Testimony for the
Voter Assistance Commission
28 June, 2007
In 1960, Motor Trend magazine gave their "Car of the Year" award to a new model with a radically different design. Indeed, this car's entire concept was so new, in so many ways, that most people - even experts - couldn't detect the inherent flaws. That car, the Chevrolet Corvair, eventually became the symbol of highway deaths, featured in Ralph Nader's book, "Unsafe at Any Speed."
Today we are looking to buy a new voting system. For the past five years, vendors have flooded the market with lobbyists, showmen and public relations, all aimed at selling us a voting system version of the Chevy Corvair. While the vendors - Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia, and a very few others - aren't as powerful as General Motors was in 1965, their influence is immense.
A major difference between the Corvair and electronic voting systems is the degree of complexity - voting systems are far more complex. Even if voting system vendors were to spend the time and effort to test every one of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code (and they have no reason to do so), flaws would most likely still go undetected.
A classic example of this was the ill-fated 1962 launch of the Mariner 1 space probe. An undetected missing hyphen in the launch code caused the Atlas booster to go off course, and it had to be destroyed. NASA computer programmers were highly trained, highly paid, and highly motivated, yet they failed to detect this error.
Vendors are aware of the problems of making complex equipment work properly, and they have dealt with it--not by taking pains to get their products right, but by specifically disclaiming that their products are any good.
When you buy something, be it a shirt, a stereo or a ceiling fan, there are two "implied warranties" under law - that what you buy works properly (warranty of merchantability) and that it does what it's supposed to do (warranty of fitness for a particular purpose). But election systems vendors write disclaimers for these two implied warranties into their sales contracts with states and election boards.
In other words, voting systems vendors specifically state that their products may not work.
We cannot afford this. We cannot afford to buy voting systems that will break down on election day, or give implausible results. We cannot afford to reduce voter confidence even lower than it is today. We cannot afford to deal with vendors who can't - or won't - make their voting systems work properly, and won't take responsibility for their failure.
Other speakers today will talk about the secrecy around voting system technology, which also relies on contract provisions, and which is another part of selling shoddy goods.
I urge the Voter Assistance Commission to use your influence with our decision makers to keep electronic voting machines out of in New York City and New York State. We must minimize our reliance on computers in elections. We should use voter-marked paper ballots and precinct-based optical scanners, if we use computerized equipment at all. If possible our state should develop our own optical scanners or acquire open-source systems.
I urge you also to bring this information to Mayor Bloomberg.