Statement before the Government Operations Committee
New York City Council
Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this hearing. My name is Teresa Hommel.
I am a computer professional and a citizen activist against electronic voting. I am the Chairwoman of the Task Force on Election Integrity of Community Church of New York, and creator of the web site “WheresThePaper.org” which features the teaching demonstration called “The Fraudulent Voting Machine” which is used internationally to help people understand some of the risks associated with electronic voting. The “New York” page of my web site contains much information about New York compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), gathered over the past nearly three years since I became an activist on this issue.
I have already briefed several Council Members on the problems with electronic voting and the reasons why paper ballots and optical scanners are the more responsible choice for our city.
To date, the Board of Elections in the City of New York has given no formal indication of what choice it intends to make. One clue, however, indicates an intention to select electronic voting systems. That is the assertion that we need $100 million for acquisition of new equipment, which is the approximate cost of electronic voting systems. The alternative choice, paper ballots and optical scanners with accessible ballot-marking machines for voters with disabilities and minority languages, would cost approximately one-third that amount.
Many Americans distrust electronic voting. Studies have put the numbers at roughly one quarter to one half of us. During four hearings held in December and January on our state's draft Voting Systems Standards, Peter Kosinski, Republican Co-Executive Director of the New York State Board of Elections, observed that only one person who testified had supported electronic voting over paper ballots and optical scanners.
As our Board of Elections in the City of New York considers the choice of what technology to acquire for our use here, they need to publicly address the reasons for citizen distrust of electronic voting systems.
Some reasons are:
1. Back Doors, Secret Software. Software from two of the three major vendors (Diebold and Sequoia) has been revealed to the public, and both had design features that facilitate tampering. Vendors claim that their software is a proprietary trade secret and that their proprietary rights are more important than the public’s right to know how votes are cast, stored and counted. Due to this secrecy, activists and computer scientists and professionals cannot verify that the software of other systems does not contain similar features.
2. Hundreds of Failures, Malfunctions and Spoiled Elections show that the systems don’t actually work reliably.
3. Federal certification standards require only that systems have certain functions, and do not require examination of systems to ensure that they work, nor that they have passed usability tests by voters and poll workers, nor examination of systems to ensure that they do not have design features that facilitate tampering.
4. Privatization, Loss of Bipartisan Oversight, Loss of Election Administration By Public Servants. Electronic voting systems are unmanageable for Boards of Elections, who must contract out the work to vendor technicians, who then have full access to the equipment without effective oversight.
5. Vendor Assurances That We Should “Trust” the System, coupled with State Law and Regulations That Will Force Us To Rely on “Trust.” Electronic voting systems have been sold with the assurance that no auditing is needed, or that minimal spot-checks are sufficient to ensure that no errors or fraud have occurred in an election. Electronic voting systems are often compared to ATMs as a way of saying that the two are equally secure, but the comparison is false. First, ATMs offer 100% of individual users end-to-end personal verification of 100% of their transactions via the ATM receipt and their monthly statement. Second, use of tracking numbers means that the bank or other financial company can trace each transaction through its system and find the exact place where a loss or corruption of data occurred. Neither of these features is present in voting systems due to the need for a secret ballot.
6. Loss of Legitimacy of Elections and Our Government. The use of computerized voting systems undermines the legitimacy of our elections, our representative democracy, and our government by preventing citizens and candidates from observing the recording, storing, and counting of votes. Whether or not irregularities occur, the legitimacy of an election is based on the fact that citizens and candidates have been able to observe the correctness of procedures.
7. Loss of Citizen Trust. A large percentage of citizens don’t trust electronic voting, and when Boards of Elections around our country have acquired and used these systems in the face of citizen opposition this has resulted in agitation, litigation, and contempt for elections.
8. High Initial Cost, Continuing Cost Overruns. Compared to other election technology, electronic voting systems cost much more to acquire, have been associated with huge cost overruns, and have a shorter useful life. For example, the February 15, 2006 letter from the Governor of Maryland to his State Board cites 1000% cost overruns.
9. A Less “Private and Independent Vote” for voters with disabilities. Electronic voting systems have been sold as a way to provide voters with disabilities with a private and independent vote, a federal requirement under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). In fact, electronic voting systems do not provide the greatest accessibility to the broadest range of voters with disabilities – that achievement has been accomplished by the AutoMARK, a device for marking a paper ballot. Moreover, when voters with disabilities use electronic voting systems, their votes can easily be identified as having been cast by a voter with a specific disability due to the specific accessible attachment that the voter uses. Last, if the electronic voting system is flawed overall, no voter including those with disabilities may actually be casting a vote that will be recorded and counted as the voter intends.
