Author Archives: inelefi

Three New Articles on Convenience Voting and Participation

The latest issue of Election Law Journal includes three interesting articles on mobile polling, permanent vote-by-mail, all-mail voting, and the impact of convenience voting innovations on voter turnout.

The first article, by Jason Karlawish, Charlie Sabatino, Deborah Markowitz, Jonathan Rubright, Ellen Klem, and Robert Boruch, is titled “Bringing the Vote to Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities: A Study of the Benefits and Challenges of Mobile Polling.” It evaluates the advantages and challenges of mobile polling for increasing voter access, ensuring proper assistance, and improving the ability to vote independently, for senior citizens living in long-term care facilities. Here is part of the abstract:

One solution to the problems of voting in long-term care is mobile polling, a process whereby election officials bring the ballot to residents of long-term care facilities, provide voters assistance when needed, and register voters as well. This study compared mobile polling to voting as usual in selected nursing homes in the State of Vermont during the U.S. 2008 general election. Results show that among election officials and nursing homes willing to try mobile polling, it is feasible and generally well accepted by long-term care staff, residents, and election officials; reduces concerns of voter fraud and manipulation; and enhances residents’ dignity and rights.

For a recent press release regarding this article, see Paul’s previous post.

The second article, by Nathan Monroe and Dari Sylvester, is titled “Who Converts to Vote-By-Mail? Evidence From a Field Experiment.” It reports the results of a field experiment conducted in San Joaquin County, California, designed to measure the effectiveness of postcards facilitating conversion to permanent vote-by-mail (VBM) status. Here is an extract from the introduction:

In this article, we begin unpacking the dynamics behind the VBM choice.

  • After a state or county adopts VBM, will lowering the cost of signing up convert significant numbers of new voters to become permanent VBM voters?
  • When VBM does convert new voters, what types of citizens will be most likely to adopt VBM through the low-cost option?

To answer these questions, we combined a field experiment with supplemental survey research. […] We found that citizens who received information on VBM and opportunities to become VBM voters—in the form of already-filled-out postcards—are more likely to convert to that voting method […], and found that traditionally ‘high propensity’ voting groups were more responsive to the postcard.

The third article, by Toby James, is titled “Fewer Costs, More Votes? United Kingdom Innovations in Election Administration 2000–2007 and the Effect on Voter Turnout.” It offers a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of election administration pilots, conducted in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2007, on voter turnout. Some of the convenience voting and election-security reforms considered in the article include: all-mail voting, by-mail voting on demand, Internet voting, extended voting hours, individual registration, and photographic identification requirements. Here is an extract from the introduction:

This article draws from local and strategic evaluations by the U.K. Electoral Commission, reports from local authorities, and research by independent academics to provide an overall assessment of what can be learned, if anything, about the causes of non-participation in elections from the Labour government’s reforms. The article argues that poor experimental design makes solid inferences difficult, but there is some evidence that election administration affects levels of participation in ways not fully appreciated in the existing British literature. The research findings broadly mirror those from the U.S. literature, suggesting some degree of external validity. This provides a reason to test the effects of variations in election administration in non-Anglo-American settings.

Elections in the News

Most news sources informed that things went smoothly on Election Day, although there were several reports of isolated irregularities. The Wall Street Journal described the election as “largely free of high-profile voting problems or irregularities.” The Washington Post mentioned that “by the end of the day, few verifiable allegations of major voter intimidation or fraud had been lobbed” and that “most complaints were pedestrian.” Similarly, ABC News concluded that “there were numerous reports of small voting problems, but nothing consistent in terms of a national trend.” (Additional summaries can be found here and here.)

Nonetheless, there were scattered complaints of voter intimidation, problems with voting equipment, voter fraud at the polls, use of robocalls to spread misinformation in an attempt to disenfranchise minorities, poor poll worker training, late opening of polling places, and registration problems. Below is a summary of some of the most salient cases and complaints reported across the country.

In Nevada, Angle filed a complaint concerning intimidation and coercion of state casino workers (read story here). Regarding the earlier complaint of voting machines preselecting candidates during the early voting period, election officials reported that “operator error and uncoordinated machine screen malfunctions appear to be responsible for the complaints.”

In New York, even though there were scattered cases of malfunctioning optical scanners and complaints of lack of poll worker training (for instance the New York Times reported that “some voters grumbled that election workers still seemed confused about what procedures to follow” and a polling place coordinator told WNYC that workers “are people who worked 10-20 years at our poll site, but they are afraid of the machine, they don’t take the training of the scanner”), most news sources agree that the incidence of these problems was lower than in the September primary election (you can find some of these stories here, here, here, and here).

