Thursday, April 26, 2007

David Dill's excellent essay on the Holt Bill

David Dill of Stanford, Verified Voting, and ACCURATE has written a terriffic essay on the Holt Bill. I'm posting it here in its entirety:

David L. Dill

Four years ago, when I began publicly opposing paperless electronic
voting, passing a Federal law to require voter-verified paper records
(VVPRs) seemed an impossible dream. Rep. Rush Holt introduced such
a bill in 2003, and another in 2005, but both bills languished in
committee until the clock ran out.

The dream is now achievable, due in part to the unending stream of
problems caused by paperless voting machines in recent years. HR
811, the third incarnation of the Holt bill, is a critical measure
needed to protect the integrity of our elections, and it now has very
good prospects of being enacted. It already has 210 co-sponsors in
the House, where only 218 votes are required to pass it.

There are two provisions in HR 811 that are especially vital for
restoring trust in American elections: A nationwide requirement for
voter-verified paper records, and stringent random manual counts of
those records, to make sure they agree with the announced vote
totals. The requirements in the Holt bill are superior to those in
almostevery state of the country (there are now 22 states with
significant amounts of paperless electronic voting, and only 13
states require random audits of VVPRs).

Success is not assured, however. The forces that have blocked
previous bills are still active, especially vendors of current poorly
performing equipment. Also, various concerns, reasonable and
otherwise, have been raised about the bill by other parties.

Some groups insist on optical scan machines, which read and count hand-marked paper ballots, and are not supporting HR 811 because it still allows the use of touch-screen machines. However, under HR 811, those machines must be equipped with so-called voter-verifiable paper trails, which print a paper copy of the vote that can be reviewed by the voter before being cast. Most of the current generation of inferior paper-trail machines would not be allowed under HR 811, which requires the machines to preserve the privacy of voters and requires the VVPRs to be printed on high-quality paper. This will create a strong incentive for local jurisdictions to purchase optical scan equipment. Furthermore, HR 811 makes the paper records the official ballots of record in audits and recounts, and requires election officials to post a notice explaining to voters the need to verify their VVPRs.

I would personally prefer to see optical scan machines be used
nationwide, if supplemented by equipment to allow voters with
disabilities to vote privately. If groups objecting to HR 811 can
cause such a bill to be introduced and line up the votes in Congress
to get it passed, that bill will have my support. Meanwhile, those of
us who have actually talked to Congressional staff have not seen any
significant support for such a requirement. It seems that we have a
choice between HR 811 or continuation of our current "Kafka-esque"
paperless system (as a French politician recently described it).

Another small but noisy contingent is opposing HR 811, sometimes
without revealing their true agenda, because they will be satisfied
only with a nationwide system of hand-counted paper ballots. In
theory, we could adopt hand-counting of all ballots. However, hand
counting is rarely used now. It is politically unrealistic to believe
that the overwhelming number of jurisdictions that have been using
automated voting in various forms for 40 years or more are going to
go back to hand counting. HR 811 does not prevent hand counting
for those communities who want to do it, but it provides a realistic
solution for the rest of us.

Some are troubled by the role of the Federal Elections Assistance
Commission (EAC) under the bill. Like many others, I, too, lack
confidence in the EAC as currently configured. But HR 811 gives only
minimal responsibilities to the EAC. I can live with that if the
other provisions of the bill are enacted.

Finally, election officials have expressed concern over whether the
timeframe of HR 811 is feasible. On the one hand, I want passionately
to avoid potential meltdowns in the 2008 general election, and I am
not convinced that the possibility of simply purchasing optical scan
equipment has been adequately considered by those jurisdictions
currently using paperless electronic voting. On the other hand, it is
obviously necessary to allow adequate time for implementation of the
bill. Congress has heard all sides of this argument, and I am
confident that they will strike the right balance. If the
implementation date needs to be extended, I hope it will be done in a
way to encourage earliest possible elimination of paperless electronic
voting, so that the maximum number of voters will be protected in

HR 811 will no doubt change as it travels down the long, winding
legislative road. With some luck, the bill will survive with
the key provisions intact, and may even improve.

A good bill that becomes law is better than a great bill that doesn't.
HR 811 will start moving soon. Please ask your U.S. Representative to
support it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Paper ballot bill passes Maryland House

I have not seen any press reports about it yet, but according to a source of mine, yesterday, the Maryland House passed an enhanced version of the bill that passed the Maryland Senate last week. The bill requires paper ballots with in-precinct optical scan counting. Some provisions were added addressing disability access. The implementation of audit is left to the board of elections. I have not seen the final bill yet, but if this is all true, then it is a positive step. Now we need some proper audit requirements and for the governor to sign this bill and Maryland will switch from having one of the worst voting systems in the country to having one of the best. The transition to optical scan will happen by the 2010 election. I think it's a shame not to do this by 2008, but on balance, I will take it, considering that without this bill, we'd probably continue using DREs for a long time.

Friday, April 06, 2007

More information on SB392

I have obtained a copy of Senate Bill 392 which I am told passed the Maryland Senate today. I read through it, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it definitely requires paper ballots and optical scanners by 2010. While I would strongly prefer 2008, at this point, I will take a guarantee that we will have this technology by 2010. However, what troubles me is that the required manual randam audit text has been removed from the original bill. While this new system will have audit capability, it is critical that audits be required and random. Hopefully, this can be fixed after the fact. For now, I still view this development as a minor victory.

Good news from Maryland

What a sudden turnaround. The Maryland Senate just passed a paper ballot bill. I have heard from several people (including a comment posted on my previous blog entry) and one reporter, but I have not yet tracked down the text of the new bill. What I hear is that it will require paper ballots with optical scan and accessible ballot marking of paper ballots for disabled voters. I also have it on pretty good authority that there will be an effort within the Maryland House to pass the exact same bill.

The Senate bill passed unanymously! This is absolutely thrilling news.

I will post more once I track down the actual bill that passed and have a chance to read it.

What a great day for Maryland.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Disappointment in Maryland

I'm away with my family in Tennessee for Passover, but I wanted to take a moment to go online and update my readers about Maryland. Unfortunately, once again the state senate did not pass legislation that would have provided for a paper ballot for every voter in the state. I'm not sure why this happened because there seemed to be a uniform support for this bill in the committee when I testified in the senate hearing a few weeks ago. This will set Maryland back in the quest for verifiable and auditable elections. A huge disappointment.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

See you in ten

I have decided to leave computer science and to leave civilization and to go live in the woods. I have been ignoring nature for too long, and I would rather hang out with trees and rivers than with computers. You will no longer be able to reach me by email or fax, but if you put a message in a bottle and drop it off in a mountain river stream, I might get it. Take care everyone. I will return in 10 years and blog about my experience.