Voting Devices Tested

A mock election testing the Vote-PAD Voting-on-Paper Assistive Device was held December 15, 2005 at the Minnesota State Office Building. Vote-PADs brochure touts its ability to facilitate “Independent Voting for People with Disabilities,” describing the system as: “(A)n inexpensive, non-electronic, voter assist alternative that helps most people with visual or dexterity impairments to vote independently.” The brochure’s background section states: “Some people with visual or dexterity impairments cannot mark a paper ballot without assistance. The Federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires that every polling place must offer a method by which people with disabilities can vote independently.” Vote-PAD’s owner, Ellen Theisen, said she “invented the system with input and cooperation from people with disabilities and people interested in transparent elections.”

Rick Cardenas, a person with quadriplegia who has limited use of his hands, was one of the first to try the Vote-PAD system. As co-director of Advocating Change Together (ACT), which facilitates self-advocacy with others who have disabilities, Cardenas has both a personal and professional interest in accessible voting systems.

“Make sure the holes are open —some of them weren’t open,” said Cardenas, referring to the Vote-PADs transparent ballot sleeve, which is designed to protect the ballot from stray marks and has holes where a voter can mark choices. Other than the closed holes, Cardenas said the system worked well. “The desk level is a good height; a lot of times election judges push you over to the accessible voting booth, which is too low. The guide makes it much easier than free handing.”

“It’s a really good idea to test run the Vote-PAD system,” Cardenas said. “I’ve been able to vote independently by marking the circles, but the Vote-PAD is quicker and easier. We’ll see if it works and elects the people I want to elect,” Cardenas added with a smile.

“This [Vote-PAD] machine can be helpful to someone who can’t read big words,” said Melvin Haagenson, who has cerebral palsy. “I think it’s good, and more people with disabilities will vote, but it might be a good idea to take the Vote-PAD to group homes, assisted living facilities, and day activity centers for more testing,” said Haagenson.

Those with visual impairments had less positive assessments. “It’s okay to call me blind; it’s shorter,” said Judy Sanders, adding: “I get to vote for president again; will it change anything?” Sanders main criticism of Vote-PAD was that the system requires visually-impaired voters to count down the side of the ballot both to find the appropriate hole to mark for the desired candidate and to verify she’d marked her ballot as intended. “How do I know I did it right? If I’m in the hole I thought I was in?” she asked.

Though Vote-PAD includes a verification wand that vibrates when passed over a marked hole, the only way for Sanders to find that hole was to count down to it after listening to the audio instructions. Sanders said the only way to be certain she’d marked her Vote-PAD ballot as intended would be to ask a sighted person for verification. “The holes are too close together and too small,” said Sanders. “I can verify that I marked a hole, but not if it was the hole I intended.”

Sanders voiced her preference for one of Vote-PAD’s competitors: “AutoMARK is very well designed. It tells you if you put your ballot in upside-down, and the keys are easy to read. AutoMARK allows audio voting. It gives you audio prompts for each race, and audio verification of the candidate for which you voted. AutoMARK seems to have thought of anything that can happen and has a solution.”

AutoMARK solutions include a sip/puff tube for voters without use of their hands. Vote-PAD accommodates such voters by mouth stick.

“The Vote-PAD is very labor intensive. People have to teach you how to use it,” said Thomas Heinal, who gets around with the help of his seeing-eye dog. “It’s too slow and cumbersome. I can’t see that at a polling place you’re going to have an hour’s worth of instructions or that you would remember them. I don’t think they should use it – period,” said Heinal, adding that he wants a voting machine that leaves a paper trail.

State Representative Bill Hilty from District 8A amplified Heinal’s concern. “Without paper records there is no way to verify that votes have been accurately counted, and you trust a (voting machine) company, none of which have a good record on transparency. They claim all their software is proprietary and cannot be made available for third parties to examine. We’re being asked to trust private companies with private interests to protect the security of our voting system with no way to verify, and that’s a leap of faith we should not be willing to make,” said Rep. Hilty.

The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) mandates the following:

HAVA Section 301 3A: “The voting system shall be accessible for individuals with disabilities, including non-visual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.”

HAVA Section 301 2A i: “The voting system shall produce a permanent paper record with manual audit capability …”

The need for equal accessibility is obvious, and Rep. Hilty, a member of the Minnesota House Civil Law and Elections Committee, provided a wealth of information on the necessity for a voter-verified paper trail that can be manually audited. Many current touch-screen voting systems are entirely paperless, and tally votes on an electronic memory card. Quoting documentation Rep. Hilty provided, he pointed out the memory card’s vulnerability:

“Finnish security expert Harri Hursti proved that Diebold lied to Secretaries of State across the nation when Diebold claimed votes could not be changed on the memory card. A test election was run … with a total of 8 ballots – 6 ballots voted ‘no’ on a ballot question as to whether Diebold voting machines can be hacked …. Two ballots voted ‘yes.’

“At the beginning of the test election the memory card programmed by Harri Hursti was inserted into an Optical Scan Diebold voting machine. A ‘zero report’ was run indicating zero votes on the memory card. In fact, however, Hursti had pre-loaded the memory card with plus and minus votes.”

“Correct results should have been Yes: 2, No: 6. However … the results tape read: Yes: 7, No: 1.”

