Washblog

Reckless Plan: Full Steam Ahead

Well. Darn. My Democrats Embrace Election Integrity praise for the King County Council was premature. According to Garth Fell and Bobbie Egan, King County Elections (REALS) still plans to buy the new Diebold, VoteHere, and Pitney-Bowes gear and use it in the presidential 2008 election.

How did this happen? The council's motion 2007-0402 says that it prefers REALS used our existing equipment for the 2008 presidential election. It didn't disallow the use of new equipment, as I had thought.

We attended yesterday's Citizen Election Oversight Committee (CEOC) (Wed Aug 8th) meeting. Below the fold is my recap.

Reckless Plan

Garth Fell reaffirmed REALS's commitment to the Executive's reckless plan to completely overhaul every aspect of our elections. Just in time for the presidential 2008 election. Last I heard, Fell is in charge of mail ballot processing, though there was a rumor he got promoted.

Laird Hall, our county's computer guy, repeated the lie that using our existing equipment is very risky. The CEOC, the peer and expert reviews (commissioned by the council), we citizens, common sense, and reality all disagree with REALS/Hall.

The council's motion does stipulate some additional conditions must be met before new gear is bought. Expert security reviews, testing, and certification. Fell stated they're doing these things.

Peer and Expert Reviews

The highspeed tabulator and ballot tracking and accountability reviews are now online.

They state that making any changes during a presidential election year is lunacy. Meaning Diebold or not, we shouldn't be having this debate until 2009.

The tabulator review concludes this new gear hasn't been used anywhere else, hasn't been independently reviewed, that counting ballots before election day is a very bad idea, and that electronically modifying ballots in the database sounds bad.

The ballot tracking and accountability review concludes that doing the sorting of the returned mail ballot envelopes is a good idea. Otherwise, everything else proposed is a bad idea, including automatic (computerized) signature verification and the web interface for ballot tracking.

Diebold's stonewalling is also noted in the reviews. (Which must be why we're rewarding them with more business.)

Regional Voting Centers

Monica Tracey also served on the committee locating and designing the regional voting centers (RVC). She reviewed that committee's recommendations. (I'll link when I can find that report.)

There will be 17 RVCs and lots of ballot dropoffs. 4 of the RVCs will be open for 20 days prior to the election. The rest will be open 5 days. The dropoffs will be community centers in Seattle and King County libraries outside of Seattle.

The report included the costs of the RVCs and dropoff locations. With some careful omission of some costs, and I think inflating the current poll site costs, the report states the reckless plan's "hybrid system" will cost about the same as today's "hybrid system".

Paul Guppy asked if the ballots (batches) from the Regional Voting Centers and drop boxes would be tracked so they could be traced back. Our election officials agreed that'd probably be a good idea.

Upcoming August 21st Primary Election

The primary date has been moved forward. To allow more time to handle mail balloting.

Alas, schools, which host many of our poll sites, are not open during the summer.

Sandy McConnell (?) of REALS said they aggressively consolidated poll sites. I think we went from 508 to 407 locations, but I need to confirm.

Fell and Egan detailed the efforts to educate everyone about the new primary date.

They already sent out the 615,000 mail ballots.

They're projecting a 29% voter turnout.

VoteHere & San Juan County Lawsuit

A major part of the reckless plan to overhaul our elections includes buying VoteHere's Mail-in Ballot Tracking system.

a) It's huge expensive, the most expensive part of the reckless plan. With sky high recurring costs.

b) It doesn't work. Hence the San Juan County lawsuit.

c) We already have a mail ballot tracking solution that works pretty good.

Michael Alvine, council staff who is tasked to the CEOC, presented Tim White's data showing some of the problems they found in San Juan County. Using VoteHere's tracking stuff, we voters are supposed to be reassured that our ballots were received and our votes counted. Only it doesn't actually work. For example, reporting that a ballot was counted before it was received.

(Tim White and I spoke at a joint house and senate panel on ballot tracking a few weeks back. I need to blog about that. It was our two voices of reason vs a bunch of election officials.)

