In the past week, a Delaware resident named Richard Connell wrote a letter to the Editor in the News Journal concerning Delaware’s voting machines. He said “Delaware desperately needs new efficient and secure voting machines. The vote results we get now are totally unverifiable. [….] To protect the voting process, we need machines that are easily to audit and that produce a paper trail.”
I could not agree with Mr. Connell more. But I would be more specific about how he defines the term “paper trail,” but more on that in a second. Department of Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove responded to Mr. Connell’s concerns with her own letter to the editor, explaining how Delaware’s machines work and stating that they will be replaced in the next three years.
“Delaware’s machines have never been connected to the internet, so hacking is not a possibility. […] Votes are stored on our machines in three areas: on a cartridge that is removed at the end of the election and read to retrieve the results; on a paper tape inside the voting machine; and within the internal computer of the machine. There have been times when we have had to use either the paper tape or the internal computer to determine results — however, the cartridges are normally the only source necessary. Delaware was one of 21 states where an attempted intrusion was made on our voter registration system – not our voting machines. Thanks to the security safeguards put in place by the State of Delaware, this attempt was unsuccessful. Delaware’s voting machines, however, are reaching the end of their life cycle. Therefore, we have recently issued an RFP (Request for Proposal) for new voting equipment. We anticipate this new equipment will be ready for the 2020 election.”
Interestingly, according to Manlove, one can say Delaware’s voting machines already have a paper trial, since they have a paper tape recording votes inside the machine that can be checked against the votes recorded on the computer and on the cartridge. But that is not what citizen activists concerned about the integrity of our election system and having their vote honestly recorded mean by “paper trail.” What they are really talking about is something that is filled out by the voter so as to record the voter’s intention, which is then recorded electronically by optical scan, while the paper ballot is kept in a separate ballot box in case recounts are needed or if the ballot needs to be checked for whatever reason later. Essentially, what those who want paper trails are arguing for is not a printout from a computer, but an optical scan hand ballot.
That is not what Delaware has right now. But the good news is that those machines are being replaced. But did you know that the process for replacing those machines is well underway?
Stan Merriman has prepared a report about the RFP (Request for Proposal) process that is so far along that multiple hearings have been held. Stan has concerns about the process as it is currently being conducted. First, he is concerned about the lack of voter input made to the task force conducting the RFP process. Second, he is concerned that representatives of the Democratic Party are absent from the task force’s meetings (and to be clear here, representatives of the Republican Party are also not present). Finally, he is concerned that other voting options are not being considered, such as vote by mail. Indeed, several bills in the General Assembly may be voted on in the coming session that establish Delaware as either a Vote by Mail state like Oregon, or allow no-excuse absentee voting by mail.
Report on Voting Machine Replacement Process for Delaware, by Stan Merriman.
A voting machine task force formed by the Elections Department started meeting on March 7, 2017 to address the decertification of our twenty year old, current Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines, as well as all the other technology components of our elections systems, end to end. About a dozen people from various elections, IT and finance offices of the state with several members of the Legislature, including State Representative David Bentz and State Senator Bryan Townsend, compromised the task force.
The task force has conducted five meetings between March 7 and Aug. 10. A RFP (request for proposal) briefing was held on December 5, 2017. No Delaware Democratic Party officials or representatives attended these meetings, including the RFP session. A former Delaware Democratic Party Vice Chair did attend all meetings from March 7, however, it seems clear that she was there representing the interests of one of the voting machine companies that was interested in submitting a proposal to the task force.
Four companies were given the opportunity to demonstrate their systems for the task force during the meetings between March 7 and August 10: 1) Dominion Voting Systems (which has a very controversial history with direct recording equipment problems around the country but is now focused on optical scan systems), 2) Runbeck Election Services (with ballot printing services), 3) ES&S Election systems (again, with very controversial DRE systems, some of which are a result of merging with Diebold), and 4) Clear Ballot (a relatively new player formed in 2009, now serving about 20 counties in the US with ballot systems in Washington State, Florida, Colorado and Oregon focusing on all mail voting systems). These four companies and two others (Hart InterCivic (a major DRE player with and without polling site printers that has a major history of malfunction lawsuits and abandonment and ElecTec (which does build optical scan systems) were in attendance at the RFP briefing held on December 5.
It seems to me to be some good news here, in that Delaware is serious enough about voting by mail to include Clear Ballot in the RFP process, and also serious enough also about an optical scanning option with paper ballots to include Dominion and ElecTec. It appears to me that Runbeck was included so that the task force could look at ballot printing and mailing, perhaps for purposes of Delaware’s highly restrictive absentee ballot processes.
