December 2, 2023

Louisiana Re-enfranchises Independent Voters

Two weeks ago I wrote that independent voters were disenfranchised in the Louisiana Congressional primaries: unclear or incorrect instructions by the Secretary of State to the pollworkers caused thousands of independent voters to be incorrectly precluded from voting in the open Democratic primary on October 4th.

Today I am told that Secretary of State Jay Dardenne has corrected the problem. Earl Schmitt, a “Commissioner in Charge” (head precinct pollworker) in the 15th ward of New Orleans, reports that all pollworkers were recently brought in for a two-hour training meeting. They were given clear instructions that independent voters are to be given a ticket marked “Democrat” that permits them to vote in today’s Democratic runoff primary election. (Because of a hurricane, the original September 6th primary was postponed to October 4th, and both parties’ runoff primaries are being held today, along with the Obama vs. McCain presidential election. The Democratic Party is permitting independents to vote in their primary; the Republican Party is not. The general election for congressional seats in Louisiana will be December 6th.)

I am happy that the Secretary of State moved quickly to retrain pollworkers. It’s not that no harm was done–after all, those independent voters might have made a difference in which candidates advanced to the runoff–but better late than never, in improving the administration of our elections.

Clarification: Only 2 of Louisiana’s 7 congressional districts required a runoff primary; the other 5 held their congressional general election on Nov. 4th.

Independent Voters Disenfranchised in Louisiana

Louisiana held a Congressional primary election on October 4th, 2008. In the 4th-Congressional-district Democratic Primary, there were four candidates; the two candidates with the most votes advanced to the runoff. The margin between the second (advancing) candidate and the third (nonadvancing) candidate was 1,484 votes. But, as I will explain, at least 2,167 voters, and probably more than 5,000 voters, were wrongly prevented from voting in the Democratic primary. This disenfranchisement appears to result from incorrect or unclear instructions given by the Secretary of State to the pollworkers at all the individual precincts.

In Louisiana the Republican Party held a closed primary; that is, only those voters registered as Republicans could vote. The Democratic Party held an open primary; that is, the party allowed Democratic and Independent voters to vote in the Democratic congressional primary. Members of the Green Party, Reform Party, and Libertarian Party were not permitted to vote in the Democratic Primary. However, there were some races on the ballot other than the Congressional Primary election: for example, any voter in Shreveport could vote in the election for City Marshal.

On election day there were reports that when Independent voters pressed the button on the voting machine for a candidate in the Democratic congressional primary, nothing happened. In effect, these voters said that they were prevented from voting in the Democratic Congressional primary. This did not conform to the election law, because it did not respect the Democratic Party’s choice to hold an open primary.

Caddo Parish, in the 4th Congressional district, uses Sequoia AVC Advantage version 9.00H direct-recording electronic voting machines. I am very familiar with this model of voting computer, since I performed an in-depth study of these machines in New Jersey. The way these AVC Advantage voting computers work in a Louisiana primary election is this: Each voter, when he or she signs in to vote, is handed a ticket. The ticket indicates which primary election the voter is entitled to participate in. When the voter hands this ticket to the Commissioner (pollworker) who stands by the voting machine, the Commissioner presses an “option switch” button that selects which contests on the ballot that voter is permitted to vote in. The “option switch” button is sometimes called a “lockout” button, because it “locks out” some contests from the voter. For example, if the voter hands in a ticket marked REPUBLICAN, the Commissioner presses a REPUB lockout button. Then the Democratic primary ballot is “locked out” (so those buttons have no effect), and the Republican primary ballot is active. Or, if a registered Democrat approaches the polls, he or she gets a ticket marked DEMOCRAT: the operator pushes the DEM lockout button. This locks out the Republican primary ballot, and activates the Democratic primary ballot. Finally, a registered voter in the Green Party, Reform Party, or Libertarian party gets a ticket marked “No Party.” The Commissioner then presses the option switch marked “Others.” This locks out both primary ballots, so this voter can vote only in contests such as City Marshal.

