E-Voting Update

While the first session of the 110th Congress gets underway today, here are a few notes on recent electronic voting activity.

First, the New York Times (registration required) is reporting about a recent disclosure that a testing lab has been temporarily barred from approving new voting machines. The company, Ciber Inc., is also having trouble with New York over plans for testing new voting machines for that state.

The major problems were noted last summer by the Election Assistance Commission, and not disclosed at that time. As transparency is a real concern and issue for many in the effort for electronic voting reform, this lack of disclosure is perhaps as troublesome as the issues with the lab. Ciber was found to not be following its quality-control procedures and could not document that it was conducting all required tests. While the company, predictably, claimed that the problems were not due to “incomplete, inaccurate, or flawed testing,” the lack of evidence parallels a major complaint about voting machines that lack an independent means of verifying votes. Things could go wrong, or go well, and we can’t tell.

Second, the election for the House seat in Florida’s 13th Congressional District is still under scrutiny. As we noted in previous posts, the contest is subject to challenge due to concerns over a high percentage of overvotes in Sarasota County, one of five counties (or parts of counties) that make up the district. Voting machine malfunction is only one theory behind this outcome, others are briefly outlined in this press article. There have been audits, and the paperwork to contest this election has been filed with the House of Representatives. Jennings, the Democratic candidate, recently appealed a judge’s order denying access to the source code of the voting machines at issue. The primary rationale in the judges’ order was that the evidence presented by Jennings was little more than conjecture and speculation, which did not warrant access to trade secrets – the source code.

The state’s audit is continuing. Florida State University is coordinating a team of computer science researchers to review the software involved. Timelines are dependent on receipt of the code, but the Statement of Work is available online, along with the state’s report on the parallel testing conducted after the election. As for action in the House, precedent suggests that winning candidate Buchanan will be seated, and the Committee on House Administration may conduct its own investigation (which may prompt additional examination of electronic voting in general). We will post updates as developments warrant.