GA Electronic Voting Hearing

The Georgia State Election Board has been holding a series of hearings about electronic voting across the state. Yesterday, I testified in Macon about voter-verified paper audit trails and electronic voting. The panel before me–with Election Supervisors Lyn Bailey from Richmond County and Nancy Boren from Muscogee County–was quite good. Lyn explained the security procedures used at the local level to maintain the chain of custody and integrity of the electronic voting machines in the state. Nancy did a very dynamic presentation explaining the differences between punch card, optical scan, and electronic voting and how paper systems involve a two stage voting process–the voter votes but the machine or poll worker interprets the vote–but DREs have a one-stage process.

I talked about public attitudes regarding voter verification and election auditing. My entire presentation is available here, but the key questions I raised are below.

There are several issues associated with auditing elections.

· First, the state needs to determine the purpose of the audit. If the purpose of the audit is to identify the likelihood that fraud has occurred in a given race, then the counties will have to audit a high percentage of ballots in small population races and a slightly lower percentage in races that are statewide. In local partisan races, it might be necessary to audit almost 100 percent of ballots to be confident to a statistical 99 percent confidence level that the election was free of fraud. For statewide races, it might be necessary to do a smaller, but still substantial percentage of ballots to ensure that no fraud occurred.

· Second, the state will need to have chain of custody requirements for the VVPAT canisters. This would include legally binding standards for sealing the canister before the election, running a zero-report on the tape before voting commences, securing the canisters after the election, and securing the tapes once the election is complete.

· Third, the state will need to determine explicitly what the legal status of the VVPAT is going to be should a discrepancy arise. Given that we know that there will be jams and problems with the paper, states need to have a process or legal standard set forth for handling paper tapes that are damaged and how such ballots will be handled in a recount or audit. Related to this, the state statute needs to explicitly state if the VVPAT is to be used strictly for audits or as a ballot form.

· Fourth, the state should treat paper ballots—in Georgia’s case, provisional or absentee ballots—the same as electronic ballots for auditing purposes. There are numerous examples—such as the 2000 election in Florida—demonstrating that the need for auditing elections is as great for paper-based voting as it is for electronic voting.

· Fifth, should the audit turn up a problem, the state needs to have explicit requirements for what next steps should be followed. For example, if the state conducts a one-percent audit and there is an error found in a single race, is the entire race audited 100 percent? Is that audit conducted statewide or just within the jurisdiction where the error is found?

· Sixth, the state should determine if it also plans to do real-time auditing by implementing parallel monitoring. California provides an example of how such a system can be implemented.