On more than just local government

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

With Solomon on vacation, they sent Kevin Shelley - 2

A Secretary of State (SOS) with ambitions for higher political office has few opportunities for publicity. After all, the office is primarily a records management and election oversight post. Counties actually run elections and are responsible for certifying the results. The SOS has oversight for the equipment used, determining whether they are able to run a fair election.

For the March 2 primary election, the SOS had certified 7 companies as suppliers of Direct Electronic Recording (DRE) voting equipment. The certification process included years of testing and retesting to determine the machines’ accuracy. They all passed the SOS’s scrutiny. In fact, that scrutiny was borne out during the election.

The SOS sent squads of staffers to counties using DREs to, first, select and sequester machines and, then, “vote” them on Election Day, under the protection of deputy sheriffs, along a predetermined secret formula. When the polls closed for everyone else, the SOS’s people tallied their votes exactly the same way. The result: 100% accuracy.

However, a series of unanticipated issues faced him. In some counties using machines from Diebold Election Systems, uncertified software upgrades had been added without the SOS’s approval. In other counties, training issues created problems such as providing some voters with the incorrect ballot type for their precinct. While the Diebold issue was serious, the others caused little more problem than a misallocation of votes by precinct. According to the SOS all results, even in Diebold counties, were 100% accurate. Therefore, the election results themselves were not put in question.

Nevertheless, in the heat of a focused attempt by a set of anti-electronic voting activists, our SOS, Kevin Shelley, took the bait and proceeded to commence a months long rant that electronic voting is inaccurate and prone to security problems. Despite these issues being debunked by his own staff, he has gone so far as demanding changes for the November election that are clearly posturing, because most of what he has asked for has already been done.

Shelley laid out 23 demands for DRE system counties to meet if they are to be able to use their systems in November. However, 21 of these 23 were already in place in March and were to be continued in November anyway. Of the other two, one is aimed at forcing the cost of creating a parallel paper system at polling places, estimated at $1.5 million in Orange County alone, on the vendors, only one of whom did anything wrong.

The other would require the vendors to release their computer source code, which has already been reviewed by the certification companies, from the escrow in which they sit at the SOS’s office. While the vendors are amenable to this, it is only under the assurance that the code remains confidential. In Ohio, when a similar study was undertaken, key portions of source code were released to competitors. The vendors do not want this experience to be recreated here.

Kevin Shelley has no grounds for doing what he did, with the exception that he should censure, fine and, perhaps, decertify Diebold for the illegal acts which they performed. Other vendors played by the rules, delivered equipment the SOS had certified and conducted a 100% accurate election. The errors of training were not their fault.

But the biggest fault in this process is the use of this unique opportunity by Kevin Shelley for his own political gain. It is disgusting behavior on the part of an official whose glorified clerk’s job really should be non-partisan.

Politics sure can be fun, and extremely wasteful.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

With Solomon on vacation, they sent Kevin Shelley - 1

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was faced with a dilemma.

He had two Luddite shoot-from-the-hip State Senators breathing down his neck to decertify all electronic voting machines, based solely on information they had gained reading unsubstantiated (and, ultimately, incorrect) newspaper accounts. One company violated state election law and implemented uncertified systems in some of their client counties.

But, Shelley also had information, from his own staff, that all of the machines in every county worked perfectly. He had been pummeled for months by those who believe that electronic voting should be banned, primarily because they believe that manufacturers, especially Diebold, are intending to rig the election.

As a safeguard, before the primary the SOS sent a team of his staff to each county office and randomly selected machines on which to vote and tally results. The machines were then sequestered and protected by Deputy Sheriffs. On Election Day, the SOS staff ran a day long sequence of voting that was known to no one at the county. When the polls closed, they ran the results. In every county, there was 100% accuracy. So whatever happened during the primary, and much did, the results were correctly counted.

Of the companies that had electronic voting machines in operation in California during this primary, only one, the aforementioned Diebold, decided that they couldn’t wait to get one of their upgrades certified, so they went ahead and made a software change anyway. Electronic voting is a highly scrutinized and regulated business, with multiple layers of government oversight and testing.

Normally, when a software change or upgrade is made available, it goes through a Federal and state system of testing and certification, a process that can take at least half a year. Even though the Diebold change affected only four of the counties their equipment was used in (not LA, by the way), it was a violation, requiring some sort of action.

The bulk of the problems that did occur stemmed primarily from poll worker training issues. In Orange County, for example, the consolidation of over 2,000 precincts into 1,125 polling places led to handing out of the wrong ballot style to around 2,000 voters (not 7,000 as reported by the LA Times).

A ballot style is the list of contests on a particular ballot. For example, if Hermosa Beach had an issue on a ballot, their ballot style, including the question, would be different from Manhattan’s, which wouldn’t include it. Everything else would be the same. Therefore, getting the wrong ballot style doesn’t mean you haven’t voted on any proper contests, just the ones exclusive to your precinct.

In March, using a system provided by Hart Intercivic, 99.7% of all votes cast in the Orange County primary were within the proper ballot style. In only one race, the sixth and seventh position in the Democratic Central Committee for one Assembly district, did this mishandling of ballots potentially have any impact on a race. In every other contest, the proper winner was determined.

Other counties had different problems. In San Diego, using, once again, Diebold equipment, many polling places couldn’t open up on time because of a software issue that hadn’t been dealt with in training. The county’s help desk was overwhelmed with calls and couldn’t respond in a timely fashion to get the polls open for the morning rush. The County Registrar has no idea how many of those didn’t return later.

What’s an SOS to do? More later.