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From Black Box to Pandora's Box PDF  | Print |  Email
By Joan Krawitz, VoteTrustUSA   
August 08, 2005
This speech was delivered at the Voting Rights and Electoral Reform Strategy Session on August 8, 2005 in Atlanta, GA.

My name is Joan Krawitz and I’m the Executive Director of VoteTrustUSA.org.  VoteTrustUSA is a nonpartisan alliance of state and local election integrity organizations from across the country.  We are a new coalition representing an increasingly important component of the national Voting Rights and Election Reform equation.  We represent nearly 30 independent organizations on the ground, and provide support services for approximately 40 more.  

What we have come to call the election integrity movement began when the Help America Vote Act tried to solve some of the problems of the 2000 election by throwing $3.9 Billion at the states to improve their election systems fast.  

Given an unprecedented sales opportunity, voting machine manufacturers touted their latest touchscreen voting machines as the solution to every election director’s prayers.  Few election officials had the technological or financial resources to independently evaluate these sales claims and, frankly, they were scammed by vendors were a looking to cash in on the HAVA windfall.

At best they were selling vaporware when they convinced unwary officials that their machines would eliminate overvotes, undervotes and phantom votes while doing away with messy paper ballots and hand recounts at the same time. 
And it all began right here in Georgia in 2001, when Secretary of State, Cathy Cox persuaded the Legislature to authorize the replacement of every voting machine in the state with Diebold electronic voting systems that got rid of all those annoying paper records.  

So now, in Georgia and every other place where these machines are used, there’s no way to get a hand recount, no matter how close or suspicious the results of any given election might be.  They just rerun the program and get the exact same result every time.  

We started out thinking that the problem was just that those damn black boxes provided an open invitation to insider fraud and outsider hacking.  Study after study in state after state concluded that these systems … not just Diebold’s, but also its competitors … were extraordinarily insecure at every point from the individual voting machines to the central tabulating system that tallies a county’s votes.  But that turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.

It turned out that some of the same vulnerabilities affect the central tabulators that count optically scanned paper ballots, and lately we’ve heard that some of the precinct-based scanners can be easily rigged too.
What we’ve found in two and a half years of work is that the problem is much bigger than partisan corporations producing voting machines that seem tailor-made for fraud.  The underlying causes are both systemic and symptomatic of an election system that has spun out of the control of the people, and often out of the control of the officials who are supposed to be running our elections.

We’ve learned that the “so-called” computer glitches we’ve heard about are so common that Ellen Theisen of VotersUnite and VoteTrustUSA has compiled 109 pages of data on Election Day machine failures and lost votes reported by mainstream media.  Of course we’re always told that those lost or misapplied votes wouldn’t have changed the results of the election... except in the cases when a hand recount proved differently  But in the case of electronic voting systems that don’t produce a paper record that the voter has verified before casting his or her vote, there’s no paper trail to backup the electronic data, no way of telling if the system is allocating votes properly, and no record of the voters’ intent.

We’ve learned that the programs that control our elections are considered the proprietary property of the voting machine companies, and are not disclosed to anyone, including state and county elections officials.  The only reason we know what’s contained in some of these programs is that two of the companies, in an incredible lapse of security, had posted open links to their programs on public websites.  We’ve learned that the elections industry is so thoroughly privatized that many states and counties contract out every stage of their elections to private vendors … often the same vendors that sell the voting machines.  They depend on those vendors for everything from voting lists, to programming and troubleshooting the machines, to running the vote count, to posting the results.  There are no laws, no rules, no regulations to cover any of this.  

We’ve learned that elections officials are often hired by voting machine companies, frequently selling to the very people who used to report to them.

We’ve learned that machines that were supposed to have been thoroughly tested by Inpendent Testing Authorities under the auspices of the National Association of State Election Directors are neither secure nor accurate. They don’t even operate reliably.  That point was driven home last week, when the Secretary of State of California notified Diebold that nearly one third of the 96 voting machines tested in a day-long mock election failed to function properly.  McPherson wrote Diebold that their latest and greatest system is “not suitable for the purpose for which it is intended.”  On May 16, 2005 that same voting system had received the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED) "Seal of Approval," which is the closest thing we have at this point to federal certification, though it’s not federally administered, the examiners report only to the manufacturers who pay them, and the testing methods are as secret as the proprietary software in the machines.

How many of the systems that are now being used in states and counties across the country were passed through this same testing process with serious flaws that weren't detected? How does anyone know that the machines that they are using to cast their votes are working properly even though they passed through the process successfully?

And how in the world did we get here?

It turns out that we’re not just dealing with black box voting systems, but with a Pandora’s Box of administrative, legislative, and regulatory issues that have led to what amounts to a meltdown of our electoral system.   Here’s the bottom line:  there’s another voting right involved here.  Not just the right to vote, but the right to know that ALL of our votes are counted accurately.  The right to know that the will of the people – of ALL the people who make the effort to vote – is what determines who will lead our country, our states, our counties and towns and cities.  As Cynthia McKinney said at the rally Saturday,  “We want life liberty & the right to vote -- ON MACHINES THAT COUNT ACCURATELY.”

So, how do we get from here to there?  That’s the work that VoteTrustUSA and the organizations in our coalition are doing, along in with groups like Verified Voting, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Common Cause, Rock the Vote and many others.  And, like all of you, we’re in it for the long haul.

Right now, we’re just stopping the bleeding, by fighting back against paperless touch screen voting.

Think of it as triage. The HAVA deadline for purchasing new voting systems is January 1, 2006, so right now we’re focused on making sure that as many of those systems as possible have voter verified paper records – preferably optically scanned paper ballot systems, which are cheaper, more reliable and much easier to maintain than touchscreen systems with or without paper trails.  We’re also working at the federal level and in almost every state for mandatory random audits of the paper records.  Those two requirements will help ensure that votes aren’t lost because of machine glitches, and that there’s at least some check on the overall accuracy of the vote count.

As I said, though, that’s just triage.  We are under no illusions that paper ballots and audits will fix what’s wrong with our elections. Every discovery we make, every step we take uncovers further breakdowns in how our elections are run.  It’s our job, hopefully with your help, to do what it takes to fully ensure the accuracy, accountability, and public transparency of vote counting in America.   

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