N.J.'s 11K Electronic Voting Machines Ordered Re-evaluated to Determine Accuracy, ReliabilityBy Jeanette M. Rundquist
February 01, 2010, 8:22PM
TRENTON -- New Jersey’s 11,000 voting machines must be re-evaluated by a qualified panel of experts to determine whether they are "accurate and reliable," a Superior Court judge ruled today, in a case challenging the validity of computerized voting machines that do not produce a paper record.
All voting machines and vote tally transmitting systems must be disconnected from the Internet; all people who work with them, and third-party vendors who examine or transport the machines, must undergo criminal background checks; and the state must put in place a protocol for inspecting voting machines, to ensure they have not been tampered with, ruled Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg in Mercer County.
She did not, however, go one step further and enforce a 2005 state statute requiring that all voting machines in New Jersey produce a voter-verified paper ballot.
"I am disappointed the court did not take the step of mandating a voter-verified paper trail or scrapping the electronic machines altogether," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough) one of a group of Mercer County residents who brought the suit against the state.The suit was brought five and half years ago by plaintiffs who wanted to improve election security in New Jersey. The plaintiffs, including a voter who said, after casting her ballot in 2004, she received no indication her vote was recorded, charged the state’s touch-screen machines were vulnerable to tampering that could allow vote fraud.
The Democratic Primaries 2008:
Managing Electoral Dynamics Via Covert Vote-Count Manipulation
By Jonathan Simon and Bruce O’Dell, Election Defense Alliance
Summary StatementWe present evidence supporting the hypothesis that systematic attempts are being made to manipulate the results of the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination contest, through overt means such as crossover voting by non-Democrats, and through covert means targeted at the electronic vote tabulation process itself. The net effect has been to prolong the nomination battle and sharpen its negativity, thereby boosting the prospects of the Republican nominee and making more plausible his “victory” in November—either by an honest count, or through continued exploitation of the proven security vulnerabilities in American voting systems.
IntroductionPerhaps John McCain is, as Humphrey Bogart says of the young Bulgarian who wins the money for his family’s exit visa at the roulette table in Casablanca, “just a lucky guy.”
Lucky that the Democrats find themselves locked into a protracted primary season inexorable in its dynamics and increasingly destructive in its impact. Lucky that Hillary Clinton has been magically revived each time she has found herself on electoral life support, to assume a position just far enough behind Barack Obama to be induced to resort to desperate measures and increasingly-negative ads, yet not so far behind as to be forced to bow out.
Lucky that dynamics ostensibly out of McCain's control have combined to give him such material assistance. Perhaps.
But there is compelling evidence that something other than luck is at work. With 82% of Americans polled convinced the nation is on the wrong track, self-destruction by the Democratic party is the only remaining credible means by which, come 2008, the GOP could sustain the perpetual rule envisioned by Karl Rove. (Rove, of course, has hardly retired and is now working from home, beyond the reach of the mandatory email backup system installed at the White House just before he left to “spend time with his family.”)
The goal of Democratic party self-destruction in 2008 could most reliably be brought to pass by one progression of events, one choreography: if a candidate, Hilary Clinton, known for her sense of entitlement, lifelong ambition, tenacity—and willingness to go negative—could be placed and kept in a desperate but not quite hopeless position, the result would follow, quite predictably.
What the mainstream media have now set up and trumpeted as an epic “blood feud” in the Democratic Party, whether or not it actually undermines the party’s prospects in November, will certainly pre-establish a plausible “explanation” for the defeat of whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be.
The same is true for US Senate and House races, where Democrats are heavily favored to expand their majorities, given the large number of open seats this November that were formerly held by Republican incumbents and a string of recent special election victories. But Democratic congressional candidates in both houses are arguably now facing the prospect of negative coattails.
By setting the stage for post-election “spin” for the Presidential and congressional races in November, any outcome-determinative electoral manipulations would become much less “shocking,” and that much less likely to trigger investigation and ultimate detection. This jaundiced overview of the Democratic primary season1 is unfortunately supported by a body of evidence that goes well beyond the odd anomaly or two.
