Thoughts from a Yellow Dog Democrat living in Olympia, in the great BLUE state of Washington

I am a liberal because it is the political philosophy of freedom and equality. And I am a progressive because it is the political path to a better future. And I am a Democrat because it is the political party that believes in freedom, equality and progress. -- Digby

Thursday, February 02, 2006

We Need Paper Trail for Our Votes

Letter to State Senator Sam Hunt & State Legislator Brendan Williams:

Sam and Brendan,

Considering your leadership supporting HB 2873, you both seem to be well aware of elections issues before the legislature this session. I wonder if you'd consider signing on as sponsors to HB 2532.

This bill would require sample audits comparing paper ballots to machine counts for both optical scan and DRE voting machines. Adopting it would provide some needed assurance that what the machines report as vote tallies do, in fact, have some relationship with how voters actually voted.

I see it has a fiscal note with an indeterminate cost as it would requre each county auditor to implement a process of sampling ballots. This expense would seem negligible if it ensures a reliable and accountable public elections system.

Thanks for your consideration.

Update: Response from Sam Hunt:

we voted this bill out of the State Government Committee today. I voted against the bill in committee and do not support it. County auditors are required by law to run "accuracy and logic tests" on all vote counting equipment before an election. This is a public process with observers welcome. The Nixon bill has two major problems from my perspective: (1) It will add costs to the elections process to conduct an extra set of tests and no money is provided or anticipated from the state, and (2) the bill requires that the tests be run right after the election which would delay vote tabulation. The current process of using the accuracy and logic tests immediately prior to each election is, in my view, satisfactory.

Update: Our Rebuttal:


Thanks, as always, for being responsive and getting back with me. I'm disappointed you voted against the bill in committee but have complete confidence you'll keep an open mind and would reconsider when the bill reaches the floor, should you have then concluded it may be worth some minimal expense up front to ensure we have accurate and reliable vote tabulation, and a process in which the voting public has faith that would accordingly be less vulnerable to post-election challenge.

Having personally observed several "L&A tests," I'm not convinced they accomplish the same thing, or, frankly, much at all. To me they're sort of like having the bank demonstrate its ATM functions "as advertised" in that it prints receipts for dummy transactions of cash withdrawls and tallies the total of those dummy withdrawls correctly. This seems a far cry from me taking a sample of entries on my actual monthly statement and comparing them to the paper receipts I have for actual transactions.

Being one who works with computer technology daily, I know how easy it is for unexpected errors to occur and for someone familiar with a system to program a test to do one thing while the actual process the program completes does another. Most auditors and staff in the Secretary of State's office are not familiar with the inner workings of the technology they are being encouraged to purchase from private sector technology vendors, the owners and managers of which are mostly Republican. It just leads to too many unanswered "what if" questions in the voter's minds, most of which could be allayed by some sort of random sample audit of computed vs. real results.

As for timeliness, I'll take accuracy anytime! I think we here in the US are consumed by somehow believing we have to do everthing immediately with the highest technology available, which leads to all sorts of errors and unnecessary expenditures. I believe some other modern Western nations, like France and Canada, still use paper ballots and they seem to be able to determine the results of their elections within several days of the actual vote.


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