FROM:   Kim Alexander
DATE:   September 15, 2003
RE:   CA Voting Tech on PBS Newshour tonight; transcript of CNN interview

Hi Folks,

Tonight on PBS, The Newshour with Jim Lehrer will take a look at election security issues with a focus on California. I was interviewed for this segment, as were several other Californians involved with the election security debate. I hope you can tune in -- check your local listings for air times.

Over the weekend, Stanford computer science professor David Dill and I both appeared on the CNN program, "Next @ CNN". Below is a transcript from the show.

-- Kim Alexander, President, California Voter Foundation



September 13, 2003 Saturday

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: More stories at thing be top of the hour. Now back to NEXT@CNN.

After the disaster of all those hanging chads and butterfly balance during the 2000 presidential election, a lot of states and the federal government moved fast to try to fix it. But could the fix make the problem worse? Technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg is back with more on the possibilities and the problems of electronic voting -- Dan.

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Fredricka. Yeah, the global embarrassment, shall we say, of the 2000 U.S. presidential election got a lot of politicians looking for something new, something better. But, exactly where should technology fit into that picture? Well, the upcoming California recall election has put electronic voting in the spotlight, again.

And, joining me now is Professor David Dill from Stanford University, a computer scientist who's been studying electronic voting, and in Sacramento Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit nonpartisan California Voter Organization.

David, I'd like to start with you, if I could. First of all, do you believe that electronic voting, and we're talking about touch screens, here. Do you think that they're capable of handling the California recall election at this point? What are the potential pitfalls involved?

DAVID DILL, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the worst pitfall is that everything appears to go totally smoothly, but we don't know whether the votes coming out of the machines match what went into the machines.

SIEBERG: OK, let's talk a little bit in general, first of all, these machines are a touch screen machine, you go up there and select the candidates. There are a number of different types of technologies that are being used; there are 135 candidates on the ballot. First of all, can this technology even handle that number of candidates?

DILL: I'm not sure. It's got to be difficult for a voter. They're going to have to page through all of those candidates and find their chosen person in the middle of a list that's been basically randomly ordered. So, that can't be too easy. But, there are going to be problems even with paper ballots, that's know not my biggest concern, here.

SIEBERG: All right, Kim, we're seeing some images of people who have been voting in the past. What has voter response been to electronic voting or this type of technology? Have people been positive about it, the average voter out there?

KIM ALEXANDER, CALIF. VOTER FOUNDATION: We really don't know. There haven't been comprehensive polls that have been done across the nation. The only poll I've seen was done in Georgia, following the 2002 presidential election, when that state went all touch screen and that poll, done by Peach State Poll found a significant racial disparity in voter confidence between black voters and white voters. So, I'm not at all confident that voters are confident that these machines are going to work in a way that will store their ballots properly.

SIEBERG: Now, we've also been hearing about security concerns, most recently a couple of university researchers found what they believe were holes in the code that helped to operate these machines. Why does it seem like -- and odd too, this is to either of you -- why does seem like so many politicians and county officials are so eager to adopt this technology?

DILL: Well, the technology has some advantages.


DILL: So they're not talking to computer scientists enough, I think is my quick answer. I'll let Kim take it from there.

ALEXANDER: One of the reasons why the machines are popular with election officials is because they are being sold to them by the vendors on the promise that they're paperless and that these election officials won't need to store paper ballots anymore. But, you know, at the end of the day, I can't think of anything more important for our election departments to do than to protect our paper ballots. So, what my group, the California Voter Foundation and others, are calling for is a voter verified paper trail to back up the ballots and if we had that, we would be able to address most of the risks associated with computerized voting.

SIEBERG: OK now, we talked -- I touched on earlier how there are some different technologies being used throughout California. I believe we have a graphic that will help to illustrate just how many different counties there are and how many different ones -- different types of technology. We see here that there is the Data Vote, Optical Scan, Punch Card and Touch Screen. Does this make it more difficult to try and tabulate all of this? Should there be a streamlined way of handling all the votes, whether in California or anywhere else, and would technology help that? David, can you answer that question?

DILL: I'm not sure that we need a uniform standard across the state voting equipment. What my biggest concern is is that we not adopt unsafe voting equipment, and I consider the touch screen machines that are now being considered, and that have been purchased in some places, as just not being sufficiently trustworthy for the important task of handling our elections.

SIEBERG: Is there a way between now and the California recall election to assuage everybody's concerns or are we sort of on the path to that and we're just going to have to see what happens after the election results? Kim, can you answer that question?

ALEXANDER: Yes, one thing that the four counties that are using touch screens for the recall, which is Alameda, Plumas, Riverside, and Shasta one thing that they could do is to print out paper ballot images of every digital ballot cast and make those available to the public if there is a need for a recount. That's something that voters thought they were getting when they passed the Prop 41 Modernization Bond Act in March, 2002, and the counties aren't doing it, and I think if we had, at a minimum, these paper ballot images, that would help address some of the risks. Ideally those paper ballot images would not be printed at the end of the voting day, but they would be printed at the time the voter votes because the voter is the only person who knows for sure how they intend to vote, so those paper ballot images should be produced at the polling places, they should stay at the polling places and we can use those to conduct a recount if necessary.

SIEBERG: And of course, many people just -- most people just don't get a chance to vote very often, so they're obviously not practicing using any of these touch screen machines.

David, let's talk a little bit, though, about the security of the code again, one more time. The companies that make these different machines say it's proprietary, they cannot allow anyone to look at the code and see just how secure that it is. What can be done about that? Should there be more of an oversight on this code and the making of these machines?

DILL: Well, absolutely, there needs to be more oversight. The current situation -- the current process for approving these things and designing them is obviously full of holes. The researchers you mentioned earlier proved that by looking at code that was accidentally released by one of the largest vendors of voting machines. Beyond that, the solution that Kim suggests is really the one that I prefer. Instead of focusing on trying make the machines more bullet-proof, let's just have a backup mechanism where voters can say check their votes were properly recorded and then if we have a manual recount, we can be guaranteed it's meaningful, because it's counting the ballots the voters themselves have checked for accuracy.

SIEBERG: All right, well, let's end on a positive note. We only got about 20 to 30 seconds left. Kim, touch screen voting and technology -- you know, it was intended to solve some problems and make life a little easier, giving disabled people a chance to vote easier. What are some of the positive notes we can talk about with touch screen or technology voting?

ALEXANDER: There are a lot of positives, and I actually would prefer myself to vote on a computer interface than on a paper ballot that I've been using -- the punch card, because I think it is more user- friendly. We can do ballots in multiple languages; we can give disabled people the ability to cast a secret ballot without assistance and those are all things we can do. So, just to be clear, I'm not opposed to touch screen voting. I just want to see it implemented responsibility so everybody can have confidence in the outcome elections and our voting ballots can be actually transparent to everyone.

SIEBERG: Kim Alexander, the president of the nonprofit nonpartisan California Voter Foundation and David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford University.

Thank you both for joining us today.

DILL: Thank you.

ALEXANDER: Thank you.


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This page was first published on September 17, 2003 | Last updated on September 17, 2003
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