July 8, 2010

Election Integrity--An Update on the Lack of Progress toward Accurate, Verifiable Elections

Electronic voting machines are outlawed in Germany, but Pennsylvania voters have to vote on them here

By Madeline Rawley

Busily engaged as concerned voters must be in campaigns, there is little time to devote to fighting for and changing the many deep flaws in our election system so that the voters can be confident that the announced winner of an election is the true choice of the voters. These flaws exist in almost every step in the election process, beginning with, but not ending with, the voting machines we use here in Bucks County.

In 2006, despite warnings from computer scientists, cited by local voting integrity advocates, that direct recording electronic voting machines (DREs) were insecure and unreliable, Bucks County Commissioners purchased the DRE voting machines we presently must use. Because there is no way to know if the voters’ intended votes were registered and accurately counted by the software programming inside the machine, as there is no permanent paper record external to the machine, there is also no way to do a meaningful recount or audit the machine counts. In the 2006 Congressional election, despite the fact that the margin of victory was less than one percent, no recount was requested as it was recognized that the recount would be useless as the machine counts always remain the same.

Last year the German Supreme Court ruled that electronic voting machines could not be used in German elections. Their constitution demands that “all essential steps of an election are subject to the possibility of public scrutiny,” and they found that because “votes were exclusively recorded electronically neither voters or election boards were able to verify the unadulterated recording of the vote cast.”

Unfortunately, there is no similar clause in the United States constitution. In the case of a Pennsylvania lawsuit filed in 2006, it took 18 months for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule that citizens even had the right to sue the Secretary of the Commonwealth for certifying the use of these externally paperless DRE voting machines. (Secretary of the Commonwealth Cortes has just resigned to take a position with an electronic voting company that specializes in internet voting for military and other overseas voters, which is considered intrinsically insecure by computer security experts. Another example of the revolving door between government and business?) Despite another 2009 ruling by a Commonwealth Court that the voting machine companies needed to turn over the source code that they consider proprietary, the lawsuit has not yet made any progress.

In terms of legislative action, while there are proposed Federal bills in the House and Senate that would mandate the use of voter-marked paper ballots, and bills introduced in the Pennsylvania State Senate and House that would reimburse counties that switch to a voter-marked paper ballot, given the present state of the economy, these is no movement in favor of passage of these bills.

Nevertheless, while we must continue to vote on these machines, there are other flaws in the election process here in Bucks County that need to be changed – the subject of future articles.

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