In Pennsylvania, there were complaints of vote flipping caused by poorly calibrated touch-screen machines. According to The New Republic these problems happen when “a voter touches the screen to vote for one candidate and the screen registers the other candidate instead” (read full story here). Also, late opening and long lines were reported in polling places in Pittsburgh. In one of them “a judge ordered several more voting machines to be brought in.”

In California, The Sacramento Bee reported that the Los Angeles registrar office received unconfirmed reports of robocalls and mailers aimed at misinforming Latino voters about the day of the election (further details about these allegations can be found here). Moving to a different state, there were also allegations of attempts at misinforming voters in Kansas, where robocalls were reportedly used to tell voters that “they need to bring their voter registration card to the polls as well as proof of home ownership in order to cast a ballot — neither of which is true. The calls also state the election date as Nov. 3.”

There were also isolated allegations of voter fraud. For instance, a CNN story described a complaint of voting rights violations in Minnesota. Specifically, “prosecutors in the northern city of Brainerd were looking into a report that staffers at a home for the mentally handicapped were filling out absentee ballots for patients last week.” And in California, AP reported that a poll worker was arrested “on suspicion of stealing up to 75 ballots, a voting roster and other election materials in a bizarre heist.”

Also, several news sources reported that final results could be delayed in states with large number of write-in, overseas, regular absentee and provisional ballots, such as Alaska, California, and Ohio. The Washington Post announced that “too-close-to-call vote counts, the complications of military and mail-in ballots and, in one notable case, a surging write-in campaign are all likely to leave as many questions as answers in some of the most competitive House, Senate and governor’s races across the country.”

Final results could also be delayed in races in North Carolina and Oakland where Instant Runoff Voting (sometimes called Alternative Vote or Ranked Choice Voting) was used for the first time, or in the City of San Francisco where the system has been in use since 2004 (read story here).

Elections in the News

In Boulder City, Nevada, a voter complained about electronic voting irregularities, claiming that the name of one of the candidates had been pre-selected. However, Larry Lomax, Clark County Registrar of Voters said that the problem “was never brought to the attention of the workers or poll watchers.” Additionally, “Lomax noted that the machines can be quite sensitive, causing voters to accidentally mark the wrong candidate, but that the machines provide ample opportunity for changing to the desired choice.”

Some days ago, there were reports of electronic voting machines flipping votes in North Carolina, as well as of voter intimidation in Harris County, Texas.

An ABC News story reports on the Boulder City incident as well as other “complaints about voter fraud, intimidation and dirty tricks,” including the suspension of the Daytona Beach city commissioner on allegations of absentee-voter fraud that Mike posted about last Monday. The Greeley Gazette has another story about absentee-voting irregularities.

There are also stories about court rulings ahead of Election Day. The Minnesota Independent reports that a judged refused “to issue a restraining order allowing tea partiers and vote-fraud monitors to wear ‘Please ID Me’ buttons and t-shirts with tea party slogans in polling places on Tuesday.”


Here are the titles and short descriptions of some of the papers presented at the workshop.

E-Voting and Forensics: Prying Open the Black Box
Authors: Matt Bishop, Sean Peisert, Candice Hoke, Mark Graff and David Jefferson

The authors describe the application of a model of forensic logging. They argue that Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) “do not provide enough information to be computer forensic audit trails… For example, they do not provide enough information to explain a discrepancy between electronic (computer-produced) and paper ballot vote counts. A forensic audit trail (FAT) requires data.” To address the problem, they develop a model of forensic logging called Laocoön:

The result of using the model is that it can aid in understanding and linking events into steps of a system failure, and helps to place bounds on the conditions that lead to an unusual or unexpected step in a failure.

Some Consequences of Paper Fingerprinting for Elections
Authors: Joseph A. Calandrino, William Clarkson and Edward W. Felten

The authors point out that “individual pieces of paper can be fingerprinted and reidentified,” and characterize the risks and opportunities exhibited by voting systems making use of paper records of individual ballots. They conclude that:

Paper fingerprinting poses both challenges and opportunities for election officials. This paper outlines several threats to ballot secrecy due to recent advances in paper identification and suggests mitigation strategies to counter these threats. While the most obvious consequences of paper identification are negative, it can also help improve election integrity. Fingerprints can enable an efficient post-election audit process and help detect and prevent additional threats to election integrity.

Electing a University President using Open-Audit Voting: Analysis of real-world use of Helios (EVT/WOTE ’09 Best Paper Award)
Authors: Ben Adida, Olivier de Marneffe, Olivier Pereira and Jean-Jacques Quisquater

This paper describes the application of a new version of the Helios web-based open-audit voting system to the election of the President of the Université catholique de Louvain.

Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me: Using Scales to Select Ballots for Auditing
Authors: Cynthia Sturton, Eric Rescorla and David Wagner

The authors suggest a method for increasing the efficiency of ballot based audits (where the audit units are single ballots, instead of precincts or machines), which solves the problem of finding the sampled paper ballot in the ballot stack.