Paul Miller of the Secretary of State's office stated

  • 20 Washington counties are using VoteHere

  • San Juan and Pacific counties are using the web interface feature

  • all the VoteHere customers love it, they use it for ballot tracking and reconciliation, no problems reported.

  • acknowledged the web interface reduces voter confidence, therefore the Sec of State will be advising against using the web interface

Monica Tracey asked how would the customers supposedly happy with VoteHere know if it's working correctly if they're not using the web interface. (A very good point.)

Paul Guppy wryly observed that only the publicly visible portions of VoteHere (the web interface) caused concern for the voters.

Michael Alvine asked a very good question. According to state law, reconciliation (crediting voters with voting) is a function of tabulation. Tabulation systems must be tested and certified. Counties are using VoteHere for reconciliation. So why doesn't the VoteHere system require testing and certification?

Paul Miller's answer was a long narrative about the Sec of State's firm support for adding unique barcodes to ballots, so that voters can know that their mail ballot was counted. (Or, and here's an idea, voters can vote at a poll site.)

Garth Fell stated that King County wouldn't use VoteHere for reconciliation, which is done by other systems. (If that's the case, I'm not real clear why we're buying it. We already have ballot tracking. For a few thousand bucks, we can modify our web site to add a pretty user interface to the mail ballot tracking information that's already published online.)

Conclusion

Like I said at the top: Well, darn. I don't even know what to write any more. And I have no idea what to do next.

As I've said before, there's almost exactly no way to dissuade someone who's determined to fail.

Just to clarify, the Executive's reckless plan to completely overhaul our elections can be summarized thusly:

  • it's untested
  • or it doesn't work
  • or it doesn't even exist yet

I'm hoping that someone smarter than me can explain what's going on. Because, from where I'm sitting, this is lunacy.
< Non-profit group Sues Seattle Port and Burien over Lora Lake Apartments | Reckless Plan: The Ballot Fairy Needs New Tabulators >
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It looks like the Elections Department is ignoring the Council.  If that's true, we need to turn the pressure back on high.

We need someone from the Elections Department to answer our concerns, either here or somewhere else.

by chadlupkes on Thu Aug 09, 2007 at 07:31:31 AM PST

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According to the motion, KCE has a number of steps it has to go through before it can use the new equipment. The Council states its preference for existing equipment, but the requirements for using new equipment are not optional. For example:

D.  Recognizing the important findings of the California "top-to-bottom" review of voting systems, the elections section shall incorporate third party security experts in the testing of any new equipment and software. The third party security experts and their scope of work shall be determined by mutual agreement between the executive and the council and include experts in computer security and an elections professional experienced in the administration of elections. The review shall include examination of the source code of any software product being considered for purchase. The third-party experts shall recommend appropriate measures to be taken to mitigate any security flaws that are discovered through the review. Within 10 calendar days after completion of the security testing by third party experts, a report of the results prepared by the third party experts shall be simultaneously provided to the executive, the council, the citizens' elections oversight committee, the public and the media.

E.  Testing shall also be done by the elections section under conditions similar to an actual countywide election, including the use of large numbers of mail ballots that have characteristics common to those received from citizens during an election such as folds, tears and spindling.  To the extent consistent with election security, testing shall be done under circumstances that allow the council, the public, and the media to observe.

F.  No payment shall be due to any vendors until the successful completion, as determined by King County, of the testing required by this motion.  Any purchase of new ballot tabulation equipment and software shall be contingent on such equipment and software being certified, installed, and tested as required in this motion in time for King County to begin conducting elections entirely by mail before the primary election of 2008. Any contract of purchase shall allow King County to return the equipment and software to the vendor without penalty if this contingency is not met. The executive will deliver to the council, no later than August 31, 2007, the specific criteria it intends to use to determine whether the testing required by this motion has been successful.

Notice that the next step occurs on August 31, 2007: "The executive will deliver to the council . . . the specific criteria it intends to use to determine whether the testing required by this motion has been successful."

by DWE on Thu Aug 09, 2007 at 08:24:21 AM PST

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Laird Hall's fear mongering is part and parcel of the attempt to ramrod untested equipment through, so then Diebold can go to other counties and say - see King County uses it and they are huge, you need to upgrade your old unreliable Diebold crap to our new  improved unreliable crap. Also, I remember reading something on Pitney Bowes and regional voting sites, etc. I'll have to search around for it, but some BS involved on a corporate level there, too. he whole thing smells very rotten.