When we examine—as the media has steadfastly refused to do—the numbers and disparities discovered in a parade of key states that determined the path the Democratic contest has taken to date, we find a telling pattern. This pattern is consistent with a tactical manipulation of the primary election vote counts in the service of the strategic choreography alluded to above: Keeping Clinton in the race and desperate. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 1 There were significant oddities on the Republican side as well, beyond the scope of our analysis here. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
There are sound reasons why the Clinton campaign itself is not among the suspects: If Clinton’s campaign or supporters had the capacity and the will to alter election outcomes, it is reasonable to conclude that she would have won, or at least be ahead in, the race; and the ownership and operation of electronic voting equipment remains almost exclusively in the secretive hands of vendors (Diebold/Premier, ES&S, Hart, and Sequoia) with avowedly right-wing Republican political sympathies.
Our examination includes the Democratic primaries in the following key states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, each of which had surprising and unexpected results. In each of these critical elections there was a significant pro-Clinton disparity when comparing pre-election surveys and Election Day exit polls against the official vote counts.
1/8/08: New HampshireThis was the first of the “must-wins” for Clinton. She went into New Hampshire on the heels of an embarrassing third-place finish in Iowa and a 20%+ defeat in Wyoming, had lost momentum, and was trailing by substantial margins in every pre-election poll in the Granite state (the range was from 5% to 13%, with both Obama’s and Clinton’s internal polling also showing a double-digit Obama margin).
Observers consistently reported Obama rallies that were far larger and more enthusiastic. There was no sign of a Clinton groundswell. Yet on Election Night the voters apparently changed their minds, and gave her a 3% victory. The media pundits scratched their collective heads and scrambled to explain this stunning reversal, which would have been remarkable enough if it had been a double-digit shift from a single reputable tracking poll, but was truly staggering when viewed against the backdrop of the entire phalanx of tracking polls.
There was palpable grasping at straws—but never even a hint that perhaps the polls had it right and something was wrong with the vote counts. Nor was there a mention that the first posted National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll had Obama ahead 39.4% to 38.1%, while earlier unposted NEP exit polls put Obama further ahead.
The first posted exit poll was already weighted to a carefully calibrated demographic profile of the electorate, and therefore as reliable an indicator of voter intent as is available. Indeed, that first-posted exit poll may already have been partially adjusted toward conformity with the incoming vote counts, thereby understating the apparent exit poll-vote count disparity.
That exit poll was largely spot-on for the other candidates; only Clinton and Obama's exit poll numbers shifted significantly as votes were tabulated. The mainstream media also did not mention the extraordinary disparity between votes that were counted by hand (Obama + 6.5% head-to-head with Clinton) and those tabulated by computerized optical scan devices (Clinton + 5.5% head-to-head with Obama).
Although the counting method (machine vs. hand) was not strictly homogeneously distributed throughout the state, neither was it clustered in such a way that would readily explain the huge statistical disparity in results. When considering benign reasons for such surprising and unexpected outcomes, conventional explanations all begin and end with the unquestioned belief that the computerized vote counts are valid. Quite an assumption in light of the parade of anomalies, disparities, and machine failures witnessed nationwide since the advent and proliferation of computerized vote counting.
Official election results are assumed valid, even though the votes are tabulated by secret software2 concealed on memory cards immune to inspection and under the strict proprietary control of an outsourced corporate vendor; in New Hampshire, the vendor is LHS, about which unanswered questions abound. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2 Remarkably enough, we know with certainty that the precise model of optical scan voting equipment in use in New Hampshire, Diebold Accuvote OS Model 1.94W, is vulnerable to outcome-altering manipulation by insiders. A live demonstration on that very Diebold model was captured in the HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy". _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In an on-going epilogue, the New Hampshire primary remains under scrutiny. Investigators are amassing detailed evidence of pervasive mistabulation, focused in certain counties. On the Democratic side, there were an alarming number of polling sites reporting more votes than voters. Recounting was rendered effectively useless by a nonexistent chain of custody, which permitted more than ample opportunity for ballot substitution and revision.
Memory cards were reported as having been erased and were never made available to investigators. Even something as basic as a reconciliation of the number of ballots delivered to number of ballots voted, spoiled, and uncast was lacking. Nor was there reconciliation of number of voters checked in at the polls to number of ballots cast.
At this first critical turning point in the Democratic contest an Obama victory would have, in the view of most analysts, effectively ended Clinton’s campaign. That victory—augured in pre-election polling, exit polls, and hand-counted ballots—vanished into the black box scanners provided by Diebold and programmed by LHS. Instead, Clinton was credited with a stunning comeback, given new life, and the nomination battle continued.
