Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Verifying elections: HB 3270

House Bill 3270 is a piece of legislation that would require county clerks to conduct a hand count of a sampling of ballots following each election.

Oregon doesn't appear to have the same sort of election fraud issues as other states. (Not to be confused with voter fraud, which is people voting illegally. Its also virtually nonexistent).

The S-J has a guest opinion from Beth E. Peterson, co-founder of Oregon Voter Rights Coalition. Peterson says:
Many people equate elections with voting, but the counting of the votes is also a critical component. While every county in Oregon thankfully uses an optical scan/paper ballot system, our ballots are counted on machines using proprietary software developed by for-profit corporations. These companies prohibit all public officials from scrutinizing their systems and software. The result is secret vote-counting, like handing our ballots to people who take them in a closed room and later report the results.

The corporations supplying the optical scan systems in Oregon, including ES&S and Sequoia, also provide many of the notorious touchscreen voting machines that are wreaking havoc across the country. In fact, the optical scan software is very similar to the software in the problematic touchscreen voting machines. Furthermore, Sequoia’s parent company, Smartmatic International, is owned by a foreign company with close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Yet, we are told to trust the machine-tallied election results. Trust? We’re talking about the transfer of power from the people to our government, not some widget. What I trust are all the computer experts who help lead the fight against electronic election systems that use secret software and the plethora of documented problems associated with these systems nationwide.

In private industry, best management practices include quality control procedures for products and services, from computer chips to lumber. Many groups, including the Oregon Voter Rights Coalition, advocate similar professional quality control procedures to verify machine-tallied election results. A bill sponsored by Representative Mitch Greenlick, HB 3270, was recently introduced in the Oregon House to institute a verification procedure involving a manually counted random sample of the paper ballots to compare with the machine-tallied results. On March 19th, the House Elections, Ethics and Rules Committee held a public hearing on HB 3270.

Opponents of the bill argue that election verification is unnecessary in Oregon because dedicated County Clerks already conduct a series of tests on the machines. They specifically cite the Logic and Accuracy Test which is run before, during and after elections. While a necessary step for machine calibration, computer experts state that these tests cannot detect all problems in the software that could cause inaccurate results. In fact, hundreds of incidents of vote miscounts on ES&S and Sequoia systems, like those used in Oregon, have been documented nationwide

There does appear to be some fairly egregious documented problems with Sequoia and ES&S. This type of thing is more TJ's bag than mine (he's the data geek) so he may have some more weighty input than I do. But it does seem to make sense to have county clerks take a random sampling of ballots to count after each election.

I find the argument against this weak: we already calibrate the machines and all the workers are honest and have integrity. Uh--okay. Maybe they are. But chances are that people in Ohio thought their election workers were honest too. Not so much.