Features - Election Concerns: Will Your Vote Count? Are You Sure?

Diana Botluk is an online legal information expert and author of The Legal List: Research on the Internet. She teaches online searching classes for OCLC/Capcon and is a reference librarian at the Maryland State Law Library. Write to Diana at artemis@justice.com or take one of her classes in Washington, D.C. In addition, link to Diana's previous articles on LLRX.com.

The 2000 presidential elections hit home the proposition that every single vote is important; but in the hotly contested election in a couple of weeks, will your vote actually count?  While many states have scrambled over the past four years to upgrade their voting systems, have we jumped too quickly into untested waters?  The controversy surrounding new voting systems leaves many of us wondering about the integrity of the upcoming elections, especially when we read about numerous problems with electronic voting systems throughout the nation (See Fact: Electronic Voting Machines Have Miscounted Votes)

In order to spare the country from another hanging chad-type fiasco, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 provided funds for states to upgrade their voting systems to something more state-of-the-art than levers or punch cards.  Many states took a leap into the technology of DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) touch screen voting systems.  However, many incidents have been documented where these systems have failed, incorrectly counting or completely discounting votes (See, e.g., Bev Harris’ Black Box Voting and for other e-voting relating sources, see this link from beSpacific).  Additionally, critics of the DRE systems have identified numerous methods by which the systems could be subject to possible security attack, including tampering to change vote tallies from within the programming, which no separate audit would reveal (See, e.g., Analysis of an Electronic Voting System by Kohno, Stubblefield, Rubin & Wallach). 

What Can We Do?

We don’t have to feel completely powerless and subject to voting systems we may not necessarily trust. There are a number of actions that we all can take to do our own small parts to preserve the integrity of these elections. Everyone, no matter what their role on November 2nd, can observe what happens inside the polling place while they are there.

Truevotemd.org has prepared guidelines specifically for poll watchers, but any of us can keep an eye out for problems while we are voting. Is a voter confused, upset or turned away? Once outside, you could encourage him or her to talk to an election official and report the incident to a poll watcher who may be outside the building. Does a voting machine have a technical malfunction? Does it crash, switch votes or provide an incomplete ballot? If this happens to you, report it not only to an election official, but to a poll watching organization as well. It is vitally important that problems be reported not only to election judges at the polling place, but also to independent voting watch organizations in order to document irregularities and collect data.

Once an incident is reported to an independent poll watcher, it will be entered into the Election Incident Reporting System. The Election Incident Reporting System (https://voteprotect.org and http://www.verifiedvoting.org/eirs) provides integrated tools to a number of election protection organizations to collect information about voting systems, to compile date about election irregularities and support subsequent research for election policy-making. The system also assists with the organization and deployment of election day volunteers who are concerned about election integrity. Americans can watch the map on the website to see how many incidents are reported in each state.

Before you cast your ballot, take a minute to double check to be sure it reflects your choices. Before Election Day, check to make sure you are on your precinct’s list of registered voters. And remember, you have a right to vote. If you are registered in your precinct and something goes wrong (your name isn’t on the list, you forgot your I.D., etc.) you *still* have a right to vote. Ask to speak to an election official and cast a provisional ballot.

Editor's Notes on recent related news

Also in this issue of LLRX.com, please see Research RoundUp: Federal & State Election Resources - Updated October 1, 2004, by Kathy Biehl

See also

-this Los Angeles Times article, October 17, 2004 (reg. req'd): Election to Be Scrutinized for Irregularities: "Along with computer experts to monitor the equipment, thousands of observers will be on hand to detail incidents that could affect votes."

-and this Washington Post article, October 16, 2004 (reg. req'd): Bush Lawyer Anticipates Delay in Tally: "President Bush's top campaign lawyer said yesterday that the winner of next month's presidential vote may not be known for "days or weeks" after Election Day if the contest is close."
 

E-Voting Resources

Avi Rubin’s web page on E-Voting Security
http://www.avirubin.com/vote
-Contains, among other resources, Analysis of an Electronic Voting System by Kohno, Stubblefield, Rubin & Wallach

Bev Harris’ Black Box Voting: Consumer Protection for Elections
http://www.blackboxvoting.org
-Free online edition of the book Black Box Voting and a great deal of other relevant content

Caltech-MIT/Voting Technology Project
http://www.vote.caltech.edu/index.html

Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland
http://truevotemd.org/facts.asp
-Collection of links to articles and reports – focus is nationwide a little down the page.

C-Span
http://c-span.org
-Search programs for election preparedness.

Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Technical Security Assessment Report from Compuware Corporation for the state of Ohio
http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/hava/files/compuware.pdf

Election Protection archive of voting machine articles
http://tinyurl.com/6e2sw

CRS Report: Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DRE’s): Analysis of Security Issues
http://www.epic.org/privacy/voting/crsreport.pdf

National Committee for Voting Integrity
http://www.votingintegrity.org

New York Times series on Making Votes Count
http://nytimes.com/makingvotescount

Summary of the Problem with Electronic Voting from Verified Voting
http://tinyurl.com/3wrvl

Recommendations of the Brennan Center for Justice and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights for Improving Reliability of Direct Recording Electronic Voting Systems
http://tinyurl.com/3z8h4

Get Involved on Election Day

Deliver voting rights to the people by getting involved on election day.  It’s not too late and thousands of volunteers are still needed.  You can even travel out of state to volunteer where it’s needed most, provided you do it in time to submit your absentee ballot.  Why not take a trip to Florida?

Volunteer

Election Protection (lawyers and paralegals)
http://www.ourvote.com/volunteer
There is a special need for lawyers and paralegals.

Election Protection
http://www.electionprotectionvolunteer.org
There is a special need for clergy and Spanish speaking individuals, but all volunteers are needed.

TechWatch (technology professionals)
http://www.verifiedvoting.org/techwatch

VoteWatch
http://votewatch.us

Work at the polls

Contact your local board of elections to see if poll workers are still needed. Try the state election board website first. While election workers are part of the system, they are not the problem. The more intelligent, qualified election workers we have, the more we can take human error out of the equation.

State Election Board Links - http://www.nased.org/membership.htm  and Research RoundUp: Federal & State Election Resources - Updated October 1, 2004, by Kathy Biehl.

Administrative Structure of State Election Offices - http://www.fec.gov/pages/tech3.htm

Read Avi Rubin’s experience as an election judge at the 2004 primary elections in Maryland

Even if you can’t give up your time on Election Day, you can lend your support:

Endorse the Verified Voting Resolution - http://www.verifiedvoting.org/article.php?id=5028

Urge your Congressional representatives to pass verified voting legislation, described below. While unlikely that any of these measures would pass during what’s left of this Congress, it doesn’t hurt to tell the committee members and your own representatives how you feel.

(See also http://www.verifiedvoting.org/article.php?list=type&type=43#federal  and http://www.verifiedvoting.org/article.php?id=5020)

Get Congressional contact information at http://www.congress.org/congressorg/home

Additionally, the volunteer organizations listed above will accept cash donations if you can’t spare your time.

Pending Legislation

Each of the following bills would amend the
Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require a voter-verified permanent record or hardcopy of each vote:

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003, H.R. 2239 was introduced in the House on May 22, 2003, when it was referred to the House Committee on House Administration. Representatives on the House Committee on House Administration have stated they do not believe the bill is timely or wise. The related bill in the Senate, S. 1980, was introduced on December 9, 2003, and referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

These bills provide for a permanent paper record of each vote, with an opportunity for each voter to correct any error before the record is preserved for a manual audit. The paper record would be the official record used in a recount. They also provide for mandatory surprise recounts in Federal elections in .5% of the jurisdictions in each state, as well as further study to enhance accessibility and voter verification mechanisms for voters with disabilities.

The Know Your Vote Counts Act of 2004, HR 4187, introduced in the House on April 21, 2004, would require voting systems to produce a verifiable paper record of each vote cast and to ensure the security of electronic data. The bill was referred to the House Committee on House Administration, where it still sits. Like the others, this bill also provides for a paper record that a voter would have a chance to verify. The voter would be given the chance to make a correction and provided with a new paper record that accurately reflects his or her vote. It also calls for guidelines to ensure the security of any data which is transmitted or received electronically by voting systems.

The RECORD, or Restore Elector Confidence in Our Representative Democracy, Act of 2004, S. 2313, was introduced in the Senate on April 8, 2004, when it, too, was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration, where it still sits. It, too, provides for a voter-verified paper record to be preserved and available as the official record for a recount, as well as sets requirements for voting systems manufacturers to ensure security of those systems. It also has provisions for verification of votes by voters with disabilities. It would require mandatory surprise recounts in 2% of jurisdictions, and provides for further study.

The Voter Integrity and Verification Act of 2004, S. 2437, was introduced in the Senate on May 18, 2004, and referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration, where it still sits. It provides for each voter to verify that a paper version accurately reflects his or her vote. The paper versions would be preserved as the official record of the vote for recounts.


Editor's Note:  Permission to redistribute this article is granted provided that users include all the following information:  Published by LLRX on October 17, 2004 at http://www.llrx.com/features/yourvote.htm. Copyright© LLRX and Diana Botluk (indicated on each page of the article).