On the Security of Election Audits with Low Entropy Randomness
Author: Eric Rescorla

The paper evaluates the security of methods which can be used for selecting audit units. Specifically, the author considers methods which use physical devices to seed randomness tables or random number generators. He concludes that these methods…

…may be susceptible to pre-analysis by attackers who can select audit units to attack which are unlikely to be audited. In such cases, randomized audits may not deliver their intended detection probability and significantly more units must be audited in order to attain the desired detection probability.

Implementing Risk-Limiting Post Election Audits in California
Authors: Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Luke W. Miratrix, Philip B. Stark, Melvin Briones, Elaine Ginnold, Freddie Oakley, Martin Peaden, Gail Pellerin, Tom Stanionis and Tricia Webber

The paper reports the results of pilot risk-limiting audits in elections in three California counties.

There were several other interesting papers and presentations. For instance, two papers discuss the vulnerabilities of the Sequoia AVC Advantage DRE voting machine. One paper shows that these machines are vulnerable to a variety of attacks, including installation of fraudulent firmware (through replacement of ROM chips or “viral propagation through audio-ballot cartridges”) and manipulation of result cartridges . The other paper shows that even though these machines have defenses against code injection, the software can be manipulated through return-oriented-programming, “an exploitation technique that allows an attacker who controls the stack to combine short instruction sequences already present in the system…, from which he can synthesize any desired behavior.”

The full workshop program can be found here.



I am attending the 2009 Electronic Voting Technology Workshop/Workshop on Trustworthy Elections (EVT/WOTE ’09) in Montreal, organized by David Jefferson (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), Joseph Lorenzo Hall (University of California, Berkeley/Princeton University) and Tal Moran (Harvard University). Thus far I’ve seen a couple of very interesting presentations. Yesterday there were sessions about usability, security and election forensics; today we are listening about voting cryptography, and audits; and the workshop will close after a session of system demos. Right now I’m listening to Ariel J. Feldman (Princeton University) talk about “Subliminal Channels in Encrypt-on-Cast Voting Systems.” Later I’ll post a summary of some of the papers presented at the workshop…


Elections in the News

Looking Forward to 2012

Before Election Day had even begun, predictions and suggestions for future elections were already prevalent:

When Michael McDonald (George Mason University) was asked how voting procedures would change for 2012, he answered that the long lines may cause more states to adopt early voting, including Maryland. He also mentioned a bill sponsored by Rep Davis (CA) which, if passed, would federally mandate early voting. Based on the trajectory of federal election policies such as the Voting Rights Act and HAVA, he predicted that eventually “we’ll have uniform voting and registration methods in the United States.”

Rick Hasen (Loyala) predicted that, although “it is doubtful if we will see fundamental and wide-reaching changes to the way we run presidential elections, such as universal voter registration and nonpartisan election administration,” there will be some improvements for 2012. He suggests that Congress will clarify the “matching” confusion created by HAVA, which has resulted in wide spread litigation. He also says that “election administration competence” will receive more attention, which will place Congressional focus on “better planning and coordination among the patchwork of local and state agencies charged with administering our federal elections.” In the end, although he predicts election administration will improve, it will still be “no nirvana.”

An article citing several election experts, including Michael Alvarez and Charles Stewart III, suggests that future elections will have more early voting, with a voting period as opposed to one election day. They also suggest more mail-in voting and, at least in the short term, more optical scan voting, while acknowledging that internet and cell phone voting are on their way. Lastly, they believe policies surrounding provisional voting will be clarified and that voter registration will become easier, through online registration and/or automatic registration via the Census Bureau.

Research from Colorado College, suggests that counties with large victories will likely stay with their chosen voting technology, whereas those with smaller margins will be much more likely adopt a new technology. They also find that Democratic counties are more likely to change voting methods than Republican counties, even when both have large margins of victory.

Speaking of new technology, Cattaraugus County, NY has decided it is finally time to retire their decades old lever machines. “The half-ton, gray and light green voting machines and their plaid curtains will disappear after today’s general election and will be replaced by smaller, electronic ballot-counting devices.”



Elections in the News

Looking Back on Election Day

Although votes are still being counted (see Fulton County, FL where poll workers took the night off), for the most part the process of counting votes has gone relatively quickly. In Multnomah County, OR, a county said to be slowing Oregon’s final tally, they counted ballots through the night at a rate of 6,500 ballots an hour. Of course, with provisional ballot counting likely to extend for a couple of weeks, it will be awhile before final vote tallies are reported.

