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General Election Software Never to Be Examined
August 2004 Software Installed to Handle Consolidated Ballots

What is the Problem?

The integrity of Washington's November election is at risk!

New election software was recently installed to count over half the votes of Washington State. It was rapidly developed, minimally tested, and never examined by an independent authority. It was used in the primary and, if we don't do something about it, it will be used for the November election as well.

Why is the New Software a Risk?

The new software carries three significant risks:

1) Maximum potential for error because the software revisions were rushed and uncertified.

2) Maximum potential for insider fraud because the software revisions were developed after the candidate list was known, and the source code was not examined by an independent tester.

3) High risk of legal challenges and delays to the election. Both major parties are lining up lawyers preparing to challenge questionable results, so the state is now vulnerable to expensive lawsuits based on very real grounds.

How Did This Happen?

Six Washington counties chose to combine all three primary elections on one "consolidated" ballot for the September election. But they needed new election software to handle the new ballot, and there wasn't time to certify the software as required by Washington State law.

Nevertheless, in June, with Secretary of State Sam Reed's blessing, these counties contracted with voting system vendors — Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia — to develop vote-counting software that was, at the time, illegal to use in an election in Washington.

Later, on July 16, Secretary Reed made it legal by overruling state law. Shortly after that, counties representing over half the population of the state installed hurriedly developed, inadequately tested election software that has not been federally certified.

While Secretary Reed has dispensed with certification rules our lawmakers set up to safeguard our votes, he has done nothing at all to establish new rules to ensure the accuracy of the election results. In fact, he forbid the county election directors to conduct the manual checks recommended by experts for this specific situation.

Several Washington citizen organizations have tried to reason with him, but to no avail. Even state legislators have joined in the struggle to bring logic to this situation.

But Secretary Reed and others with authority over our election systems — State Director of Elections Nick Handy, King County Director of Elections Dean Logan, Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy, Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn — are putting the integrity of our elections at risk by installing last-minute patches to the electronic voting systems, bypassing state certification laws, and then conducting nothing more than miniscule manual recounts if the party observers request them.

Unless they rethink this decision soon, the same last-minute software will count over half of Washington's votes in November.

What is the Remedy?

RCW 29A.60.200 charges canvassing boards with verifying the results of from precinct and absentee ballots. As provided by state law [RCW 29A.60.140, section (4)] canvassing boards should adopt and implement administrative rules for robust recounts of the primary election before they certify the results.

The new software should be removed from the machines for the November election and replaced with the fully tested versions that were qualified by Independent Testing Authorities (ITA). There is no technical reason that this cannot be accomplished if done so quickly.

What Action Can You Take?

Time is running out. Act now!!

1) Call your county council members or commissioners and insist that they remove the software prior to the November election.

Chelan County Council

Klickitat Commission

King County Council

Pierce County Council

Kitsap County Commission

Snohomish County Council

2) Write letters to the editors of newspapers and tell them you are concerned about this issue. For editorial links, click here.

3) Copy the "What is the Problem?" section above and email it to at least 10 people you think should know about this or might be concerned about this issue. Include a link to this site.

Additional FAQ

Q: I heard Secretary of State Sam Reed on The Conversation, on KUOW, recently. He said that this software was certified. How do you know it’s not?

A: We have documents from Election Systems and Software that clearly state that the software used in Pierce and Kitsap Counties has never been tested or inspected by an official Independent Test Authority. We also have statements from Paul Miller of the State Elections Office who has told us the software is NOT federally certified. We also have letters from Dean Logan, the King County Elections Director, and from Nick Handy, the State Elections Director; who both state that the software is not federally certified.

Q: I read in the Seattle Post Intelligencer that Secretary Reed says the new software will be federally certified by November. Isn't that the reassurance we need?

A: Secretary Reed's statement is contradicted by a letter from his office to VotersUnite! It is also contradicted by the Statement of Work from ES&S to Pierce County and by verbal statements made by Paul Miller and Bill Huennekens to John Gideon and Ellen Theisen.

In addition, since the federal certification process normally takes a minimum of six months, and since the vendors have not yet submitted it, it would be impossible for it to be certified by an ITA before November.

Q: I called my county council member and they told me this software has been through rigorous testing. Why do you say their testing is insufficient?

A: Even diligent controlled testing does not guarantee that the product will perform reliably during an election. As page 23 of a report from a recent Harvard University symposium on voting systems points out:

Testing is necessary but not sufficient for a well-run election. Testing is never perfect, as it can overlook certain factors or interactions that may be easier to detect in hindsight. Systems interact with each other in unpredictable ways, often impossible to detect in a reasonable battery of tests.

