Sunday, December 02, 2007

BOE needs a smack upside its head

It'd be hilarious if it weren't so soul-crushingly disappointing.

Ars Technica reports on ( and rightly mocks ) this story involving the Board of Elections in Cuyahoga County near Cleveland. ( original story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer )

This is surreal. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports (via TechDirt) that Ohio's Cuyahoga County—ground zero in the nationwide e-voting debacle that I've been chronicling here at Ars—is holding a "recount" of their November 6 local elections by going back to the memory cards in their Diebold touchscreen voting machines and reprinting all the paper ballots, so that they can tabulate paper copies of the votes in compliance with a law that defines the paper record as the only official record of the vote. How stupid is this idea?

This is like printing out all of your bank statements from Quicken, and totaling it all up by hand because you don't trust that the software is displaying your real balance on the screen... no, actually, it's even dumber than that. Let me see if I can explain.

And the worst part is that our new Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has approved this as a perfectly logical and appropriate course of action! Either she truly mis-understands the concept of a Voter Verified Paper Trail, or she is willfully ignoring it. I don't know what to say. It is truly ridiculous. I never thought my confidence in the integrity of the electoral process would actually go DOWN after we managed to get Ken Blackwell out.

"When I'm faced with the situation where counting the actual ballot may result in not counting all the votes, I think the public would prefer me to err on the side of counting all the votes," she said.

Here is the problem: they are assuming that the votes on the memory card are correct.

The way it is supposed to work is when a voter casts their vote, they see a printout and confirm that it is what they really voted. Then these printouts are preserved as the true record of the vote. They are "voter-verified". They are to be used if the integrity of the electronic records is suspect.

Instead of using the paper votes as the true record, they are using the electronic votes as the true record. This is the opposite of what should happen because the electronic votes are not "voter verified".

Also, if the electronic votes are assumed to be correct, printing them out has no effect on their validity. In fact, printing will likely introduce more errors to the counting process than simply using software to count. They are saying that they trust the software to record all the votes, but not add up how many of them there are.

Brunner explicitly states that she would rather count "all the votes" even if the votes being counted are the non-verified electronic votes, rather than count the official voter-verified paper votes which is what is required by law.

That is a serious problem if you ask me.