2/5/2008: Super TuesdaySuper Tuesday was essentially a standoff, each candidate doing what was necessary to remain viable. There were, however, several exit poll-vote count disparities far beyond the expected margin of error, each involving a shift toward Clinton.
In Massachusetts, another LHS state like New Hampshire, the shift was a whopping 15.5%, turning a projected narrow Obama victory into a 15% Clinton rout.
In Arizona, site of some of the most dubious counting antics over the past several election cycles, the pro-Clinton shift was 11%, again reversing the outcome.
And in New Jersey, where machines are currently under high scrutiny supported by a court order, the shift was 8.6%.
Each of these shifts was well beyond the margin of error of the respective polls. Each resulted in shifts in delegate count to Obama’s detriment, as well as the loss of two victories that would have put a very different complexion on the outcome of Super Tuesday as a whole. The overall effect was, again, to maintain Clinton’s viability.
3/4/2008: Ohio, Rhode Island, TexasIn the weeks following Super Tuesday, Obama racked up a succession of impressive wins—including every caucus state, where vote counting is often face-to-face, and subject to greater scrutiny. As a result he pulled well ahead in the delegate count, and began to take on the mantle of inevitability.
Once more, pundits were calling the race all but over, and Texas and Ohio were often described as Clinton’s last stand. She needed wins in both states, it was flatly stated, to continue in the race. Even Clinton’s own campaign conceded as much. In the weeks before the election, Obama had closed an initial gap in both states and was running even or ahead in pre-election polling.
OhioIn Ohio once again we are confronted with a discrepancy between exit polls and official tallies. The initial published exit poll, posted shortly after poll closing, showed a 3% Clinton margin (51.1% to 47.9%), while the final official vote count showed a 10% Clinton margin (54.3% to 44.0%). This disparity was well outside the exit poll’s margin of error. The official vote count was also a significant departure from a compendium of pre-election polls, which showed Obama gaining ground and approaching equality.3
Viewed in isolation, Ohio could be explained as a “late Clinton surge” that caught the pre-election pollsters by surprise. Primaries are indeed fluid and volatile, as elections go, and there were reports of organized attempts to encourage Republican crossover voting for Clinton, though the Republican crossover vote may have been less robust than initially reported.
It can also plausibly be viewed as another in a succession of “cover stories” (for example, the massive but phantom after-dinner Evangelical turnout offered up by Rove as a factor in reversing the outcome in 2004) that could well provide a relatively benign explanation for more nefarious operations. But instead there was a parade of contests in important states in the 2008 nomination battle in which a substantial exit poll-vote count disparity worked in Clinton’s favor—including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Arkansas, Arizona, California, and now Ohio and, as we will see, Texas and Rhode Island.
In contrast, we have observed to date no battleground state primary with a significant4 exit poll-vote count disparity in Obama's favor. Some have invoked the so-called “Bradley effect” to account for this string of disparities. According to this theory, some white voters who would not vote for a black candidate in the privacy of the voting booth are “shamed” into indicating to pollsters (i.e., in public) that they chose that candidate.
But research into the Bradley effect has established that it is, at best, an inconsistent and relatively rare phenomenon, very unlikely to account for such a pervasive pattern as identified above. It is only if one is unwilling to consider any possibility of computerized vote mistabulation that such superficially plausible theories as the Bradley effect take their place in the front of the line of explanations. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 3 See http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/poll-tracker.htm 4 In this case, significant means "larger than the exit poll margin of error." _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rhode IslandThe exit poll-vote count disparity in Rhode Island was 14.1%; the exit poll posted after poll closing had Clinton up 4.1% (51.6% to 47.5%) over Obama, yet the official vote count had Clinton up 18.2% (58.8% to 40.6%). This is far outside the exit poll’s margin of error, and on a par with the similarly perplexing and bizarre 15.5% disparity favoring Clinton in Massachusetts on Super Tuesday. It is reasonable to ask, if exit polls are this far off, why bother exit polling? (Or perhaps just as reasonable to ask, if vote counts are this far off, why bother voting?)
TexasIn Texas there was a relatively modest 4% discrepancy between the first posted exit polls and official tallies—in the usual direction and larger than the margin of error, and also in this case, withheld from the public until more than an hour after poll closing.
While most primary exit polls are posted a few minutes after the polls close, an hour's delay enables ample opportunity for adjustment of exit polls toward conformity with the incoming vote count, and so the posted exit polls may understate the magnitude of the discrepancy.
But the disparity in Texas between early voting results vs. Election Day in-precinct voting was of staggering proportions that seemed to defy explanation. The earliest returns posted on network websites showed a total of approximately 740,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary with 0% of precincts reporting. This was the early/absentee vote tally, which in some states is tabulated and available for release immediately upon poll closing. Obama’s vote at that point was 436,034 to 303,276 for Clinton, or 59% to 41%, an 18% margin.
But by the time the counting was done the next morning, Clinton had a 51% to 48% victory . . . a whopping 21% margin reversal. What was even more stunning, however, was that Clinton had caught up to Obama before even a quarter of the election day vote had been tallied: with 23% of election day precincts reporting and almost exactly as many at-precinct votes as early votes counted, the overall count stood at Obama 711,759, Clinton 711,183 (49%-49%), a dead heat.
To catch up so quickly and produce those numbers, Clinton had to win the at-precinct vote in that quarter of Texas precincts by 59% to 41%...an exact reversal of the early voting Obama landslide. What we saw in Texas were essentially equal and opposite landslides, as if we were observing two not only separate but radically divergent electorates, one that chose to vote early and one that chose to go to the polls.
The early voting period in Texas extends from 17 days to four days prior to the election. Ordinarily explanations for a divergence of such magnitude, particularly in intra-party contests, would be due to time-critical phenomena such as late-breaking gaffes, scandals, debate blowouts and the like. But there was no such occurrence.
During the early voting period the average of 13 pre-election polls showed Clinton 45.6%, Obama 46.7%. In the three days before the election, after the early voting period had ended, the average of eight polls was Clinton 46.8%, Obama 46.1%, a very modest change and certainly not the 21% mega-reversal displayed by the early voting and at-precinct vote counts.
While there is no obvious explanation for the pattern observed, one hypothesis worthy of investigation is that one set of counting equipment (either early-voting or at-precinct voting) was accessed by malicious insiders and manipulated. If the pattern of pro-Clinton shifts were to hold, the place to investigate first would of course be the at-precinct voting equipment and county central tabulators.
Having won Ohio and Texas, Clinton remained viable but still in dire straits, leading directly to the most polarizing and divisive phase of the nomination battle.
4/23/08: PennsylvaniaIn the ‘quiet’ interval during the six weeks prior to the Pennsylvania primary, the effects of Clinton’s revived (but precarious) position had ample opportunity to play out. The Clinton campaign went on the offensive, with the type of personal, negative attacks that both campaigns had previously eschewed. Obama was relentlessly portrayed as elitist and out-of-touch by the Clinton campaign (and by Clinton herself), a depiction the mainstream media began to echo almost as relentlessly.
And, sure enough, incidents emerged that played into this depiction—most notably Reverend Wright’s sermons and Obama’s own quote that seemed to both pigeonhole and patronize the working-class voters of Pennsylvania. These were replayed by the mainstream media in an endless barrage of coverage, all keyed to the theme that Obama might be too out-of-touch, and too close to the radical black fringe, to be president. Obama appeared to successfully counter that round of negative attacks, and it appeared to have little or no impact in his polling support nationwide – nor, indeed, in Pennsylvania.
Obama went into the April 23 primary trailing Clinton by 5% or less in pre-election polls, with no late movement to Clinton detected. It was viewed as essential by mainstream media pundits that Clinton win “by double digits” to maintain her viability and pick up the momentum required to win decisive superdelegate support.
First-posted exit polls5 for Pennsylvania reflected pre-election expectations, with Clinton leading 51.6% to 47.8%, a 3.8% margin. By late in the evening, however, with the count mostly in, it was Clinton by 9.4%--close enough somehow for the morning papers, networks, and websites to lead with Clinton’s “double-digit” win.
