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Is Your Right to Have Your Vote Counted at Risk?

My vote is my voice – but only if my vote is counted as it was cast.

Will electronic voting machines ensure that? Or will the lack of transparency, the potential for hacking, and the problems auditing the electronic vote raise more doubts than ever about the veracity of the results?

When you go to the polls to vote, are you more worried about how quickly your ballot is counted or about whether it's accurately counted?

Are you comfortable having voting systems outsourced to private firms?

Today in Washington, the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform issued a report calling on Congress to require that all electronic voting machines have a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) -- and to use that paper trail to audit the election results. 

Here in California, we have a Secretary of State and dozens of county elections officials who oppose such an idea because they're concerned that it will slow down the vote tallying process.

I know nobody likes to wait for election results, but should we choose speed over accuracy and transparency?

My opinion is that accuracy should be the first directive. The very legitimacy of our government depends on the right to vote -- and the right to have your vote counted.

I've written a bill (SB 370) that would require California's elections officials to use the voter-verified paper audit trail to conduct the 1% manual count required by state law.   

Will the Governor sign this bill?  Or will he follow the Secretary of State's advice and veto it?

I want to hear what you think we should be doing to ensure the accuracy and the integrity of California's elections.  I'll be here from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. EDT (5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. PDT) to answer your questions and chat about these and any other issues you may want to discuss. 

Debra Bowen, Chairwoman
California Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee

Posted by Senator_Bowen on September 19, 2005 at 07:33 PM | Permalink


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It's an excellent start, but shouldn't we go further? Perhaps require the state to develop its own non-proprietary source code for electronic voting machines? Ban DREs and only allow optical scan machines to be used?

Posted by: Ed Lou | Sep 19, 2005 7:37:06 PM

Sen. Bowen,

We use paper ballots here in Vermont, but many people here are concerned about what is going on in other states. What can we do to help the people in other states get their vote counted acurately?

Posted by: Jessica | Sep 19, 2005 7:39:32 PM

Is it really true that an election could be rigged?

Posted by: SandraB | Sep 19, 2005 7:48:01 PM

Ed, one of the options I'm excited about is the development of open source software for voting.

There's a great organization working on this -- see http://www.openvotingconsortium.org/

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 7:56:21 PM


We can work from Carter-Baker Commission's recommendation that Congress pass a law to require all voting machines be equipped with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail for recounts, backups and testing of voting machine accuracy.

My SB 370 would do that here in California.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 7:59:36 PM

Great post, Senator Bowen, and thank you for working on this important issue.

Verifiable voting is a necessity to protect our system. We have elections being stolen already; I can't imagine what will happen if we let it continue unchecked.

Your going to need a lot of public pressure to back that Governor down. It seems most republicans favor not having verifiable voting. Who can blame them when the company's producing the electronic machines are owned by republicans.

For you to win this fight, we have to drive an outcry from the general public. The problem is you need to prove to those that don't get their news from an alternative source that American votes are being stolen. The outcry for that should be loud indeed.

Posted by: Charlene | Sep 19, 2005 8:02:34 PM

We can work from Carter-Baker Commission's recommendation that Congress pass a law to require all voting machines be equipped with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail for recounts, backups and testing of voting machine accuracy.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 7:59:36 PM

How do we do that?

Posted by: Jessica | Sep 19, 2005 8:03:30 PM

As to whether an election could be rigged -- we've all seen the viruses, worms, and other ills that plague our computer systems. We know how many breaches of private financial information there are.

Voting systems are no different. Any time a machine is hooked to the internet, there is a risk of hacking or manipulation.

Any system that uses a smart card can have the smart card fail. (We've seen this in California elections, where machines weren't programmed right and the polls could not open on time.)

And a savvy programmer with access can manipulate the results with a little program that executes at a specific time, then self-destructs. It would be untraceable without a proper audit.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:08:07 PM

When my county (Santa Clara) used a combination of electronic machines and paper in 2004, I noticed that a great many of those who chose to use paper ballots were elderly. Has anybody studied whether using electronic equipment (even with a paper trail) will depress turnout among older voters?

Posted by: silence | Sep 19, 2005 8:10:50 PM

Jessica -- and all citizens who value their right to vote! --

We change this with a public outcry! Our voices must be heard by every U.S. senator and member of congress. We need federal legislation to make the paper trail standard a national priority.

So start emailing, faxing and calling. That's what we are doing here right now with SB 370.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:11:39 PM

Sen Bowen,

Do you know what kind of regulation/obsticles the relocated victims of Katrina now face, and if there is anything we can do to ensure that their vote will be counted?

Posted by: Jessica | Sep 19, 2005 8:12:46 PM

Good question, silence.

I haven't seen statistical studies.

Of course, the electronic equipment would have prevented the butterfly ballot problem -- because people could see the mistake before casting their ballot.

But solving that problem creates a greater need for an audit.

California voters can be "permanent absentee voters" -- receiving an absentee ballot automatically. It's a great option for older voters and busy people.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:14:42 PM

Sen. Bowen,

What is the best way to put pressure on the Governor to sign your bill,
SB 370, so that the paper audit trail is used in audits? We've been asking
everyone to call him, and Verified Voting, the California Voter Foundation,
the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and others have been asking
supporters to call him:

* Call 1-916-445-2841,
* Press 2 for the legislation menu,
* Press 3 for SB 370 and AB 1636,
* Press 1 to record you want the Governor to sign the bills.

or use email or fax, but so far no response. Should we try to raise money
for newspaper ads? If so, which paper? the Sacramento Bee? LA Times?
Or put up billboards? Or write letters to the editors - which papers?