10. Disenfranchisement by Language Group. Electronic voting systems have been sold as a way to provide the ballot in minority languages, but these voting systems also handle ballots differently when they are cast using each different language. This opens the risk of different innocent or malicious mishandling of votes cast by each minority. For example, in the November, 2004 election in New Mexico, two specific electronic voting machines were correlated to high undervote rates for Native American and Hispanic voters. (Minority voters who used other electronic machines had the same undervote rates as Anglo voters.)
11. No Confirmation that the Systems Delivered are the Same as Those Certified. One criticism of the State Board of Elections’ draft Voting Systems Standards is that they do not require a way to confirm that the systems delivered after purchase, or prepared for use in a specific election, contain the same software that was certified. This means that back doors and other kinds of malicious programming can be added to systems by vendors, technicians, insiders, and clever outsiders, and will not be detected.
I would like to suggest specific lines of questions that this committee may consider asking the Board of Elections in the City of New York when they testify before you.
1. Input from citizens. Has the Board met with informed citizens, such as myself, to gather information about our concerns? Has the Board held hearings, especially at a time when working people can attend? The purpose of elections is for citizens to select our government. Since the primary stakeholder in elections is the public, the Board of Elections should be receptive to public opinion and should not select a type of equipment that people distrust.
2. Cost for acquisition, transition, continuing use, and replacement. Has our Board produced a generally-accepted assessment of costs associated with the alternative equipment choices it could make? There was one preliminary cost report in March, 2005, which was criticized as slanted by New Yorkers for Verified Voting.
The lever voting machines were inexpensive to acquire and lasted more than 40 years. Now the federal government has given us a one-time amount of money (some of which it may take back, depending on the outcome of our negotiations with the U.S. Dept. of Justice) that will not cover the cost of electronic voting systems, which is why many jurisdictions call HAVA an unfunded mandate. However, the federal money will cover the cost of paper ballot-optical scan systems. Also, electronic voting systems may not last more than the state-mandated 5-year warrantee.
3. Manageability of equipment versus Privatization. All work necessary for the conduct of elections with systems under consideration should be able to be performed by bi-partisan elections staff and should not require the delegation of tasks to vendor technicians. How will our Board deal with this issue? If it takes several years for our Board’s staff to acquire expertise and independence in the use of our election equipment, what plan do they have for careful oversight of the work of vendor technicians?
With computers, one corrupt insider with brief access to the computers can control the outcome of an entire election, for example by a randomized switching of votes in a way that would be impossible to detect without counting 100% of the voter-verified paper audit records. For this reason, it is in the public interest for the Board to have full expertise to perform all tasks with the equipment we use.
Banks provide many examples of security procedures. For example, on Monday mornings when my bank opens the weekend cash deposit box, they do it with two managers, two clerks, and a camera up close and continuously focused on the envelope, the deposit slip, and the cash as it is counted. If one person was alone and unobserved with the cash, how long would it take for “irregularities” to occur? Assume the same thing for elections and election equipment. Does the Board of Elections have plans to mount continuous-recording cameras over the keyboard of computer systems to fully record the actions of vendor technicians as well as bipartisan staff?
4. Voter-verified Paper Audit Records and the 3% Count. State law requires that 3% of the machines used in each jurisdiction should be randomly selected, and the votes on their voter-verified paper audit records must be counted. Has our Board requested samples of the heat-sensitive paper that electronic systems under consideration use, for purposes of testing to determine whether such paper will retain a readable image of the votes under our storage conditions, or whether this paper will require special storage conditions? The state law should have required document-quality paper rather than allowing heat-sensitive paper for this purpose. Will our Board take action to determine whether the paper will fade during the time that such records are required to be kept, and whether the paper will require climate-controlled storage?
5. Usability and accuracy. Is our Board planning to assess and demonstrate to themselves and to the doubtful public that electronic voting systems under consideration are in fact usable? Will they conduct a multi-machine Mock Election Public Test to put people’s doubts to rest? Will this happen before our Board selects a system? Or will our Board simply trust the vendors’ sales presentations, as well as the federal and state certification process -- both of which have been criticized as inadequate? (Most of the hundreds of electronic voting system failures have occurred with certified systems.)
In other states when electronic voting systems fail or malfunction, typically the poll workers or voters are blamed. The primary reason for this is probably that federal standards require systems to not have more than one failure per 250,000 or 500,000 votes.
I urge this committee to take the position that it doesn’t matter whether voting systems fail or malfunction due to faulty programming, or due to bad design that makes them hard to use by poll workers and voters. We know what elections are like, we know the kind of poll workers and voters we have, and we should not buy systems that cannot be used safely and properly by our people in our elections.
