Friday, October 17, 2008

Missouri Should Use Paper Ballots


By Cynthia Richards
As Election Day nears, it’s hard not having the new political thriller “Cassandra, Chanting” on my mind. Written by an anonymous “election world insider,” it is about a race to reveal a high-tech plan to fix the upcoming presidential election after warnings about the precariousness of electronic voting have gone unheeded.

The novel’s title is apt. Surely all of us in the election integrity movement who have been speaking out about the dangers of this technology have felt like the mythical Trojan seer. Being dismissed as half-baked lunatics goes with the territory -- no matter how well-founded our concerns are. Recently, however, many states have begun to listen, and have taken bold action to protect the vote. Unfortunately, Missouri isn’t among them.

Missourians for Honest Elections has been working to alert Missouri voters and public officials about the issues surrounding electronic voting for several years. Unlike Cassandra, we don’t have the gift of prophecy. What we have – not acquired from Apollo but through our own dogged research is the gift of facts. The following are some of the most sobering:

Computer scientists have testified that a computer code that would flip an election can be easily written and hidden within an electronic voting machine’s operating code and remain undetected. This could be done during the manufacturing of the machine, or during the creation of software “upgrades” that vendors often say are necessary after the machine has been purchased.

The federal government has never conducted a thorough review of the operating code on any of the voting equipment currently used in the state. Neither has the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, nor any local election board. Even if a rigorous study were done -- which would require permission from the vendor and take months to accomplish -- experts say that it would be next to impossible to discover vote tampering instructions in the tens of thousands of lines of code they would have to scrutinize.

It’s also important to underscore that electronic voting machines currently used in Missouri have been proven to be hackable by voters at the polls. Studies have shown that the physical security of the Sequoia Edge (used in Greene, Cole, Butler and Calloway Counties), the Diebold (now “Premier”) Accuvote TSx (used in the City of St. Louis and Kansas City), and the ES&S iVotronic (used in St. Louis County) all can be quickly and easily bypassed. Moreover, this can be accomplished without any unusual equipment that might alert a poll worker. This should alarm election officials who proudly point to physical security measures they take when the machines are not in use -- such as locked doors -- which they believe are sufficient protection.

Given such vulnerabilities, it’s imperative that we be able to audit election results. However, of the two types of machines used in Missouri -- touch-screen vote counting machines (DREs) and optical scanners -- only optical scanners allow for an audit. That’s because the DRE doesn’t provide a software-independent record of the vote. The “paper trail” on the DRE runs on the same vulnerable software as the machine itself, and voters often neglect to check it. Therefore, election officials have no way of knowing if it is correct. By contrast, with optical scan voting, election officials have recourse to paper ballots that voters have marked by hand. These can be hand-counted for a truly software-independent audit.

Recognizing the risk of using voting equipment that is both subject to tampering and produces unauditable totals, many states have decided to scrap their DREs and use optical scanners exclusively (some deploying one DRE per polling place for the disabled). It would be easy for Missouri to do this too, since we already have enough scanners throughout the state. However, officials in the “Show Me State” seem be waiting for a catastrophe to convince them to make this change.

The Secretary of State’s Elections Division is aware of the disturbing facts presented above. But its response -- to provide “further education” to election officials -- is sadly inadequate. We applaud any effort to better train those who oversee our elections, but this cannot begin to address the issue. Missouri must put a stop to the general use of DREs. There is still time before November. And if this much-needed change does not occur before the election, Missouri voters should implement it themselves en masse by using paper ballots, which will be available at every polling place throughout the state.
Richards is a steering committee member for Missourians for Honest Elections.

Copyright (C) 2008 by the Missouri Forum. 10/08