October 20, 2002
Goodbye, punch cards

The electronic voting system eSlate, which has been used in early voting for the past couple of elections here in Harris County, is being rolled out to all voters this year. All eyes will be on County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, who led the drive to replace punch card ballots with the new system.

There are some concerns about how eSlate handles straight-ticket voting and some questions about how cozy a relationship Kaufman has with the eSlate vendor, but I'm not too worried about that. I've used the eSlate machines before, and I think they're reasonably straightforward. (Of course, I am an IT professional. I'd have to turn in my decoder ring if I got discombobulated by a voting machine.) If they have as many volunteers to show people how to use the machines as they have in the past, there shouldn't be too much confusion.

No, what bothers me (as I've mentioned before) is the lack of a hard copy of your vote with eSlate. I'm really worried about how a recount will be handled. The Harris Votes web site deals with this question in its FAQ as follows:

Q: Computer experts claim that there is no way to audit the vote without a paper trail? Does this system have paper backup?. What is Plan B if the equipment doesn't work as intended? What is your worst case scenario?

A: Actually, this system provides voters with much better confidence that their vote will be counted as they intended. First, the voting device provides each voter with a summary of all their votes, alerting them to any races they missed, and allowing them to make changes until they are satisfied. They have visual confirmation that they voted exactly as they intended. To ensure those votes are recorded correctly, the system programming is tested and validated before and after the election - in the presence of witnesses - to ensure that votes are counted and reported as they are cast, through a process known as logic and accuracy testing. There are many other security features both in process and in equipment and software built into the process. And while a paper printout could be added to the equipment, it isn't necessary to ensure secure and accurate elections. Such a step also would introduce new security concerns and add unnecessary complications and costs to the process.

Which is to say "Don't worry your pretty little heads about it". I know one of the computer experts who testified before City Council about this. His argument, which I find hard to refute, was that the eSlate vendor never gave him or any other outside auditor a look at their security code, so we have no way of objectively evaluating their claims. Microsoft says that its software is secure, too, you know.

Beverly Kaufman says that she will be judged by the success of eSlate. She's right, and the judging won't end after this election. I just hope she's judged a success.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 20, 2002 to Local politics

Do people really feel comfortable with eVoting? The big stink is to have a paper trail... for what? To count? If we count them, aren't we taking just as much time?

Posted by: Auburn Real Estate on June 7, 2004 10:05 AM