regarding the # 1 link above on hacking the presidential election, quoting UC Berkeley professor David Wagner:
That's too bad, he said, because the ability to check whether your voting system has been hacked is of paramount importance. "Security is not the most important thing," he said. "What's more important for elections is auditability.
I completely agree and yet don't. I completely agree that the emphasis on security when a machine can be hacked in less than 5 miinutes (and some say in 1 minute) is somewhat of a fool's errand in the end, and that paper ballot security and frequent counting are the ONLY way to counter the problems that can occur with these machines.
I am quibbling with Wagner's terms because the frequent fast and loose use of the term "auditability" is making for some problems that I don't think many people fully appreciate. Unfortunately, auditability is NOT the most important thing, by itself. Once you have auditability, you actually have to meaningfully audit. The potential to meaningfully audit should the rainy day occur when no one has anything else to do is simply an opportunity for democracy postponed.
The average citizen looks at their state, sees "paper ballots," says, "Oh, we have paper ballots, I guess i can stop worrying," and then...stops worrying.
It is not enough to have the paper, and in fact paper ballots' presence can provide am unjustified false sense of security if the paper is not meaningfully audited. Key word "meaningfully".
In CT we have ballots under seal until day 14 after an election and audits start after day 15. Anyone think there's a little bit of an issue here? We have an old paper ballot statute that seays the ballots must be under lock and key for 180 days, but I am told it has been interpreted as inapplicable. Anyone think there's anything wrong with having no statute about the conditions of storage (type of containers, type of seals, limited access, complete logging of access, under seal at time of audit?) for those paper ballots?
The audit law carefully provides for re-sealing ballots after the audit is over, but apparently the statutes are being interpreted to say that th ey don't provide the ballots are under seal for the audit in the first place.
The audit law in CT makes it possible for the same people who originally reported election results to... audit those results! In a real audit, arms' length, neutral parties would conduct an audit, not the same people who reported results in the first place.
In CT, the Secretary of State never even sees the machine tapes --- only gets a transcribed list of the tape results on the moderator's return submitted at the time of the election. Then, the Secretary of State provides "oversight" for the "audit" conducted by the same people who reported the original results, and based on the numbers they wrote on the moderator's return, judges the audit to be in order or not. As a practical matter, anytime there is a possibility of fraud, the importance of source documents or "tracing" becomes key. You want to use actual, not derived numbers. Our state's audit oversight depends upon a derived number. Flawed, but perfectly legal.
There is also no law that appears to provide for the preservation of the machine tape. (NOTE: Federal elections are under US Code 1974 and specific retention guidelines are provided, so --- if anyone is actually paying attention --- the presidential election in theory is law-wise covered).
There is a quick explanation in the audit procedure outlining a methodology for counting the paper ballots in an audit, and that confusion becomes a factor in never quite clarifying how the machines are performing because, while the registrars and moderators somehow manage to get through the incredible complexities of running an election, somehow significant numbers of them within weeks manage not to be able to conduct a paper ballot count and fill in the paper work properly.
I have to say, I find the situation a bit ridiculous. And yet our SOTS called CT's audit law "one of the strictest in the nation".
If that's the case, we'd better all be very, very scared.
THAT is why I both agree and disagree with David Wagner. "Auditability" is only the starting point, and by no means the end point. It's what we DO with those paper ballots that determines whether they are either actual guardians of the voters' intent or mere voter confidence building devices that facilitate the use of the machine count as the official vote total. In reality, the number that is used for the election result is the number produced by the machines. The rest of it is just ceremonial at this point.
So, let CT be a cautionary tale --- if your state has paper ballots and audits, check the law carefully and the audit procedure carefully to see if they merit your confidence that the paper ballots will be used in a fundamentally meaningful way, or simply waved around and put back into a box.
I could write a rah-rah here for the noble efforts of activists and the state elections committee to change the law, or say what great people we have who don't need a law to follow Secretary of State procedures (I would differ), but I think it's helpful to draw a clear, precise line in the sand and say how the current situation IS, not how we hope it will be soon.
This IS the reality in CT today --- and maybe in your state, as well.