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Election Law Mandates Public Inspection of Ballots and Ballot Boxes in Most States

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   5 comments
Message Michael Dean
Nearly very state still has within its election code a provision that allows public observers the right to inspect physical ballot box containers and paper ballots before the polls open on Election Day. (Example: New Hampshire Election Code Section 658:36 Inspection of Ballot Box – At the opening of the polls, the ballot box shall be publicly opened and shown to be empty; and the election officers shall ascertain that fact by a personal examination of the box. eff. July 1, 1979) Nearly every state also still has within its election code a provision that allows public observers to watch election clerks open physical ballot box containers and count the paper ballots at the end of the Election Day.

Ballot box inspection laws are on the book of every state because in the past political partisans are known to have stuffed ballot boxes in a wide variety of ways. Election laws of nearly every state affirm it is the duty of election judges and clerks and the right of election observers in every voting precinct to inspect paper ballots and each ballot box container to certify ballots are accurate and ballot boxes are empty. In the November 2000 presidential election there were 184,850 precinct-polling places each with an Election Judge, Alternate Judge, an average of four clerks and one election observer. That tabulates to approximately 1,293,950 ordinary citizen volunteers certifying the ballots, ballot boxes and voting processes were above-board – this is the true power behind America’s free and democratic society.

The only really serious November 2000 election issue was in Palm Beach County, FL where hanging chad and butterfly ballots were blamed for questionable election results. Palm Beach County Election Officials, Judges and Observers could not understand how they could have so badly botched their duty to run a clean and orderly election. The problem, it turns out, was they did not know to inspect the “technical quality” of the punch card ballot paper and the alignment of the ballot card punch holes to the ballot punch machines.

According to the recent Dan Rather report on Sequoia Voting Systems, ballot punch cards manufactured by Sequoia specifically for Palm Beach County, FL were rigged for failure. In Rather’s report seven former Sequoia company employees expose on camera that, over their strong objections, they were forced to manufacture Palm Beach County, FL punch card ballots using poor quality paper that could not properly hold and release punch hole chads. The seven revealed they also had been forced to deliberately misalign the punch hole chads on the substandard ballot cards so they would not proper align with ballot positions on the Palm Beach County punch voting machines. The question of why Sequoia company employees were forced to manufacture ballot punch cards rigged to failure remains to be discovered.

It was the “technical quality” of the punch card ballots supplied by trusted ballot card vendor Sequoia that had escaped the scrutiny of Palm Beach County Election Officials, Judges and Observers both before and after the election. It is only now, seven years after the November 2000 election, that this “technical quality” issue has come to light. In the intervening seven years the high-tech Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) eVoting machine solution has proliferated around the United States to “fix” the low-tech hanging chad and butterfly ballot problems of the November 2000 election.

As Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) eVoting machines proliferate, precinct level election judges, clerks and observers increasingly have lost the ability to directly inspect ballots and ballot box containers on Election Day. Each and every DRE eVoting machine contains software code that dynamically builds and displays ballot images on its touch screen every time a citizen steps up to vote. Each and every DRE voting machine also contains software code to read and store in memory each voter's touch screen ballot voting selections.

The software code together with data storage drives and PC memory cards in each and every DRE voting machine is the equivalent of physical ballot box containers and paper ballots. Precinct level Election Judges, Clerks and Observers can no longer:
Directly inspect ballots, stored as software code, to insure the ballot accurately lists every candidate in every election category.
Directly inspect the software that tabulates and records in memory each voter’s ballot selections, to certify the votes are properly and accurately recorded and that nefarious software is not lurking to stuff the virtual ballot box.
Directly inspect data storage drives and PC memory cards, to certify the virtual ballot box data storage is empty.

Election judges can only ask the eVoting machine software to write a paper report of vote totals for each ballot position at the start of the Election Day. Precinct level election judges and observers can only trust that when the vote totals report shows zero votes for every ballot position, the eVoting machine virtual ballot box is truly empty and nefarious software is not lurking to stuff the virtual ballot box some time during the election day.

