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Verifiable Voting Systems

Martin County Democrats

Verifiable Voting Systems

December 14, 2006

With the anticipated passage of HR550 requiring a paper trail, Florida election officials are searching for options that could be implemented in time for the 2008 elections. Public trust in our election system, the very bedrock of our democracy, is fast eroding, and once again Florida is in the spotlight with the Sarasota Congressional vote in dispute. Given the short time frame and the critical importance of ensuring a fair and voter verifiable election system, decisions and implementation of changes will have to be on a very fast track. For jurisdictions that currently have touchscreen or Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems, there are two major paper trail options being discussed:
1. adding printers to existing touch screen machines, and
2. replacing DREs with paper ballots and optical scanners at each polling station.
A third option, all voting by mail (VBM), is proposed for consideration below.

Adding Printers to Touch Screen Machines

Jurisdictions that went through the expense of installing printers to DREs found they weren't the panacea they expected. Printer technology and quality simply aren't there.

  • Printers jammed, had to be taken off line, and caused delays.
  • Tapes that didn't print properly also didn't register the vote.
  • Voters had difficulty reading the narrow tape printouts that didn't have the same "look" as the screen displayed ballot making it hard to cross-check.
  • Should a recount be necessary, election staff report tapes would be difficult to review due to format, poor paper quality, poor print quality.
  • Questions on secret source codes and security with DREs still remain.
  • Glitches with DREs themselves remained.
  • Given the black-box nature of DREs, vendors are playing an increasingly invasive role in the voting process, serving as technicians, ballot designers, and election day trouble-shooters, bringing into question the potential for manipulation.

Paper Ballots and Optical Scanners at Each Polling Station

  • Purchasing sufficient scanners for jurisdictions that currently have touch screen machines is costly.
  • Questions arise on availability of sufficient equipment given the nation-wide scramble for voter-verifiable systems and a very limited number of certified vendors. Purchasing two scanners per precinct is a huge number given the Florida counties that might choose this route.

All Voting By Mail (VBM)

Another option that warrants consideration is allowing jurisdictions to have all voting by mail (VBM). In 1998 the state of Oregon switched to a (VBM) system and in 2005 the system was evaluated and reported to the Commission on Federal Election Reform. (ref. BALLOT INTEGRITY AND VOTING BY MAIL: THE OREGON EXPERIENCE) The evaluation was co-chaired by President Jimmy Carter and Hon. James A. Baker III, and authored by Dr. Paul Gronke, Director of The Early Voting Information Center, Reed College, with recommendations for other states seeking to implement VBM. Extensive guidelines and resources are available. Briefly VBM has the following advantages:

  • The same format voter-verifiable ballot is collected for every voter, permitting more reliable manual recounts when necessary.
  • There is only one voting system to administer as opposed to a hybrid process with different machines for precinct voting as opposed to absentee.
  • VBM is less costly to administer than a hybrid system (from the Oregon report).
  • Switching from DREs to a VBM system could be implemented with a relatively minor number of additional scanners for the central location. Cost savings could be significant.
  • Security of optical scanners is increased by having them located at a centralized station.
  • There is no equipment to be hauled with accompanying problems of screen alignment, damage, and securing equipment in widespread locations.
  • VBM in Oregon reports a high level of voter satisfaction with the system that has been operating since 1998.
  • Voting is an individual, not a community experience.
  • Ballots are cast at the voter's convenience weeks, or even months prior to election day and are delivered to election officials by the United States Postal Service (USPS) of at secure drop box locations.
  • The longer time frame allows election offices to issue replacement ballots and track each ballot.
  • VBM permits election offices to deal with technical problems as they arise and not cause voting delays in a concentrated time frame.
  • Signatures on the outside of envelopes can be verified prior to opening the ballot, while at precinct based voting, questionable signatures may not be caught until after the ballot is cast.
  • The quality of registration rolls is enhanced and officials have a longer time frame to catch registration problems.
  • VBM has resulted in a 10% increase in voting based on the Oregon report, a modest, but positive gain.
  • As with other systems, a successful VBM system is dependent on strict guidelines and regulations being observed to ensure against fraud.

Voting By Mail for Florida

Current Florida Statute 101.6102 provides for jurisdictions use of vote by mail for "language" ballots, such as referendums. Adding "candidates" to this clause would permit jurisdictions to use VBM as an option. Early passage of this change would allow jurisdictions to implement VBM in time for the 2008 elections. The statute however, will probably have to be totally rewritten and submitted as an amended statute.

Thanks to Lani Havens for research.



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