Dan Jacoby

Testimony before the

New York State Board of Elections

Draft Regulations for voting systems certification

December 20, 2005



I'd like to focus my testimony today on one portion of the draft Voting Systems Standards.


Section 6209.2, Paragraph A, Subparagraph 5 reads as follows:


 "The system shall contain software and hardware required to perform a diagnostic test of system status, and the means of simulating the random selection of candidates and casting of ballots in quantities sufficient to demonstrate that the system is fully operational and that all voting positions are operable." (emphasis mine)


The main problem here is that a simulated test is not a test.


Unless all parts of the voting system that will be used on election day are tested, a large potential remains for serious problems. There can be discrepancies between the actual votes cast and recorded on the voter-verified paper audit record and the vote tallies reported by the computer. Also, election day may prove chaotic when voters discover that the touch screen and accessibility attachments, as well as print and minority language displays, don't work.


With Precinct-Based, Optical Scan (PBOS) systems, a simulated test won't detect whether ballots marked in different ways will be accurately read. Different people fill in the circles on the paper ballot with different degrees of totality. Additionally, many people's marks will extend outside the circles. A simulated test cannot determine accuracy for these real-world circumstances.


With DREs, a simulated election has many problems.


First, the mechanism used to select a candidate, whether touch-screen or pushbutton, will not be tested. Faulty buttons, desensitized portions of the screen, and errors in screen calibration, can result in failure to record votes and inaccurate vote counts on election day. Only by having people press the buttons or touch the screens can we test whether these parts are functioning properly.


Second, in a simulated test, the correlation between the voter verifiable paper audit record and the votes displayed on the screen will not be checked. On election day, if voters discover discrepancies, there will be no method in place to correct the situation. People will lose confidence in the election, and in future elections as well.

Third, a simulation interacts with the voting system software in a different manner from the way a real-time election conducted by people does. Software glitches will go undetected until they occur on election day.


In addition to the shortcomings of a simulated election test, many hardware and software problems - problems too numerous to list here - cannot be detected by a self-run diagnostic test. Anyone with diagnostic software on their computer, Norton Disk Doctor for instance, knows that diagnostic tests miss a lot.


In short, a diagnostic program and simulated election cannot detect hardware and software flaws, and will not serve the purpose of determining whether the system works.


In an election run on insufficiently tested voting systems, machine failures, high phantom votes and undervotes, and results that are vastly different from pre-election or exit polls, will make New York the next Florida or Ohio.


The only way to minimize discrepancies and chaos is to test the equipment - including hardware and software - by conducting a test election with real people entering votes manually on the touchscreens or pushbuttons, using all the accessibility attachments and minority language displays, examining the voter-verified paper audit record, and extracting the vote tallies afterward to check that they match the votes entered.


Testing needs to use live test voters at all stages of the test. Testing needs to use live test poll workers, who turn the machines on and extract the tallies and other records after the test votes are cast.


Only by conducting real-time, "live ammunition" tests of both the hardware and the software, with real people performing all the tasks, can we do as much as possible to ensure that the voting systems, and especially computerized election equipment, will work on election day.


See also