(Editor's Note: "From Your Perspective" is a column that appears occasionally. Its contents vary from technology to religion, from internal goings-on to items of concern in the blindness field in general. The opinions expressed are those of the authors, not those of the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. "The Braille Forum" cannot be held responsible for the opinions expressed herein.)
As the parent of a visually impaired young adult, I was deeply dismayed by Melanie Brunson's article in the November 2004 issue of "The Braille Forum" urging your membership to push for expanded use of the electronic voting machines that have widespread, documented problems, as apparent in the 2004 presidential election. To quote California Secretary of State Kevin Shelly, "The core of our American democracy is the right to vote. Implicit in that right is the notion that that vote be private, that vote be secure, and that vote be counted as it was intended when it was cast by the voter. And I think what we're encountering is a pivotal moment in our democracy where all of that is being called into question." I couldn't agree more with what he said, and a cursory review of the facts surrounding e-voting is essential for understanding why there must be 1) national standards and full funding for transparent and independent testing, evaluating, and certifying voter equipment, 2) utilization of standardized voting machines in the USA, and 3) a voter-verified paper trail or VVPAT that will foster public confidence in the accuracy and integrity of the election process.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 was a Congressional attempt to streamline voting procedures so that there was no repeat of the 2000 election debacle where a Congressional investigation found over one million voters disenfranchised. Unfortunately, the bipartisan Election Assistance Commission was not implemented quickly enough, resulting in states using federal funds to buy whatever voting machines they wanted. In addition, unclear rules regarding provisional ballots were never addressed.
What is very disturbing is the relationship between some disability lobbyists, namely the NFB and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), and makers of electronic voting machines. And if the ACB and AFB are mirroring these groups by pushing for these voting machines without having any knowledge of the security and accuracy problems that many computer scientists and state election boards have verified, then their motives are called into question. Not only has the NFB benefitted from a $1 million award from Diebold, its new partner and a leading maker of automated teller machines and touch-screen voting terminals, but the AAPD has also received $26,000 from voting companies. It is reasonable and logical for everyone to be disturbed by these groups that don't disclose their relationships to manufacturers as they lobby hard, speaking around the country, and even using lawsuits in the recent election to force counties and states to buy touch-screen voting machines.
Over 175,000 voting machines were used in this presidential election. About 30 percent of voters, or 40 million people, used paperless ballots, as compared to only 12 percent of voters four years ago. And the vendors paid for the nationally standardized testing of these machines; that itself was flawed because security failures were not identified. Uncertified software, like that of Diebold, has made its way into voting machines, as evident from 17 counties in California. A recent investigation in Maryland, which bought 16,000 direct recording electronic machines from Diebold for the 2004 election, paid for computer experts to test the machines. The team leader, Michael Wertheimer, a former National Security technical director, found "considerable security risks that can cause moderate to severe disruption in an election."
Even bipartisan support for reforms to assure integrity of the election within the battleground state of Florida, as noted by former presidents Carter and Ford, was ignored. Secretary of State Glenda Hood, along with Gov. Jeb Bush, worked to have Ralph Nader's name on the ballot, despite criticism of his signature lists, as they also purged many voters from the registrant rolls who were entitled to vote.
I could go on with further specific evidence to support reforms and upgrading of the currently used voting equipment. These machines failed to log thousands of votes in North Carolina; machines started counting backwards in many Florida and Ohio counties. One Ohio county with only 800 registered voters noted 3,893 votes for President Bush. There are numerous reports of touch-screen machines noting the candidate that a voter didn't originally vote for, as caught at the final review screen before the vote was registered. Some errors might be attributed to voters resting their hands or thumbs on the edge of touch screen machines, something that visually impaired and blind voters might have more easily happen to them. Considering the incredibly long wait times to vote, it is also probable that tired voters might have missed the final check of their vote and logged a vote for the other candidate. To date, there are more than 995 incidents involving electronic voting machines in this election being investigated.
We should all applaud the efforts of groups that have been working to inform the public of the need to decrease computer voting risks and increase voter confidence in the legitimacy of elections. A VVPAT is a strongly recommended addition to voting machines to provide auditable elections. The Election Verification Project is such a group; it's a national coalition of technologists, voting rights and legal organizations pushing for these reforms. The Verified Voting Foundation (www.verifiedvoting.org), a non- profit corporation, is also working for these reforms. I strongly urge all citizens to visit that organization's web site and endorse the resolution of electronic voting. Black Box Voting (www.blackboxvoting.org) is another non-profit consumer protection group that is currently attempting to audit the 2004 election in light of the numerous documented problems with the electronic voting machines. It is an arduous and expensive task that every citizen should support monetarily.
It is vital that every registered voter be able to vote. But it is equally essential that elections occur on nationally standardized, independently tested voting machines that are certified by bipartisan election officials and include a voter-verified paper audit trail. Only with these measures will transparency of the election process be assured and voter confidence in the integrity and accuracy of our electoral process be achieved. Everyone should hope that the unprecedented turnout of the recent election becomes the norm for voting in each and every future U.S. election!
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