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Another Ineffective e-Voting Reform Bill that Solves Nothing

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Now the Senate is Going to Write Another Ineffective Electronic Voting Reform Bill that Solves Nothing


Original Content at http://www.opednews.com/articles/Now-the-Senate-is-Going-to-by-Jerry-Lobdill-080623-998.html

June 23, 2008

Another Ineffective e-Voting Reform Bill that Solves Nothing

By Jerry Lobdill

Now the Senate is Going to Write Another Ineffective Electronic Voting Reform Bill that Solves Nothing

I am a rather jaded participant in the election reform wars. I am a retired scientist who was intimately involved in the design, building, and testing of computer aided systems for military use for a period of over thirty years. In 2006 I decided that the various ideas being advanced to make voting a secure, transparent, auditable and credible process could use my expertise. There were two areas of concern in which I thought I could contribute useful work. One was software security, and the other was auditability. I joined the Open Voting Consortium among other discussion groups and began to work on auditing methods. Some of my work is published on the NIST website.

The answers to the technical issues came after only a few months of discussions between computer scientists, mathematicians, and others who had been involved in elections for many years. But it soon became apparent that the elected powers did not want to listen to the technical people. They wanted to assert power, to grandstand, to avoid any proposed solution that would compromise their authority to be the final arbiters of election outcomes, and to retain the power to deny recounts without any hard checks or balances.

Their actions in bill-writing committees resulted in bills that ignored the rather startling recommendations by most scientists that elections be conducted by means of hand-marked paper ballots. Scientists had long recognized that if ballots were ephemeral entities that disappeared without a trace the instant a voter pushed the "Cast Ballot" button, elections could never be audited. It was equally clear that computerized vote tallying-even if elections involved optical scanning of hand marked paper ballots-was a process vulnerable to computer fraud, and thus required a scientifically designed partial recount audit that could be conducted with the participation of voters in public.

It was also recognized that any criminal programmer who was willing to permit the voter to see a paper record of her ballot choices--a record that would be preserved for a possible audit-was actually counting on the retained ability of an elected official (the state Secretary of State) to control rules and events in such a manner as to 1) make audits ineffective statistically, and 2) preserve absolute authority to declare an audit unnecessary and certify the election results as previously announced.

"Verifiable paper records" resulted in cash register type paper rolls containing thermally printed ballot choice summaries that were not--could not--be identical to the multipage electronic ballot the voter had entered into the machine. These were proven to be useless because only about 20% of voters actually viewed the paper summary and many of those had difficulty correlating the completely different formats of the summary and the multipage computer screen ballot presentation.

Finally, the fact that the tallying code is simple to corrupt, and the paper rolls of voter ballot summaries can easily be programmed to show a different set of choices than the tally actually records make the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine concept one that should be dead on arrival.

From the propaganda issued by the voting machine industry it was clear that hand marked paper ballots and a scientific audit were not acceptable. And from the deliberations of the bill-writing committees and their nonsensical bills it was clear that a proper solution to the problems would not be forthcoming.

Thus, we saw the Holt bills (two of them) crafted by politically connected people whose work was directed by a lawyer whose desires were their command. The deliberations were carried out in closed sessions in which scientists were reduced to an advisory role and who were ultimately ignored. The result both times was a wholly ineffective weak bill that deserved and received rejection (probably for the wrong reasons).

Now we have a new effort, this time in the Senate instead of the House, announced through Senator Diane Feinstein's office on May 22, 2008. If you read the Feinstein article (http://tinyurl.com/5ol7la)you will see that this effort is doomed from the start to produce, once again, a bill that should die a-borning. The charge of the committee is to write a bill that will require a computer-printed version of a voter's ballot choices that have been entered into a DRE paperless electronic voting machine.

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I am a retired physicist and hold a B.S. in Ch. E. as well. I have been an environmental activist since the early 1970s. I was a founding member of the Save Barton Creek Association in Austin, TX. In 2006 I was a member of a select (more...)

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