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National Issues

EAC Releases Report on Voter Registration PDF  | Print |  Email
Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
By EAC Media Release   
July 01, 2009
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has released a report on voter registration statistics in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). It presents information provided by the states on the number of registered voters, the registration process and voter registration list maintenance. The full report can be dowloaded here, and the data are available here.

The report covers registration information from after the 2006 general election through the 2008 general election. The following highlights are among the findings. 
New York Times Editorial: How to Trust Electronic Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By The New York Times   
June 22, 2009
The House leadership should make passing Mr. Holt’s bill a priority. Few issues matter as much as ensuring that election results can be trusted.

This editorial was published in the New York Times on June 22, 2009.

Electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record of every vote cast cannot be trusted. In 2008, more than one-third of the states, including New Jersey and Texas, still did not require all votes to be recorded on paper. Representative Rush Holt has introduced a good bill that would ban paperless electronic voting in all federal elections. Congress should pass it while there is still time to get ready for 2010.

In paperless electronic voting, voters mark their choices, and when the votes have all been cast, the machine spits out the results. There is no way to be sure that a glitch or intentional vote theft — by malicious software or computer hacking — did not change the outcome. If there is a close election, there is also no way of conducting a meaningful recount.

Mr. Holt’s bill would require paper ballots to be used for every vote cast in November 2010. It would help prod election officials toward the best of the currently available technologies: optical-scan voting. With optical scans, voters fill out a paper ballot that is then read by computer — much like a standardized test. The votes are counted quickly and efficiently by computer, but the paper ballot remains the official vote, which can then be recounted by hand.
Read more... Praises Bill to Establish Verifiable Elections Nationwide PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
June 17, 2009 praised U.S. Representative Rush Holt's introduction today of HR 2894, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2009.  Cosponsored by 75 House members, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act would require voter-marked paper ballots in all federal elections. The bill would authorize funding for states to purchase new voting equipment, require hand-counted audits of electronic vote tallies, and reform the process of testing voting equipment.

"This bill is so long overdue.  It provides a basic element of democracy: a verifiable ballot for every voter," said Warren Stewart, Legislative Policy Director for “And it does its job in the most reliable way, with paper ballots marked by the voters. That is a cost-effective technology that a majority of Americans already use; HR 2894 simply makes it our nationwide system,” Stewart said.

In 2008, almost 60 percent of the nation's voters cast their votes on paper ballots that were read by electronic scanning devices. In the last several years, voter-marked paper ballots have become the most popular means of providing a paper record of each vote. “Paper trail” printers attached to voting machines are an alternative method of providing a paper record, but have reliability problems, such as printer jams. They are cumbersome to recount, raise privacy concerns because they store all votes on a continuous roll, and go unchecked by significant numbers of voters.
House Panel Passes Rep. Susan Davis’s Election Reform Bills PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Rep. Susan Davis Press Release   
June 10, 2009
No Excuse Absentee, Absentee Tracking and Election Integrity Bills Approved    

A package of election reform bills sponsored by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) cleared an initial hurdle today.  The House Administration Committee approved legislation to allow for national no-excuse absentee voting, help voters track absentee ballots, and prevent a state’s chief elections official from serving on federal campaign committees.

“Democracy flourishes when all Americans have a fair chance to participate in elections and have confidence that the process is fair,” said Davis, a member of the committee.  “I’d like to thank Chairman Brady and my colleagues on the committee for passing this package of bills.”

The bills passed by the committee were:
· Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act (H.R. 1604) - Allows all eligible voters nationwide to vote by mail for any reason in federal elections. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia restrict an eligible voter’s ability to vote by mail, also known as absentee.  The bill also removes the doctor’s note, notary and privacy information requirements imposed by some states.

· The Absentee Ballot Track, Receive and Confirm (TRAC) Act (H.R. 2510) - Helps states, through a grant program, to establish absentee ballot tracking systems.  An absentee ballot tracking system allows voters to easily find out, online or through an automated phone system, whether an elections office has sent out a ballot, whether a completed ballot has arrived back at the registrar’s office and whether the ballot was actually counted.  Davis worked with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), also a member of the committee, in sponsoring H.R. 2510.

· The Federal Election Integrity Act (H.R. 512) - Prohibits the chief elections official of a state from serving on federal campaign committees or engaging in other political activity, such as fundraising, on behalf of federal candidates in any election over which the official has supervisory authority.
The action by the House Administration Committee clears the bills to be considered by the full House of Representatives.
Internet Voting: How Far Can We Go Safely? PDF  | Print |  Email
Internet Voting
By Ed Felten, Princeton University   
June 05, 2009
This article was posted at the Freedom to Tinker blog and is rreposted here with permission.

