[EM] Re: Election-methods digest, Vol 1 #152 - 6 msgs

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Wed Jul 9 23:19:01 PDT 2003

John B. Hodges said:
> Greetings- Everyone on this list should read the following link:
> http://www.truthout.org/docs_03/voting.shtml
> Which makes me seriously question any voting system that requires
> computers to count or calculate at any stage of the process.

Having volunteered at a local precinct on two occasions, I have a few
observations germane to the above link:

In Santa Barbara County the voters fill out paper ballots, and the ballots
are read by optical scanners.  A computer keeps a tally of the results in
that precinct.  The paper ballots are retained in a locked compartment.

At the end of the day the results are sent by modem to election
headquarters.  At the same time, the hard copies are placed in boxes which
are sealed, and the seal is signed by all of the volunteers in the
precinct.  The boxes are driven to a central location, at which point they
are taken into custody by election officials.  Police guard the central
location.  I don't recall whether it is mandatory that the volunteer
driving the car with the boxes be accompanied by another volunteer, but I
always made sure to have another volunteer with me in the car as I drove
from the precinct to the election headquarters.

This system is robust against tampering.  Sure, the digital data can be
manipulated by skilled people who know all of the backdoors.  The average
citizen might not know enough (I certainly don't) to ascertain whether the
digital data is adequately protected.  However, there are still the paper
ballots, which are the voters' original documents, and they can be used in
the event of fraud allegations.

Sure, paper ballots can be manipulated too (see Chicago), but with
reasonable security measures the ballots can be protected against
cleverness, leaving only corruption as a concern.  The surest protection
against corruption is transparency, so as long as the system is
transparent the citizens can have confidence that the original ballots are
secure.  Here's how I'd guard them (I have no idea if Santa Barbara County
uses these measures):

Keep them in a locked location, keep a large staff of guards, and never
allow a single individual to guard the ballots by himself.  Keep thorough
records of who accesses the ballots and allow the general public to
observe any time an official accesses the ballots for any reason.  While
the ballots themselves must be in a locked room, all entrances to that
room should be visible to the public 24 hours per day.  Surveillance tapes
of the doorways and the interior of the room should be available to the
public, and any citizen who wishes to should be free to visit the facility
at any time of day or night and observe the guards.

So, I share Mr. Hodges skepticism of any all-digital voting technology,
but I have confidence in any system that retains hard copies of the
voters' original ballots and has very stringent but transparent security
measures.  I wouldn't mind touch-screen voting if the touch-screen machine
produced a hard copy which the voter had to inspect and submit before
his/her vote is counted.  Optical scanners and paper ballots are good. 
Punch-cards have proven to be dubious.

Anyway, that's my opinion based on experience "in the field."


P.S.  Fraudulent voting by unqualified individuals (a perennial
conservative concern), intimidation of voters (a perennial liberal
concern), and "vote early and vote often" (a perennial Chicago concern)
are also important issues, but these issues pertain to voter registration
and precinct administration rather than vote tabulation.  I'll refrain
from commenting on this subject in this thread.

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