction? Hardly. In 2008, we have our own version of an electronic frontier fraught with machine failure.
It's called the U.S. electoral system, a decentralized mess where often partisan local officials manage the voter registration rolls and have the power to purchase any voting system they please, often with no real oversight or meaningful security testing procedures.
We assembled a panel of leading election integrity (EI) experts and asked their advice on myriad aspects of the e-voting problem. Their recommendations are wide-ranging and should hopefully serve as a wake-up call, since candidates' political futures, not to mention the future of the U.S. and the entire planet, could be decided on error-prone and worse, easily tamperable electronic voting systems.
The question put to each of the experts was, "How can candidates best protect themselves from potential electronic voting problems and manipulation?"
Bev Harris, Black Box Voting.org
There's not a lot they can do, but the number one thing is they should take the time to reconcile the numbers. There are various things that should add up with each other. We have found that about 70% of the time the records don't add up correctly. Those are the checks and balances that are supposed to protect the vote. Too often, they're going to find that they don't check or balance. But either way, they should check, because that's something that, as a candidate, it's doable. You can see that the number of people who checked in to vote is not less than the number of votes, for example. Or you sometimes see more votes show up than there are people in the county. And ensure that the results in the polling place matches the results that got reported.
With the scanned ballots (paper ballots which are counted by an optical scan machine, as opposed to a DRE or touch-screen machine) there is an additional reconciliation item. Most places that are running a tight ship, the poll workers are supposed to sign off on how many ballots they got and then sign off on how many got used, how many got spoiled, and how many they have left over. That's a really important thing to check on, because that's where the problems can come in. There's a few places where they audit a certain number of them, and if you get extra blank ballots unaccounted for floating around, they can make anything match.
Brad Friedman, The Brad Blog
The first thing they (candidates) need to do is go to StandingForVoters.org and put themselves on the record loud and clear that they are not going to concede an election until every vote is counted and counted accurately and all election challenges are adequately resolved. Doing that sends a signal that they are not going to tolerate it, and they are going to do forensic audits to make sure everything was recorded accurately. And for the bad guys who are going to try to get away with it, it will put them on notice that we're watching this time.
They other thing they should do is educate themselves about their electoral system. I'm constantly stunned by how little candidates seem to know about the electoral system that will be used to elect or defeat them. I heard Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid on the air the other day say that they were lucky in the state of Nevada because they have paper trails on their system -- never mind the fact that those paper trails, along with those touch screen machines they use in Nevada, are hackable. It's a touch screen with a paper trail, which is as verifiable as a touch screen without a paper trail, which is to say not verifiable at all. The fact that the Democratic Senate Majority Leader doesn't understand that is stunning.
In many cases, candidates have standing that regular voters don't have. They can ask for recounts. They can ask for spot checks. They can randomly choose a precinct to be recounted by hand in most states. And again, they should announce their intention before the election to do exactly that, so the bad guys will be on notice that you can try to game the system, but there's a very good chance that you're going to get caught.
An optically scanned paper ballot without any form of verification is virtually worthless. We need to actually start counting some of these paper ballots that we fought so hard to get.
Clint Curtis, programmer/whistleblower
If the state has paper ballots but no audit procedure, as in Florida, the candidate should perform a sample audit by using ballot inspection after the election. After-election audits do not carry the weight of real audits, but it is all we are left with at Florida. I would suggest a 10 percent audit of all precincts, randomly drawn. If election officials are aware that the audit is coming, then they are more likely to be careful in making sure that their numbers are correct, at least in the items that they can control.
On DREs, there is no way to do it. After-election canvassing is expensive and difficult, and the results were ignored by both the press and the political system. (Curtis is referring to his failed 2006 Congressional bid in Florida's 24th district. Curtis and team went door to door collecting signed affidavits from voters as to how they voted -- which Curtis alleges were drastically off from the official results. His election challenge was dismissed by the Democratic-led House Administration Committee who never even reviewed the evidence.)