Opinion: More proof of e-voting trouble (cue crickets)
by Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG for Computerworld.com
GAO report a reminder that EAC has failed entirely, says Brad Friedman
March 08, 2007 (Computerworld) — Here we go again: Yet another confirmation by the non-partisan GAO on Wednesday, in yet another a sure-to-be-ignored report, that our electronic voting systems across the country are a hellish patchwork of un-overseen technological mayhem and disaster. This latest is entitled “ELECTIONS: All Levels of Government Are Needed to Address Electronic Voting System Challenges” (PDF format).
But what are the chances that anyone in the mainstream media is paying attention?
The report was released yesterday along with testimony given by Randolph C. Hite, the GAO Information Technology Architecture and Systems Director, at a hearing on “Ensuring the Integrity of Elections” in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government this afternoon.
Among the folks on the hot seat at the hearing was U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) chair Donetta Davidson, of whom we at Brad Blog been more than critical on a number of issues, including her failure to release information to the public (or even to elections officials) concerning the disastrous state of the federally approved CIBER test lab.
That lab was one of three private companies which secretly test all American voting systems at the federally level, until they secretly failed to receive accreditation last year from the EAC. The three made up the “Independent Testing Authority” — all of which are paid for by the Voting Machine Companies themselves.
CIBER had signed off on nearly 70 percent of the electronic voting systems used last November. Despite the discovery of those serious problems at the lab by Davidson’s EAC last July, it wasn’t until a front-page story in the New York Times in January of this year that anybody learned about the mess. Instead, the EAC inexcusably allowed America to vote on those systems last November with no warning — even to elections officials — that there were known problems.
The secret EAC reports — yes, more secrecy — revealed the sloppy, incomplete and frequently non-existent “testing” performed by CIBER. The testing process (such as it is) is now documented online, if you’ve got the tech-stomach for them.
But more on Davidson and the remarkable, documented failures of the EAC in a later detailed investigative report which we’ve been working on for many weeks. For now, Hite’s 56-page report, released Wednesday, summarizes many of the GAO’s excellent, recent, and all-but ignored reports on voting systems from over the past year or two.
Utter HAVA disarray — documented
The report covers the lack of security and reliability standards and testing for all electronic voting systems across the country at the federal, state and local levels. It reveals a system of democracy in utter disarray in the wake of the ill-conceived and ill-administered Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 and the technological nightmare now facing voting jurisdictions across the United States.
One of those ignored reports, which The BRAD BLOG reported exclusively about in 2005, was also referenced in the new GAO report.
We highlight the point referenced again here, since few people (see above) heard about it the first time out:
We concluded in 2005 that these concerns have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes.
Doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it.
But the take-away point from the latest report is the underscore, once again, of how the entire system would be immeasurably and immediately simplified by doing away with all disenfranchising, unreliable, inaccurate and hackable — easily hackable — Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems.
As well, Hite’s report underlined yet again that the e-voting activists once criticized as “conspiracy theorists” have been right all along. It’s hard for someone who’s been following the trail for years not to break into a chorus of “I told you so,” dedicated to the Republicans, Elections Officials, Voting Machine Companies (and a few utterly reckless and reprehensible Democrats to boot) who simply refused to handle the truth.
Hite finishes big, and with an important warning:
[E]lectronic voting systems are an undeniably critical link in the overall election chain. While this link alone cannot make an election, it can break one. The problems that some jurisdictions have experienced and the serious concerns that have surfaced highlight the potential for continuing difficulties in upcoming national elections if these challenges are not effectively addressed.
Note the word “effectively” in the above paragraph. Election Reform legislation is not enough; if it’s not effective, it’s meaningless and sends democracy back over the same cliff over which the process pitched in Florida 2000, Ohio 2004 and Sarasota 2006. Without a DRE ban — as in Holt’s bill if it’s not amended — there’s nothing to stop us from heading off that same cliff all over again in 2008.
The buck passes here
One last point. The issue of a DRE ban came up in an extraordinary and enlightening phone call I had last week with the top honchos at the EAC, including Davidson. Davidson and the others at the EAC claim that they do not have the power to decertify any of the voting systems which have been approved prior to now.
They claim that voting systems approved as meeting federal standards by the Voting Systems Board of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), who handled certification of systems prior to the EAC’s newly announced program (which has yet to certify anything) cannot be decertified by the EAC’s program. That despite Davidson herself having been a member of the NASED Voting Systems Board prior to her appointment at EAC, and Tom Wilkey, the EAC’s current Executive Director, having been the chairman of that NASED board.
It wasn’t “us” (EAC) that made bad certification decisions, goes the message — it was “them” (NASED). “We can’t decertify something we didn’t certify,” EAC spokesperson Jeannie Layson told us during the call, as they each passed the buck.
But the GAO report today would seem to indicate otherwise:
“[E]xamples of EAC responsibilities include…testing, certifying, decertifying, and recertifying voting system hardware and software through accredited laboratories…”
Luckily, it’s only American democracy and the future of the entire world at stake, so it’s no big thing. Anyone know the latest on Anna Nicole?!
Brad Friedman is the proprietor of The Brad Blog.