Electronic voting questioned
- Published: July 31, 2008
In the wake of the Election-Related Equipment, Standards & Testing (EVEREST) study of Ohio’s electronic voting systems commissioned by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the local group Greene County Citizens for Safe and Secure Elections, headed by Billie Eastman, has been trying to persuade the Greene County Board of Elections (BOE) to get rid of their electronic machines and return to paper ballots. To that end on Thursday, July 24, group members brought a petition with 155 signatures to a BOE meeting in Xenia.
The committee is made up of Eastman, Ken Champney, Shirley Hatfield, Peter Jones, Don Brezine and Faith Morgan. Only Morgan was not in attendance. Also attending the meeting were Gary Grafel of Ohio Protect the Vote, which, he said, is associated with the Obama campaign, and Jennifer Alexander of the Ohio Election Justice Campaign (OEJC).
After finding in Dec. 2007, that Ohio’s electronic voting systems have “critical security failures” that could impact the integrity of elections in Ohio, Brunner recommended getting rid of the electronic machines by the 2008 general election.
“The results underscore the need for a fundamental change in the structure of Ohio’s election system to ensure ballot and voting system security while still making voting convenient and accessible to all Ohio voters,” Brunner told the press after reviewing the report.
However, Greene County is one of 55 of the 88 counties in the state that continues to use electronic voting.
At the meeting, committee member Jones from Sugarcreek Township presented photographic evidence of how a voting machine changed his vote in the last gubernatorial race. The board reacted by promising to take the issue to the prosecutor’s office — not the issue of the machine changing his vote, but his photographing his ballot, an act which they said is illegal.
Local BOE member Don Hollister told the meeting that he was not surprised at Jones’ claim that a vote had flipped. The BOE has had a lot of experience with flipping, he said, and to minimize it, they calibrate and test every one of their 20,000 machines before every election.
“I didn’t vote for the machines,” Hollister said. “But over time I have come to have more confidence in them over paper.”
During the ensuing discussion, the board members said they are aware that there have been instances of “flipping,” but said that it is rare in Greene County, which they contend guards against flipping better than other counties. They stated that the more serious problems in Montgomery County resulted from the jostling of the machines in transit, something that disturbs their calibration.
According to Alexander, for the primary election last November, the state mandated offering paper ballots and issued large signs to be posted at polling places to inform voters of the paper option. However, she said, Greene County did not use the state’s signs and issued much smaller ones to be posted on the sign-in tables.
Paper ballots are available at the polling places, and they are used exclusively at the BOE’s office for absentee and early voting, according to board members.
According to Champney, who was interviewed before the meeting, 80 percent of all votes in America are counted by only two companies, Diebold and ES&S. Votes can be easily switched from one candidate to another by hacking the central computer that adds up the votes, either internally or externally, according to Champney, who said that Diebold’s machines, which are used in Greene County, have been banned in California.
According to Alexander, the Greene County BOE “could vote tomorrow to go to all paper ballots, and a few DREs (direct recording electronic machines) for disabled voters, if they chose to do so. Secretary of State Brunner would prefer them to do so, she said. But at the meeting, board members stated that the decision was out of their hands.
Alexander suggested a joint meeting with BOE and Greene County Board of Commissioners, and she was advised by the BOE to set one up. Asked after the meeting how the county commissioners could make a difference on this issue, Alexander said they could educate themselves about DREs and election integrity, and stop approving expenditures for the purchase of machines that not only do not work properly, but are easily hackable.
“They should all be required to read Secretary of State Brunner’s EVEREST Report,” she said. “Not only are you and I paying for the machines, but their storage, their delivery, and their upkeep. They could then demand a recall and refund for faulty equipment from the vendors.”
Interviewed after the meeting, Hollister said, “The Greene County Board of Elections, which is considered one of the more professional boards, voluntarily conducted an experimental audit of the machines before using them. We program our own machines and design our own ballots. The machines got their start because there were problems with certifying the paper ballots. I would describe our machines as finicky and fragile. But the recount is exact. We just need a better version of what we have.”
According to Hollister, the problem comes in calibrating the touch-screens. Something as simple as finger oil can cause problems, he said.
“A lot has been done,” he said. “There will always be more to be done. I have confidence in Greene County. It’s not the machines where the problem lies. The bigger, more serious issue is voter suppression. No matter how you feel about the machines, at least vote. Your vote won’t be counted, if you don’t vote.”
According to Brezine in an interview after the meeting, he has become involved in the electronic voting issue due to how much is still unknown about the efficacy of electronic voting.
“This whole realm of computer voting is very much like the Wild West,” he said. “The law and order folks are behind in catching up with the lawlessness.”
At the meeting, BOE Chair Tracy Smith told the participants, “the message to the voters is to check everything twice.”