As with New Hampshire, Ohio, and Texas, there was a wide range of irregularities, glitches, and vote suppression incidents reported. Again, an exit poll disparity beyond the margin of error. Again, a departure, in the familiar direction, from the range of pre-election polling. And once again the final result was that Clinton received just enough to sustain her campaign, her “double-digit” victory, courtesy of a generous round-off. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 5 Weighted, 1421 respondents, approximate margin of error +/- 3%. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The UpshotJust as with a spaceship's carefully-calibrated mid-course corrections that make an ultimate difference of millions of miles, it does not take much to radically change the course of a multi-election political contest. A few quick bursts from the retrorockets at the right moment(s) will do the trick. Of course the dynamics of a campaign can change legitimately, as a result of the thrust and parry process, exposure of weaknesses, refutation of apparent inevitability, etc.
But the shift in dynamics of the 2008 Democratic nomination contest strongly correlated with a string of election results that raised serious red flags independent of their impact on the race. Glaring discrepancies far beyond the margin of error of exit polls and pre-election polls, and the confounding of the expected electoral dynamics, produced results that had the precise impact of prolonging and intensifying the nomination battle. Had the primary election results jibed with those independent measures and expectations, it would long since have been wrapped up.
Anyone actually in a position to take advantage of the vast array of security vulnerabilities in the computers that run our elections would have an obvious interest in remaining undetected. The safest path would be to take only what you need to achieve your bottom-line goal, and not one vote more. Anything beyond adds risk without reward.
Thus, in keeping with our hypothesis that the fundamental goal of primary contest electoral manipulation was to create “plausible defeatability” for the Democratic ticket in November, we would expect little additional manipulation in the last stages of the Democratic contest. It is apparent that an Obama defeat in November (and more extensive Democratic losses in down-ballot races) can be spun as a plausible consequence of the intra-party strife that has already been depicted as weakening the party and its nominee, and of apparent Obama weaknesses exposed in the course of the grueling nomination battle.
With such a cover story safely in place, even an against-the-odds Republican “victory” in November could be successfully spun and sold to the candidates, their parties, the media, and the voters.
The “Mystery Adjustment” Factor in PollingOne final observation concerning the pre-election polling that sets expectations for candidates, the mainstream media, and the voters themselves. We are deeply concerned that these polls too paint a false backdrop against which the signs of computerized electoral manipulation by insiders will appear diminished in magnitude over time, or even disappear.
The reason for this concern is obviously not that the fraternity of pollsters are knowingly acting to support or conceal systematic computerized electoral manipulation, but rather that pollsters simply cannot expect to stay in business if they consistently fail to predict the “actual” electoral results. The worst problem for a pollster is to be consistently “off” in the same direction.
Put another way, pollsters are not paid for achieving some abstract statistical purity but rather for accurate predictions—however achieved. If one places oneself in the position of a pollster who, time and again, is faced with results that are, say 6 – 8% more Republican than their predictions, or shifted in the direction the right wing would desire, it becomes clear that one would begin making a “mystery adjustment” to whatever data emerges from a clean survey methodology.
Such an adjustment can be easily generated by changes in demographic weighting that can at least in part be justified by reliance on data emerging from previous elections, themselves manipulated. Call it a fudge factor if you will, but it keeps the pollster in business, while failing to make such a correction would be professional suicide.
By way of corroboration of this phenomenon, in public dialogue with a major-party polling consultant, the following shocking admission was made: If the Democratic candidate is not leading by 10% going into the election in their internal polling, they expect the race to be a toss-up. This internal candidate polling is—unlike polls published for public consumption—intended to paint a ruthlessly accurate picture of contest dynamics to help the party prioritize expensive get-out-the-vote drives and last-minute media blitzes.
The fact that even major-party pollsters must adjust their own results to account for the “mystery swing” to the right is a strong indication that much the same distorting protocol is already being employed in public pre-election polling. When manipulated elections serve as the calibration tool for pre-election polling, we lose yet another independent check mechanism on the official computerized vote tabulation process. This only deepens the crisis.
ConclusionElection theft is certainly hard to prove, with virtually all hard evidence withheld as proprietary; and even well-supported allegations by credible journalists, computer scientists, security professionals and election integrity activists are given a wide berth by both the mainstream media and the established political powers of both major parties.
Yet, even with the limited tools at our disposal, we keep discovering evidence—in pre-election polls, exit polls, and published election results–that is consistent with a pattern of widespread covert manipulation of vote counts.
