47th National Convention of the League of Women Voters of the United States

Caucus “An Update on Electronic Voting and Paper Ballots”

June 10, 2006







Electronic Voting versus Paper Ballots


Presented by Teresa Hommel

Member, League of Women Voters of the City of New York



Good evening! I am happy to be here as a voting delegate at the 47th National Convention of the League of Women Voters of the United States.


My distant cousin, Theresa Fischer, was the President of the League of Women Voters of Missouri in 1939, and was a daring and effective advocate for public education. My parents were lifelong admirers of hers, and I was named for her. It is with special humility that I thank you for the privilege of speaking before you at this caucus.


My remarks may seem theoretical, but they are not. I am going to share with you the conclusions  I have drawn based on my three years of full time activism in the area of electronic voting. If you wish to review the underlying factual information with me, I would be eager to sit with you and step you through it. I provide briefings to public officials in New York, and can provide the briefing over the phone. My web site contains all the source documents.


Elections do not make a Democracy


Democracy is a form of government in which we, the people, select our governmental officials, and. delegate power to them to make, interpret, and enforce law, as well as to appoint other officials who administer a type of law called "regulations."


In the United States, we use the mechanism of elections to select our governmental officials.


But the conduct of elections, in and of itself, does not create democracy. Modern dictators have made this clear:


Anastasio Samoza: "You won the vote, but I won the count."

Josef Stalin: "Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."


My favorite quote is from Boss Tweed (because of his New York attitude): "As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it?"


Democracy is Government of the People, by the People, for the People


If elections don't create democracy, what does? Abraham Lincoln's definition comes closest to answering this question: "government of the people, by the people, for the people."


I believe the idea of "government for the people" is best described by the preamble to our United States Constitution. It would be a government that strives for a perfect union of its parts, and strives to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

One difficult part of democracy is achieving balance – we the people delegate power to officials, but we must not delegate too much, or provide too little oversight, or let others do all the work. If we do, then the government will not be "of" and "by" us, and it will not be "for" us either. If we are not knowledgeable and involved, our public servants can become our masters, shut us out of governmental processes, and treat us as mere subjects -- a “do what we tell you, take what we give you, and keep your mouth shut” role.


Another difficult part of democracy is making sure our elections express the will of the people – in other words, that our elections are honest, appear honest, and that we voters select our officials. This is important because whoever selects our officials has a lot of influence and can tell them what to do.


Elections support democracy if they are of and by the people


If we apply these ideas to elections, it is clear that the people must be able to understand what the procedures are, participate appropriately, and observe appropriately. For the purposes of this short presentation the word "appropriately" means:


Each voter must witness that his or her vote is recorded and cast as intended.


Election observers from all parties and any ordinary citizens must be able to witness all procedures of storing and handling ballots, and counting votes.


The "legitimacy" of our elections, and our government, rests upon the people being able to participate in and observe in these ways.


Ideally, representatives from all parties, as well as non-affiliated members of the public, should count the votes, or observe the counting, in an open forum.


Computers undermine democracy

because they prevent people from participating and observing


I oppose the use of computers in elections. Even if the computers were perfect, they prevent the observation and participation that give legitimacy to elections, and to the government.



Computers prevent each voter from witnessing the recording and casting of their own votes, which are inside the electronics of the computer. Computers prevent observers from witnessing the storage, handling, and counting of votes.


Democracy cannot rest upon "trust-me" elections instead of participation and observation.


With computerized voting, voters and candidates have to rely upon computer experts to tell us whether or not our votes were recorded and counted.


If the computers create a voter-verifiable printout, and the state counts a tiny percentage of the votes on paper, then voters and candidates have to rely upon statistical experts to tell us that that tiny percentage was "significant."


For example, in New York State, our law requires 3% of the machines per county to be selected, and the votes on the voter-verified printout of those machines to be counted and compared to the electronic vote tallies. Then the law says that the paper tally and the computer tally don't have to be the same, and the computer tally will prevail. So we will have a meaningless 3% spot-check.


Statisticians say that 3% is significant. People ask me, if 3% is significant, what is 97%? I say, it might be the degree to which our democracy has already been lost, or a measure of how uninformed and gullible we have become.


"Significance" does not provide 100% legitimacy, if it means that 97% of votes are recorded invisibly, and counted invisibly.


Democracy requires an informed, engaged citizenry.


Americans at this time are, for the most part, neither informed nor engaged in the changes taking place in our election administration.


There have been repeated debacles, widespread irregularities of grave proportions, but our traditional press, and our watch-dog good government groups have let us down. They have failed to investigate, alert us, inform us, or provide leadership.


Most Americans know so little about computers that it is easy to embarrass them and mislead them. The conversations and debates we should be having about our elections have turned into a smokescreen discourse on computers. Seven states have outlawed audits and recounts. Elections are not about computers. Elections are not about "trusting" our election officials. Elections are about votes and appropriate observation.


Based on my 39 years in the computer industry, I can tell you this. If a vendor came in to any computer department I have ever worked for, and used the same sales pitches they have used with election officials, they would be thrown out. They would be not be taken seriously. Computer professionals would think they were dealing with a prank, a con job, or a mental case.


What sales pitches?


You don't have to audit. You can trust this machine because it's a computer. Because we have internal check and balances. Because an independent testing authority tested it. Because you can use what you learned at home with your personal computer to run a secure system. If you can send emails and create a Word document, you have all the skills you need. Don't talk to anyone who is against the use of this equipment, because they are just trying to scare you and they just think you are evil.