The report unequivocally states, "testing before the vote cannot verify accuracy of final tally," and declares, "Equipment testing does not displace the need for outcome auditing."

In fact, during the primary election this week, Clark County, Nevada experienced the very problem that concerns us. A new feature was added to the previous version of the Sequoia software, and the Registrar of Voters is still working to resolve problems caused by an error they believe was introduced during the change. Incidentally, the revised software was even qualified by an ITA.

Q: I was told the software was necessary to accommodate the new primary system.

A: In his explanation of the reasons for the new software installation, the only reason provided by State Director of Elections Nick Handy was that it was necessary to handle new functions required by the consolidated ballot. King County Director of Elections Dean Logan has said that it would have been required in King County even if the county used the four-ballot option. All the other auditors have told VotersUnite! that it was required only to accommodate the consolidated ballot.

The counties choosing the four-ballot option did not revise their software. The auditor of San Juan County, which used Diebold equipment (as does King County) chose the four-ballot option in order not to revise the software so close to an election.

Q: I thought electronic voting issues were only about touch screen voting machines.

A: Not at all. Certainly the loudest outcry has been in protest of touch screen machines, since they provide no evidence that votes were recorded correctly and there is no way to do a meaningful recount of the votes. However, optical scan machines are also electronic vote-counting devices, and they votes collected by them are processed through the central accumulator, which is also computerized.

All software contains errors. That's an undisputed fact. Optical scan software and accumulation software have been the cause of many election miscounts and malfunctions. The benefit of using optical scan equipment is that there is a paper record of each person's vote. But if that paper record is not used to manually check the accuracy of the electronic tally, the benefit is lost.

Optical Scan machines count the majority of all ballots cast in the state of Washington. All mail-in and absentee ballots are read by optical scan machines. In King and Pierce Counties, some ballots are read at the poll site using optical scan machines. Presently, in the state of Washington, only Snohomish and Yakima Counties use touch screen voting machines and even those counties count a majority of their ballots on optical scan machines.

Since manual recounts are rarely done in Washington, we have no way of knowing if the machines have been counting the votes correctly. If significant recounts are not done to check this new, last-minute software, we will have no way of knowing whether or not the votes were counted correctly.

Q: What is ITA (Independent Test Authority) Certification?

A: Technically, the procedure is called "qualification" since it qualifies the equipment for certification by the states. ITA qualification has been a requirement for all voting systems in the state of Washington. Qualification is garnered by the vendors when they write new software or build new voting machine hardware. For a software qualification, the vendor gives the ITA a copy of the software and instructions on how to do the test and inspection. The ITA then inspects and tests the product and submit the results to the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED) who officially qualify the component.

According to past Washington State Election Law and Administrative Code, this qualification was required prior to using any voting system or system component. The state was also required to follow that qualification up with local testing and state certification and by a requirement that any system or system component was used in another state previously. These requirements were all changed in order to use the software on the machines in six counties.

Background Info — Letters and Details

1) Correspondence between VotersUnite! and the Secretary of State's office.

August 24: Initial letter mailed from VotersUnite! to 200 Washington State leaders explaining the concerns shared by several citizen groups about the new software installed in six counties for the primary election.

August 24: Detailed explanation mailed with the initial letter.

August 31: Response from Director of Elections Nick Handy, presumably mailed to the recipients of the initial letter.

September 13: Response from VotersUnite! to Director Handy.

2) Letters from experts.

Dr. Barbara Simons

Dr. David Dill

Dr. Douglas Jones

3) Correspondence between Ellen Theisen (VotersUnite!) and King County Director of Elections Dean Logan.

August 11: From Ellen Theisen: Questions to Dean Logan regarding the new software installed in King County.

August 11: From Dean Logan: Acknowledgement of Ellen Theisen's letter of August 11.

August 28: From Ellen Theisen: Open Records Request to King County.

September 7: From Dean Logan: Response to Ellen Theisen's questions of August 11.

September 9: From Ellen Theisen: Response to Dean Logan's letter of September 7.

4) September 14: Letter from Linda Franz of Whatcom County to Director Nick Handy.

If the public or election official has any question
over the results of an election,
a hand count of the optical paper ballot provides the truth.
~ Ion Sancho,
Leon County Florida Supervisor of Elections

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