We will continue to investigate and report these anomalies until a thorough and unblinking investigation of suspicious results is undertaken by those in position to collect the additional evidence needed to establish incontrovertible proof.
But since many of those in the best position to investigate election anomalies are themselves elected officials, our best hope may be to follow the recent example of Ireland and the Netherlands—dispense with voting computers, and simply count our own paper ballots by hand.
Voting Machine Ruling a Victory, Says SequoiaBy Meir Rinde
February 02, 2010, 6:26PM
The maker of New Jersey’s voting machines is hailing a Superior Court ruling on the security of the devices as a victory, while the lawyer who sued to have the machines discarded said she still expects state experts to find they have serious flaws.
Sequoia Voting Systems “is exceedingly pleased with the court’s decision that affirms what Sequoia and our customers throughout New Jersey and the United States have long known and experienced — that our voting equipment is indeed safe, accurate and reliable,” CEO Jack A. Blaine said in a press release.
In her ruling Monday, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg acknowledged that New Jersey has used Sequoia systems for over 15 years without finding any evidence that an election has been compromised through manipulation of the machines, the firm said.
“If the judge thought their machines were really great,
she would not have said a panel of computer experts has to look at them
and has the option of finding them not fit for use”
-- Penny Venetis, plaintiffs' attorney
The Colorado-based company highlighted a number of other favorable findings. Feinberg agreed that the mere possibility of criminal tampering with the machines was not sufficient to restrict their use, that during normal use they are “safe, accurate and reliable,” and that paperless voting does not violate voters’ rights.
The company said it supports measures Feinberg ordered the state to undertake, including keeping the machines disconnected from the Internet, monitoring them using video cameras or other means and instituting security training for municipal clerks and other officials.
Feinberg also ordered the state to have a reformulated panel of computer experts report on the machines’ reliability within 120 days, a decision that plaintiffs said could still lead to the machines being scrapped or retrofitted to produce an auditable paper record.
Sequoia said it was happy with the decision nonetheless.
“We look forward to the review of the (Sequoia) voting equipment by New Jersey’s expanded certification panel and working cooperatively with this group,” Blaine said.
Two members of the three-person committee that evaluates the state’s voting machines will be replaced to satisfy the judge’s order, said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, which represented the Division of Elections in the suit.
The court called for “reexamining that committee and hiring two mechanical experts who have expertise in hardware and software,” he said. “The Division of Elections is in the process of finding replacements to carry out this mission.”
Division officials were “delighted” that Feinberg found no constitutional violations and that the machines met legal requirements, Loriquet said.
Penny Venetis, the Rutgers law professor who sued the state in 2004 on behalf of Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Ewing, and other plaintiffs, said Sequoia failed to acknowledge that Feinberg had deferred to the state on the machines’ fate, rather than simply upholding their use.
“If the judge thought their machines were really great, she would not have said a panel of computer experts has to look at them and has the option of finding them not fit for use,” she said yesterday.
Venetis said it was unfair to say the state’s 11,000 voting machines have been free of problems, since the plaintiffs’ experts were only able to examine two of the machines, and then only after a lengthy legal battle.
If members of the reconstituted state panel conduct an objective examination, “they are going to agree with our world-class computer voting experts that these machines cannot be used,” she said.
She also dismissed the Sequoia argument, which Feinberg accepted, that manipulating the machines by installing a computer chip or other tampering would take too long to pose a real threat.
“To think somebody wouldn’t spend six months doing something that is fairly easy to do to alter an election is naïve, considering how much effort is put into placing a candidate on the ballot,” Venetis said.
Contact Meir Rinde at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 989-5717.
|Judge urges state to raise bar on electronic voting machines Newark Star Ledger, NJ -
BY Kevin Coughlin. Volunteers who approve electronic voting machines in New Jersey lack technical savvy and rely too much on vendors to explain how the ...
|Judge: Electronic voting machine advisors needed
Newark Star Ledger, NJ -
A state judge voiced concerns today that state volunteers who approve electronic voting machines lack technical expertise and must rely too heavily on ...
A lawyer calls them uncertified. A professor calls them easy to rig
N.J. voting machines face twin challenge
Sunday, February 11, 2007
BY KEVIN COUGHLIN Star-Ledger Staff
The electronic voting machines used in most of New Jersey were never properly inspected as state law demands, according to a new legal claim filed by voter rights activists. Had the machines been tested, they would have proved to be a hacker's dream, the activists say. This week Newark attorney Penny Venetis, representing a coalition of plaintiffs, will ask a judge in Trenton to decommission machines used by 18 of the state's 21 counties.
