National Committee for Voting Integrity

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By: The National Committee on Voting Integrity (NCVI)
To the: U.S. Election Assistance Commission
Public Hearing
“ Use, Security, and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems”
May 5, 2004

We, the members of the National Committee for Voting Integrity (NCVI), thank the U.S. Election Assistance Commission for holding a hearing to review the "Use, Security, and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems." As new technology replaces the unreliable voting system of the past, it is crucial that citizens feel justifiably confident that their votes count and their voices are being heard.

However, we are very disappointed that those providing oral testimony on the Technology Panel do not adequately reflect the widely held views of computer scientists and security experts. Only one of the four members of the panel, Dr. Aviel Rubin, represents the opinion of most computer security experts that the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines used in the 2004 primary elections are too insecure for deployment without a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB).

Over the last two years, security experts and election watchdogs have uncovered a wide array of significant design defects in DRE voting machines. These machines, like other computers, are vulnerable to programmer error, equipment malfunction, and malicious attacks. If this new technology is to become the foundation of our democratic process, it must earn the trust of voters. There must be no uncertainty about the quality and trustworthiness of these machines. All voting technology put before the public must perform reliably from the start of the election to the finish of the final vote tally, including any possible audits or recounts.

The unfortunate events in the Florida Presidential Election of 2000 have increased citizen awareness and scrutiny of our voting process. Notably, citizens learned how poor interfaces, such as the butterfly ballot, and poor vote-recording methods, such as punchcards, could exclude their vote from the tally or, possibly worse, count their vote incorrectly. Events of the last year have shown that inadequately designed, poorly tested, secret voting technology deployed by states and municipalities have disenfranchised Americans throughout the country. Voters from California to North Carolina have been turned away from polling booths or learned later that their votes may not have been counted.

The March 2nd, 2004 primary election exposed several flaws in the current generation of electronic voting machines, as is illustrated by the experience of Mr. Jeffrey Liss of Montgomery County, Maryland. After voting on a paperless DRE, Mr. Liss noticed a campaign sign for a candidate whose election had not been on his ballot. Although poll workers initially did not believe there was a problem, Mr. Liss finally convinced a poll worker to check the DRE ballot. Upon confirming that the Senate race was indeed missing from the ballot, the poll worker provided Mr. Liss with a provisional ballot for the Senate race. Frustratingly, Mr. Liss later discovered that his provisional ballot was not included in the final tally. This account raises several important questions. How many DRE ballots were not included in the tally of the U.S. Senate race? How many other voters noticed the absence of the Senate race, but did not succeed in obtaining a provisional ballot? Of those voters who filled out a provisional ballot, how many were included in the final count? The lack of a paper trail reduces any audit to pure guesswork as to the scope and severity of this problem.

Incredibly enough, election vendors and some election administrators attempted to declare the primary a success, despite the widespread disenfranchisement of voters in California and the subsequent discovery of uncertified software on DRE machines throughout the country. We must not allow the sanctity of our elections to degenerate into a public relations campaign, based on the premise that if newspapers, television and radio broadcasts can report new election technology as a success, then all is well. Exit interviews with voters who tout the ease-of-use of new touchscreen systems may convince other citizens to vote, but they will not convince the computers to operate correctly and securely. The strategy of DRE vendors appears to be that of declaring success early and often without regard for the reality of the situation. Triumphant press releases and articles touting the usability of DRE touchscreen machines -- while brushing aside serious problems as "glitches", "human error" or "a few isolated incidents" -- do not help secure our democracy.

How many times must we see these systems fail before we realize these incidents are neither few nor isolated? Problems with DRE voting machines were apparent as far back as the 2002-midterm elections, and again during the 2003 November election. The Mississippi Senate was forced to void the results of races in Hinds County due to a large number of under-votes, authorizing the county to conduct another round of elections. A Florida special election that was decided by twelve votes included 134 DRE ballots on which the voter made no selection, despite the fact that it was the only election that day.

America should be the gold standard by which other nations measure the strength and reliability of their electoral process. We must not and cannot tolerate a situation such as that experienced by Mr. Liss and by millions of other voters who find themselves voting on untrustworthy and insecure voting machines. The idea that the votes of entire counties may be lost, misplaced, or manipulated is unacceptable in our modern participatory democracy. Voters should feel secure knowing that there is a permanent, tangible record of their ballot that will serve as their voice in that election. Our democracy demands that we employ and open process as we work steadily and openly to protect each and every vote.

HAVA assigns the full process of reviewing voting technology and the development of standards to a Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), under the leadership of the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The TGDC consists of fourteen members appointed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The TGDC will provide rigorous testing and certification procedures for laboratories that will certify new products. A Computer Science Research Laboratory division will perform the majority of the work in detailing the technical requirements and guidelines for approval by the TGDC, including specifications for computerized voting terminals, cryptography, networks, remote access voting, data storage, fraud detection and prevention methods, privacy protection methods, and human factors in the design and use of voting systems.

