September 07, 2004
Dan on DREs

My buddy Dan Wallach has an op-ed in the Statesman from a few days ago about Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems and how they're set up to work in Texas. Whatever one thinks about DREs versus other styles of voting machine, I think as can all agree that this is a concern:

Many people also would be surprised to know that the certification of our voting systems happens in secret. The "independent testing authorities" who examine them are bound by non-disclosure agreements with the vendors; we never learn what their testers uncover. Likewise, Texas' own examinations happen behind closed doors, a practice that may violate state laws.

Requests made through Texas' Open Records Act to disclose these findings have yielded superficial reports that indicate a lack of time and resources spent on the examination. So we have little evidence to support election officials' claims that DRE systems are meaningfully secure.

I try not to be a Diebold conspiracy nut, but frankly, until this sort of information is made public, I see no reason to trust any voting machine maker or their claims of robustness and security. All we have is their word for it, and that just isn't good enough. Elections are a public good, and the public has the right to know how they're being handled.

Some recommendations and observations:

What about accessibility? The Help America Vote Act mandates that every precinct have at least one accessible voting system by 2006. DREs are not the only systems that can satisfy this requirement. Computer-assisted ballot marking devices have a DRE-like computer interface but print onto standard optical scan ballots. Such systems cost far less money than an all-DRE solution, while preserving the verifiability and transparency of paper ballots.

How does Texas compare nationally? Other states have been far more active than Texas in studying the problems associated with DRE systems. Maryland and Ohio have commissioned detailed independent studies by security experts. Nevada and California are adopting requirements that electronic voting systems must print paper ballots that voters will verify. Texas should take similar steps.

What can we do to protect our votes? Several Texas counties use DRE systems for early voting and optical scan systems on Election Day. Voters in those counties can choose to vote on Election Day, creating a permanent record of their vote. Other counties should follow the recommendations of a recent report from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which defines detailed policies and procedures to minimize the risks inherent in DRE systems.

Sounds reasonable to me. Greg? Rob? I'd like to know what you think.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 07, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack