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Holding Breath Will Fayette Purchase Paper Ballot eScan and Electronic eSlate?

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submitted Tuesday March 28, 2006 to Fayette commissioners via email


I breathed a long sigh of relief when Fayette Commissioners unanimously chose a non-touch screen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting system, Hart InterCivic’s eSlate.


I remember the Hart InterCivic representative’s refrain from the meetings held at the Election Bureau in January for poll workers, judges of election, commissioners, and the public - Tough Screen versus Touch Screen.


What a difference one letter makes.


All vendors responded to a series of questions about security, battery backup, hard-drives, and the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail.  Lifetime of the units, memory storage, handicapped accessibility, data flow, and transmission of results were discussed. Vendors supplied informational brochures.


Hart InterCivic’s White Paper Securing the eSlate Electronic Voting System Application Security Information is also online as well as demonstration of the eSlate as linked from the Fayette County website.


My sigh of relief continued after locating (Internet) supportive material.  An Austin Chronicle piece, “How Safe Is Your E-Vote?” touted Hart InterCivic’s eSlate as “an apparently more reliable product,” as distinguished from systems known as “touch-screen” which have suffered “reports of malfunctions, computer or human in origin, that have caused problems in actual elections. Among other things, there have been instances of more votes being registered than were actually cast, voters pressing on one candidate but the machine registering the vote for another, or votes simply vanishing.”

The article covers technical and security-related concerns which have been the focus of computer scientists around the country.  ”Perhaps most important, the eSlate system has no external connections – no hookups to phone lines, the Internet, or an intranet. While some systems allow results to be sent by modem to a central vote-counting facility, the eSlate is comparatively old-fashioned – much like an old-style ballot box, the devices ("mediums") into which votes are recorded are removed by the election judges after the polls close and physically transported to the central counting station.“

My sigh of relief was intact.  No modems, no touch screen, no phone lines.


Then, citizen activists pointed me to an October 2005 Government Accountability Office report entitled:   Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, but Key Activities Need to Be Completed.”


I found Lawrence Norden’s November 28, 2005 piece “Following up on an important GAO report on electronic voting” which posed “Questions for your state and local election officials raised by the Government Accountability Office Report.”


Doubt about all electronic voting systems surfaced, not just “touch screens.” 


Remember the Voter Verified (Verifiable) Paper Audit Trail? 


According to the GAO report, there are concerns with defining and agreeing on it.  Experts have varying positions.


Vivion Vinson interviewed Dr. Ted Selker who developed “his own method for paperless, secure electronic voting” and Dr. Rebecca Mercuri who developed “a model for secure electronic voting with a paper ballot.”


Faced with the commissioners about to enter a contract with Hart InterCivic, and all of this information, I recalled how I felt after personally using the electronic DREs at Election Bureau meetings. 


I had no visible paper record of the ballot about to be finally cast. I could see my selections on the eSlate screen, but couldn’t review and verify my selections according to Rebecca Mercuri’s method.    


What’s the solution?  Should Fayette wait until computer experts all agree, or for Harrisburg and the Federal Government to iron out differences of opinion on audit trails and other technical issues? 


Should Fayette revert to an all paper-ballot system with hand counts?


Of course not, the whole point of technology is to cut down on problems inherent in paper-ballot voting, namely over-votes which result in spoiled discarded and uncounted ballots and under-votes or a blank ballot which may be re-interpreted incorrectly when hand-counted. 


But like Lancaster County, which adopted both Hart InterCivic’s eSlate and eScan, Fayette Commissioners have in their power a means to provide a choice of a different kind to all voters at the polling place. 


Commissioners have not yet “signed” a contract with Hart InterCivic


When they do, it should be for a mix of both Hart InterCivic’s eSlate and eScan. 


Both machines comply with HAVA and are PA-certified.

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