California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has sent a letter to Chair Gineen Beach of the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) outlining three proposals that she thinks will markedly improve the integrity of voting systems in the country.
I’ve put a copy of Bowen’s letter here (87kB PDF).
Bowen’s three proposals are:
- Vulnerability Reporting — The EAC should require that vendors disclose vulnerabilities, flaws, problems, etc. to the EAC as the system certification authority and to all the state election directors that use the affected equipment.
- Uniform Incident Reporting — The EAC should create and adopt procedures that jurisdictions can follow to collect and report data about incidents they experience with their voting systems.
- Voting System Performance Measurement — As part of the Election Day Survey, the EAC should systematically collect data from election officials about how voting systems perform during general elections.
In my opinion, each of these would be a welcome move for the EAC.
These proposals would put into place a number of essential missing elements of administering computerized elections equipment. First, for the users of these systems, election officials, it can be extremely frustrating and debilitating if they suspect that some voting system flaw is responsible for problems they’re experiencing. Often, when errors arise, contingency planning requires detailed knowledge about specific details of a voting system flaw. Without knowing as much as possible about the problem they’re facing, election officials can exacerbate the problem. At best, not knowing about a potential flaw can do what Bowen describes: doom the election official, and others with the same equipment, to repeatedly encounter the flaw in subsequent elections. Of course, vendors are the most likely to have useful information on a given flaw, and they should be required to report this information to both the EAC and election officials.
Often the most information we have about voting system incidents come from reports from local journalists. These reporters don’t tend to cover high technology too often; their reports are often incomplete and in many cases simply and obviously incorrect. Having a standardized set of elements that an election official can collect and report about voting system incidents will help to ensure that the data comes directly from those experiencing a given problem. The EAC should design such procedures and then a system for collecting and reporting these issues to other election officials and the public.
Finally, many of us were disappointed to learn that the 2008 Election Day survey would not include questions about voting system performance. Election Day is a unique and hard-to-replicate event where very little systematic data is collected about voting machine performance. The OurVoteLive and MyVote1 efforts go a long way towards actionable, qualitative data that can help to increase enfranchisement. However, self-reported data from the operators of the machinery of our democracy would be a gold mine in terms of identifying and examining trends in how this machinery performs, both good and bad.
I know a number of people, including Susannah Goodman at Common Cause as well as John Gideon and Ellen Theisen of VotersUnite!, who have been championing one or another of these proposals in their advocacy. The fact that Debra Bowen has penned this letter is a testament to the reason behind their efforts.