A hearing, surrounding the controversial issues on computerized voting, attempted to reassure concerned local Californian attendees Thursday afternoon at Menlo Park City Hall.
The hearing mainly addressed if California’s voting systems accurate, reliable and secure, and took a critical look at the Federal testing and certification process. The meeting began with an introduction of the present experts and a brief announcement about the absence of leading vendors, such as Diebold, who declined to attend. Debra Bowen, the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee initiated the proceedings, stating that “software has to be built to official standards, but absolute security is very difficult.”
What The Experts Say
Dan Wallach, professor of computer science at Rice University, appeared to concur with Bowen. Wallach pointed out that in 2002, “standards for the current available software were being developed”. It was an involved and evolving engineering problem, part of which “is controlling costs”. He then reminded the audience that “paper has a long-term history of election fraud.” The voting system is a “terrible business to be in, because every state has a different system,” he said. “We need openness, reliable and secure systems. We must design systems capable of solving all problems – and California has to initiate the process.”
“Is it federally qualified?” asked Aviel Rubin, professor of computer science and director of the Information Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “What are the limitations of testing? Results should be made public, and all tests should be available to the public.” He continued, “We can’t compromise on transparency. An ounce of audit is worth a pound of prevention.”
How The Locals feel
Many of the 28 public citizens, who spoke, also input that they find the computerized voting system to be frightening and foreboding. “Imagine stealing an election,” said Arthur Keller of Palo Alto, a volunteer precinct inspector in Santa Clara County, “security should make it more difficult and expensive to do so.”
“If machines are used, they should be totally public, and have parallel testing,” said Ron Crane, of Santa Cruz. “Rip them to shreds. If there is a discrepancy, why did it happen?”
“There is no such thing as perfect security,” Peter Neumann, principal scientist at the computer science lab at SRI International in Menlo Park admitted. With voting machines, he warned, there’s “no real incentive to do it right, but it’s essential to have full openness in the process.” Whatever machines are built should be built for “long-term life,” said Neumann. “We’re dealing with a flawed process.” David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford University and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation, commented that “checks and balances in counting is a central point.”
A County Problem
Warren Slocum, assessor, county clerk and record of San Mateo County, noted that 13 million voters in 16 counties currently don’t have certified voting systems. A voting-certification process should be established in California, according to Alan Dechert of Granite Bay, Calif., president of the Open Voting Consortium. One alternative to machines, voting by mail, has been approved only in eight California counties.