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Four Possible Options for Pinellas County for Compliance with FL's New Paper Ballot Legislation

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Four Possible Options for Pinellas County
For Compliance with Florida's New Paper Ballot Legislation

By Pamela Haengel
President, Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay,
VP & Co-Founder, Florida Voters Coalition

On Monday, September 25, 2007, the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections office offered an opportunity to view a demonstration of four possible voting systems that Pinellas and other Florida counties can choose from to comply with the new Florida law (HB 537) requiring paper ballots by July 2008. I attended on behalf of Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay and Florida Voters Coalition (FVC). FVC President Dan McCrea from Miami was also in attendance as well as FVC's coalition partner, Florida Council of the Blind (FCB), represented by its President, Debbie Grubb, from Orlando. (Debbie-- who is blind-- was able, for the very first time, to test the AutoMark and was very pleased to be able to produce a paper ballot with it that feeds through a scanner just like every other voter's ballot. She also reports it was very easy to use.)

Most of this article is applicable to all of the 15 all-DRE (or direct recording electronic) touchscreen counties in Florida, since the equipment we saw in Pinellas is the same from which all counties must chose. To accomplish the transition to paper ballots the 15 DRE counties may only purchase systems certified by the State of Florida. We saw four possible systems: ES&S, Sequoia, Dominion and Premier.

What we gain with paper balloting

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Voter-verifiability and auditability (neither of which were possible with the DREs), overall simplification and cost-reduction of elections administration and, last but not least, it nearly eliminates the use of the proven-faulty DREs (which are inexplicably still allowed in Florida until 2012 for voters with disabilities only).

These are all steps in the right direction. We applaud Pinellas Supervisor Deborah Clark for providing this demonstration, though we would have appreciated more ability for hands-on testing of the equipment. We also thank the Elections Department staff and pollworkers in all counties who must make implementation of paper balloting happen, especially in the 15 all-DRE Florida counties where change and retraining will be the most significant. All Florida counties must have this transition complete within the next nine months. Our main concerns and some highlights after seeing the demonstrations are as follows:

1. Audits, Audits, Audits: This one won't go away. It was a concern before today and remains at the top of the list. Without statistically significant, random, manual audits, performed routinely after each and every election, with results announced BEFORE certification, optically scanned ballots can be counted incorrectly-with losers announced as winners-- and we will never know it. Precinct count optical scan systems are a positive step, but our elections will still be counted by electronic machines. Tests conducted by Florida and California elections officials, and elsewhere, have shown results-changing errors can still occur undetected for a variety of reasons, however, unlike DRE systems, optical scan systems can be significantly secured by conducting meaningful audits of all elections by counting the paper ballots. In such "post election audits," a random selection of ballots are hand-counted to verify that machine counts are accurate. HB 537, Sections 8 and 9, currently requires only 1-2% audits of randomly selected precincts, in one randomly selected race (not even a top-ticket race). Legislators assured us they would re-visit those provisions in the 2008 session, still months before the effective date. All Floridians, and especially county governments, should demand the legislature live up to its assurance and significantly strengthen Florida's post election audit procedures. FVC will continue to push for improvements in auditing laws at the state level.

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2. Diebold is Premier. Diebold Election Systems Inc. (DESI) changed its name about a month ago to Premier Election Systems perhaps because no voting system vendor has suffered worse publicity across the country for failed systems, running uncertified software, and being subject to hacking attacks in a multitude of ways. Perhaps also because the larger Diebold international brand was being negatively impacted by all the bad publicity from its relatively small voting system unit that they'd just as soon spin off.

3. Dominion: This company's "ImageCast" scanner is for sale in New York as a Sequoia product, but is not yet certified by the state. This manufacturer is new to Florida and, in fact, Dominion's ImageCast has NEVER been used at all in the United States. Dominion is not yet certified in Florida. In addition to Floridians not wanting to be guinea pigs after being the national poster-child for failed elections, Florida voters should also be concerned that this system, like the ES&S DS200 scanner, also claims that the optical scanner can be used as an ADA-compliant voting station but does not create a paper ballot for voters with disabilities. It has them voting digitally. (Debbie Grubb of FCB tested their ADA equipment and was very disappointed to find out that she was voting only digitally, which she stresses is unacceptable.) It also does not afford the convenience of a large touchscreen interface for voters with manual dexterity impairment.

4. Election Systems & Software: ES&S's new generation precinct-based optical scanner (PCOS), the "intElect DS200," appears to have improvements, including large screen feedback and multi-lingual capability, but raises new concerns touting itself as ADA-compliant when this feature operates essentially the same as a DRE and does not produce a true paper ballot (like the Dominion system).

