Talk Nation Radio for September 27, 2007
See transcript below for this 29:43 minute long program by Dori Smith
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Voting Rights Activists in CT Must Struggle to Reverse Privatization and Secure the Vote
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Connecticut voting rights activists with True Vote CT were initially hopeful that the Secretary of State, Susan Bysiewicz would update security protocols and regulations designed to protect the vote. Professor Michael J. Fischer of Yale University is president of the organization. He explains why the new rules are unacceptable and suggests changes. He has submitted a letter requesting changes to the Deputy Secretary of State Leslie Mara.
There may not be time for changes prior to the 2007 and 2008 elections but voting rights activists are planning to try to get revisions.
We also hear from Daniel Seligson a poll worker from Washington D.C. who is also editor of electionline.org, a project of the Pew Research Center. He discusses what his state does when memory cards fail and addresses the wider problem of failing memory cards.
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Talk Nation Radio for September 27, 2007
Transcript: Voting Rights Activists in CT Must Struggle to Reverse Privatization and Secure the Vote
Welcome to talk nation radio, a half hour discussion on politics, human rights, and the environment. I’m Dori Smith. We begin part four of our special on voting machine security with some recent news about the company that manufactured Connecticut’s new machines, Diebold Inc., which sought a name change for the election division to Premier Election Solutions because of the extraordinary number of reports about faulty systems. The company’s bias toward the Republican Party has also been a problem.
Now Diebold Inc. has slashed expectations for earnings from it’s elections division over controversy surrounding machine security according to a story by Grant Gross of IDG News Service. He also writes that Diebold has been trying unsuccessfully to sell it’s e-voting subsidiary.
Grant Gross: Diebold and other e-voting machine vendors didn’t anticipate the controversies with the machines, the security problems, people with security issues, and Diebold is trying to get rid of a division that has been mired in security controversies for the last several years. They and other e-voting machine manufacturers had a rush to fill this void after the 2000 election and provide these voting machines that supposedly fixed the problem of hanging chads and things like that. But they have been encountering all kinds of their own kind of security issues so Diebold’s motivation seems to be that these machines are going to continue to be under fire from security experts and others. And it doesn’t seem to be a profitable business for them.
Dori Smith: Grant Gross is Washington correspondent for IDG News Service, IDG.com They are following voting technology issues.
Meanwhile, Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com has been tracking insider trade sell offs at Diebold. Ten officers sold 665,512 shares in early August just days after California’s certification restrictions were announced. Friedman is questioning the timing of the sales and noting that Diebold was under “formal” investigation by the SEC in 2006. In 2005, the company defended itself against a securities Fraud Class Action lawsuit alleging board members engaged in insider trading, stock price manipulations, and fraud, as well as concealment of known flaws in the company’s voting machines. You can find more about that story at Bradblog.com.
There are machine problems being identified in Florida even as voters prepare to go to the polls for early voting beginning October 1st. Faulty memory cards issued to Valusia County by Diebold appear to have been misaligned at the manufacturing level according to a September 22nd piece in the Daytona Beach News Journal Online by Mary Moewe.
She writes that a Diebold spokesperson attributed the problem to faulty welding or gluing of the units. Valusia County reported 25 memory card failures after the 2004 election according to Moewe, and Diebold replaced more than 300 cards last year. Just last week tests revealed that another five memory cards needed to be replaced.
The story caught our attention for two reasons. First, the memory cards issued to Connecticut by LHS Associates of Methuen Massachusetts could have come from the same source. Connecticut’s memory cards for the Diebold Accuvote Optical Scanners originated with a company named Epson and the model has actually been discontinued according to a report to the State from the University of Connecticut voting research team. The team also noted that no reader/writer for this type of medium is readily available in the market. If Diebold continues to decline we assume and if memory cards keep failing, there could be a supply problem.
We turned to Brenda Sandler in Diebold’s certification department to find out if Connecticut is using the same memory cards. She said, “I am not sure what’s been certified in Connecticut but I thought all memory cards were the same.” We hope to learn more from Diebold shortly. (Many Epson computerized voting machine technology parts appear to be made in China.)
The other problem for State and local officials will be keeping track of memory card failures in general. The President of LHS, Connecticut’s vendor, told us his staff reports machine failures during 2006 and he said there is a record of these reports. But there may be no way to independently verify the LHS record since memory card failures were not tracked by State officials or poll workers at the 25 towns using the machines during the 2006 election.
