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North Carolina: A Statement Before The House Ethics Committee PDF  | Print |  Email
By Andrew G. Silver, North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting   
March 25, 2006

The following statement was made before the North Carolina House Ethics Committee on March 24, 2006. It is reposted here with permission of the author.

 

During the past decade, The North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBOE) has allowed the deployment of many different insecure and unreliable electronic systems while seeking no technical assistance from qualified computer security experts and requiring no independent review of the computer code. If the SBOE had been doing its job with competence and integrity, there would have been no need for new legislation setting standards for voting equipment in North Carolina and requiring a code of ethics.

 

Under the SBOE's guidance, the North Carolina electoral system has become a poster child for election mismanagement and breakdown, with the irretrievable loss of  4438 votes in Carteret county in 2004. There have been dozens of other reported instances of electronic voting irregularities in the state and no one can know how many undetected instances.

Most computer scientists with academic status are strongly critical of electronic voting, while those who advocate it most strongly are election officials who have no particular understanding of how the machines work, but place their trust in private companies to relieve them of the burden of handling paper ballots or counting votes. This amounts, in effect, to the privatization of elections, wherein the recording and tabulation of votes are automatically performed by systems controlled by private corporations with no accountability and with no way for the public to witness the counting of votes.

 

Having votes recorded electronically without expert public oversight is what election integrity activists call faith-based voting. The new law requiring a paper trail and independent review of computer code is a first step only toward reclaiming the election process from private hands, but many local officials and members of boards of elections are seeking to cancel or weaken this law.

 

The Association of Computing Machinery is the world's oldest professional computer association. In a poll of 4,600 ACM members in 2004, 95% supported this statement:

"Many electronic voting systems have been evaluated by independent, generally-recognized experts and have been found to be poorly designed; developed using inferior software engineering processes; designed without (or with very limited) external audit capabilities; intended for operation without obvious protective measures; and deployed without rigorous, scientifically-designed testing."

"ACM has recommended that e-voting systems enable voters to inspect a physical (e.g., paper) record to verify the accuracy of their vote, and to serve as an independent check on the record produced and stored by the system. In addition, those records should be made permanent, not based solely in computer memory, to allow for an accurate recount."

The Election Center, is a nonprofit organization comprising mainly election officials. The Center's "educational" publications and activities are slanted strongly in favor of paperless electronic voting. R. Doug Lewis, Executive Director of the Election Center, has no academic qualifications in computer science, though he has been president of a business that traded in used computer parts. In May, 2003, Mr. Lewis distributed a letter stating that direct recording electronic voting systems (DREs) cannot be tampered with. According to Computer Science Professor David L. Dill, of Stanford University, this letter by Lewis demonstrates "profoundly disturbing complacency and a serious lack of understanding of computer security, and, indeed, computer technology".

The Election Center receives significant funding from the largest DRE manufacturers, Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia. Until this connection was exposed last year during hearings of the NCGA Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting, Mr. Gary Bartlett, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, was on the Board of Directors of the Election Center. Afterward, his name disappeared from the center's web site. Other North Carolinians whose names were listed on the web site, but have recently been removed, are: Cherie Poucher, Director of the Wake County BOE, on the Election Center Honors List; Johnnie McLean, SBOE Deputy Executive Director, and George Gilbert, Director of the Guilford County BOE, both on the Election Center National Task Force on Election Reform.

I ask the committee to consider measures to determine why the following actions occurred:

The SBOE hired Keith Long to manage the RFP process and oversee deployment of new voting equipment, who has been an executive with both Sequoia and Diebold, and for Diebold until shortly before being named SBOE project manager. Indeed, since he was with Diebold until 2005 and was hired by the SBOE in 2005, the question whether he was hired from Diebold needs to be investigated, and his own statements abjuring any ties or favoritism examined closely. Just on his own word, we can not be sure that he does not have a conflict of interest.  

In the 2002 election Mr. Long was Diebold's project manager in charge of installing 22,000 DREs in Georgia. Strange things happened in that Georgia election. Diebold applied patches to all the machines just before the election. In the election the Democratic Senator, Max Cleland, and Governor Roy Barnes, lost to their Republican opponents after being clearly ahead in the last polls before the election. The election results represented a 12 percentage point swing against Cleland and a 14 percentage point swing against Barnes.

There is no proof of fraud - as, indeed, there could not be, as there was no paper trail against which to verify the electronic vote counts. But this item in Mr. Long's CV at least should have given the Board of Elections, and indeed all North Carolina citizens, pause, and it raises the question: What were in fact the reasons that the BOE chose Mr. Long and not someone else? Indeed, why was an outside expert needed to write the RFP and manage procurement? The SBOE has a staff of about thirty. Don't any of them have qualifications for writing an RFP and overseeing deployment of equipment. If not, why are the on the SBOE? I suggest that the committee consider whether the staff of the SBOE are appropriately qualified for their positions.

The question of fraud in Georgia concerns Republicans winning against Democrats. But the SBOE, as well as all county boards of elections, are run by Democrats.  So I suggest that the question whether electronic voting machines and optical scanners in North Carolina could be programmed fraudulently ought to concern Republicans at least as much as Democrats.  

The SBOE demonstrated remarkable favoritism toward Diebold in the following ways:

1. The RFP allowed two forms of escrow of code, one for the manufacturer and one for third parties, which was designed specifically to enable Diebold to submit a bid

2. The SBOE certified Diebold products in contravention of the law requiring escrow of computer source code 3 days after Diebold's complaint against the requirement for escrow was dismissed in North Carolina superior court in Raleigh. Diebold finally withdrew on its own, under pressure from court challenges brought by a private citizen concerned with election integrity with the backing of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
I appeal to all honest legislators to try to assure simply that North Carolina elections are honest, and to take measures to ensure that the State Board of Elections pursues its functions honestly, without favoritism to one party or another or to one voting equipment vendor or another. A tight definition of conflicts of interest needs to adopted and enforced, and the legislature needs to exercise close oversight over the competence and integrity of the SBOE.

 

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