Which is better:
- Governor, sign this so as to preserve our right to know how to vote
- Governor, don't you want us to know our vote how our vote is being counted?

Posted by: Jerry berkman | Sep 19, 2005 8:15:25 PM

With relocated Katrina victims, I'm sure there will be big problems with re-registration for people who lost their ID's when they evacuated.

The Help America Vote Act requires better ID for registration, which helps prevent fraud, but we're talking about people who have no permanent address right now, no driver's license, no nothing.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:18:36 PM

I don't know if you saw this, but Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean issued the following statement in response to the report issued by the Baker-Carter Commission on Federal Election Reform, which called for the
implementation of a national voter ID requirement:

"Such a move would make it more difficult for Americans to exercise their right to vote, as voter ID requirements disproportionately place an additional burden on
poor people, seniors, minorities, rural voters, and disabled Americans. Even Supreme Court Chief Justice Nominee John Roberts recently stated that 'without access to the ballot box, people are not in the position to protect any other rights that are important to them' and that the right to vote ensures all other rights and is the 'most precious right that we have as Americans'."

How does this fit with your own initiative?

Posted by: Ralph Miller | Sep 19, 2005 8:22:08 PM

Jerry --

I think calls, email and faxes are an excellent help on SB 370. Letters to the editor can help people understand why it's important.

I'd rather see money go to Katrina victims than to billboards. I don't think billboards or print ads will play a role in the Governor's decision.

Communication from Californians who VOTE and who want their vote COUNTED is what's going to matter.

Your own words are fine. You don't need a PR firm to be effective when you're lobbying a bill. After all -- you're paying attention and you vote, or you wouldn't be bothering to express your opinion!

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:23:25 PM

Senator Bowen, Since states can decide which of their citizens have the right to vote, what do you think of the bill put forth by Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., to make voting a consitutional right rather than a privilege?

Posted by: Charlene | Sep 19, 2005 8:32:02 PM

Ralph --

Thank you for expressing that concern.

You probably know that a bill requiring ID was vetoed in Wisconsin over fears that it would have a disproportionate impact on seniors, who are less likely to have a driver's license. That's true of urban citizens who rely on public transportation, too. How many Katrina victims would have left New Orleans if they'd had cars?

There's also a real practical concern with alternatives to the driver's license. At the polling place, volunteer pollworkers would have to be the judges of many kinds of birth certificates and other forms of ID. Until recently, California alone had 58 different kinds of birth certificates. Each county had its own standards.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:32:21 PM

That seems to encourage a national voting card, which is too similar to a national ID which many of us would resist.

Is a national voting ID card the solution you see happening? Any other ideas?

Posted by: Charlene | Sep 19, 2005 8:40:23 PM

The vote is what makes our government legitimate. We the people choose our representatives. It follows that we the people need the right to vote, and we need the right to have our votes counted.

We've come a long ways since only white male property owners could vote, but not without enormous fights.

I'm for strengthening the right to vote wherever we can -- especially since we are now in the situation of relying on the courts to defend that and other rights.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:41:20 PM


Elections definitely can be rigged with or without electronic voting machines.
The difference is that with electronic systems or optical scan tabulators,
the vendor has complete control and can rig a 1% shift county or state wide, and probably no one will notice. That is why we need a SB 370 for an audit
comparing the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) to the electronic totals, and
to treat the VVPAT as the vote when they differ.

As for taking over an election, Harri Hursti and BlackBoxVoting.org got permission from an election official in Leon County, Florida, and managed to get by all the
protections to rig counts in voting machines and in the central tabulator.
See http://blackboxvoting.org for details.

I'm a computer programmer and it is just about unanimous among computer security experts that voting systems should not be trusted; they can be compromised without a trace whether on a network or not.

Posted by: Jerry Berkman | Sep 19, 2005 8:47:49 PM

We, as citizens, need to start monitoring the election process more
closely. Two examples:

1. California has a mandatory public manual tally of 1% of the precincts.
I doubt if anyone has watched the recount, although it is public.

2. Section 15004 of the California Elections Code allows public
specialists to "check and review the preparation and operation of the
tabulating devices, their programming and testing, and [be] in
attendance at any or all phases of the election". As far as I know,
no member of the public has used that access before.

We are going to do that starting with the November election. If you want
to help, go to http://election-reform.us and sign up to volunteer.

Posted by: Jerry Berkman | Sep 19, 2005 8:52:19 PM

Besides pressuring the Governator to sign your bill, we must take the power and control away from these private companies; increase the random audit percentage to 5% or more and ensure that it is actually random; decertify existing equipment that has proven to be easily hacked by BLack Box Voting and others;
aid the RoVs in finding good recruits for poll work by making the day we vote a legal holiday etc. I'm concerned that this coming election can be easily stolen without massive parallel voting as a check. Is there any kind of emergency action that the legislature can take if it looks like a stolen election because of exit polls or results of a parallel election?

Posted by: Maureen Smith | Sep 19, 2005 8:54:40 PM

Well said, Jerry. The problem with the computerized voting and tally is that it is impossible to observe the counting.

"It's not how you play the game, it's who has the pencil." -- recently overheard at a charity golf tournament.

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 8:54:58 PM

The point about ensuring random audits is important.

The process of selecting the precints to be audited has to be public, too.

The key to all of this is transparency at every single step of the process. We the people must be able to ascertain that the votes that are cast are actually reported as the result of the election.

It was easy in the seventh grade election for class president. Three people went in the back and observed the counting of the secret paper ballots.

The more we rely on computers, which have an invisible process, the better our audits must be!

Posted by: Senator Bowen | Sep 19, 2005 9:00:18 PM

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