Washblog

King County Protects Our Secret Ballot

Great news for our democracy. Last Thursday, King County Councilmember Dow Constantine (District 8) filed legislation to protect our secret ballots. From the press release:

"The right to cast a secret ballot is guaranteed to all citizens by our state Constitution," said Constantine. "We must protect this right by ensuring that we accurately track the return of every voter's sealed envelope, while preventing any chance that the ballot inside could be connected with a particular voter."

More below the fold.

I'm so gosh darned excited, I have to quote the rest:

The motion would establish a policy that no unique identifying numbers or marks of any kind may be placed on ballots by the King County Elections Section. It would also set preserving the secrecy of individual ballots and ensuring an accurate vote count as the county's highest priorities in all elections.

Here's the actual legislation: 2007-0312 (Legisearch).

Please contact your councilmember and voice your support for this legislation. And it wouldn't hurt to thank Constantine for his proactive protection of our secret ballots.

Astray

King County Elections released a white paper on ballot tracking. Despite the constitutional and legal restrictions, they apparently thought having a focus group with voters was needed. Here's the money quote:

King County Elections' recommends further discussion and study of enhanced ballot tracking using a unique identifier on the ballot when and if legal issues in San Juan County are resolved and acceptance of such technology is studied. Until then, we believe the public is best served by tracking ballots by the outer envelope and not using bar codes.

I wonder if they thought "acceptance" also involves modifying our state's constitution. Fortunately, now we'll never find out.

In response to our concerns, acting Superintendent of Elections [#] Bill Huennekens continued to bob and weave. The response to my open records requests was essentially "we're still studying that". He even attended our presentation last week to refute us (me). (Before he responded to my open records request, I might add.)

As I related before, the intention to use VoteHere's Mail-in Ballot Tracker in King County was openly acknowledged during Diebold's demo to the CEOC in March. (We were told we'd have unique barcodes on our ballots. I said "That's unconstitutional, it'd eliminate the secret ballot." The vendor replied "But it's secure," whatever that means.)

Here's the slide that shows VoteHere's intended role:

Look for the VoteHere logo and the words "ballot tracking".

See how nicely Diebold's and VoteHere's systems play together? During the CEOC meeting May 9th, Bill Huennekens was trying to deflect some very persistent questions about the interaction between these systems. Basically, King County Elections is trying to "divide and conquer" by forcing us to consider each of their initiatives in isolation. Whereas, in truth, the whole system must be considered, and how all the parts interact, before any part can be critically analyzed.

Please note that this issue isn't necessarily settled. King County Elections will still be implementing envelope tracking. But we'll respond to that when the "plan" for ballot accountability is published.

What's Next

Constantine's legislation is a great precedent. Locally and nationally. While we here in King County can move on to the next issue, voters elsewhere aren't so fortunate.

Tim Allan and Allan Rosato are still championing the secret ballot in San Juan County. Our fund raiser May 1st was great. But their fight is no where near over. They'll need more support.

And you can be sure mail ballot tracking will be proposed in other jurisdictions across the nation.

Locally

As for us, we're still facing Diebold's new highspeed tabulator (DRS hardware, Diebold Assure Suite software), Diebold's automatic signature verification system (VoteRemote), and Diebold's computerized voting touchscreens (the notorious AccuVote TSx).

I'm beginning to sense a pattern...

Misc

All of the documents referenced above are also on the Washington Citizens for Fair Elections listserv here.

[#] My title. His official title is something long, vague, and difficult to remember.

< Uppity Kansas Governor infuriates the Bush administration, | Why the "Public" in PFD should really matter >
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On May 12, 2007, at 5:24 PM, Jason Aaron Osgood wrote:

King County Councilmember Dow Constantine-

Thank you! for proactively protecting our secret ballots with your legislation (2007-0312) last week.

I am truly grateful.

Your defense of democracy sets an important precedent, for our county, our state, and across the nation. Your legislation, to not allow any identifying information on our ballots, will help other activists convince their representatives to do right by democracy.

Please let me know if there's anything I can or should do, to help make your legislation law.

Cheers, Jason Osgood / Seattle WA (46 LD)

by zappini on Sat May 12, 2007 at 06:04:50 PM PST

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I'll include Dow on my list of councilmembers up on elections issues from now on---

I am writing this letter to the two of you because you have kept up with election transparency issues to a greater extent than other council members.

I am extremely concerned about the new Diebold high speed tabulation equipment. These systems have three features that I strongly object to.

1.    Mail ballot tracking by placing a unique barcode on each ballot which is tied to the voter, thus making a mockery of the secret ballot.

2.    The capability of scanning ballots before election day, enabling the preview of early election results (sometimes called "cheat peeks" and "sneak peeks").

