Electronic voting safeguards

Dr. Bowman is a professor emeritus and half-time member of the keyboard faculty in the Music Department of Chico State. He is also a concert artist and citizen.

The electronic voting machines of Diebold, ES&S, Hart, and Sequoia have been certified for use in California elections by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson after a lengthy process of staff studies, public input and testing. Last month, the Butte County Board of Supervisors authorized the purchase of 600 Diebold machines to replace all of the existing equipment.

Many citizens are upset that their opposition—based on allegations of large-scale failures, inadequate security, political partisanship and outright fraud in elections throughout the country—was overlooked. (See public statements on the secretary of state’s Web site, http://ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_vs.htm, and others such as votetrustusa.org and www.blackboxvoting.org.)

Additionally, many citizens are upset that the source code for the machines is unavailable for public scrutiny and that the final certification testing was done behind closed doors last November. In fact, a lawsuit has been filed recently in San Francisco challenging the certification.

All of this adds fuel to the belief of many voters that their votes will be stolen in 2006, as they believe votes were in the elections of 2000, 2002 and 2004.

I have shared those concerns about electronic voting machines, especially after witnessing a demonstration last February in Oakland of a county mainframe being hacked remotely, reversing the votes for each candidate.

In a phone conversation, Bruce McDannold—voting systems program manager in the secretary of state’s office—said California has the highest certification and security standards in the country. Voting machines with remote-access capability are illegal in California. Also, there are rigorous security procedures in place in each precinct and county. Additionally, a mandated paper trail gives the voter a copy of his/her ballot, prints a copy that is recorded by an optical scanner, and retains a copy in the machine.

Butte County Clerk Candace Grubbs invited Jim Gregg, Chico State professor emeritus of political science, and two members of Chico State’s Computer Science Department to inspect the machines and ask security-related questions of a Diebold representative last Wednesday. All their questions were satisfactorily answered.

The crux of the security rests with the local election officials. If they are honest, our vote is secure; if not, all bets are off. We have a history of well-run, clean elections—due to the efforts of Grubbs and her staff. This undoubtedly will continue and hopefully be uniform in California.

Many states do not mandate paper trails, random audits, and hand or optical-scan recounts. Bills HR 550 and S 330 before Congress will correct this problem in all states.