Similar models of the computerized touch-screen machines made by an Oakland, Calif., company, Sequoia, are currently being tested by a Princeton University computer scientist, who says they easily could be rigged to throw an election. Venetis filed legal papers Friday claiming the state never certified some 10,000 Sequoia AVC Advantage machines as secure or reliable as required by law.
"There is zero documentation -- no proof whatsoever -- that any state official has ever reviewed Sequoia machines," Venetis, co-director of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, said in an interview. "This means you cannot use them. ... These machines are being used to count most of the votes in the state without being tested in any way, shape or form."
If Mercer County Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg agrees with Venitis to pull the plug on the electronic machines, it will create a giant headache for state election officials, who already are struggling to meet a January 2008 deadline to retrofit all voting machines with paper printouts. The state would have to find a way to recertify or replace them -- or come up with a lot of pencils and paper ballots -- in time for April school elections.
A spokesman for the state Division of Elections had no comment. The problem goes beyond a lack of documentation, according to Andrew Appel, a Princeton computer science professor. Appel bought five Sequoia machines for a total of $82 from a government auction Web site last month. Sold by officials in Buncombe County, N.C., after a decade of use, they are virtually identical to the machines Essex County bought for $8,000 apiece in 2005, Appel said.
For Appel, it was a lucky find. Sequoia and other voting companies have refused to let academic experts peek inside their proprietary software and machines. Appel had to submit only minimal personal information and a cashier's check to close the deal. A Princeton student picked one machine's lock "in seven seconds" to access the removable chips containing Sequoia's vote-recording software, Appel said.
"We can take a version of Sequoia's software program and modify it to do something different -- like appear to count votes, but really move them from one candidate to another. And it can be programmed to do that only on Tuesdays in November, and at any other time. You can't detect it," Appel said last week.
Citing more than a century in the election business, Sequoia Voting Systems asserts on its Web site that "our tamperproof products, including ... the AVC Advantage, are sought after from coast to coast for their accuracy and reliability." While promising to look into Appel's claims, Sequoia's Michelle Shafer asserted that hacking scenarios are unlikely. "It's not just the equipment. There are people and processes in place in the election environment to prevent tampering and attempts at tampering," she said.
But Appel said voting machines often are left unattended at polling places prior to elections. He is confident his students and other recent buyers of 136 Sequoia machines sold on GovDeals.com -- where bidders also can find surplus coffins, locomotives and World War I cannons -- will crack Sequoia's code. Then, he said, it will be fairly simple for anyone with bad intentions and a screwdriver to swap Sequoia's memory chips for reprogrammed ones.
Another Princeton team, led by professor Ed Felten, did essentially the same thing last fall with a Diebold touch-screen machine, obtained by secret means. In a demonstration for Congress, Felten rigged an electronic election so Benedict Arnold beat George Washington every time.
The latest New Jersey legal challenge comes amid a national backlash against touch-screen machines. Through the Help America Vote Act, Congress doled out more than $3 billion -- at least $37million of it to New Jersey -- for new voting technology after Florida's punch card ballots and their hanging chads marred the 2000 presidential election.
But computer scientists have warned about potential flaws in electronic voting machines, which resemble ATMs. Last week Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.) reintroduced a bill to require e-voting machines to include paper printouts. Voters can review these printouts, and they can be recounted if disputes arise over electronic tallies. Warren County is the only place in New Jersey so equipped, but the state has earmarked $21million to retrofit machines elsewhere.
Without a paper trail, electronic voting machines "cannot be made secure," the National Institute of Standards and Technology cautioned last year. After touch-screen machines apparently failed to record 18,000 votes in a close Florida race last November, that state decided to replace them with optical scanners before the 2008 presidential election. Ballots will be cast on paper and scanned electronically. The paper can be counted manually if there are discrepancies.
New Mexico switched to optical scanners last year. Connecticut is going that way and New Jersey should, too, said Appel and Venetis.
On its Web site, the state Division of Elections says it certified the Sequoia AVC Advantage in August 1987. But Venetis said state officials could furnish no proof when she formally requested it. Venetis said the state has failed to follow its own hoary, vague laws demanding that voting machines must be "thoroughly tested and reliable." They should "correctly register and accurately count all votes cast" and be "of durable construction" so they may be used "safely, efficiently, and accurately," the law says.
But the section of New Jersey's Title 19 that outlines the actual certification process dates to 1953 -- long before computers became commonplace. It empowers New Jersey's secretary of state to oversee examinations of voting machines. Reviews by "an expert in patent law" and "two mechanical experts" must be completed within 30 days of a company's application.
These experts earn $150 apiece, from a fee paid by the voting machine company, to file a report with the state. Precisely what they are supposed to examine, Venetis said, remains a mystery. Once approved, a machine can be modified without further state scrutiny, as long as any changes don't "impair its accuracy, efficiency, or capacity," the law says.
When Essex County bought 700 AVC Advantages from Sequoia late in 2005, there was talk about their certification by a federally approved laboratory -- but no documentation from the state, said Carmine Casciano, the county superintendent of elections. "I've never seen anything from the state," Casciano said. "I just get a list from the attorney general saying 'Approved.' I've never seen anything from the individuals involved in the process."
Venetis represents the Coalition for Peace Action and other plaintiffs in a 3-year-old lawsuit pressing for secure and verifiable elections. She is expected to make her new argument before Judge Feinberg Friday.
Venetis also plans to raise concerns about the state's dependence on Sequoia. Its parent company, the Smartmatic Corp. of Florida, has been the focus of a federal probe into possible ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and has announced plans to sell Sequoia to an American buyer. Sequoia's Shafer said any sale of the company won't interfere with its obligations in New Jersey. "Sequoia's not going anywhere," said Shafer.
Kevin Coughlin may be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-1763.
© 2007 The Star Ledger © 2007 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.
Attached under the "Attachment" link at the foot of this article, is the New Jersey Voter Registration Information as set forth in Making the List, Database Matching and Verification Processes for Voter Registration, published by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University on March 24, 2006. This document contains available information about voter regtistration current as of the date of publication.
Federal law now requires, as of January 1, 2006, that states create and maintain statewide databases to serve as the central source of voter registration information. Citizens’ ability to get on the rolls (and thus their ability to vote and have their votes counted) will now depend on the policies and procedures governing the use of these databases in the voter registration process. Evidence demonstrates that poor policy and procedure choices could result in the unwarranted disenfranchisement of millions of eligible citizens attempting to register to vote.
The new statewide databases, and their role in the voter registration process, are poorly understood, but extremely consequential. This report, issued just as the state databases begin to come online, presents the first comprehensive catalog of the widely varying state database practices governing how (and in some cases, whether) individuals seeking to register will be placed on the voter rolls.
The report covers the state’s voter registration process, from the application form up through Election Day - including the intake of registration forms, the manner in which information from the forms may be matched to other government lists, the consequences of the match process, and any opportunity to correct errors. Each variation at each step of the process has tangible consequences for voters seeking to register and vote in 2006 and beyond.
Because of the possibility that voter information may differ from database to database (abbreviations, street designations, etc.) or because of data entry errors, valid voter registration data may be rejected. Individual voters are urged to contact their county clerk or local election board to determine that they are properly registered.
Many such election authorities maintain online services for this purpose, other will require a telephone call or perhaps a written inquiry to determine the voter's eligibility. As an addendum to this state report, a fill-in form for voter registration is presented which can be completed, printed and sent to the appropriate registratrar of voters (generally the county Clerk or local election board). The proper form of submission and location is included on the registration form.
Looking for Voter Registration Information for Your State?Project Vote Smart has prepared an excellent guide to voter registration rules, deadlines, and procedures in all 50 states. Click the link below, then select your state from the dropdown list:
Also check the [Your State] Voter Registration Information link below to read a detailed profile of your state's voter registration database and state-specific voter registration policies. The report is part of the 50-state national survey titled Making the List, researched by the Brennan Center for Justice.
Additionally, we recommend getting and sharing a copy of the book Count My Vote!, a voters' self-defense guide to voter registration, election regulations, and voter ID laws in all 50 states.
By arrangement with publisher AlterNet, EDA is offering these handbooks at a 40% discount, just $6.00 plus postage. Available here: Count My Vote Please inform voter registration and election protection organizations about this important guide.