Losing democracy in cyberspace

Editorial by voting integrity advocated Penny Venetis in NorthJersey.com: Losing democracy in cyberspace – Voting computers, like heads of state, must be held accountable to the people they serve. <read>

What nobody is talking about is how votes will be cast in emerging democracies. For elections to be legitimate in such countries, it is critical to use voting technology that counts votes accurately. In the 21st century, chances are high that computers will be used in some form in the coming elections in Egypt and Tunisia. But voting computers, like heads of state, must be held accountable to the people they serve.

It is a tenet of computer science that computers can be programmed to do anything, including play “Jeopardy!” and steal votes…

The Princeton hacks are not unique. Studies commissioned by the secretaries of state of California, Ohio, Maryland and Connecticut outline in great detail the many vulnerabilities of various computerized voting systems.

The University of Connecticut and Professor Appel in New Jersey have produced several excellent reports on the vulnerabilities of voting machines and the lack of physical security provided by “tamper evident” seals in common use. Yet, as Professor Venetis points out, having paper ballots and knowing the risks is not enough:

But voter verified paper ballots, in and of themselves, cannot detect fraud. To fully ensure that the voting computers are not cheating, it is necessary to audit a certain percentage of voting machines in each election precinct by manually counting the paper ballots and comparing the hand-counted results with the computer-generated results. This system worked marvelously in Minnesota, when millions of voter verified paper ballots had to be hand-counted to determine the winner of the 2008 Senate race. Studies showed that the tally was 99.99 percent accurate.

Finally, to ensure that votes are counted accurately, it is imperative that totals be counted and announced at the precinct level. This protects against tampering with voting machines and paper ballots while they are being transported to centralized tabulation locations.

New Jersey falls short because they do not have paper ballots or paper records. Connecticut has paper ballot and audits, yet our audits fall far short. Our law has several glaring exemptions and flaws, including: Only polling place optical scanned ballots are audited – omitting most absentee ballots and hand counted ballots, like those copied ballots in Bridgeport; exemptions for districts that have recanvasses or contested elections; results audited against are not published; there is no deadline for publishing results of the audits which are not binding on the election; random drawings have not met the requirements of the law; audits showing differences that have been investigated behind closed doors; and the audit reports have dismissed all differences as human counting errors. <See: Inadequate Counting, Reporting,  and Reporting Continue>

As we have said, many times, with regard our audits in Connecticut: “If we dismiss all differences as human counting errors, if there ever was error or fraud it would not be recognized.”

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