Voting rights activists are hoping to see a more accurate record of memory card errors and any other voting machine problems for the election coming up on November 6th. (see security protocols and new voting machine draft regulations in legal process below soon plus links to voting machine stories that may interest you.)
We have been recently been doing outreach about Connecticut stories to find out what we can about the national implications. Daniel Seligson is a poll worker from Washington D.C. and editor of electionline.org a project of the Pew Research center. He pointed out that when a memory card fails the voter is unaware of the problem, and might vote on a machine that is not recording the vote at the time he casts it. Such votes are counted later, he explained. This is also what Connecticut poll workers will do.
Daniel Seligson: The problem of machines arriving with problems with memory cards or with problems with the software that runs them is certainly not isolated. It’s been an issue since this rush to replace new equipment after the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002. And what we have seen in Connecticut and Florida and Indiana, in North Carolina and other places, is that the machines arrive with problems. I think one of the ways in which Connecticut might be fortified against this problem or at least have a way of managing it is that last year the state past one of the most comprehensive post election audit laws in the country. So even if there is a problem with the memory card malfunctioning and even if it does cause a serious problem on election day it should be detected when a hand count is compared with an electronic count from that memory card.
Having been a poll worker you know the argument is made that the voter doesn’t really notice what’s happening if it is manually fed. Well if the memory card is down and is pulled out of the machine and the ballots are being fed into the side, of course, that ballot is not going to be read at the time the voter is standing there. In my precinct where I’m a poll worker we count it when no one is around. We stick it in when there is not a lot of people so we can kind of catch up on the day and if there is a problem with the ballot we don’t really know what to do with it. We have to set it aside and then hope that they can, at the central office, figure out the voter’s intent, who they intended on casting the ballot for and whether it was cast correctly or not.
Dori Smith: Daniel Seligson unless poll workers are trained to know what is happening when a memory card fails in some way they may not document the problem because they are not realizing that it even exists. That’s where the representatives of vendor LHS Associates have stepped in, taken over, and violated the security protocols. Just comment on the wider problem of memory card swapping.
Daniel Seligson: Certainly you have identified an important issue which is the pulling out of memory cards and moving them around. I know that Alexander Shvartsman and his team at UConn Voting Research Team) certainly identified some vulnerabilities with the security of these optical scan voting machines and he highlighted concerns about the handling of memory cards and locking them and putting on tamper proof seals or tamper evident seals indicating that they haven’t been touched during an Election Day.
So the fact that the cards are being pulled out and pushed back in, I’m not exactly sure what exactly the rules of engagement are in Connecticut but that doesn’t sound like something that the UConn scientists would recommend and it’s certainly nothing that the state should be looking the other way about. There have been incidents in other states where just before Election Day ES&S, for example, in Indiana, switched the software on a machine to do quote unquote “an upgrade” and by altering the software that runs the machine before Election Day you are violating State Law in that case because the machine has been certified with the software that was in it. When you change the software the machine should need to be re-certified.
The machines in Connecticut are certified with the memory cards that are in them. If there is a problem, they are pulled out and moved to another machine then I’m not sure if that’s something that’s allowable in the state. So yeah I think that is an important issue and that’s a concern.
Dori Smith: And there are many political issues here for anyone setting up protocols or dealing with companies. They don’t want to look bad. But also there has been a discussion going on about whether or not talking about voting machine problems discourages people, makes them cynical, so that they don’t come to the polls. What is your experience with that in Washington D.C. or in your work at Electionline.org?
Daniel Seligson: We haven’t seen a drop off in voter turn out in areas where voters are particularly concerned about the security and the liability of the machines. I don’t really know what the reasons are for that. I’m not a political scientist. But in Georgia and Maryland and Florida, areas where they were using paperless electronic voting machines and there have been serious concerns raised, we haven’t seen any kind of drop off in turn out. We maybe have seen an increase in voter cynicism and we may have seen an increase in some dissatisfaction with the voting process but that hasn’t really kept people from voting. They might be showing up angrier but they are voting.