Stuffing the DRE software virtual ballot box is potentially even easier to perpetrate than it was to rig Palm Beach County, FL punch card ballots to fail in November 2000. Any one of the small army of computer programmers who legitimately writes code destined to be loaded on each and every DRE system just prior to each election has the opportunity to privately stuff the eVoting machine software ballot box.

DRE system manufacturer programmers continually write voting application software code to fix software bugs and enhance general voting system function. Yet other technicians within the DRE Companies package these many software updates together for distribution to county election administration offices around the country. Typically, temporary contractor programmers are then hired at each local election administration office to install the manufacturer’s software updates on each and every DRE machine. This offers ample opportunity for someone hide nefarious software in these update packages.

Immediately preceding each election, local temporary contractor programmers are typically hired in each local county election administration office to write software that codifies election ballots and that tabulates and records in memory voters’ ballot selections. (This software dynamically builds and controls the ballot image voters see on the DRE touch screen) The same contract programmer, or perhaps another programmer, then loads that locally written election ballot software along with DRE system manufacturer supplied software updates to each and every DRE machine. This offers further opportunity for someone to load nefarious software on some or all eVoting machines.

Typically, after election ballot and ballot tabulation software is loaded a contract programmer ‘certifies’ each DRE machine by flipping the power-on switch to make sure it boots up and can display the just loaded new election ballots on its touch screen. The machines are then sealed and at some later time delivered to election polling places. Contract programmers then also write the central tabulator software code that on election night reads and tabulates together vote totals from PC memory cards taken from each and every DRE eVoting machine in the county.

Local election officials are not computer scientists; indeed, many have trouble even maintaining the Windows PC on their desk. They can neither adequately assess the competence and veracity of local temporary contractor programmers hired to work on voting machines nor review and assess new software destined to be installed on their eVoting machines. In actuality, local election officials cannot verify that a contractor programmer's work is bug free or that they did not nefariously write a few extra lines of software code that activates only on election day to flip votes or rig vote totals on a central tabulator and then self delete at the end of the election day.

Local election officials, precinct level election judges, clerks and observers and every voting citizen can only trust that each member of the small army of computer programmers who writes code destined to run on each and every DRE voting machine and central tabulator computer do not act on partisan political motivations to stuff the software ballot box. If Palm Beach County election officials could not catch a technical quality problem with punch card ballots used in the November 2000 election, how can anyone argue that election officials have a realistic ability of identifying potential problems buried in thousands of lines of software code often hurriedly written just prior to every election in every county using DRE eVoting systems.

In the November 2006 election 1,142 counties (36.63 percent of all 3089 U.S. counties) around the United States used DRE-type voting systems. So, at minimum, 1,142 programmers developed software to codify and count electronic election ballots in the weeks, or in some cases days, just prior to the start voting.

Across those 1,142 counties some 479,640 Election Judges, Alternate Judges, Election Clerks and Observers could no longer certify by their own independent direct observation that the ballots, ballot boxes, and ballot counting processes were accurate and clean. Many Election Judges faced the same voter complaints as those voiced by Montgomery County, Ohio voters.

During the November 7, 2006 general election, voters in Montgomery County, Ohio reported some of the voting machines were choosing candidates other than those selected by the voter. A subsequent investigation by the Montgomery County Board of Elections revealed that, indeed, there was a problem and that the problem was more common than anyone expected. On March 19 and 20, 2007, a significant number of machines from multiple Montgomery County precincts, where problems had been reported by voters, were tested at the offices of the Montgomery County Board of Elections. The test showed 41 percent of the machines tested “flip” votes in at least one race of the test ballot.

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Bachelors of Science Degree in Computer Science and Business Administration with 25 years of experience working in the Independent Software Vendor Industry.
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