Teresa Hommel


Testimony before the

New York State Board of Elections

December 20, 2005



Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. My name is Teresa Hommel. I am Chairwoman of the Task Force on Election Integrity of Community Church of New York.


Evaluation of Computer Systems


I will start by describing the process of evaluating a computer system that I observed for a client. It lasted for over a week.


Five men stood in the front of a huge conference room, two vice presidents and three technicians from a software vendor. Sitting around the room were twenty to thirty of my client's technicians. Our guys asked questions. Their guys answered. We wanted demonstrations, explanations, code walk-throughs. We handed them over a hundred thousand test cases and we audited each line of results.


The questioning was so intense, I asked someone about it.


He said, "We were too trusting with our last vendor, and their system never worked. We learned our lesson. If they can't answer questions and prove that everything works before we pay for it, it'll never work afterward."


And that system cost less than $2 million.


Now let's see what it takes to convince the New York State Board of Elections that some computer systems work before we spend over a hundred million dollars for them


It looks like something is wrong here. This is why people think the regulations were written by vendors.


Whoever evaluates electronic voting systems needs to look at everything: all hardware, all programming whether firmware or software or any other kind, all files, all parts.


The State Board's regulations are like a house-buyer who doesn't look at anything except what the seller wants to show him. Somebody selling a house is not going to show you the termites in the basement or the leak in the roof. And Sequoia, ES&S, and Liberty are not going to show you anything that looks bad.


Thatís why the State Board needs to ask hard questions.


--start by reading this 120-page list of documented failures of electronic voting systems so you

†† know what can go wrong.†† http://www.votersunite.org/info/messupsbyvendor.asp

--hire a team with experience in evaluating computer systems.

--commission a professional "Red Test" team to conduct a hacker test.

--invite the public to try to break into the system. Invite them to do their worst.

--conduct a large public test, to be run entirely by elections staff drawn from our counties who

†† have been trained by the vendor, with test voters and test poll workers trained by the vendor.

†† Use camcorders if necessary, to make sure that everyone sees everything. Extract the tallies.

†† Examine the activity logs. Either the systems work under human conditions or they don't.

†† Let's find out.


Let's find out BEFORE certification. Let's not make the same mistakes that other states are making, with spoiled elections, loss of voter confidence, public cynicism, lawsuits, and cover-ups after the fact to save face.


Because of New York's unique requirements -- the voter-verified printer, accessibility attachments, minority language capability, and the full-face ballot -- we will be getting systems that are made just for us. They'll be put together with spit and bubble-gum as they go out the factory door just before the delivery deadline. This is why our testing needs to be professional and rigorous.


"Starry Eyes" versus "Buyer Beware!"


On October 20 I had the opportunity to observe a sales presentation by Sequoia. The salesmen were great. I was a marketing representative for IBM back in the 1970s, and one of my co-workers told me then, "If you can make a cardboard box look like a working computer, you're a real marketing rep."


The Sequoia salesmen were real marketing reps. Halfway into their presentation I had stars in my eyes. I was thinking, "This is wonderful! This is the answer to all our problems!"


Then I had to pinch myself. I had the list of documented failures of Sequoia systems, 23 pages, in my hands. I had the report from New Mexico where Sequoia pushbutton machines appeared to disenfranchise a large percentage of minority voters, Native Americans and Hispanics.

[ available athttp://www.votersunite.org/info/NM_UVbyMachineandEthnicity.pdf]

And the voting system that Sequoia was showing that day in October was not a working model. It didn't have a printer; it didn't have the accessibility attachments. It was an updated version of the cardboard box -- it was a plastic box.


But I was taken in. Me! With 38 years experience working with computers, a short-term contractor who has worked for hundreds of Fortune-500 companies, every industry, Department of Defense, you name it.


What if I didn't know anything about computers? What if I didn't know what was going on around the country where these systems have been failing in real elections? What if I was an election commissioner who could barely send an email and didn't listen to anyone else except vendor salesmen? I wouldn't have any reason to doubt. The pinch would not have happened.


I think this is why we have a problem. Why some of our Commissioners are acting like a child when you try to take away their favorite toy. They donít want any person or information to come between them and their perfect dream election machine.


It is the unfortunate responsibility of the State Board to wake up the Commissioners to the facts. The perfect dream election machine does not exist yet. If you test these computers in a large public test under real-election conditions, I think that will be all that is necessary.


Don't shut out citizens


We are seeing foolishness on the part of our Commissioners, in their reluctance to listen to citizens such as myself, Bo Lipari of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, representatives of the League of Women Voters of New York State, or hundreds of other activists. Foolish because we all have the same interest at heart, and we should be on the same side. We all want secure, reliable, easy-to-manage, cost-effective election technology.


At least I hope we do.


Throughout the draft regulations there needs to be recognition of voters -- members of the public -- as interested parties.


The public is the primary stakeholder in elections, and members of the public must have the opportunity to observe and participate as much as possible. The State Board should be opening doors for public participation.


Two Attachments


As a member of the public I offer you two attachments with my testimony:




Other information is available on my web site at http://www.wheresthepaper.org/ny.html.

Thank you.