Thank you Jason and all who are doing the vigilance on this.

by Brian on Thu Aug 09, 2007 at 09:58:50 AM PST

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  • The 36th by DWE, 08/09/2007 10:34:30 AM PST (none / 0)
Regarding the VoteHere issue, it is clear no one at King County Elections is paying attention, or they just do not care. And the Secretary of States office is no better.  

Back in April, Bill Huennekens, King County Elections Vote By Mail Transtion Director,  attended Tim White's presentation at the monthly meeting of Washington Citizens for Fair Elections. Mr. White is a plaintiff in the San Juan County lawsuit challenging the use of voter ID-linked barcodes on ballots. In that presentation Mr. White described the problems with the VoteHere web interface.

According to Mr. White, the web interface is intended to allow a voter to determine when his/her ballot was mailed, returned, opened, and counted. However, what he discovered was that many times the dates on the website made no sense. It showed that some voters' ballots had been counted before they were recieved, counted but never mailed, etc.  Mr. White made this discovery when he checked the status of his own ballot, following certification of the results. It showed that his ballot had not been counted. He checked again a couple of weeks later and this time it showed that his ballot had been counted --three minutes prior to certification.  He checked again a week or two later, and once again it showed that his ballot had not been counted. Obviously something is wrong with this web interface.

So wouldn't you, as a citizen, think that this information might be a cause for concern with Mr. Huennekens and Pam Floyd, Director of Elections for the Secretary of States Office (she also attended the WCFE's meeting)? Well the answer is, apparently not.

It appears that Mr. Huennekens never informed his office staff or Sherril Huff of this matter. This became evident back in June when an email detailing Mr. White's experience was forwarded to Ms. Huff who then expressed no knowledge of these problems.

So now you have Mr. Huennekens aware of this information as far back as April. Ms. Huff was made aware of this issue back in June. Additionally, Mr. White presented the information at the CEOC hearing in May. It is now August and the KCE staff at the CEOC meeting are hearing about this issue for the first time. Hello! Is anybody talking to anybody?  Does anybody care?

Then we have the Secretary of State's office. The SOS entered into a statewide contract with its buddies at VoteHere (former SOS Ralph Munro is the CEO of VoteHere and mentor to Sam Reed, the current Secretary of State, and Pam Floyd is a former employee of VoteHere). The contract  allowed counties who wanted ballot tracking software to purchase VoteHere's software at a price negotiated by the SOS. Now one would think that the SOS would be concerned if this product which it is providing to WA counties was not operating as promoted by the vendor. But no, that does not seem to be the case. The SOS has made no effort to determine the cause of the problems. The SOS takes the position that that any questions regarding the problems with the VoteHere web interface in San Juan County must be addressed to San Juan County.

All I can say is, what is going on here?

by raincity calling on Thu Aug 09, 2007 at 12:07:26 PM PST

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The second I read that the Council "prefers" that King County Elections use the current equipment rather than new equipment, that is when I knew that KCE planned to purchase the new Diebold equipment no matter what (unless it is not certified). The Council needed to protect itself, so it added the "prefers" language.

I suspect that some kind of pressure (regardless of form) is being exerted by Diebold - it needs this contract.  It needs a large county to purchase its new untested equipment so it can sell more equipment to other counties.  It needs KC's business to further its own business.

The same is true for VoteHere. VoteHere is a struggling company.  Lucky for it, it has friends in high places.

by raincity calling on Thu Aug 09, 2007 at 12:37:35 PM PST

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  • Exactly by Brian, 08/09/2007 12:52:52 PM PST (none / 0)
Come on! When both Jack Block and Gael Tarleton are in the race, Ron Sims endorses the Republican? (Bob: if you take affront to that then come on out and play.)

Is there any remaining question about Ron Sims' Judgement?

by m3047 on Sat Aug 18, 2007 at 12:05:25 AM PST

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