5. Pinellas & Sequoia: The new Florida paper ballot law requires the complete elimination of DREs and the implementation of a paper ballot solution for voters with disabilities by 2012. While both ES&S and Diebold/Premier currently have systems available that are certified with a non-tabulating ballot marking device for voters with disabilities, it was very troubling to learn from Sequoia officials that they have NO system in the pipeline for certification in Florida that would afford Sequoia counties an option for ADA compliance. Sequoia's ONLY option currently for voters with disabilities is to leave them voting on the known-substandard and faulty DREs. Meanwhile, Sequoia wants Pinellas County's business for the new optical scanners and asks us to make a leap of faith that they will provide "something" for ADA compliance by that time. Regardless, Pinellas County MUST purchase ADA-compliant equipment before 2012. If we choose Sequoia now, we are, in effect, making a sight-unseen commitment for whatever technology Sequoia chooses to sell us, and at whatever price, because we will have too great an investment with them farther down the road to do otherwise. Keep in mind that ADA compliance requires an assistive ballot marking device for each and every precinct, which is not a small expenditure. At today's prices (for the AutoMark), it would cost Pinellas County $1.9 million. Can Pinellas County afford to gamble with taxpayers' money that that number won't go up significantly over the next four years when other vendors have ADA equipment certified and available now?

6. Voters with Disabilities. There is no reason for voters with disabilities to be provided less secure systems than other voters, but that's exactly what most Florida counties are planning to do. HB 537 allows counties to provide ADA compliance by continuing to use one DRE per precinct for the next four years– then those will be tossed to the junk heap as well. But another option is available today– a Florida certified "ballot marking device" or "BMD." BMDs are non-tabulating stand-alone devices that mark a ballot for the voter who uses a variety of interfaces depending on their needs. A large touchscreen (with no DRE), audio, "sip and puff," tactile devices, foot pedals, and a variety of accessories are all ways that voters with all types of disabilities can use this device to simply mark a paper ballot just like the ones used by all other voters. Their paper ballots can then be scanned and counted just as everyone else's. The Florida Council of the Blind supports this method and rejects DREs as unfit for any voters.

a. Features of AutoMark Ballot Marking Device: (Added here because of the infrequent opportunity provided to see this machine. If you've seen it, just skip to the next paragraph.) The AutoMark is a BMD certified by the state with both ES&S and Diebold/Premier that does not tabulate votes in any way, but simply marks a paper ballot for the voter. The way the AutoMark operates is by the voter or a pollworker inserting a pre-printed ballot into the machine, the AutoMark reads the ballot and either presents the ballot on the touchscreen or through the audio headset, depending on which feature is chosen. The voter then makes their choices with one of a variety of interactive tools provided, the AutoMark marks the ballot for them, then feeds it back out to the voter into a privacy sleeve. (A voter can insert the ballot back into the AutoMark in any direction or orientation and the AutoMark will read back their choices back through audio headphones or onscreen and give the voter the opportunity to change their votes.) It can also mark multi-page ballots. It is programmable to alert the voter of undervotes and overvotes. It has buttons on the machine itself with braille for selecting the voters' choice. A blind voter using audio can black-out the screen for privacy. A low vision voter can use the option for the enlarged typeface. The AutoMark is multi-lingual. We were told that there are also several additional interactive tools available for voters with different types of motor impairments including, but not limited to, sip/puff, rocker switch, gel pad, foot pedal, and joystick. These are important features as HAVA requires accessibility for ALL voters with ALL types of impairment. The most important feature of AutoMark is this: It assists voters with disabilities to privately and independently create a ballot like all other voters and then that ballot is run through the scanner and dropped into the ballot box with all other ballots.

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b. ADA Compliance: Counties have the ability to choose to do the right thing, right now, for our voters with disabilities. ADA-compliant equipment that allows them to use the same system as all other voters is available and certified now. Counties have the ability to make that choice and avoid challenges from the disabled community of "separate and unequal" voting systems. It is simply unconscionable to leave ANY voter voting on DREs with their known defects. It's like forcing someone to drive a Ford Pinto when you know it has a propensity for blowing up!! To leave voters with disabilities in that situation is inexcusable. We now have multiple, independent scientific tests by the State of California, Princeton University and others, that show unacceptably high security risks with the DREs. No one deserves to have to continue to vote on a DRE.

c. ADA-Compliant Optical Scanners are No Substitute. Both Dominion and ES&S tout their precinct-based optical scanner as also ADA-compliant. The technology in these devices is virtually identical to DREs and should be considered similarly unfit. They only print an image of a paper ballot and they actually tabulate a digital ballot. These are not true paper ballots as prescribed by HR537 and should not be confused as such.

7. More about Pinellas: Only Florida's four Sequoia counties, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, and Indian River, have no option to stay with their current vendor and still do right by voters with disabilities. Sequoia has no BMD certified with their system and no plan to provide one, according to company officials. Dominion is not certified in Florida so it is not used in any Florida counties, or anywhere in the United States for that matter, and also has no BMD option. The only true BMD currently certified in Florida is AutoMark, and both ES&S and Diebold/Premier have had it certified and offer it with their systems.

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Pamela Haengel is the president of the Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay, Co-Founder & VP of Florida Voters Coalition
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Four Possible Options for Pinellas County for Compliance with FL's New Paper Ballot Legislation