Can We Count on Voting Machines to Count the Votes?

There has been much hoopla and concern over the past few years with the extreme secrecy surrounding the electronic voting equipment that has invaded our election process. With so little knowledge about the accuracy of the machinery, due to assertions of privacy by Diebold and the other companies manufacturing and selling these magical boxes, their accuracy and reliability have naturally come into question.
Not to be bullied into revealing the contents of the equipment, to insure objectivity and accuracy in counting ballots, they’ve refused to divulge or even allow the state to examine their product, so the state, under the focused direction of Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, has hired its own experts to determine whether the voting machines are reliable, or hackable. The results came out just days ago, creating a hub-bub of activity and denials. Like most of the right-wing’s approach to anything they don’t like, instead of attacking the facts, they attack the messenger.
This situation is no different.
The fact is, this equipment has real problems and legislators like Assemblymember Paul Krekorian have legislation pending that will address the concerns about voting machine reliability and what we can and must do to restore public confidence in the fundamental principle that every vote cast will be counted. Here’s Assemblymember Krekorian’s take on the situation:

Lift the Shroud of Secrecy from Electronic Voting Systems
And Restore Confidence in Our Elections

On November 4, 2008, millions of Californians will go to their polling places to cast their votes using electronic voting machines. By the end of that evening, we will know who will take office as our next President. What we will not know that night –what we may never know with certainty — is whether our votes were in fact properly counted by those electronic voting machines.
After the debacle of the election of 2000 focused the nation’s attention on “hanging chads” in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which encouraged the wide use of electronic voting machines. Since then, corporate vendors of these machines, such as Diebold, have actively promoted them throughout the country. Many county registrars are investing heavily in this new technology in an effort to streamline the voting process, and to provide greater opportunity for some disabled citizens to vote independently.
Despite their effusive claims of security and accuracy, however, Diebold and most other manufacturers keep the actual workings of these machines a closely held secret. Although the public has an absolute right to observe every aspect of the process of counting paper ballots, the public is completely deprived of that right with regard to electronic voting.
That is why I’ve authored AB 852, the Secure, Accurate and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act of 2007. Simply stated, the SAFE Act would require public disclosure of the computer source code that runs our state’s voting machines. If a manufacturer refuses to disclose a voting system’s source code for public scrutiny, that system would not be certified for use in California elections — period. This important reform will ensure that voting rights advocates, computer scientists, the media, and any member of the public with an interest in technology and democracy, could analyze the source code and identify any potential errors or security risks.
The SAFE Act is currently held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. If there is sufficient input from the public about the importance of secure elections, however, I am confident that my colleagues in the Legislature will agree that preserving the integrity of our democratic process outweighs minor concerns about potential costs.
The risks presented by the current certification process are not hypothetical. Secretary of State Debra Bowen has launched a laudable “top-to-bottom” review of voting systems in California, and that review has already produced troubling results. For example, the review found that some voting machines in Los Angeles County contained software that was different than the software that the manufacturer had delivered to the Secretary of State for review and analysis.
President Kennedy once observed that “the very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.” Certainly any secrecy concerning the manner in which our votes are counted should be repugnant to us all. The operation of our voting systems must be open and accessible to scrutiny so that the veracity of these essential implements of our democracy is always beyond reproach.
If we don’t act now, the cost could be democracy itself! Now is the time to tell your County Clerk, Secretary of State Bowen, and Assembly Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark Leno not to rely on empty promises from Diebold and Sequoia, Hart and ES&S. Call, write, and email your State and Local officials and tell them to support AB 852, the SAFE Act, and take back our democracy from the voting system vendors!
For more info on AB 852, see:
Assemblymember Paul Krekorian represents the 43rd Assembly District.