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 is Chairwoman of the Task Force on Election Integrity, Community Church of NY. She has been a computer professional since 1967 and is a graduate of NYU School of Law, 1979).


Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Public Law Advocacy Week (P-LAW) 2007

Movie and Panel: “Stealing America” and Election Protection

January 31, 2007, 7:00-9:00PM, Moot Court Room

Remarks of Teresa Hommel



Law, Power, and Electronic Voting Machines


Thank you for inviting me to speak here this evening. It is an honor to have this opportunity to address you. I hope that this will be the beginning of a continuing relationship with some of you.


Power creates law, and law sustains power. This means that people in positions of power – elected and appointed officials – typically make choices that sustain and enlarge their own position. Another way of saying it is “might makes right” -- if you have might (power) you can give yourself legal rights to do what you want.


For democracy to exist, the people must retain control of the government -- the people must in fact elect their elected officials.


The formality of holding elections is not enough. Around the world, open and meaningful observation of election procedures is recognized as a requirement for legitimate elections.[1] Legitimacy is defined as “lawfulness by virtue of being authorized or in accordance with law, undisputed credibility, authenticity, or genuineness.”


America has a problem. Direct Recording Electronic voting machines, called DREs, prevent open and meaningful observation of the recording, casting, storage, handling, and counting of votes. Voters see an image on the screen, and may have an opportunity to verify a printout of their votes, but cannot see their own votes as recorded and cast inside the computer. Election observers cannot witness the storage, handling, and counting. Because of this, use of DREs interferes with the legitimate delegation of power from the people to our elected officials.


We have seen thousands of reports of DRE failures in recent elections, and many people oppose DREs as a result. But even if DREs appeared to work, the use of unobservable procedures keeps our elections and our elected government from having legitimacy.


Ordinary people must be able to observe and understand election procedures, and attest that they have been conducted properly and honestly. Election procedures cannot be delegated to experts, computer technologists and statisticians. If citizens have to “trust” “experts” to tell us that procedures were proper and honest, legitimacy has been lost.

The use of computers in our elections is one of the twenty-first century challenges to our democracy, and our ability to deal forthrightly with it and solve it will influence whether or not our democracy survives.


It is a mystery to me why so many Americans seem unable to grasp or deal with this basic information. It’s as if you are on a sinking ship, urging someone to get in a lifeboat, and they say, “Oh but my stateroom is so comfortable.” You say, “these machines prevent observation” and you get the reply, “Oh but they’re so convenient, and they’re accessible to the disabled.”


What can law students do?


One arguments in favor of DREs is that “there is no evidence that a software attack or other tampering has ever been successfully carried out against an electronic voting system.”


In truth there is no evidence that such an attack or tampering has NOT succeeded because no electronic election has ever been fully and independently audited. The courts, election administrators and vendors have successfully rebuffed all demands by voters and candidates to examine equipment.


An increasing number of legal decisions are being handed down that prevent the gathering of evidence after election irregularities have occurred with computerized election equipment. I cannot say whether the courts are complacent, complicit, or corrupt. I do know that the computer voting machine industry has been doing “training” for at least two years to inform judges of the issues related to this equipment.


It is time for law review articles and other legal resources to be developed to present arguments to allow the development of evidence, and to oppose computerization and privatization of our elections. I hope you will be part of such an effort.


The optical scanner alternative


Paper ballots and optical scanners (PBOS) are an acceptable alternative to DREs. Scanners perform electronic counting only. Their work is understandable, observable, and correctable.[2] It is easy to determine whether scanners are working by using test batches of ballots for which the vote counts are known from manual counting, and easy to diagnose and repair scanners.


Paper ballots can be secured by observation by average citizens as well as by surveillance cameras. There is a history of fraud with paper ballots, proving that tampering is detectable. Votes on paper ballots are a first-hand software-independent record of the voter’s intent.


The one requirement for successful use of PBOS is greater citizen participation in elections. We would need lots of observers. I believe a call for ballot observers would arouse many citizens to get involved in local elections, and revitalize our democracy. 


Thank you.


[1] Election Observation Handbook, Fifth Edition, by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE, ODIHR). OSCE includes Canada, the USA, and the broader European region including the South Caucasus and Central Asia. www.wheresthepaper.org/OSCEintlElectionObservation14004_240_en.pdf

[2] Report – Paper Canvass Feb 25, 2003 Special Election, May 15, 2003, by Lucille Grimaldi, Manager, Electronic Voting Systems to Commissioners of Elections. www.wheresthepaper.org/NYCBOEScanRpt030515.pdf