No, its not the time for more electronics in Connecticut’s voting

An Op-Ed in the CT Mirror: It’s time to modernize the way Connecticut votes <read>We disagree.

The main trust is that we should do more electronic automation of the election process in Connecticut such as electronic transmission of results and electronic pollbooks, and alluding to less pens and paper in voting.

Perhaps we can forgive the author for accepting at face value the claims of vendors and their customers that have sunk unnecessary millions into questionable technology. Sometimes it works well and saves time and effort, sometimes it doesn’t!

  • Lets start with electronic submission of results. That idea has a couple of basic flaws.
    • First its risky. No voting system should ever be connected to the Internet, have wireless connectivity, or be connected to phone lines. All that risks hacking of the voting machine itself. Experts have cautioned election officials against any such capabilities. The leading voting system vendor, ES&S has been caught lying to officials, a government agency, and the public trying to hide that they had that capability.  CT helped develop and uses a data collection system where tapes of results from machines are data entered into a system not connected to our voting machines – it may seem like a lot of work to Head Moderator’s like the author. Yet overall its not that big a deal e.g.  it my town it takes a few hours work by two officials, not that much in comparison to the 60 or so that work 17+ hours on election day.
    • Second, many CT votes are not counted electronically.  Votes on hand counted ballots and write-in votes are not counted by machines but the data must in any case be entered and reported. In other states some of this data is counted electronically by copying unscannable ballots onto other ballots for scanning – this is a labor intensive, slow, and error-prone process.
  • On to electronic poll books. Once again, risky, expensive and not all they are claimed to be.
    • The University of Connecticut tested them and found all those offered by vendors to be lacking in security. The analysis is confidential due to (unfortunate, undemocratic) agreements with the vendors that allowed the testing.
    • They are not as fast as and they are as error prone as manual lookup and voter checkoff on paper lists.
    • Many tout the advantages of not having to print all that paper, yet every expert warns that a paper backup is necessary to keep voting going in the face of power outages, Internet outages, and software or hardware failures.
    • Like everything connected to the Internet they are vulnerable to hacking. In 2016 there was a huge failure in an entire county in NC. There is no evidence of hacking, yet that is only because there was no credible investigation of a trail that my well have lead to Russia.
    • Once again, a little time on the part of election officials doing data entry saves millions in hardware and software acquisition and maintenance – and could provide jobs to Connecticut residents.
  • Several years ago the Secretary of the State got bonding of $6,000,000 to buy electronic pollbooks and a scheme for wireless transmission of results. She wisely turned it back to the State.
  • When it comes less paper and pens, we agree with the author that our current system is secure and accurate. The alternative, pictured with the Op-Ed seems to be and electronic Ballot Marking Devise (BMD). They are risky and expensive.
    • Life time costs for acquisition and programming are at least double, perhaps triple that of optically scanners and paper ballots. One of our current scanners handles the volume of ballots in all but a couple of polling places in the State. A couple handle most central count absentee ballot locations. We originally bought two per polling place, with consolidation there are a number of extras around, they can be purchased very reasonably used online. In fact, the Secretary of the State purchase a number of spares a couple of years ago.
    • BMDs cost lots more because you need many more per polling place. Each must be acquired initially, maintained, programmed, and tested for each election.
    • BMDs and their more risky predecessor technology, DREs, are the cause of lines and polling places. Not scanners in Connecticut and in most jurisdictions.
    • BMDs are subject to hardware and power failures. To continue in spite of power failures there needs to be a sufficient supply of paper ballots in every polling place (that would presumably need to be counted by hand).
    • Finally, BMDs are risky. Research shows that voters do not and cannot reliably check the paper “ballot” they produce, and have a hard time convincing officials the BMD made errors, not the voter.
  • We agree that our scanners are old.
    • Unlike the author, the surveys of registrars after every election have not indicated any rise in scanner failures.
    • Newer technology scanners available today are marginally better then the AccuVoteOS scanners we have now. The create ballot images and files containing Cast Vote Records, both of which support more comprehensive, less  expensive audits.
    • Yet, the new systems are each more expensive and slower. Many more polling places would need multiple machines to process the volumes of votes we have in Connecticut. They are just as vulnerable to hacking and thus should never be connected to the Internet, phone lines, or wireless for electronic communication of results. And still those hand counted and write-in votes need to be reported manually.
    • Many more will be required for more central count absentee locations. ES&S provides high speed scanners. Two count all the absentee ballots in Rhode Island. But Rhode Island is not Connecticut. They count all there absentees centrally and also program and warehouse all their scanners centrally in one place in Providence. We count and manage everything in each of 169 towns. Those high-speed scanners are too expensive to deploy for local AB counting.

Our bottom line: Never change from Voter Marked Paper Ballots unless there is some dramatic technological breakthrough. Avoid connectivity for voting machines. Cautiously consider electronic pollbooks, with mandatory paper backup systems. Keep using our current AccuVoteOS until they really need replacing – perhaps better more economical alternatives will become available, perhaps they will comply with the new Federal standards expected soon.



Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.