Monday, January 12, 2009

Funding Frozen For Proposed Humboldt Voting Machine Switch

According to the agenda, this Tuesday the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal from Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich, who seeks approval for the purchase of Hart InterCivic eScan optical scanners to replace the similar Diebold/Premier equipment used to "count" votes here since 1995. Linked from the agenda is a 22 page .pdf called Voting Modernization Project Plan Phase II. From page two:

Because of the current fiscal crisis in the State of California, the voting Modernization Bond funds designated to cover this project were frozen by the State Treasurer on December 19, 2008. We will return to your Board for change order and funding plan approval once the funding plan is developed and approved by the Secretary of State. The delay in obtaining these funds should not impact the approval of the concept of this plan.
As previously reported at WDNC, the Registrar has created a sense of urgency around this proposal (reinforced by quotes in a Eureka Times-Standard Sunday cover story that is oddly absent from the paper's website). But how can she expect the Supes to hurry up and approve a proposal for a purchase requiring funds that are not currently available and which would be based on a contract that has not been made public? Further calling this urgency into question, from page 6 of the same agenda attachment:
Because there is currently no county-wide election scheduled until November 2009, full implementation of the system will be possible before the next election.
One other quick point about this implementation plan. On page 9 it calls for "sleepovers," a period of two days prior to the election when precinct inspectors will have the eScans in their private possession. This is despite myriad warnings, even in the California Secretary of State's own Top To Bottom Review of Hart voting systems. From that report:
Conclusion (p.16):
Although the Red Team did not have time to finish exploits for all of the vulnerabilities we discovered, nor to provide a complete evaluation of the Hart voting system (System 6.2.1 [now proposed for Humboldt]), we were able to discover attacks for the Hart system that could compromise the accuracy, secrecy, and availability of the voting systems and their auditing mechanisms. That is, the Red Team has developed exploits that – absent procedural mitigation strategies – can alter vote totals, violate the privacy of individual voters, make systems unavailable, and delete audit trails.
No procedural mitigation defeats unfettered access to machines that can be undetectably manipulated. In addition, deletion of audit trails occurred in this past November's election, as revealed by the Election Transparency Project (ETP). Volunteer Parke Bostrom commented on this in a quote previously posted here at WDNC and also found in this December 8 article at
This means the audit log is not truly a "log" in the classical computer program sense, but is rather a "re-imagining" of what GEMS would like the audit log to be, based on whatever information GEMS happens to remember at the end of the vote counting process.
Bostrom is referring to the Diebold central tabulation program responsible for the 197 secretly deleted ballots, though the point is the same with Hart's equipment. Beyond undetectable manipulation, the system can cover its tracks, destroying assurances of built-in memory redundancies and making a mockery of logic and accuracy testing.

The We Do Not Consent blog on Friday posted an announcement from the Humboldt County Republican Party that it has adopted a resolution in support of a public discussion process prior to a vote by the Supervisors on Crnich's proposal. In Sunday's (so far) print-only T-S article, Eureka City Councilman Larry Glass adds, "I think that's an issue that I'd like to see get some more public dialogue, and I'm going to try to make a point of contacting the supervisors and expressing that." Another member of the Council assured me he will attend Tuesday's Supes meeting to make this point in person.

The Voter Confidence Committee, which I co-founded nearly four years ago, distributed an e-mail newsletter on Sunday evening encouraging supporters to attend Tuesday's meeting, or at least to call Supervisors with some or all of the following messages:
--We want and are entitled to have a choice and a say in how we count our votes;

--This plan calls for $600,000+ of public money to be spent, and any expense this size deserves careful public scrutiny;

--Prior to voting on the proposed plan, the responsible thing is for the Supervisors to invite the public to participate in the decision making process;

--In any case, there is no reason to rush this decision as the funds for this purchase have been frozen by the State Treasurer;

--The proposed replacement equipment are still secret corporate vote counting machines (a "false alternative");

--State-sponsored reviews of the proposed replacement machines have revealed many problems; we do not want to repeat the past mistake of investing in flawed technology despite knowing of the risks and warnings;

--The manufacturer of the replacement machines has withdrawn from the federal certification process, meaning no software or security updates of any kind will be possible, and no newer versions will be available.
There has been other recent media coverage of this developing story. In the third hour of Friday's Peter B. Collins show, I spoke with PBC and Brad Friedman about the day old announcement of a second discrepancy found by the ETP, showing 57 ballots were scanned twice into the official certified results.

After a commercial break (edited out of linked recording), we got into discussing Tuesday's upcoming Supes meeting and were then joined by a surprise phone call from Crnich. She has appeared on PBC's show many times before, and this is not the first time she has called in immediate response to my presence on the show. There was an unusually long and uninterrupted segment where Friedman challenges Crnich in ways that just have to be heard, including telling her flat out in the end that she should slow down and allow more public input. Overall, I come on the show at about 16:30 into the recording; Crnich joins around the 24 minute mark.

Finally, borrowed from the VCC newsletter, a summary of recent related links:

North Coast Journal, 12/4/08, Election Results: Wrong

Eureka Times-Standard, 12/5/08, Software glitch yields inaccurate election results (archive)

Eureka Times-Standard, 12/7/08, Local elections office commended (archive)

Eureka Times-Standard (editorial), 12/7/08, A glitch that should never have been (archive)

Wired, 12/8/08, Serious Error in Diebold Voting Software Caused Lost Ballots in California County

Wired, 12/8/08, Unique Transparency Program Uncovers Problems with Voting Software

Eureka Times-Standard (Letter to the editor), 12/10/08, Who Dares Defend Diebold? (archive)

We Do Not Consent blog, 12/17/08, Humboldt's False Alternative to Diebold

North Coast Journal (Letter to the editor), 12/18, Has Humboldt Hit a Tipping Point?

Eureka Times-Standard, 12/22/08, Registrar of Voters considers dumping equipment (archive)

Eureka Times-Standard, 12/29/08, Federal election commission eyes Humboldt (archive)

We Do Not Consent blog, 12/6/09, Exclusive: Humboldt's Secret Hart Attack

We Do Not Consent blog, 12/9/09, Humboldt Republicans Call For Public Discussion of Proposed Voting Machine Switch

Eureka Times-Standard, 1/10/09, New error found in county election results (archive)

Eureka Times-Standard (Editorial), 1/11/09, Thank you, Humboldt County Transparency Project (archive)

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