Election Day

So I decided to go vote. I'm not as well-versed in the candidates than I'd like, and I wasn't keen on the electronic machines, but I thought I'd go ahead anyway. We indeed have a new system in New York. Basically you fill out a bubble-sheet (color in circles on a sheet) to indicate your voting preference. Then you feed the machine into what I have described as the Ballot Disposal Unit™ — a device that supposedly scans your ballot to determine if it is readable, at which point it is dropped into a storage bin. I have no confidence that my vote was at all counted, and I had no opportunity to confirm that the machine read my choices as intended. I noticed that the machines had a number of simple seals on the door joints to indicate tampering, and some of them were removed or oddly placed.

According to my 2008 write-up, the scanning machines for the election this year are from Sequoia Voting Systems (221 Hopkins Ave., Jamestown) which is now warmly called Dominion Voting Systems, Incorporated. Originally, the machines were intended to display one's intended selections and allow confirmation.

I did a quick Google search for "electronic voting new york" and the titles for the top hits are as follows: "Rough start for electronic voting in New York – Los Angeles Times", "New York electronic voting machines experience problems – Boston.com", "Worries About E-Voting Persist As Primary Looms – City Limits …", "A Host of Monitors Will Watch the City's Electronic Voting‎ – New York Times", "New York Electronic Voting to Be Closely Watched – NYTimes.com", and "U.S. Bars Lab From Testing Electronic Voting – New York Times". Among the concerns of the experts from a sampling of these articles is the fact that up to 10 ballots can be successfully stuffed into the machine at the same time, and the exposed tamper seals can be cut leading to invalidation of all ballots inside. This is a comical joke — and at over $10,000 per machine, a blatant rip-off.

I'll reiterate my concerns from my older article: "what political parties does Sequoia make donations to? Who do they lobby in the Federal government? How much money do they spend on lobbying?" I'm assuming Jamestown is booming at this point, and maintenance fees alone will keep it a boom-town for some time.

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Electronic voting machines in Monroe County

I headed up to Medley Centre (N. Goodman St. and Medley Centre Pkwy., formerly Irondequoit Mall) to check out the new voting machines. The first unfortunate thing was that two of the three companies who were to demonstrate their machines were de-certified by The Monroe County Board of Elections (39 Main St. W., #106) yesterday (according to the buzz around the demonstration area, at least — certainly not because of an official announcement by the Board of Elections). The one that remained was made by Sequoia Voting Systems (221 Hopkins Ave., Jamestown).

The person giving the presentation tried to impress upon people the ease of use of the machine. Basically you cast your ballot on a paper ballot (filling in bubbles to indicate your choice). You then feed your ballot into a scanning machine which confirms that it read your choices correctly by displaying back your selections and allowing you to cast your ballot or to reject it — allowing you to fix any errors or to destroy the ballot and start over. Once your vote is cast using the machine, the ballot is digitally scanned then placed in a locked ballot box.

A second, related system allows a person unable to fill in circles on the ballot to use a computerized system to assist them in creating a paper ballot. Various accessible user-input devices are supposedly available to guide a voter to select candidates using visual and audio feedback.

The questions of the group that I was with had to do with assurance that their vote was counted properly. The representative pooh-poohed talk of "security" as a non-issue. I asked where I could see the schematics, engineering drawings, and source code and the representative said that they don't have them available at the time but that I could contact the Board of Elections.

I was glad to see a physical paper ballot system in place but I was concerned about the use of the machine as the source of the primary election totals. If it's true that the Board of Elections intends to use the counts attained by the machine as their first official count, then it would not be difficult to skew the results to favor one candidate or another by modifying the computer code. A manual recount, while thankfully possible under this system, would likely not uncover a problem in cases where two or more candidates were very close in vote totals.

I was very disappointed that the representatives on hand were strongly discouraging people from examining the voting machine on their own. I was told not to touch it, and that I should not be behind the machine. This implies to me that Sequoia has something to hide from the American people.

Sequoia provided information sheets that described the company's "lineage" back to Jacob Myers' United States Voting Machine Company founded in Jamestown in 1896. For anyone who has been with a company that changes names (to Automatic Voting Machine Corporation in 1925) or that has been purchased (by Sequoia Voting Systems in 1984), the concept of "retaining the values of the company" is worth about as much as the bytes to store it.

But let's get to the meat of it: what political parties does Sequoia make donations to? Who do they lobby in the Federal government? How much money do they spend on lobbying? These are the questions that define the values of a company, not its "lineage". And regardless, the mechanical, electrical, and programmatic design of the system should be open-source from the beginning. The idea that an "elite few" people in Sequoia are among those responsible enough to keep the secret data is a recipe for abuse.

And this is about our election system: the very foundation upon which we have a representative government. Once that system is overturned, we will be living in a dictatorship no better than any puppet democracy anywhere else in the world.

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