Thursday, March 25, 2004

Q & A

Q 1. What do you believe is the most important thing, from a technological or an administrative standpoint, that election commissions in U.S. could implement to ensure that the voting process is as reliable and accurate as possible?

To ensure that the voting process is as reliable and accurate as possible States must guarantee voters a way to vote using a secret ballot that will be counted as the voter intends.

Mail ballot elections require voters to cast a non-secret ballot that may or may not be counted. Electronic voting machines require voters to forfeit the opportunity to verify that their ballot contains the votes that they intend and the public from the opportunity to verify that ballots are counted accurately.

These two voting methods should be disallowed in the interest of reliable and accurate elections.

Q 2. There seems to be a debate currently going about methods of balloting. Some experts advocate touch-screen voting because it provides greater accessibility, but some believe it is more liable to be corrupted by tampering by hacking or other methods. And then some advocate optical scan machines. What are your thoughts on this? What do you believe is the best method of balloting that is both reliable and accessible?

The most secure and accurate record of votes is a full-ballot-text paper ballot. It is verifiable before it is cast by the voter into the ballot box, it provides a stub and poll book audit trail, and it can be recounted using independent counting methods/teams.

The best way to record the votes on a paper ballot is to use a vote marking machine. These machines print votes on preprinted ballots. They permit the voter to verify that votes are recorded as intended and eliminate over votes and unintentional under votes, reduce legibility problems, and provide a way for handicapped voters to vote in private.

The most accurate way to count the votes on paper ballots is a combination of non-destructive optical scan coupled with independently counted samples. In this process ballots are scanned and the complete ballot image is permanently written to a write once memory. People and computer software can inspect and analyze the votes on each ballot image and create a record of how the votes on each ballot are interpreted. People and computer software can count the votes on the interpreted records. This multi-step process is transparent and verifiable.

Q 3. I have been finding in my research that there is some concern about, as we move into more high-tech methods of balloting, that some parts of administering elections such as programming would be done by private sector vendors. Some believe there could be potential of conflicts of interest since private sector vendors are profit-oriented. What are your thoughts on this?

In the current line of voting and vote counting products, we are very concerned with private sector equipment suppliers. Their code is secret, and nobody can verify what is actually happening. Consequently election results can be erroneous due to defects or rigging. In the processes that I described above, vote recording and vote counting are transparent and verifiable. Consequently, I have much less concern with secret software.