The Rural Patriot

September 26, 2006

NY Counties Must Choose Voting Machines Before Machines are Certified

Filed under: New York State — theruralpatriot @ 7:44 am

This would be funny if it were not true. With NY State being the last to comply with HAVA, now all of a sudden it is an urgent necessity that our counties choose by late October which machine(s) they want their residents to use to “meet a court-agreed deadline for having the new machines by September 2007”. And nevermind that the available models to choose from will not be certified for use in NY State until late December.

“It’s really putting the cart before the horse,” said (Bo) Lipari, a software engineer who was the League of Women Voters’ appointee to a special Board of Elections committee that is supposed to help look at the machines.
State board spokesman Lee Daghlian added that purchase decisions aren’t final contracts, and that counties also have to list backup choices, should some of the 11 different machines, offered by six manufacturers, fail the tests.

“If we waited to do contracts and all of that work after everything is certified, there would not be enough time to get those machines in place,” said Daghlian.

ummm….. Maybe I’m not understanding something here, but that last statement doesn’t quite make sense to me. So, they are not final contracts…would you then call it a “preliminary contract” or an “intended, but I’m not quite sure if your machine passes muster contract”? What impact does this process have on the manufacturer? Are they to start production on “preliminaries/maybes”, or do they just sit on the orders for two months? I don’t know, but this doesn’t sound like a good procedure to me.

The biggest consideration (and fear, IMO) comes in the hands of the poor souls who have the responsibility of choosing what machine their county will use.  How can anyone make an intelligent and wise choice when you don’t have the assurance that what you are picking from hasn’t “passed the smell test yet”?  I don’t envy them in this task.

Lipari, though, was also concerned that he hasn’t yet been able to inspect the technical data packages, or software specifications, of the machines.

“The technical data packages are owned by vendors. Some of it is copyrighted,” said Daghlian, who explained that they may have to black out portions of the specifications that manufacturers want to keep to them selves. “If we gave it out, it would be an infringement of their privacy.”

Where have I heard this before…oh yes, Diebold’s dealings in other states. Open source code, anyone? What’s more important – integrity of US elections or manufacturers’ privacy infringement issues. Or, will New York go the way of North Carolina? From 12/01/05:

On Monday, EFF went to superior court in North Carolina in order to challenge e-voting recidivist Diebold and their attempt to skirt the state’s strong new election transparency rules. Diebold pleaded with the court for an exemption from the statute’s requirement to escrow “all software that is relevant to functionality, setup, configuration, and operation of the voting system” and to release a list of all programmers who worked on the code because… well… it simply couldn’t do it. It would likely be impossible, said Diebold, to escrow all of the third party software that its system relied on (including Windows).

Despite Diebold’s asserted inability to meet the requirements of state law, the North Carolina Board of Elections today happily certified Diebold without condition. Never mind all of that third party software. Never mind the impossibility of obtaining a list of programmers who had contributed to that code.

And never mind the Board of Election’s obligation to subject all candidate voting systems to rigorous review before certification.

And look at what happened in Maryland during their recent primaries:

In the primary last week in Maryland, several counties reported machine-related problems, including computers that misidentified the party affiliations of voters, electronic voter registration lists that froze and voting-machine memory cards whose contents could not be electronically transmitted. In Montgomery County, election workers did not receive access cards to voting machines for the county’s 238 precincts on time, forcing as many as 12,000 voters to use provisional paper ballots until they ran out.

“We had a bad experience in the primary that led to very long lines, which means people get discouraged and leave the polls without voting,” said Governor Ehrlich, who is in a tight re-election race and has been accused by his critics of trying to use the voting issue to motivate his base. “We have hot races coming up in November and turnout will be high, so we can expect lines to be two or three times longer. If even a couple of these machines break down, we could be in serious trouble.”

Less than two months before voters head to the polls, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland this week became the most recent official to raise concerns publicly. Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said he lacked confidence in the state’s new $106 million electronic voting system and suggested a return to paper ballots.

The problems were not isolated to Maryland:

In the Illinois primary in March, Cook County officials delayed the results of the county board elections for a week because of human and mechanical problems at hundreds of sites with new voting machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems.

In the April primary in Tarrant County, Tex., machines made by Hart InterCivic counted some ballots as many as six times, recording 100,000 more votes than were cast. The problem was attributed to programming errors, not hacking.

Please, please, please NY State, let’s get this right. Learn from other states’ experiences. Do not rush this. Do not let the integrity of our vote be compromised.

Paper ballots, anyone?


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