The not-so-good news to me is that ES&S was included in the RFP and may be represented by a former Democratic Party vice chair. ES&S’ DRE technology has been heavily criticized for potential hacking insecurity and other anomalies by respected experts on voting technology and security issues that have been amplified with the revelation of Russian intervention in our electoral processes.
Another piece of not-so-good news is that it seems to me that the RFP process seems skewed to favor a DRE voting system rather than an optical scan or other type of system. Indeed, while Commissioner Manlove seems to favor DRE systems, despite the trend across the country moving strongly away from DRE systems and toward optical scan systems that scan paper ballots. Indeed, at least 29 states have replaced DRE systems with Optical Scan systems recently. Forty-Eight (48%) percent of all counties in the U.S. used some combination of paper ballots optically scanned or pure paper ballots in the 2016 election. This is compared to DRE systems being used in about 23% of counties. Yet, Commissioner Manlove has stated to me in email correspondence that “the new system will have a paper trail but not necessarily paper ballots. Everything we have seen demonstrated by vendors to date has a voter verifiable paper trail.”
Again, when Commissioner Manlove and others talk about paper trails, they are talking about a print out from a computer that has recorded the vote. But what if the computer made a mistake in recording the vote? The paper trail with respect to DRE systems records what the computer thinks is the intention of the voter. If the computer is wrong, then the paper trail does nothing to correct that mistake. But a paper ballot filled out by the voter that is then optically scanned by a computer can be checked in a recount or if there is some mistake.
If ES&S has an insider’s edge for having their proposal accepted, then we should consider that Verified Voting has criticized ES&S’s DRE systems and their printers as highly vulnerable to hacking and tampering with ease in changing votes. Further, the so called paper trail, which is just a reprint of the digital image created by the DRE (not the voter, comparing to real ballots), so even with printers, there is not a paper ballot to compare to the digital image reproduction. Further criticism centers on the ergonomic process that does not require the voter to examine the paper reprint, which can change each time the voter might change their votes, before casting it; in these latter cases, the counters at the central counting station are presented with multiple records of voter changes before the vote is cast, potentially causing counting confusion and possible error.
Further, the famed EVEREST report from the state of Ohio cites “pervasive security flaws present” in the ES&S’ DRE systems and further describes that in this and other DRE systems, “DRE’s interpret human intent and store their rendering of voter choices on electronic media that may be modified and printer transcripts that may become compromised. The EVEREST and other reports have recommended optical scanning technology instead of DRE’s, acknowledging that while they are also hackable, a robust post-election audit comparison of paper ballots to electronic records can mitigate some potential tampering/hacking/alteration.
Finally, I also found a scathing report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School on ES&S voting technology. In summary, this report says “we found significant and pervasive vulnerabilities throughout the ES&S system.”
Replacing voting systems that record the fundamental act of voting is a very significant event that does not come along frequently. Thus, citizens and the political parties that represent them need to pay attention and be involved in the process. My concern is that this process is not getting the careful scrutiny and voter feedback it needs to make sure that we select a voting system that truly protects our vote and provides a real paper trail. Further, this process must take into account whether we as a state want to pursue different voting methods in the near future, such as all mail voting that occurs in Oregon, Washington state and Colorado; or whether we want to use optical scanning equipment with paper ballots at polling places. This is a huge discussion that seems not to be happening via either the State Elections authority or the political parties and it should be.
Common Cause provided an opportunity on Dec. 11 for a public discussion on a future direction for Delaware’s voting process with a film showing the severe defects found in ES&S electronic voting systems as well as other electronic DRE machines, followed by a panel discussion including Common Cause, Delaware Coalition On Open Government, Verified Voting Foundation and Open Data Delaware. The discussion pointed toward moving to voting via printed ballots, either optically scanned or mailed to and from registered voters and major questions as to why Delaware is even considering ES&S as a potential vendor considering the security and performance defects of their DRE voting machines.
Common Cause is mobilizing other groups, including the League of Women Voters, Delaware Alliance For Community Advancement and others to join those participating in the Dec. 11 meeting to undertake a campaign for a modern, secure voting system for Delaware including social and earned media communications, public education and presentation events with experts on elections systems, joint public statements regarding the purchase of a new voting system, grassroots lobbying of elected officials responsible for the decision and funding, including Governor Carney. At issue is why the current bidding process seems to heavily favor discredited voting machines and why the absence of public input from voters as to what they want to cast their votes as well as absence of input from neighboring states such as Virginia and Maryland who have changed their voting systems and adopted paper ballots as a part of their process. As previously stated, thus far, Commissioner Manlove seems to favor the disfavored use of DRE voting machines, with a digital reprint trail but without a paper ballot marked by the voter.