Yesterday I chaired an interesting panel on Internet Voting at CFP. Participants included Amy Bjelland and Craig Stender (State of Arizona), Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat (Overseas Vote Foundation) Avi Rubin (Johns Hopkins), and Alec Yasinsac (Univ. of South Alabama). Thanks to David Bruggeman and Cameron Wilson at USACM for setting up the panel.

Nobody advocated a full-on web voting system that would allow voting from any web browser. Instead, the emphasis was on more modest steps, aimed specifically at overseas voters. Overseas voters are a good target population, because there aren't too many of them -- making experimentation less risky -- and because vote-by-mail serves them poorly.

Discussion focused on two types of systems: voting kiosks, and Internet transmission of absentee ballots.
Internet Votingin Hawaii: Aloha Means 'Goodbye' Too PDF  | Print |  Email
Internet Voting
By John H. Fund   
June 04, 2009
"Internet voting is potentially prone to manipulation and distortion."

This article originally appeared in the Hawaii Reporter.

Penny wise, pound foolish. That looks to be the result of Honolulu's experiment with saving money by holding the first all-digital election, in which voters cast ballots over the Internet or by phone for their Neighborhood Commissions. The result? An 83% drop in voter turnout. Only 7,300 people bothered to register their preferences last week, down from 44,000 who voted in the last elections two years ago.

"That is of great concern to me. It is disappointing, compared to two years ago," said Joan Manke, who headed the commission that supervised the Internet voting. "This is the first time there is no paper ballot to speak of."

Granted, the use of electronic voting did save money, but it appears people are unwilling to embrace the concept yet. But that does not faze Bob Watada, a consultant for Everyone Counts, which sold city officials on using its equipment for the election.


All-digital voting "gives access to a lot of people who haven't had the access, and you don't have the hanging chads, you don't have the miscounted absentee ballots, you don't have the ballots lost," he told reporters.

Well, maybe. But with fears about the security of electronic voting machines still widespread, Internet voting is potentially prone to manipulation and distortion. In addition, something is lost when an election becomes a mere exercise in clicking a computer mouse.

We have come a long way from when voting was held on the same day by having citizens of all social classes gather in the same spot to cast their ballots. I am not sure if we want to dispense with that tradition so easily -- especially if it leads to fewer votes being cast.


John Fund is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal

Internet Voting - Not as Easy as You Think PDF  | Print |  Email
Internet Voting
By Barbara Simons and Justin Moore   
June 04, 2009
 Recently the Huffington Post published an article about Hawaii's recent Internet and phone-based elections ("America's Newest State Holds America's Newest Election"). The article presents an optimistic and patriotic view of the Everyone Counts (E1C) election system that allows voters to cast their ballots from their home computers or over the phone. It was written by E1C executive Aaron Contorer and is effectively a marketing piece for E1C that exaggerates the scope of the election, overlooks or insults other election methods, and glosses over the formidable technical challenges and dangers posed by the electronic submission of voted ballots.

The election in Honolulu was for neighborhood board members, and thus was not covered by Hawaii's public election laws. That matters because Hawaii's election laws, fortunately, require a voter-verified paper ballot and a post-election hand audit of a percentage of these ballots. Since such verification and audits are impossible with a purely Internet-based voting system, there is no legal way to use the E1C system under current Hawaii state law.

Nevertheless, because this small election is being used to promote Internet voting generally, and because Internet voting schemes are being proposed across the United States, the issue demands thorough discussion.

In response to multiple efforts to allow voting over the Internet in major elections, many of our nation's prominent technology experts have signed a statement cautioning against adopting Internet-based voting systems without first understanding and guarding against the numerous and well-documented dangers. This is not because, as Mr. Contorer suggests, those opposing Internet voting find "[t]he introduction of technology to any process ... scary". The signatories to this statement are not at all intimidated by technology; in fact many are established experts in voting systems who are most certainly aware of the major risks associated with Internet voting.

The article asserts that since we are able to conduct banking and commerce over the Internet, we should also be able to vote over the Internet. This is a common misconception (or misrepresentation) that is often made when attempting to support Internet-based voting. Banks spend considerable time and money to ensure the security of our assets, yet there are still risks. Identity theft and fraud affect millions of Americans and cost billions of dollars each year. When we can detect such fraud it is because we are able to track our money through each transaction from start to finish, including the people associated with those transactions.

However, elections by their very definition disallow this type of explicit end-to-end auditing. Voters must cast their ballot in secret and not be able to prove to others how they voted. Election officials must not be able to tie votes to citizens except in very narrow circumstances as carved out by law. The lack of these basic protections make Internet-based voting a dangerous idea and place it so far from the realm of Internet banking or commerce as to make the author's point moot.

There are significant security issues that any vendor must address before declaring such a system fit for public elections. Yet the author glosses over these security issues raised by Internet voting, referring several times to "military-grade encryption." It is a well-known marketing technique of voting system vendors to tout the strength of their encryption because it sounds impressive. But the fact is that encryption is only a secondary part of any electronic security. It does nothing at all to protect against insider attacks, denial of service attacks, various forms of spoofing, viruses, or many kinds of ordinary software bugs.