“This exploit, accomplished without … any password and with the same level of access given thousands of poll workers across the USA, showed that the votes themselves were changed in a one-step process. The hack would not be detected in any normal canvassing procedure, and it required only a single credit-card sized memory card.”

Rep. Hilty provided further documentation stating that Diebold is the defendant in a class action lawsuit alleging, among other things, “Concealment of Known Flaws in Voting Machines,” and loaned Access Press a DVD titled Invisible Ballots, highlighting vulnerabilities of paperless voting systems, including:

• Professor Rebecca Mercuri, Ph.D. of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, referring to Florida’s 2002 primary: “… a quarter of a million votes vanished …,” and, “… in Dallas, Texas … you had machines where when you pressed for the Democratic candidate it would only light up for the Republican candidate.”

• Computer Technician David Allen, describing what Bev Harris, author of Black Box Voting, discovered on a publicly accessible Internet site: “Pretty much the blueprints to the vault – everything you would need to know if you were going … to hack one of these (Diebold) machines.”

• Professor David Dill of Stanford University’s Department of Computer Science: “the 2002 Governor’s race in Alabama being apparently decided by machine error.”

Invisible Ballots also raises security concerns regarding ownership of paperless voting systems by: major government contractors whose future depends on federal policy, foreign companies, and a U.S. senator who was owner and CEO of the company whose machines counted 80% of his state’s vote.

“We need random post-election audits to make sure electronic results correspond with paper ballots,” said Rep. Hilty. Both Vote-PAD and AutoMARK comply with HAVA’s mandate for a paper trail enabling such audits. Furthermore, both systems use a paper ballot that is manually marked by the voter, and can be verified before being optically scanned into an electronic vote tabulator. Rep. Hilty sees voter-verifiability as crucial:

“A permanent paper record is not necessarily a voter-verified paper record. Many touch-screen machines merely have an internal tape similar to a cash register receipt which is usually referred to as an ‘activity log.’ It presumably records every transaction which has taken place on the machine, including … a record of every vote recorded. Keep in mind that some of the major discrepancies between exit poll results and machine results may be explainable in terms of what the voter thought he or she was selecting being different from what the machine recorded.

“In some devices the voter is able to see this paper tape through a glass cover; in others it is entirely internal. The ones I have seen are exceedingly difficult to read, but even if you can clearly see that what you intended is what is printed on the tape, since the actual tabulation is electronic, there is no way to know whether what the machine printed is what it tabulated, or that when the data for this particular device was transferred to a central tabulator it was done accurately, or without being altered, intentionally or otherwise. Of course, if you are blind, you totally have to trust what the machine tells you. I do not see any way around this, no matter what system is employed.

“So the important thing is that the voter … be able to actually see the paper record to … verify that it truly and accurately represents his or her choices. If it cannot be voter-verified, a ‘permanent paper record’ will only (possibly) tell us what the machine recorded, not necessarily what the voter intended. But even if we do have a voter-verified paper trail, the question still remains … whether what was marked or recorded on the paper ballot or paper tape is actually what was electronically tabulated. Thus the importance of doing post-election hand-count audits of a statistically significant number of precinct records, randomly selected. If this is not done there is no way that one can ever be confident that the electronic results were recorded as intended. So no, a permanent paper record in and of itself does not ensure transparency.”

Both Vote-PAD and Auto-MARK, and some other devices in the process of being certified, could meet Rep. Hilty’s transparency requirements, which are more specific and more stringent than HAVA’s, provided a random, statistically significant, post-election hand-count is conducted. In regard to such systems, Rep. Hilty said, “… I think that the only criteria for choosing between them would be cost, ease of operation, maintenance and storage requirements, etc.”

“It would cost about $5,000 per polling place to deploy AutoMARK,” said Ramsey County election official Joe Mansky. “There are 104 voting precincts in the city of St. Paul,” said Dorothy McClung, Director of Ramsey County’s Department of Property Records and Revenue. Thus, the initial expense of equipping St. Paul’s precincts with AutoMARK totals $520,000 minimum.

“I’d like to test the AutoMARK by pushing it off a table and seeing if it still works. We transport voting machines to polling places by private vendors,” said Mansky, comparing trucking companies’ treatment of voting machines to that of luggage by airport baggage handlers. “Given primary and general elections, any voting system would be trucked to or from polling places 4 times per year. We want the machines to last at least 10 years – that’s 40 trips,” said Mansky. Mansky compared Vote-PAD to a notebook, saying it would be much cheaper and more durable than AutoMARK.

“Anoka, Ramsey, Washington, and Dakota counties currently use Diebold machines,” said McClung, adding that Diebold-compatible optical scanners could enable Vote-PAD without replacing existing machines. “I think Vote-PAD could be further improved. We will continue working with Ellen Theisen to make it better,” said McClung.

“We think there is a device out there that will create an audio message from text. This could be used in conjunction with Vote-PAD. This would also potentially benefit ESL voters, such as our Hmong, Spanish, and Somali speaking populations,” said Mansky.

“Whether we ultimately purchase Vote-PAD or not, we have an interest in making as many good products available as possible. We want the disability community involved in picking the equipment that will serve their needs best,” said McClung, thanking those who came out to test Vote-PAD despite the weather.

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