TO: CVF-NEWS FROM: Kim Alexander, CVF President DATE: September 13, 2002 RE: Judge decides in favor of touchscreens; voting problems in FLA
Last week, Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled in support of Riverside County, California's touchscreen voting system in the case Weber vs. Jones. As I've mentioned in a previous edition of CVF-NEWS, this case was brought by Susan Marie Weber, a Riverside county voter, who sued the Secretary of State, claiming that the paperless, touchscreen voting systems deployed in Riverside county are not safe from fraud and manipulation due to the use of proprietary software and the absence of a voter-verified paper trail.
Judge Wilson dismissed Weber's case on the grounds that she had not put forward sufficient material evidence to make her case (he found my declaration, which is online at http://www.calvoter.org/votingtech/riversidestatement.html to be "irrelevant" and the news articles I submitted describing recent voting technology problems to be hearsay).
His ruling, which is available online through Weber's web site, at http://www.electionguardians.org/opinion.htm, finds that the benefits of touchscreen voting advance several "important state interests". These include: eliminating the loss of votes due to damaged, mismarked or over-voted ballots; improving the ability to conduct early voting programs; improving access to voters with disabilities; and enabling counties to provide ballots in multiple languages.
There is no question that touchscreen voting is an improvement in many ways over paper-based voting systems. But touchscreen voting is also creating all kinds of new challenges that I do not believe our 19th century election system is prepared to meet. Touchscreen voting may not fail in the old ways that paper does, but it will fail in all kinds of new ways that we haven't even imagined yet.
For more information about the Riverside decision, see the statement made by Susan Marie Weber online at http://www.electionguardians.org/details.htm, and the Desert Sun Sept. 7th article, at http://www.thedesertsun.com/news/stories/local/1031369293.shtml. Secretary of State Bill Jones' release is online at http://www.ss.ca.gov/executive/press_releases/2002/02-075.htm.
This week's primary election in Florida gives us a glimpse of the problems that are in store for us if we go paperless. Janet Reno, one of three candidates for the Democratic party's nomination for Governor, is asking for a recount. But what will be recounted? If touchscreen machines were not functioning properly to begin with, the only "recount" that could happen would be the same computerized count that was given in the first place. Those who extol touchscreen voting as the way to prevent another repeat of the Florida 2000 election debacle can at least rest assured -- there can't be another repeat of long ballot counting sessions if there are no ballots.
More details about Florida's Sept. 10th election day problems are available from the Miami Herald, http://www.miami.com/mld/miami/4043757.htm, and http://www.miami.com/mld/miami/4055412.htm. Rebecca Mercuri, who also filed a statement in the Riverside lawsuit and testified in a similar Florida lawsuit, posted an excellent analysis of the Florida primary election problems, which is available online at http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/22.24.html#subj1. For other recent voting technology stories, see http://www.electionline.org.
Meanwhile, Congress is likely to pass election reform legislation soon that will provide federal funds to modernize voting equipment. Unless there is more opposition voiced to paperless touchscreen voting, it is likely that counties all over the country will move to this form of voting. In California, they don't have a choice; Judge Wilson, who gave the green light to touchscreen voting, is the same judge who earlier this year banned prescored punchcard voting.
There aren't many choices for the nine counties currently using punchcards. While optical scan and the Datavote systems work well in many California counties, they are not considered practical to administer in large counties like Los Angeles. California's punchcard counties will be forced to purchase new touchscreen voting systems at the cost of tens of millions of dollars in order to comply with Judge Wilson's order to replace punchcards by March 2004. Few touchscreen systems currently "on the market" generate a voter-verified paper trail, and of those many have yet to be certified.
While Prop. 41, California's $200 million Voting Modernization Bond Act passed by voters this March, does require a paper trail for touchscreen systems, it will be up to the counties to decide at what stage in the voting process the paper trail will be generated. Implementing a voter-verified paper trail process is far more challenging than simply printing out the paper trail once the machines are returned to the election office, which is what many counties are likely to do.
In his ruling, Judge Wilson, like many others, compares touchscreen voting to using an ATM. But in fact, it's not like an ATM in some important ways. The voting transaction is supposed to be secret, while your bank transaction is known to your bank. The voting transaction gives nothing of record or value back at the end of the process, while the ATM transaction gives you money and/or a paper receipt that can be used to verify your transaction if needed. The ATM transaction, because it is not secret and because it is backed up both by a paper trail and a printed statement, can be recovered if lost; digital ballots cannot.
My greatest fear is that we will have this one chance in a generation to upgrade our voting equipment and end up spending millions of dollars on voting systems that are not transparent enough to protect the integrity of our electoral process. Or, as Weber and her "Election Guardians" would put it: we have undermined the integrity of our electoral process when the ability to manipulate elections is greater than our ability to detect the manipulation.
I don't think the debate over touchscreen voting is over -- it's really just beginning.
What do you think?
-- Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation
firstname.lastname@example.org, (916) 452-7706, www.calvoter.org
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This page was first published on September 13, 2002 | Last updated on September 13, 2002
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