Even the most secure military computer networks have been compromised, including a recent serious breach of the Pentagon's $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project. Even in the absence of malicious adversaries, software, especially a networked system such as the one E1C sells, is fundamentally difficult to get right. Aviation and military software, written to standards requiring development efforts tens or hundreds of times as costly as voting software, is undergoing constant review and upgrades.

Americans deserve the best electoral system available. There are many options for making elections more accessible, secure, and efficient, and the Internet will have a role to play. Current possibilities that show promise include the easier maintenance of voter registration records and the distribution of blank absentee ballots. But we should not subject our democracy to the costs or risks of current Internet-based voting schemes. Rather than rushing to implement Internet voting systems because we don't want to be "stuck in the past," we should instead focus on improving our elections using innovations that build upon mature and well-understood technologies. Let's leave the bluster and insults behind, and build a reliable, accurate, and secure electoral system of which we can all be proud.
Justice Department Blocks Discriminatory Voting Practices In Georgia PDF  | Print |  Email
Voting Rights
By ACLU Press Release   
June 01, 2009
A Coalition Of Voting Rights Advocates Challenged Illegal Voter Registration Procedures

A coalition of voting rights groups and attorneys today praised a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to block the use of flawed and racially discriminatory voter registration practices by Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. In a letter sent this past Friday from Civil Rights Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King to Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, the DOJ informed the state that it had failed to establish that two new voter verification procedures did not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Georgia is required to submit new voting procedures for federal review before they are implemented.

The voting rights coalition, which includes the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, Georgia attorney Brian Spears and the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, represents Cherokee County resident Jose Morales, the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and the Center for Pan Asian Community Services in a federal lawsuit against Secretary Handel. That lawsuit, which was filed last October in Atlanta, forced Secretary Handel to submit the contested voter registration procedures for Section 5 review, which Handel had refused to do despite the federal requirement.

"We are pleased that the Department of Justice correctly found that Secretary Handel's verification procedures are inaccurate and discriminatory," said Jon Greenbaum, legal director, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Preventing these procedures from going into effect will prevent Secretary Handel from keeping many thousands of eligible Georgia voters off the rolls."
Why Machines Are Bad at Counting Votes PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Wendy M Grossman, The Guardian   
May 03, 2009
Democracy is made difficult by the fact that electronic voting systems are inherently flawed - and susceptible to fraud

This article appeared in the UK Guardian on April 30, 2009.

It's commonly said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Yet this is what we keep doing with electronic voting machines - find flaws and try again. It should therefore have been no surprise when, at the end of March, California's secretary of state's office of voting system technology assessment decertified older voting systems from Diebold's Premier Election Solutions division. The reason: a security flaw that erased 197 votes in the Humboldt county precinct in last November's presidential election.

Clearly, 197 votes would not have changed the national result. But the loss, which exceeds the error rate allowed under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, was only spotted because a local citizen group, the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project monitored the vote using a ballot-imaging scanner to create an independent record. How many votes were lost elsewhere?

Humboldt county used Diebold's GEMS operating system version 1.18.19 to tally postal ballots scanned in batches, or "decks". The omission of votes was a result of a flaw in the system, where, given particular circumstances, it deletes the first deck, named "Deck Zero", without noting it in the system's audit logs.

Read the entire article at
In Memoriam John Gideon (1947-2009) PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Warren Stewart, Legislative Policy Director, Verified Voting   
April 28, 2009
The election reform community was shocked and saddened today by the news of John Gideon’s sudden and untimely passing. John was a mountain of a man and those of us who had the privilege of knowing him are stronger as a result.

John’s dedication to the cause of honest, fair, and transparent elections was unparalleled. When I first met John early in 2005, he had already been collecting his “Daily Voting News” for a couple years. This daily news clipping service that gathered voting related news stories from across the country was a labor of love and dedication that served as an essential tool in the struggle for election reform.

For those of us in the trenches fighting for election reform his daily entry in the inbox was both informative and reassuring. The archive of voting news stories at that resulted from this 365 days a year work is a unique resource – there is simply no other way of researching and reviewing the first draft reports of election incidents over the past half decade.

Retired from the Navy, John was dogged in his refusal of any compensation for his work. Throughout our work together in founding and sustaining VoteTrustUSA, John was steadfast in his support of local grassroots efforts and a consistent champion of integrity and transparency. A disabled Vietnam veteran, John was also deeply concerned about issued affecting his brothers and sisters in the armed services and brought the same passion and dedication to those issues that he did to preserving the integrity of elections.

Thomas Jefferson wrote “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” No one better embodied these words than John Gideon. It was a privilege to know you John – you will be deeply missed but your dedication will continue to be an inspiration.
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