Election Fraud in America:
Why NYC Needs Voter-Marked Paper Ballots and Optical Scanners,
Not Electronic Voting Machines (“DREs”)
Testimony before the New York City Voter Assistance Commission
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today!
My name is Teresa Hommel. I am a citizen activist against electronic voting machines, called “DREs,” and an advocate of voter-marked paper ballots and precinct-based optical scanners.
The most common argument I have heard against paper ballots is that “they have always been subject to fraud.” To find out more, I read Deliver the Vote by Tracy Campbell, a history of American election fraud from 1742 to 2004, and the 68-page chapter on fraud in Election Administration in the United States, which details some cases that took place in the 1920s.* Here’s what I learned.
Regardless of the technology used for voting, three characteristics of fraud have always been the same:
1. Fraud occurs when election procedures are conducted in secret. Secrecy has been supported by law makers, law enforcement, and the courts. People in positions of power have stayed in power by controlling the conduct of elections, and keeping what they do secret.
2. When fraud occurs, citizens are treated as outsiders to the election process, and are prevented, by the use of law or violence, from participating in or observing election procedures, and from investigating irregularities.
3. In order to control the real votes that are cast, certain would-be voters have been discouraged from voting by the use of law and violence.
It’s a sorry history--observers kidnapped or beaten up, and courts refusing to open the ballot boxes to find out whether what’s inside has any relationship to precinct tally sheets.
DREs, electronic voting machines, continue this tradition of fraud. Just when surveillance cameras could open our poll sites to continuous observation and prevent the hanky-panky, DREs establish a new barrier to citizen oversight. Citizens are shut out. We can’t understand the procedures. We can’t observe in a meaningful way sufficient to attest that procedures and counting were proper and honest. Voters can’t even observe their own votes.
Just like the ballot boxes of old, DREs cannot be opened—their insides are concealed by trade secret and intellectual property claims of vendors, which have been consistently upheld by election administrators and courts. Courts today are playing the same role with DREs that courts of yesterday played with wooden ballot boxes. Our courts are protecting the secret software and any other secrets that might be inside, such as log files showing communications intrusions, alterations of tally files, and other evidence of fraud. This is one reason we sometimes hear “there’s no evidence that DREs have ever been subject to fraud.”
Despite talk about outside hackers, insider control of election outcomes has never been easier--just point and click, and after changing the tallies, remember to “save” before you “exit”.
It is ironic that by allowing our votes to be concealed inside computers—and thereby facilitating fraud—we may actually prevent some of the violence historically associated with elections. Obviously, with computers handling the votes, with errors and fraud being invisible and undetectable, it doesn’t matter who votes or who observes in the poll site. We no longer need violence to suppress the vote or scare off observers.
After I read these works on election fraud, I then read two election reform bills that have been introduced in Congress. They are scary and outrageous. H.R. 811 and S. 1487 would create new legal bases for the secrecy related to computerized voting systems, and further prevent citizen oversight of our elections. It appears that S. 1487 would even make the Election Assistance Commission exempt from FOIL requests.**
Technology can be useful in elections in the form of tactile, mechanical, robotic, or computerized devices to assist voters with disabilities, non-English languages, or illiteracy who want to make their voting selections without requiring another person to know for whom they are voting.
But computers should not be used to record, cast, store, handle, and count the votes, because this prevents the citizen participation and observation that can keep these procedures honest.
People argue over whether computers are secure. Yes they are! No they aren’t! But here is the fact--no large computer system is secure, and no computer system is secure from people who work with it.
Is paper secure? Can it be? Banks, warehouses, and other businesses protect paper with minimum difficulty by the use of careful procedures, competent management, and surveillance cameras. I am not criticizing our New York City Board of Elections here, but it needs to be said that nationwide, our election administration has an aggressive “can’t do” attitude: “we can’t protect paper,” “we can’t get people to volunteer to help with elections,” “we can’t audit computers to show that they are working properly because audits are too burdensome, time-consuming, and expensive, and also they are unnecessary because we trust the computers.”***
America is at a crossroads. If we are to continue to be a democracy, we need to get rid of DREs now**** and use surveillance cameras to secure our ballot boxes for paper ballots.
In conclusion, I urge you, Commissioners of the Voter Assistance Commission, to use all of your power and influence to keep New York City and New York State from buying DREs. I urge you to inform Mayor Bloomberg on this issue and urge him to take a public position against DREs.
I further urge you to stay informed by subscribing to the Daily Voting News by sending an email to email@example.com, and reading the material I have referenced in this testimony.
I am available to provide additional information and documentation, as well as individual briefings.
* Deliver the Vote, 2005, by Tracy Campbell, Carroll and Graf Publishers.
Election Administration in the United States, 1934, by Joseph P. Harris, Ph.D., available at
**Analysis of HR 811, http://www.wheresthepaper.org/HR811markupCmt.htm
Analysis of S1487, http://www.wheresthepaper.org/S1487withCmt.htm and
***See for example, Testimony of Doug Lewis of The Election Center, March 20, 2007
**** New Mexico, Florida, and many individual counties around our country have switched from electronic voting machines back to voter-marked paper ballots in the last year. New York City and New York State should not blunder into acquiring computerized voting machines now, when such equipment is already being replaced in other jurisdictions. The reasons are mostly about cost overruns, repeated malfunctions, and vendor failures to provide timely services.
It takes more than good voting technology to make a democracy:
a. Citizens need to be reminded that we must inform ourselves about our government via the alternative news media. Just on the subject of elections, most people know about the lost 18,000 votes in the Christine Jennings race in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. But our major media has not covered the thousands of other documented failures of computerized voting machines, and the voters who were disenfranchised as a result. We can learn much from various web sites: www.VotersUnite.org , www.WheresThePaper.org, etc. I urge you, Commissioners, to subscribe to the “Daily Voting News” a one-page daily clipping service, by sending an email to saying “subscribe to Daily Voting News” to firstname.lastname@example.org
b. We citizens need to be reminded of what democracy means—government of the people. We need to show up as poll workers and observers. “Get out the vote” efforts may have a negative effect in the long run, because we citizens need to participate in more ways than just voting. Minimizing the responsibilities of citizenship to the mere act of voting trivializes both citizenship and voting, and probably contributes to the attitude that voting doesn’t count.