Unfortunately, both NIST and the EAC face several hurdles. The 2004 fiscal year budget passed by Congress decreases funds for the Research Labs by four percent, and for the agency as a whole by fourteen percent. Lacking a full research lab, the TGDC may have to rely more heavily on the expertise of its members during the creation of electronic voting standards. Yet only four of the fourteen members of the EAC are set-aside for technology experts; currently, these slots remain unfilled.

The National Committee for Voting Integrity strongly encourages the U.S. Election Assistance Committee to fill the four technical positions on the TGDC as soon as possible. The EAC designates these seats for individuals who are readily identified as leaders in key fields of study relating to secure, reliable computer systems, including software correctness and verification, software engineering, security, high reliability systems, and human-computer interaction. Technologists throughout the United States have shown a great deal of interest in the subject of computerized voting and how we as a nation apply information technology to our electoral process; the resulting range of experts available to fill these positions on the TGDC is very broad. However, the number of individuals who are known to have significant research and development experience in the fields related to electronic voting is much smaller. The NCVI has provided a list of those who posses the expertise to serve on the Commission in this capacity.

While the EAC works to create the TGDC, we must also work to protect the integrity of the upcoming election. During the 2004 Primaries, the short-term solution for some polling locations was to supply provisional paper ballots to voters. Precincts that did not have paper ballots asked voters to come back later. We will never know how many voters were turned away from polling locations that morning, denied their right to vote.

After the State of California investigated the malfunctions, widespread use of uncertified software, and voter disenfranchisement that occurred during the Primaries, the State banned the use of all DRE voting machines for the upcoming General Election in November. Additionally, the Secretary of State directed election officials to implement additional security procedures, including those outlined in the SAIC and RABA studies conducted by the State of Maryland. We encourage other states to limit the use of DREs, and study and adopt the recommended security measures.

We would like to ask the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to hold hearings specifically to address the concerns of computer scientists and computer security experts regarding the use and reliability of current DRE voting technology that lacks a voter verified paper ballot.

It is important to note that HAVA does not require DREs. Optical-scan-based systems are HAVA compliant, cost far less than DREs, and can be designed to allow voters to independently verify their choices. Typically, a voter using an optical scan system receives a paper ballot along with a marking pen or pencil. The process is similar to filling out answers on a standardized test, a lottery ticket, or a mail-in survey. Voters who are visually impaired or require ballots in a foreign language can use tactile ballots or a computerized optical scan ballot-marking machine with attached headphones. Such a machine would allow all voters, including blind voters, to confirm or verify their ballot choices by sliding the ballot into a computerized reader with attached headphones. In addition to repeating the voter's choices through the earphones, the reader can alert the voter to errors on the ballot, such as skipping a race or voting for too many candidates in one race, and allow the voter to fix these errors in private.

Recent press reports indicate that the EAC feels that it is incapable of forestalling widespread voting machine problems, but this is far from true. The EAC has the power to immediately cease the release of HAVA funding for all voting systems that are not independently auditable, and must be encouraged to do so. Furthermore, all counties in the USA currently maintain absentee balloting systems; these can be used to print ballots that are distributed at the polling places and then scanned for totals. This creates a uniform voting methodology for each region and provides a way to recount the ballots in order to check the accuracy of the scanners. This can be used for the 2004 and future elections until such time as the EAC is able to prepare an adequate security methodology to be applied to electronic balloting systems. It is not too late to demand the use of the paper-based systems that each county and state already has available for the 2004 election. Doing so will start the process of restoring confidence in the voting process and will eliminate the expenditure of federal dollars on systems that cannot possibly be HAVA compliant because the HAVA standards do not yet exist. We should expect no less than strict control of the remaining HAVA funds from the EAC leadership while security and auditability assurances are being developed for the nation's voting equipment.

The history of the United States of America is the story of people fighting for and defending the right to vote, the right to representation. Americans deserve the most reliable, secure, and accurate voting system in every precinct and every community. Voters deserve a tangible, privately verified record of their vote, cast on machines that are accessible, easy-to-use, and free from subtle tampering and foul play. We deserve openness in our voting process, including the right to hire independent security and audit teams, free from non-disclosure agreements and other secretive, restrictive licenses. Every citizen should have the right to understand every step in our elections, from the time the voting machines are built to when the final results are announced. And vendors who try to work around election laws or hide known flaws undermine our democracy, and deserve to face civil or criminal suits from the communities whose trust they betrayed.

The right to vote is the foundation of this country, carefully and clearly enumerated in our Constitution. We owe it to our fellow citizens to work openly and steadily to protect the rights of all voters. We encourage this commission to address the defects present in current voting systems, and work to increase the accountability and integrity of the American voting process.

Thank you.


The National Committee on Voter Integrity (NCVI) was established to promote voter-verified balloting and to preserve privacy protections for elections in the United States. The Committee brings together experts on voting issues from across the country.

Peter G. Neumann, Chair * David Burnham * David Chaum * Cindy Cohn * Lillie Coney * David L. Dill * David Jefferson * Jackie Kane * Douglas W. Jones * Stanley A. Klein * Vincent J. Lipsio * Rebecca T. Mercuri * Justin Moore * Jamin Raskin * Marc Rotenberg * Avi Rubin * Bruce Schneier * Paul M. Schwartz * Barbara Simons * Sam Smith


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