Testimony before the United States Election Assistance Commission
Thursday, June 30, 2005
New York City
Good afternoon. My name is Teresa Hommel. I am Chairwoman of the Task Force on Election Integrity of Community Church of New York. I have worked as a computer professional for 38 years.
1. Observation and Legitimacy
My remarks concern the lack of standards in the Proposed Voluntary Voting System Guidelines that would guarantee that no matter what kind of computer technology is used in elections, ordinary non-technical citizens can appropriately witness election procedures.
--Voters must be able to witness that their own votes are correctly recorded and cast.
--Election observers must be able to witness the storage, handling, and counting of votes.
The problem with computerized voting is, of course, that no one can witness the electronic ballots or votes. And the further problem is, that if election procedures are concealed, then an election lacks legitimacy, the government lacks legitimacy, and there is no reason for the public to have confidence in the integrity of the announced election outcomes.
2. Standards for Citizen Observation
For these reasons, the Guidelines should have standards to require computerized voting and vote-tabulating systems to be designed to facilitate appropriate observation by non-technical citizens.
The proper use of voter-verified ballot printouts would solve this, and the Guidelines should deal prominently with voter-verified paper ballots, and include standards to make them easy to verify, handle, and count. Elsewhere, as appropriate, the EAC needs to deal with the problem that even where state laws require voter-verified paper ballots to be created, no law considers these ballots to be the ballot of record, and no law requires all of them to be counted.
3. Standards for Observation by Election Officials
Computerized voting and vote-tabulating systems also conceal election procedures from our election officials, and prevent them from complying with their responsibilities to oversee our elections. The Guidelines have not dealt with this.
For example, HAVA Section 301(a)(5) requires that the equipment that counts ballots - not test ballots -- meet the FEC 2002 accuracy standards, which allow a maximum error rate of 1 in 500,000 ballot positions. There is nothing in the Guidelines to ensure that election officials can determine what the accuracy of their counting equipment is, and whether it is in compliance with that HAVA requirement.
Another problem with computerized voting and vote-tabulating systems is that those with communications capability allow invisible tampering that, if competently done, cannot be detected. The Guidelines should simply suggest a ban on communications capability.
4. The "Glitch" Defense
These Guidelines are important, because computerized voting systems have broken down, lost as many as 25% of votes, created extra ballots, switched votes from one candidate to another, failed to record votes, failed to show all races, etc.
Few election officials have held themselves responsible for using faulty technology that causes such irregularities, and few election officials have refused to continue using such technology.
No election officials have insisted on conducting complete audits of this computerized technology to discover whether these visible failures are indeed the tip of an iceberg.
There seems to be a belief that if you say the magic words "computerized voting" then all citizens' rights to observe election procedures are nullified, and if you say the magic words "computer glitch" then any and all election irregularities are acceptable.
In conclusion, I urge you, Commissioners, to set forth standards that facilitate meaningful observation by non-technical citizens and election professionals of the recording, casting, storage, handling, and counting of votes. If computers cannot do this, then I urge you to declare that computers are not appropriate technology for use in American elections .