3.    The substitution of electronic modification of scanned ballot images to honor "voter intent" instead of the current ballot duplication process which has a well-documented paper trail.  It is absolutely unacceptable for original images to just disappear.

Also, I have a real problem with the lack of true auditing protocols.  I'm a chemist, and I know a great deal about methods for measuring things and their reliability. Not only is my computer faster at doing peak integration and calculating final results, it's also better, with r values of 0.9999 instead of 0.99 (a factor of 100 compared to doing it by hand).

Does that mean that I actually trust the computer and the software? Not just no, but HELL, NO--ISO certification notwithstanding! I do at least one hand calculation for every sample set I turn in. Last year I turned up a random error of final results being off by an order of magnitude, and I then had to wipe my hard drive and reinstall everything. Mostly my system is reliable, and the bugs left in the software are bugs that don't interfere with what I have to do, but, as Alastor (Mad Eye) Moody always used to say "Constant vigilance!"  Software always has bugs, and what you are proposing is to make a very important election a beta test of new software.

The attitude on the part of elections officials that, unlike scientific users, they need never do performance audits of their equipment (and no, the poorly named "logic and accuracy" testing before an election does NOT qualify as an audit) has got to change.   Minnesota has successfully implemented real post-election auditing, but the election officials there still insist on blowing off the necessity for it.

http://www.electionline.org/Newsletters/tabid/87/ctl/Detail/mid/643/xmid/230/xmfid/3/Default.aspx

"I was surprised at how quickly the audit went. I was not surprised by the quality performance of the equipment and our election judges. If this is what is needed to provide some assurance to those who do not have as much confidence in the system then I have no problem continuing to do the audits," he stated.

This is the attitude we have to keep fighting. My chromatography system software does its calculations right just about all the time, but I have to do periodic manual calculations as an audit anyway to guard against bit rot and bugs that have not yet been noticed. If a business has passed accounting audits for the last 10 years, this is NOT EVER a reason to skip year 11's audit. Would Boeing or Weyerhaeuser shareholders ever tolerate refusal of the board to provide independent audit information on those grounds?  There is NO number of successful audits of a voting system (or any complex instrumentation) that can EVER justify skipping the auditing process!  Where do elections officials get off exempting themselves from it?

Furthermore, I find the idea that any private company should have ownership of voter databases and election data to be absolutely appalling.  Every single aspect of elections should be transparent and open to public view.  Don't you think that it's ironic that the quarters you dump in a Las Vegas slot machine are more carefully safeguarded than your vote? (See attachment.) What really takes the cake is that Diebold proudly boasts that its ATM software is OPEN SOURCE.  It seems that bankers refuse to tolerate the prospect of having their financial data owned by outside companies--why do elections departments tolerate such nonsense?

Could you please let me know what you plan to do about these issues?  Thank you.

by eridani on Sun May 13, 2007 at 12:53:26 PM PST

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I'm referring to the signature recognition software.  With actual vote tabulation, an optical scanner outperforms human brains for accuracy when tabulating three or more races concurrently.  The exact opposite is the case with any pattern recognition problem, where people typically outperform computers.

Computer signature recognition, used by itself, is a recipe for massive disenfranchisement of Democratic voters, which is why Republicans like it a lot--at least when it's used in counties dominated by Democratic voters.  (Not that they even care if they disenfranchise some of their own voters as long as statistics say that they'll disenfrancise even more Democrats.)

It would be acceptable only if all mismatches were automatically assigned to be reviewed by people.  We absolutely have to assist that this administrative policy be in place before approving the use of any automated signature verification.

by eridani on Sun May 13, 2007 at 01:10:21 PM PST

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While I thank Councilmembers Phillips and Constantine for the Motion, I remain at loose ends.

If I hadn't gotten the just before 5PM stakeholder messaging update regarding it, I would have posted what I'm about to convey here in much stronger terms. (The mind reels!)

Regardless of whether tying ballots to voters becomes a recommendation or not, the studying of the proposition is a resounding and unchallenged success.

What next? What should we study? Uhherrrmmmm..

HEY, let's study bringing slavery back! Or how about forcing women to get married by the time they reach their 18th birthdays!

I still can't believe we haven't healed Habeas Corpus.

by m3047 on Sun May 13, 2007 at 05:30:50 PM PST

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"...in truth, the whole system must be considered, and how all the parts interact, before any part can be critically analyzed."

Take zappini's words to heart. You can put two harmless chemicals together and get nerve gas. You can put two safe computer systems together and get an unsafe one.

It's not just computers! People are part of the system and a critical part at that. Always try to find out where they are in the loop, how they're trained, and what their incentives are.

by Fred on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 05:48:16 PM PST

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