Dori Smith: Finally Daniel Seligson, there have been Voting rights activists with True Vote Connecticut who have been urging Connecticut’s Secretary of State, Susan Bysiewicz to extend the lifetime of the Voting Technology Standards Board (VTSB). That agency reviewed voting machine technology during the bid process on the machines and could have fostered more detailed work on security protocols. The group has also identified a need for another independent state agency with oversight and perhaps even enforcement capability. What is happening in other states in regard to the setting up of this kind of agencies?
Daniel Seligson: Every state is really run differently as far as elections administration. In Florida, for example, the supervisor of elections has a lot more authority in some states than the top county or jurisdictional election official would have in others. When problems are identified with the machines it’s usually at the local level. That’s the kind of situation where you have to go back to the state and then the state certification would take over and go back to the locality and the localities make sure the machines are working OK.
I think generally there is no agency aside from the Secretary of State’s division of elections in most of the country that would have any authority over this kind of problem. The federal government conducts testing and certification and some states have their own testing and certification on top of that, in fact most states do, but after that there isn’t a lot on the ground so there could be a gap if there is something wrong with the machines.
These laws and certification protocols were set up in a time when machines were a lot lower tech, lever machines, really nothing to them. You know they are made of metal, they have been using them for a hundred and ten years or something. Certification is fairly simple. And if you are using a piece of paper and a pencil there is really no certification to be done at all. But now that machines have become more complicated certification testing and ongoing security protocol has become sufficiently more complicated as well. I think Connecticut is a stand out for having this extra layer of having this center at UConn have a continuing role in evaluating the security and reliability of machines.
Dori Smith: Have there been serious problems identified in Washington D.C. where you are working?
Daniel Seligson: As a poll worker in Washington, D.C. I have had instances where the machine’s journal was not printing. That’s not a vote by vote print out but it tells you that each voter cast a ballot. It also has an event log of whether the optical scan machine was opened or not. And at one point that wasn’t working so we had to take the machine off line. We have also had instances where the machine was jamming or something like that. There is protocol in place for poll workers to deal with machines that are malfunctioning at least where I was trained as a poll worker. Generally you take the machine off line, you call someone for tech support, you manually re-feed the ballots and then those ballots are taken out and counted later either hand counted back at the office or counted in the same way that optical scan ballots are essentially counted at a jurisdictions office.
So there is some protocol for certain kinds of malfunctions. Now I’m not sure what a memory card malfunction in this particular type of machine looks like. I wasn’t trained on this particular type of machine, what the poll worker sees. I would imagine that what happens is they try to feed the ballot in and it just doesn’t take it. There certainly is some protocol for dealing with that but you have this gap where the voters who were using the machine in the time that the scanner wasn’t scanning won’t have the ability to have their ballots verified by the machine for errors. And that’s part of what Connecticut did when they got rid of lever machines was to agree that the Federal Government provide voting machines that assist voters in identifying potentially ballot spoiling errors. If the machine’s scanner isn’t working correctly then there is no ability to detect those errors.
Dori Smith: Daniel Seligson is a poll worker from Washington D.C. who also edits electionline.org a project of the Pew Research Center.
Voting rights activists all over the country have been scrambling to keep up with changes to voting machine security regulations and where the Presidential primaries have been moved up there has been even more pressure on both activists and state officials. We’ve been turning to Professor Michael J. Fischer for information on the computerized voting systems being used for the first time throughout Connecticut November 6th. The Yale computer scientist is also President of True Vote Connecticut online at truevotect.org.
Professor Fisher joins us next to discuss his letter to Deputy Secretary of State Leslie Mara alerting her to problems with the new voting machine security protocols that were just released. True Vote has been welcomed into the Secretary of State’s office to express their concerns and make suggestions however Professor Fischer and others are frustrated about the results. I asked him to explain what he told the Secretary of State’s office on the subject of language in the protocols about memory card swapping which he thinks must be changed.
Michael J. Fischer: The proposed draft regulations that I have just reviewed go a small distance toward correcting some of the problems in the old regulations. But they still do not treat the memory card as an equal partner with the scanner. In fact, the correct operation of the scanner depends completely on the memory card that is placed in the scanner of course as well as what is going into the scanner itself. We have recommended, for over a year, and this also has recommended by Alex Shvartsman’s group at UConn that the memory cards be sealed into the scanners at the start of the election and that they not be removed during the election under any circumstances; so that the memory card and the scanner becomes a unit, it goes through the pre-election testing as a unit, it is used as a unit, and if anything fails it is taken off line as a unit.
Dori Smith: You and other computer scientists have been urging the Secretary of State’s office to look at the memory cards more carefully and implement better security protocols for more than a year now?
Michael J. Fisher: Over a year ago Alex Shvartsman at UConn recommended, and True Vote CT concurred with the recommendation, that the memory cards be sealed into the scanners before the elections and that the sealed memory card and scanner be tested as a unit in the pre-election logic and accuracy testing and that they continue to be treated as a unit throughout the election. That the memory card never be removed from the scanner once the election has started.
In particular, if the machine failed during the election that the failed memory card and scanner should be left intact and retired from service and then the third scanner and memory card be used in its place. The current protocols however do not go anywhere near that far. They say that if the scanner fails that the protocol is to call LHS and ask them what to do and that the LHS technician will instruct the registrar on what they should do to possibly retire the machine and recover from this failure. We object to that on two counts, first of all the machines should not be repaired during an election. The whole idea of safe guards and testing is to make sure that the machine is as correct as possible on Election Day. If the machine in fact has failed one knows that there is something wrong with it and just because one can reboot it and it maybe appears to be working, until the cause of the failure has been determined and the errors repaired there is no reason to trust that machine anymore. Moreover there is no reason to trust the totals that have appeared on it to date so when a machine is retired because it has failed the ballots should be removed from that machine and either counted by hand or counted on another working machine. But the totals from the failed machine should not be trusted.
So the current protocols and the draft regulations do not go this far. Now the second problem is that the draft regulations, which if approved by the state will require the force of law, makes the manufacturer responsible for a portion of the conduct of our elections.
Until now those people responsible for the elections were the towns, the registrar of voters and the town clerks and the Secretary of the State and other state agencies such as the State Election Enforcement Commission.
Now with these new regulations we are putting a private company into the official position of having responsibility for the safe conduct of Connecticut’s elections. I consider this a kind of privatization of our democracy and it is an extremely dangerous trend and I will oppose this portion of the draft regulations as strongly as I can because I think it is damaging to our democracy to be privatizing an essential function of the state.
Dori Smith: Just make the distinction for listeners. The Security protocols just drafted by the Secretary of the State’s office versus new regulations that may or may not be implemented by the 2007 or even 2008 election right because of legislative processes?
Michael J. Fischer: The regulations to which I have been referring are the regulations for the state legal system. Let me explain a little bit. The basic laws of the state are the statutes but the statutes tend to talk about general principles of governance and the details of implementing the statutes. So many state agencies are asked to create regulations. And the statute prescribes how the regulations are to be created and who is to create them and there is a procedure for the approval of regulations.
So in the case of the conduct of elections, these details steps about how elections are to be conducted, who has custody of the machines, who sets up the machines, and so forth. These are spelled out in regulations. The Secretary of the State has the responsibility for creating these regulations but the regulations must go through a state approval process before they become effective.
The regulations governing the use of optical scanners, which in the regulations are called ‘mark sense machines’ were last revived I believe in 1994 when the state first acquired a few scanners to count absentee ballots. So those regulations have been unchanged until the present.
I’m told by the Deputy Secretary of State that the process for revising regulations takes about 18 months from beginning to end and that they began the process of revising these regulations several months ago. So we are nearing the end of the approval process for these regulations.
What I reviewed as the current draft that has been moving through this approval process I understand that the next step is to have it pass by the Attorney General to check for the possible legal implications of these regulations. Then there is the State Legislative Committee that has to approve the regulations before they become a statute.
The Deputy Secretary of the State has expressed a desire to have the regulations in place by the November 2007 elections but there is no guarantee that they will in fact be approved by that time. Assuming that they have been on their course they very likely will be in place by November 2008.
Dori Smith: How much work needs to be done to bring these regulations to bring them up to par in terms of voting machine security and what kinds of information do you think is essential for the state to look at in order to upgrade them?
Michael J. Fischer: The regulations as they stand now are very, in most respects, just a minor upgrading of what was known in 1994. Since that time there has been a tremendous amount of study of the optical scanners, these so called ‘mark sense machines’ and discovery and understanding of many of the security vulnerabilities that simply were not known in 1994. Some of that work was done here in Connecticut at the UConn Voter Center but it’s been work done all over the country with many reports of these vulnerabilities of the scanners.
