Arizona, Electronic Voting Machines (Diebold) and New Information.

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

Technology is a beautiful thing. That said, however, it has its problems. One of the biggest of which is security. We’ve all seen the news headlines about privacy breaches — from security experts trying to halt filesharing to major banks getting hacked. So, perhaps it should not be surprising that Electronic Voting Machines and their security has become a major issue. Initially embraced as a solution to the 2000 Election’s clinging chad scandal, Electronic Voting Machines seem to have made things worse instead of better. I for one, will be demanding a paper ballot in the upcoming primary and presidential elections and am extremely concerned by the widespread use of EVMs across the U.S., especially given a lot of the information available that has led me to believe that the last two U.S. Presidential elections have been tampered with/fixed illegally.

Eager to do my part, I decided to get pro-active and fired off an e-mail to my local elections office. After several days and a lot of frustration I struck gold. Instead of recounting the rest I’m just going to re-post my e-mails. Starting with my 3rd attempt which led to detailed responses that were full of information, efficient, and left me better educated and impressed.

From: Alex Berger
Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008
To: voterinfo
Subject: Election Questions & Website Issues

Good morning,

This is my third inquiry about voting technology employed in Arizona. My first e-mail was sent using the official website’s form on Friday the 11th to which I still have not received a reply. My second e-mail was returned (see forwarded notes below) earlier this morning based on a bad e-mail address listed on the site.

My original question: As a registered voter and in light of recent information that has been published I would like to confirm Arizona’s stance on electronic voting machines. Are/will there be any in use this year?

If so, can you confirm that I have the right to request and utilize a paper ballot in locations where those machines may be in use?

Also, please be aware that the URL to the Maricopa County Elections Website is broken here: http://www.azsos.gov/election/county.htm#Maricopa the URL directs users to: http://recorder.maricopa.gov/elections.aspx and in light of my returned e-mail the contact information should be checked.

PLEASE do something about the website issues, accuracy and response time. As a young voter this has been both a frustrating and discouraging experience.

Thank you in advance for your prompt response,
Alex Berger

RESPONSE:

Alex, let me first start by apologizing about the initial inconvenience in attempting to contact us. It is definitely not our intent to frustrate anyone and we always strive to quickly respond to all requests and inquiry.

In answer to your inquires regarding the voting technology employed in Arizona, the answer is that the equipment used in Maricopa County, Arizona is a mix of optical scan and Direct Recording Equipment (DRE). At the polling place locations, voters that do not request the use of the touch screen voting device are issued a paper optical scan ballot. This is a paper ballot that is feed into a electronic reading device to capture the votes cast from this optical scan ballot.

When you ask if you can request a paper ballot, this is what the optical scan ballot is. Arizona does utilize DRE voting devices at the polling place locations but they are primarily reserved for voters who wish to utilize them because they provide access to Audio and Large Print ballots, for sight impaired voters.

All of the equipment that is used in Arizona has been certified through the certified testing labs established by the Election Assistance Commission (the Federal Agency in charge of establishing vote equipment standards and guidelines). Arizona has gone one step above this standard by also requiring local certification through the Secretary of States Office and the additional requirement of pre and post logic and accuracy testing, as observed by the Secretary of State certification group and representatives from each of the recognized political parties.

I am uncertain as to what information you are referring to that was published that brought “light” on the equipment that is specifically used in Arizona. If you wish to elaborate or have specific questions regarding the equipment, process or procedures, please feel free to reply directly to this email and I will attempt to respond to such.

In regards to the URL issue, the link mentioned is a link that is on the Secretary of State’s Office official website and not a site maintained by Maricopa County. Nonetheless, I have notified them of the needed correction to that URL that points to our website to which they have already responded that they will update such.

As for the email address issue, I have sent your email to our IT Department for further research. We have been receiving email from this specific email address listed but the IT department will do additional research into any possible outages or other circumstance that may have caused this error.

Again, I apologize for the issue you had with attempting to initially contact us. Hopefully the information was what was requested and if clarification or additional information is needed, please feel free to reply.

Sincerely,

Reynaldo Valenzuela Jr.
Assistant Director of Elections
Maricopa County Elections Department
510 South 3rd Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85003

Wow – so at this point I was impressed. To be honest, I’d been expecting a vague answer and a lot of run around. Especially after all the previous issues I’d had. Definitely not the case at all. Starting to feel a bit better about things, I followed up:

Rey,

Thank you for your prompt and in depth reply. It’s greatly appreciated and has relieved several of my concerns.

Without getting too far off topic, at 22 and as an active voter, the last two presidential elections have been very difficult. Especially with what occurred in Florida and a number of the news accounts/data that have surfaced about Ohio. With the 08 election quickly approaching and the issues currently under review concerning the NH primary my concerns over how the 00′ & 04′ elections were resolved has really left me feeling uneasy. Especially given the lack of security that goes along with any type of computer.

I’m a firm believer that my rights as an American citizen is dependant on not only my vote, but also doing everything Ican to ensure that the processes is not tampered with. As Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”

While far from thrilled to hear that Arizona is using DRE Voting Devices, I am relieved to hear that they are used predominantly as a by-request service. Also, though I still worry about how the machines are tested, it is great news that Arizona has worked to add additional state standards.

Part of what really concerned me (I don’t have most of the articles on hand at the moment):
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/06/magazine/06Vote-t.html?
http://www.bbvforums.org/cgi-bin/forums/board-auth.cgi?file=/1954/71287.html
(The process not the results per say covered in the comments – not the initial post)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ysheRLXuhA
(Footage after 2:40)
http://itpolicy.princeton.edu/voting/

None of it concerns Arizona specifically, but as an Arizona resident I feel I need to do everything I possibly can to educate myself while helping and supporting you and the other election officials as you work to make sure everything happens the way it should. Especially as I work with friends to explore ways to get more young voters involved (eg: http://facebook.com/group.php?gid=8000575754– currently at 616 members) On that note I’m sure you’re swamped so I’ll stop there. Thank you again for your thorough response and quick action. I’ll definitely pass on what I’ve learned.