Of course, this does not stop the “final-word” analysis of election administration! The Associated Press reports that as a whole we are “inching our way toward a better electoral system,” as states institute back-up plans, have extra machines and poll workers available, and offer early voting. Early voting appears to have been such a success that The New York Times calls on states to allow two to three weeks for early voting in future elections. The LA Times reports on the successful use of registrar “SWAT teams” which are mobilized to fix polling place problems.

Despite these successes, after speaking with computer scientists, PCWorld says there is still room for improvement. These improvements should subsume “strict national standards on security,” including “fully tested voting machines that reliably perform their functions, backup plans and well-trained poll workers.” However, in the end, after reviewing problems in key states, some still suggest that all the fear before Election Day was ultimately “Much ado about nothing”.


Elections in the News

Counting issues

  • Colorado (Boulder): A problem with “paper dust” (small specks and particles that do not allow ballots to be scanned correctly) in mail-in ballots could slow down the count. The problem implies that poll workers have to go through each ballot. The county had experienced a surge in mail-in ballots of which about 24% had been counted by 7 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Colorado (El Paso): Vote counting was suspended because poll workers had to evacuate the building due to a fire alarm. Later, AP reported that vote-counters were allowed back into the building.
  • Florida: “Scattered problems with optical scan machines, which count the ballots, and malfunctioning electronic signature pads were the most common complaints reported across the state.” For more on Florida, check out this link.
  • Florida (Collier): According to Collier Supervisor of Elections, “about 1,000 ballots have white blemishes in the tracking area on the left hand margin that won’t allow them to be read by the vote-scanning machines that count the ballots. The blemishes are blamed on manufacturer’s error. (…) To correct the problem, Collier elections officials voted to use black, felt pens to correct the white marks. The corrections will be made at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Supervisor of Elections Office, and will be open to the public.”
  • Florida (Hillsborough): At 10:45 p.m. “the county’s scanning machines were having a transmission problem sending in their results to the Election Services Center.” It appears like the problem will take sometime to be solved. The Supervisor of Elections “seemed to blame Premier Election Solutions, the vendor the county hired to scan the votes, for the problems (Tuesday’s night).”
  • Idaho (Cassia, Bannock and Buttle): A surge of voters created the need for extra ballots, so the counties decided to make photocopies. According to Idaho’s Secretary of State, this implies that the affected counties “may have to run some copies of the ballots and then end up hand-counting them. (…) If the ballot shortage spreads, it could cause counting problems. Hand-counting is a manageable problem in rural counties, but it can dramatically slow the results in more populated precincts.”
  • Ohio (Cleveland): A member of a civil-rights organization said that a scanning machine malfunctioned during early Tuesday. Later, he returned to the polling place because “he was concerned that his vote wouldn’t be counted and got into an argument with an elections worker.” Apparently, he was later arrested “on charges of resisting arrest, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.” According to Cuyahoga Board of Elections chairman, “some voter came in three or four times concerned about a vote (…) At some point, a poll worker called police and said, ‘Hey, enough’s enough.'”
  • Pennsylvania (Philadelphia): A voter rights group requested emergency ballots being counted after the polls close because they considered “illegal and unconstitutional to put off counting the emergency paper ballots when other regular votes are tallied within hours.” However, a judge rejected the request.
  • West Virginia (Marion): Scanning machines broke down. As a result “ballots were in from 61 of the county’s 76 precincts by 9 p.m., but Commissioner Wayne Stutler said there was no telling when they might be counted.” According to AP, this “appeared to be the most serious challenge in an electoral day otherwise marked by only minor, inconsequential problems.”

Inés and Janell

Summary of Election Day problems (or lack thereof…)

Wednesday morning the news is that there is relatively little of it, which likely means a victory for election administration.  The New York Times reports on a few scattered problems, but acknowledges that there were no “catastrophic failures.”  Here are a few other end-of-day summary reports of problems from across the nation, with special focus on battleground states. They all list the few-and-far-between election problems, ultimately conceding an election well-run.

There were a few minor poll worker partisanship problems in Indiana, and accusations of illegally removing challengers from polling places in Michigan.

Some news is still coming out of Virginia about the NAACP’s lost lawsuit, and some Virginian county election officials blamed their Election Day problems on record turnout, which they say they did not predict.  Interesting, since everyone else predicted it.  Chicago area counties reported no major problems, as did Wisconsin.  In Ohio, Secretary of State Brunner was very happy things went so smoothly, despite the fact that she received death threats and is currently being sued.

As we look back to past election debacles, it is nice to know election administrators appear to have learned from them, and hopefully from the research they have inspired.  And, with the voting technology performing with so few problems, maybe voting machines really were the real winner!

However, despite the relative ease with which the election was carried out, “there’s still work that can be done to improve the voting process and voting technology….[T]he nation’s top election official said she’s confident that voting systems can be improved and that elections can run more smoothly.”  Which means election researchers experts can keep their day jobs!