A very nice summary is given by the recent California Berkley Report that had bee followed by the California Secretary of the State who was very concerned about the vulnerabilities in these electronic voting machines including the Diebold Optical Scanners that we use here in Connecticut. (See link below)
That study which had a number of security experts among its authors did a very thorough analysis and referenced these reports that are known and came up with a long list of the known vulnerabilities and suggestions about what to do about them.
So for starters the Connecticut Secretary of the State should read that report, understand what it is saying, and incorporate those suggestions into Connecticut regulations. Unfortunately there seems to be nobody on her staff who has the expertise to understand such a report. Of course, the people at UConn can understand it but their business is security research. It’s not the providing of state regulations and they are not lawyers. We have a situation where there is no office that has both the legal knowledge and the technical expertise to even understand the problems much less put them into the form of effective regulations to protect our elections.
Dori Smith: Given that the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office invited True Vote Connecticut into the process and you have tried to explain the need for better security protocols and better regulations, what would you say is needed now? And just explain what has gone wrong in the understanding you may have of what needs to happen? I mean we have seen pressure from LHS Associates, there is of course political pressure, not wanting to look bad, issues like that. Why don’t you comment on what’s gone wrong and what would be necessary again to fix this just in terms of the Secretary of State’s office and what they need to do now.
Michael J. Fischer: The problem that the Secretary of the State’s office faces is that they have to deal with a complicated technological issue in a new technology that has been acquired. They don’t have the technical expertise to understand the issues or to understand how they impact the regulations and the certification procedures that their office is responsible for. It would be like the Department of Transportation trying to supervise the construction of bridges if it had no structural engineers on their staff only lawyers. And one wonders what kind of bridges our state would have if there was no expertise on highway construction and maintenance in the office that would be responsible for that.
I’m not critical of the Secretary of the State for not having had this in the past because this kind of expertise was not needed until this electronic technology was acquired. But the state did acquire it and now that expertise is vital and the office has not been restructured to add a team to provide this expertise. And I say a team because I don’t feel that any one individual is capable of providing the broad perspective and the present knowledge that is needed to come up with a state election system.
The Legislature made a step in that direction a couple of years ago when it created the Voting Technology Standards Board. The idea being that this board would study voting technology and make recommendations for its safe use. The board met a few times and in fact produced some very valuable recommendations but the initial board was created with a sunset clause of January 2006 so the board was disbanded at that time. The Legislature considered a bill that would continue the board, either extend its tenure or make it permanent but the Secretary of the State very strongly opposed the continuation of this board and instead used the contract with the University of Connecticut as a substitute, the reasoning being that we will have access to the expertise we need through UConn.
Now that’s a nice principle but the problem is that UConn is not a part of the Secretary of the State’s office. Their primary responsibility is education and research. It is not the drafting of state regulations and the conduct of state elections. So it is not their primary mission to do these jobs and while they can provide very helpful input into the Secretary of State’s office and groups like True Vote Connecticut can and have to the best of our ability; there is nobody at that office who is capable of receiving the information and understanding it to enough depth to then translate it into regulations and protocols about state elections.
Instead, what the Secretary of the State’s office does in response to any technical challenges is to turn to LHS Associates and follow their advice. So LHS Associates has in effect become the privatized substitute for the State Voting Technology Standard’s Board that existed for a short time.
Dori Smith: Professor Fischer thank you so much for joining us.
Michael J. Fischer: Thank you for having me on the show. I would also encourage concerned voters to contact their town Registrar of Voters and their Town Clerk and express any reservations they have about the way the elections are run. They should understand that these people are not in a good position to do anything about it but they of course can express their frustration to the state representatives and our Secretary of the State.
I would also encourage people to contact their state legislators and let them know that there is a serious problem that they want corrected. There are many things the state can do but it will require citizen pressure to cause real change to happen.
Dori Smith: Professor Michael J. Fischer is in the Computer Science Department at Yale University. He is also President of True Vote Connecticut, truevotect.org and you can also try CTvoterscount.org for information about Connecticut elections.
For Talk Nation Radio I’m Dori Smith. Talk Nation Radio is produced at the studios of WHUS at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. talknationradio.org for transcripts and discussions.
PDF file of the voting systems used in California
Wired Magazine overview of California voting machine problems.
Links to UC Berkeley News overview search voting machines.