Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Today's Congressional hearing

I testified today in a hearing of the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government in Washington DC. Here is my written testimony. The hearing was very interesting. I think we've come a long way from the days when members of Congress had no idea what was going on with respect to e-voting security. The questions, for the most part were intelligent, well researched, and to the point. Many of the questions were directed at another witness, Donetta Davidson, who is Chairwoman of the Election Assistance Commission. The Members grilled her about the lack of accountability of the EAC after they provide money to the states. They also asked for some third party research reports that the EAC has kept confidential.

It turns out that the ranking member of the subcommittee is from Diebold's home district. So, predictably, he tried to ask me challenging questions that sounded as though they were written by Diebold. "Voters love these machines, so why am I arguing against them?" I pointed out that none of my complaints against the DREs have to do with whether or not the voters like them. He also asked me why I would want to go back to an error-prone system such as op-scan when Diebold DREs in Maryland virtually eliminated voter error. I explained to him that modern optical scanners in precincts can provide the same level of overvote and undervote detection. He seemed to run out of steam after that.

Another member of the committee gave me the best opening I think I've ever had. He asked me if I thought it was possible to have a trustworthy and secure election using paperless DREs. I replied "no". He then said, "Why?" It was a question I was hoping for. I explained that a software only system, especially one as complex as a DRE where all all of the voter input and vote tabulation takes place in a closed box, cannot possibly be audited. There is no way to know for sure that the totals produced by the machines at the end of the election correspond to the votes that were cast by the voters.

Finally, I was asked if I thought that a DRE with a paper trail was an adequate voting system. I replied that when I first studied the Diebold DRE in 2003, I felt that a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) provided enough assurance. But, I continued, after four years of studying the issue, I now believe that a DRE with a VVPAT is not a reasonable voting system. The only system that I know of that achieves software independence as defined by NIST, is economically viable and readily available is paper ballots with ballot marking machines for accessibility and precinct optical scanners for counting - coupled with random audits. That is how we should be conducting elections in the US, in my opinion.