6. Documentation. Has our Board closely examined vendor documentation and training materials to assess their quality and completeness? Has the Board made a determination after realistic trials that the documentation and training materials are adequate to prepare bipartisan staff to perform all tasks necessary to conduct elections with this equipment?
7. Vaporware Versus a Product That Exists. Does our Board intend to base their evaluation of systems on sales presentations conducted by vendors, or do they plan to conduct their own hands-on examination of systems under consideration? Will the Board staff enter votes by every method offered by the system, and extract of tallies and other information such as activity logs and examine them for accuracy? Will the Board staff enter votes via the touch screen or pushbuttons, examine the voter-verified paper audit record, use every device intended for voters with disabilities and let persons with disabilities try them out, and use every language display? The State Board’s certification procedure may be hasty and superficial. What is the City Board planning to do to prevent poll workers and voters from being the first to discover flaws in these systems which will be prototypes that have never been used before in any jurisdiction?
8. Red Test. If the State Board does not commission a Professional Hacking Test ("Red Test"), such as the RABA Technologies test commissioned by the Department of Legislative Services, Maryland General Assembly, will the City Board do this?
9. Public Hacking Test. If the State Board does not conduct a Public Hacking Test, such as sponsored by Leon County, Florida, Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho and Harri Hursti, the computer security expert from Finland, will the City Board do this?
10. Are the Systems Delivered the Same as the System That Was Certified? How will our Board confirm that the voting equipment purchased and delivered is correctly configured and consists of exactly the same components as the system that was certified by the State Board?
Does our Board intend to verify correct components including all hardware, programming, files, file system structures, documentation, training materials, accessories, and all other components?
11. Are Systems Free of Illegal Components? How will our Board demonstrate to candidates prior to each election that all components in electronic systems are safe, proper, and legal for inclusion in a voting system according to NY State law? For example, our law bans wireless communications capability because it would enable tamperers anywhere in the world to dial into voting systems during the election day and alter ballots, votes, and software. Since wireless communications hardware may now be built-in in the computer, rather than a separate visible component, what procedure will be used to show that there is no such capability in the system?
12. Are the Systems Used in an Election the Same as the System That Was Certified? How is our Board planning to confirm that the voting equipment prepared for use, or after use, in an election is correctly configured and consists of exactly the same components as the system that was certified by the State Board? Does our Board intend to verify correct components including all hardware, programming, files, file system structures, documentation, training materials, accessories, and all other components? How will the representatives of recognized political parties with candidates in an election be trained and enabled to inspect voting systems before elections for illegal communication capability whether hardware, software, firmware, or any other type?
13. Remedy For Wrong Systems Delivered, Or Systems Corrupted After Vendor Access. How is our Board planning to handle the issue of a requirement in the procurement contract that the vendor must post of a bond or letter of credit, and a requirement that the vendor must remedy problems that may occur, and reimburse the additional expenses that may be incurred, due to the determination that systems upon delivery, or after vendor access to them, are corrupt or different from the state-certified version of the system, or that systems have failed or malfunctioned during an election?
14. Procedure to enable recognized computer professionals or security experts who believe that they have found a weakness in our voting system, to demonstrate the weakness to our Board. What plans does our Board have to arrange for a test to enable any computer scientist, professional, or expert to demonstrate the presence of a security flaw and suggest ways to remedy it?
I wish to thank the Chair and Members of the Governmental Operations Committee for considering the suggestions I have made today. This Committee has the power to ask questions and require answers to be provided. I urge this committee to do so.
I am available to provide briefings to Council Members and staff as individuals and in groups. I hope to work with you on this issue and the many challenges it poses for our city.
 My credentials are: I started working as a computer programmer in 1967. I began teaching programming in 1969. I have taught in schools, colleges, and universities, including NYU, Baruch College, and The New School. I have published two computer books with John Wiley & Sons. Since 1983 I have been a short-term consultant and corporate trainer, teaching the technical employees of many Fortune 500 companies in every industry, as well as the Department of Defense, and various state and local governments. I also have worked for IBM selling computers.
 Documentation to support factual assertions in my testimony may be found at www.wheresthepaper.org/ny.html and www.wheresthepaper.org/ChoosePBOS_notDREs.htm
Criticism of the first two State Board drafts for NY State Voting System Standards:
Draft of February, 2006:
Draft of December, 2005
 Resolution passed by the Public Employees Federation (PEF), a union representing 54,000 professional, scientific, and technical state employees, opposing privatization of public elections: