PLUS: Sequoia's Spokehole Lies Again and Rush Holt Disappoints...
By Brad Friedman on 12/5/2006, 2:41am PT  

At a panel discussion this week at Rutgers University, an unusually frank admission was made by an Elections Official. Then, less surprisingly, a Voting Machine company spokesperson told a lie. And finally, Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) made a disappointing admission. All according to a report in New Jersey's Herald News.

New Jersey's Passaic County Clerk Karen Brown admitted --- out loud --- at the forum that she has no way to prove votes are counted accurately as reported by her Sequoia DRE [Direct Recording Electronic] touch-screen voting systems, since they employ proprietary software which she has no access to. Even after the election was certified, she expressed reservations:

"How do I prove that all of the votes have been counted properly? How do we determine whether the software is working properly?" Brown asked. "We have to rely on the vendor and their software."

We're happy to see another honest Election Official make herself heard and making a point we've been trying to make here for some time nonetheless. Such officials who tell the truth, out loud, are a far too-rare breed.

But there were problems in Brown's county. Amongst them, two voting districts where results where transferred electronically from the precinct to the clerk's office and the tallies failed to match the vote totals as reported by the machines.

Naturally, the spokeshole from Sequoia refused to take responsibility...For anything...

Michelle Shafer, a Sequoia spokeswoman, said that the company was not the manufacturer of the technology that transmitted the results to the county clerk's office and therefore could not vouch for its performance.

...Before going on to simply lie to the reporter with a few chestnuts or two, circa 2005, which have long since been discredited...

"It is very easy to manipulate elections with paper-based systems," Shafer said. "Electronic voting systems are far more reliable in terms of security, audit ability, and accessibility than paper-based systems. There has not been a case of proven or attempted fraud perpetrated on an electronic voting system in this country."

Apparently the boys at Sequoia forgot to inform Ms. Shafer that those particular dogs don't hunt much anymore. Particularly since even the conservative National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) debunked such nonsense in their recent paper [PDF] on recommended new voting system standards.

Not only did NIST point out that "a single programmer could 'rig' a major election" with a DRE system like the one made by Sequoia as used in Passaic, but they also went on to directly debunk the old Voting Machine apologists' saw that "there is no evidence of intentionally-introduced malicious code or fraud" in such systems.

To that contention they wrote that it does not "hold up against the enormous evidence of computer fraud that has occurred in other areas of IT [Information Technology] and that has or is likely to occur in voting systems, given the billions spent on elections as well as the rich history of electoral fraud."

They further go on to sensibly add that, "If a software dependent voting system such as the DRE cannot be tested to determine whether malicious code exists on the DRE or whether fraud has occurred, then one can’t make the argument that it hasn’t occurred."

Seems like a no-brainer. But then again, having a brain isn't necessarily a requirement for working for a Voting Machine Company, apparently.

For the record, NIST also goes on to point out that "the computer security community rejects the notion that DREs can be made secure."

Finally then, we were disappointed to see a reported comment from Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who was also on hand for the discussion at Rutgers. Holt's Election Reform Bill (HR550) has long had the most steam in the U.S. House, and stands a good chance of being passed --- barring any surprises or newly introduced bills from others --- in the next Congress.

His disappointing comment, as quoted by the Herald News, is in this following exchange [emphasis added]:

To Stuart Hutchison of Wayne, who was in the audience, there was an easy solution to all of the digital complications:

"We ought to look at doing away with the machines and have paper-only balloting," Hutchinson said.

But Holt said that now was "not a time to switch to paper balloting" due to the millions of dollars counties had already spent on electronic voting systems.

Excuse us? What price democracy, Mr. Holt?

If your state is using a voting system --- about which even the County Clerk who administers the election has said she cannot be certain the results are accurate --- are you honestly suggesting the system should be kept in place simply because it has already been bought and paid for?!

If that's the reason that America can't do away with such DRE systems --- which even NIST's committee recommends against --- we are less than moved by the argument.

We're open-minded to whatever the updated HR550 might look like, but if discredited and failed DRE's are still to be allowed, we hope there's a far more compelling reason you're prepared to offer than "hey, we bought this junk already, so we gotta use it."

Speaking of dogs that no longer hunt...

UPDATE 12/8/06 2:42pm PT: Rep. Rush Holt has now responded to this article in a comment posted below. As his reply is quite notable, we've reposted it in full, with context and our response in this new article.