Computerized voting rests on falsehoods


Acceptance of computerized voting rests on several falsehoods:


1. You can examine a computer in advance of its use in an election, and determine that it will work accurately during the election. This is the basis for the institution known as federal and state certification. Because we examine the machine before you get it, audits to confirm its accuracy are unnecessary.


2. The vendor's computerized "checks and balances" will ensure that the computer works. Therefore audits are unnecessary.


3. You just need to trust your election officials because they know what they are doing. Therefore audits are unnecessary.


4. If we vote on paper ballots and hand-count them, people will cheat, but if we use computers everyone will be a saint.


5. Convenience is very important, and using computerized voting is more convenient because a computer is like a magic election box that lets election staff do less work.


6. Computers are modern, and we need to use modern technology in voting and vote counting. Conversely, we shouldn't use video cameras to help secure votes on paper ballots because we don't have to be that modern (or, it would be inconvenient).


7. Computers are needed to enable voters with disabilities to vote unassisted. In fact, no one votes unassisted when they vote on a computer. You just don't see your assistants -- and you don't know if they are making innocent or malicious errors as they help you. Here is part of a Vote-PAD assistive device, which has worked well for persons with most disabilities to enable them to cast a private and independent vote on a paper ballot.


SARA was missing essential parts --

observable, understandable, manageable


Our SARA resolution, which passed in our last national convention, was an important step at the time. My experience of the last two years, however, has driven home to me that “secure and accurate” cannot be determined without audits, but no Board of Elections is intending to audit. “Recountable” is inadequate because it only means we can recount, it doesn’t mean we will, and it doesn’t say that the recount has to constitute a meaningful, independent audit. You must know as well as I do that some vendors and jurisdictions have said that if they can reprint their tally sheets, this is a recount. I have no problem with accessible, other than that the whole concept appears to be used as much for political purposes as for assisting voters with disabilities.


Here is what SARA needs now:




If citizens are forced to "trust" anything other than observation, then an election lacks legitimacy and so does the government, whether or not irregularities occurred.


Voter-verified paper audit trails ("VVPAT") were supposed to restore observableness to electronic elections by enabling voters to see their computer-printed paper ballot, and enabling Boards of Elections to do observable audits.


BUT, no Board of Elections in this country is intending to perform audits, whether or not they have VVPAT. I believe that one of the big reasons vendors and election people oppose VVPAT is because they don't want to audit. Does this mean that they want to commit fraud without being detected? Or that vendors don't want people to discover that their equipment doesn't actually work? Or are they just thinking about convenience and forgetting what elections are for?


I believe that computers used in elections should be held to the same standards as computers used in the financial industry -- voters must be encouraged to verify the voter-verified paper audit trail, and this paper record must be 100% counted, and all discrepancies between computer tallies and paper tallies must be investigated and reconciled, or else the election should not be certified.




In three years of full-time activism I have met only a handful of election people who are savvy about computers. Even if most election people are honest, they are easily taken advantage of by vendors, lobbyists, and other interested parties including their own former colleagues who now work for vendors and lobbyists.




Computer security is impossible to control. The FBI computer crime survey of 2005 said that 87% of companies were broken into, and 44% had intrusions from within their own organization. How do you think your local Board of Elections will stand up to these statistics?


If you want to rob a bank, where do you get a job? At the bank. If you want to steal elections, where do you get a job? At the Board of Elections. Or maybe you get your relative a job there. Few Boards of Elections in this country are dealing in a professional manner with the security problems of computers, because they lack the know-how, money, and political backing to do so.



Power makes law. Law sustains power.


Power makes law. Law sustains power. This is why it is so important, in a democracy, for power to be legitimate -- for our elections to be legitimate -- so that power is of, by, and for the people, and our laws support the noble goals that our Constitution sets forth.


Elections support legitimate democracy only when the process is observed and is not fraudulent.


This is why it is so shocking to see the United States rush to embrace electronic voting. It is shocking if you understand the implications of our vote casting and counting being unobservable.


Women fought for a long time to get the vote, and we should not willingly turn our votes over to private corporations who offer us a “magic election box.” We must not be complacent, and go about our familiar activities such as registering voters, and hope that all will be well, and that someone else will worry about the computers.


So far the national League of Women Voters has not provided leadership against electronic voting, but some state and local Leagues have.


I am proud to be a member of the League in New York State. Our state League has taken a leadership role, together with New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a statewide citizens group.


I urge every League member to support the strongest national League position that we can pass at this convention. I urge you to speak to your colleagues and friends about this issue. I urge you to subscribe to the email news from the voting integrity activist community: http://www.votetrustusa.org/  and  http://www.votersunite.org/.


Thank you.



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Teresa Hommel is an independent voting rights activist. She serves as Legislative Analyst for New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a statewide citizens' group that has worked with the League of Women Voters of New York State to advocate for paper ballots and optical scanners rather than electronic voting. Ms. Hommel's voting machine simulation, a demonstration called the "Fraudulent Voting Machine," has been used internationally to help people understand the security problems with computers used in voting. "Fraudo" was exhibited at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Symposium "Building Trust and Confidence in Voting Systems" in 2003, and is featured on Ms. Hommel's web site, WheresThePaper.org. Ms. Hommel has been a computer professional for 39 years and is a graduate of NYU Law School (1979).