Thursday, June 22, 2006

Can You Protect Your Vote? You Can!

In California, I've been working with the California Election Protection Network (CEPN), among other groups, in an effort to ensure our votes are counted accurately.

Many people are concerned about our vote, and whether it is being accurately recorded, but few know where to begin. The point of this post is to give you a road map for what to do before and after an election to try to ensure the integrity of your vote.

There are several things to know before the election:
  • What are the rules for elections in your state?
  • What equipment is licensed for use in your state?
  • What equipment is your county or township using, and is it appropriately licensed by the state? (We had to fight that here in some counties - don't assume that if they're using it, it must be licensed. It may not be!)
  • How are the votes tallied?

And the most important step of all,

  • How are the vote tallies audited?

Anyone and anything can count the votes and present a tally. The issue is, how can you tell if the tally is correct?

The answer is this: AUDIT the tally. Conduct a manual (that means "by hand") recount of what is commonly called the "voter verified paper audit trail", or VVPAT. Not every state requires a VVPAT. If yours doesn't, get busy.

The audit should be part of the "official canvass," the set of procedures that constitute the full counting the vote.

Let's look at this in steps.

Step 1. Find out if your state requires an audit. If not, get busy and get some legislation in place to provide for that.

How do you know what your state requires? By looking up your state's elections code of law. These come in long, boring documents. But they are important. And in many states, the code is online, and searchable online. If yours isn't online, call your Secretary of State, the state-level office responsible for elections, and ask them to put the code online in a searchable format. Remember, government officials work for you. YOU employ them. You get to make requests and if they are responsive, and many try to be, you can get results.

Get to know your state elections code. Or find an activist you trust who can do this for your state. Make sure the laws in place are followed. If the laws you need aren't in place, lobby your legislators to pass appropriate legislation. I'll use specific examples in CA to illustrate the points to look for. Your laws will, of course, differ, but hopefully not by very much.

In California, Elections Code Section 15360 states:

15360. During the official canvass of every election in which a voting system is used, the official conducting the election shall conduct a public manual tally of the ballots tabulated by those devices cast in 1 percent of the precincts chosen at random by the elections official. If 1 percent of the precincts should be less than one whole precinct, the tally shall be conducted in one precinct chosen at random by the elections official. In addition to the 1 percent count, the elections official shall, for each race not included in the initial group of precincts, count one additional precinct. The manual tally shall apply only to the race not previously counted. Additional precincts for the manual tally may be selected at the discretion of the elections official.

Step 2. Make sure elections code requires that all machines that record votes provide a VVPAT.

In California's Elections Code (Section 19250) we find:

On and after January 1, 2005, the Secretary of State shall not approve a direct recording electronic voting system unless the system has received federal qualification and includes an accessible voter verified paper audit trail.

So in California, any touchscreen voting machine must provide a piece of paper that the voter can look at, and verify. The accessible voter verified paper audit trail. The AVVPAT (often just called the vvpat, the need for accessibility being a given under HAVA, the Help America Vote Act.)

In addition, Section 19253 says this:

19253. (a) On a direct recording electronic voting system, the electronic record of each vote shall be considered the official record of the vote, except as provided in subdivision (b).

(b) (1) The voter verified paper audit trail shall be considered the official paper audit record and shall be used for the required 1-percent manual tally described in Section 15360 and any full recount. (2) The voter verified paper audit trail shall govern if there is any difference between it and the electronic record during a 1-percent manual tally or full recount.

In summary, for electronic voting machines, all machines must provide a vvpat, and the 1% manual audit must use the vvpat, and not just a separate machine printout. Are you still with me? Great!

Step 3. What technology is used to count your vote? Which machines, exactly? And what are the state laws re approval of such machines? What are the certification tests and who conducts them? Is the machine an AccuVote-TS, made by Diebold? Or the AccuVote TSx? Find out the exact model and maker. It matters, as you'll see in step 4.

Most states use a variety of vendors. Usually counties select a smaller number of vendors than those allowed by the state. What is allowed in your state, and what is your county using, and do they match? You'd think they would, but they don't, in all cases, and this is something to watch for.

Sometimes the County wants to use something that hasn't been approved. And if no one raises a stink, they can. And if no one raises a stink after, they can get away with it. It's all about accountability. And guess who the only person who is going to hold your officials accounted is? Yep. That face you see in the mirror every morning.

Step 4. What are the specific procedures that should be used for that model of machine?

Section 19205 of California's Election Code requires:

The Secretary of State shall establish the specifications for and the regulations governing voting machines, voting devices, vote tabulating devices, and any software used for each, including the programs and procedures for vote tabulating and testing.

For the purposes of our example, let's look at the "Procedures Required for Use" for the use of Diebold Election Systems AccuVote-TSx (Touch Screen) Model R7, pursuant to Section 19205 above. On page 57 of the referenced document, the procedures state:

8.6. 1% Manual recount procedures
For the purpose of validating the accuracy of the computer count, within fifteen days after every election at which the AccuVote-TSx system is used, a public manual tally of the ballots cast in at least one percent of the precincts, chosen at random, shall be conducted as to all candidates and ballot measures voted on in each of the precincts. If the random selection of precincts results in an office or ballot measure not being manually recounted, as many additional precincts as necessary shall be selected and manually recounted to cover any office or ballot measure not recounted in the original sample. (EC 15360)

Precincts selected at random pursuant to Election Code section 15627 as amended for the 1% manual recount shall not be revealed to the persons responsible for programming the electronic ballot until the semi-official canvass is complete. For the one percent manual tally, the AVPM paper audit trail and ballots shall be tabulated by hand using County established procedures.

The AVPM is the AccuVote Printer Module that prints out the AVVPAT for the voter. In other words, the Procedures state clearly that the AVVPAT is the piece of paper that should be used in the 1% manual audit. No new piece of paper should be printed for the audit.

So let's put this all together in an incident that happened TODAY:

In Alameda County, aided by legal research from Joseph Holder, one of the CEPN activists, went to watch the manual audit. On some machine, not identified to the activist, 8 1/2 x 11" pieces of paper were being generated - ballot images, recreated from the internal computer vote.

In other words, the clerk was preparing to count a NEW paper ballot, not the AVVPAT. Not a ballot the voter had the chance to see, or confirm. In other words, had someone altered the numbers inside the computer, new choices could have appeared on those pieces of paper, and no one would be the wiser.

So the astute activist challenged this practice. When the clerk told her oh, it's okay, we checked with the Secretary of State, the activist asked to talk directly to the County Registrar.

Guess what happened next?

The "new" ballots were put aside, and the original vvpats, the "toilet paper rolls" from the machines, the ones the voters had the option to verify, were pulled out.

So the moral of the story is this: Don't trust anyone to know the laws, or to abide by them! If there is no oversight, there is no accountability. And if there is no accountability, scenes such as the one that was about to happen, before the activist intervened, will replay all across the country.

If you don't know who in your area is working to protect your vote, check the main organizations and get on their boards. They'll point you to others. And be prepared to step up to the plate if you're the first in your county. We literally need activists in every county in America if we're going to ensure our votes are counted accurately.

I hope this was helpful. And I hope it showed the value of knowing the law, and using it.

As Jefferson warned us, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. If you don't have the time to get involved personally, at least give money to the organizations who are working to protect our vote. Thank you for listening, and hopefully, learning from and acting upon this information.


Blogger Paul Pease said...

I think this is useful information. Nice work!

11:02 AM  

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