Regards,
Alex Berger

RESPONSE:

Eric [Alex], it is good to see you so proactive in the process and it is always good to be informed.

Each article written does not necessarily constitute validity of the claims made by any group. For one example, an advocacy group did an open ended test of one type of voting equipment and found that they were able to manipulate the machine results. What was failed to be presented in the synopsis or reported was that the group conducting the test was given complete access to the machine along with all of the enabling software and supplemental equipment. Several other agencies and experts stated that this type of testing creates flawed results and generates so called threats that are not present in a real world environment. An analogy was drawn that if you gave someone the keys to a bank, removed all of the guards, turned off all of the alarms and cameras, opened up the vault and left the lights on – that in this situation all banks are vulnerable and unsafe. So to can be said of any voting equipment – remove all safeguards built in to the machine, the process and the procedure and the machine is vulnerable.

In the case of the California and Florida decertification, several voting equipment models were decertified. The model that is in use (Sequioa EDGE & EDGE II+) in Maricopa County was in this list of decertified equipment. According to the California documentation, the specific deficiencies found in the equipment of the same model used here in Maricopa County was that the equipment did not produce any Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). Without this, the voter could not verify themselves that the votes cast were as they intended and moreover there would be no paper trail to recreate the election should something come into question. Again, reemphasizing how proactive Arizona and Maricopa County have been, we have had the VVPAT on our DRE machines since they were first implemented for use in Arizona. As a matter of fact it is a mandatory requirement for certification in Arizona where it is option in several other states.

With that said, we are very aware of the various articles and issues that have been raised in the past few years regarding voting equipment and the use of technology. The State of Arizona is extremely proactive, instead of reactive, when it come to issues brought up about certain technologies and equipment as a whole. This is why we have taken extra measures to ensure the accuracy of the equipment and the election results.

Some were mentioned in my earlier email (EAC equipment certification and testing required, Arizona Secretary State certification and testing required, Pre 8 Post Logic & Accuracy testing prior to every election required). All of these security measures show the level of commitment the Counties and the State of Arizona has when it comes to the integrity of elections.

The fact is that it does not end here, there is also a requirements in place in the State of Arizona by law (Arizona Revised Statutes §16-602) requiring a manual hand count/audit of a percentage* of ballots cast by paper and on the DRE machines to verify and validate that the machines are counting correctly. This is done immediately following election day and is conducted with members of the recognized political parties serving as the audit boards**.

*Percentage is designated by the 7 member Vote Count Verification Committee that is made of individuals from the community that have committee shall have expertise in any two or more of the areas of advanced mathematics, statistics, random selection methods, systems operations or voting systems)

**The county chairman of each political party shall designate and provide the number of election board members as designated by the county officer in charge of elections who shall perform the hand count under the supervision of the county officer in charge of elections. (3 member boards made up of at least one member of an opposite party affiliation).

My apologies for responding with this lengthy novel but I wanted to make sure you had all of the information readily available regarding your inquiry. It is refreshing to know that the voters of Arizona, such as yourself, are also proactive in their pursuit of knowledge and the election process itself. Knowledge is priceless and to quote Henry Ford “The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability”.

Best wishes and again, feel free to reply with any other questions or concerns. We know how important ones voice is and more so when it is heard through the sound of their vote.

Reynaldo Valenzuela Jr.
Assistant Director of Elections
Maricopa County Elections Department
510 South 3rd Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85003

This guy deserves a promotion.

While I’m still every bit as concerned and skeptical about what’s going on on a national level and the use of EVMs in general, I do feel a lot better about how Arizona is doing and the security of its resident’s votes. It’s also a relief to know that we have individuals like Mr. Reynaldo looking out for us.

Hope this was informative!

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

12 Comments

    links for 2008-01-18 « Kevin Bondelli’s YD Blog Arizona Election
  • Intelligent Layman
    January 23, 2008

    Mr. Valenzuela is a credit to the dignity and professionalism of Maricopa County administration. I salute him for his diligence in supporting an informed public. And thank you for sharing this exchange.

    Reply
  • Intelligent Layman
    January 23, 2008

    Mr. Valenzuela is a credit to the dignity and professionalism of Maricopa County administration. I salute him for his diligence in supporting an informed public. And thank you for sharing this exchange.

    Reply
  • Ohio Election Results Connecting News, Commentaries and Blogs at NineReports.com - Citadel-of-Light » Blog Archive » Arizona’s Primary & The Independent Vote - Unwrapping The Mystery
  • AZ voter
    October 9, 2008

    Thank you – this information was indeed very informative and it is appreciated to have found it in so thoroughly addressed.

    Reply
  • AZ voter
    October 9, 2008

    Thank you – this information was indeed very informative and it is appreciated to have found it in so thoroughly addressed.

    Reply
  • rfp
    June 14, 2009

    While all of the above information is useful it means little to nothing if the configuration management process isn't provided in detail. Such as, did the hard copy of the vote information match the users input? Once the data has been transfered to a storage device does the data match the original input data? Once the data has been verified on the storage device what security measures are in place to insure that the data is not modified by any subsequent data farming operations. Finally no machine functional firmware/software can be updated unless the whole previous input is re input with the new upgrade.

    Reply
  • Swing Trading
    October 30, 2009

    Interesting post. I have stumbled and twittered this for my friends. Hope others find it as interesting as I did.

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    October 30, 2009

    Thanks Swing for reading!

    Reply

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