With this combination of technological setup plus election law, it is clear that the pollworkers at the sign-in desk should hand Independent voters a ticket marked “DEMOCRAT.” Only this way can they vote in the Democratic primary. It won’t do to hand them a ticket marked “No Party” and then have the Commissioner press the “DEMOCRAT” button, because this solution won’t properly handle the Green, Reform, and Libertarian voters. So the question is, “Did the Secretary of State effectively instruct and train the Commissioners so that Independent voters were permitted to vote in the Democratic Primary?” He did not, as I will show.

When the polls are closed, the AVC Advantage prints out a paper tape (like a cash register tape) listing how many votes each candidate got. But in addition the computer prints out a list of “Option Switch Totals”, indicating how many voters were permitted to vote in each of the primary elections on the ballot. That is, the “Option Switch Totals” show how many times the Commissioner pressed each one of the the “DEM”, “REPUB”, and “Others” buttons.

On October 15th, 2008 I visited Caddo Parish’s voting-machine warehouse in Shreveport. I examined all the paper-tape “results report” printouts from the approximately 400 voting machines used in the entire Parish (a parish in Louisiana corresponds to a county in other states). I added up how many voters voted with the “Other” option-switch setting. All of these voters were “locked out” of both the Democratic and Republican Congressional primaries.

In all, 2,167 voters in Caddo Parish voted with the Other option switch. These voters were not able to record a vote in either the Democratic or Republican party primary, that is, they were “locked out” of voting in the Democratic Congressional Primary. The vast majority of these 2,167 locked-out voters are Independents, because Party registration for the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and Reform Party is negligible. For example, the Green Party has only 1,064 registered voters in the entire State of Louisiana (7 Congressional districts). In contrast, there are about 80,000 Independent voters in the 4th Congressional district alone. Thus, almost all of the 2,167 voters in Caddo Parish who were locked out were almost certainly Independents.

Some independent voters approached the polls and were told that independent voters were not permitted to vote in the Democratic Congressional Primary. Some of these voters left the polling place without signing in to vote. These voters were disenfranchised as well, in addition to the 2,167 that we can count in the option-switch numbers.

Caddo Parish contains about 40% of the voters of the entire 4th Congressional district. If the same proportion of Independent voters were locked out of the Democratic primary in the other parts of the district, that means that more than 5,000 Independent voters were illegally disenfranchised from voting in the Democratic primary. Since the margin between winning and losing candidates was 1,484, that means the number of disenfranchised voters was larger than the margin of victory. Those voters could have changed the outcome of the election, if they had been lawfully permitted to vote.

Louisiana holds its runoff primary election (for both parties) on November 4th. Once again, the Democratic Party is holding an open primary, and the Republican Party is holding a closed primary. I urge the Secretary of State of Louisiana to give clear instructions to Commissioners of precincts, as follows:

“Independent voters are to be given a ticket marked DEMOCRAT. Democratic voters are to be given a ticket marked DEMOCRAT. Republican voters are to be given a ticket marked REPUBLICAN. Green Party, Reform Party, and Libertarian Party voters are to be given a ticket marked NO PARTY.”

Report on the Sequioa AVC Advantage

Today I am releasing an in-depth study of the Sequoia AVC Advantage direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine, available at I led a team of six computer scientists in a monthlong examination of the source code and hardware of these voting computers, which are used in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states.

The Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic filed a lawsuit seeking to decommission of all of New Jersey’s voting computers, and asked me to serve as an expert witness. This year the Court ordered the State of New Jersey and Sequoia Voting Systems to provide voting machines and their source code for me to examine. By Court Order, I can release the report no sooner than October 17th, 2008.

Accompanying the report is a video and a FAQ.

Executive Summary

I. The AVC Advantage 9.00 is easily “hacked” by the installation of fraudulent firmware. This is done by prying just one ROM chip from its socket and pushing a new one in, or by replacement of the Z80 processor chip. We have demonstrated that this “hack” takes just 7 minutes to perform.

The fraudulent firmware can steal votes during an election, just as its criminal designer programs it to do. The fraud cannot practically be detected. There is no paper audit trail on this machine; all electronic records of the votes are under control of the firmware, which can manipulate them all simultaneously.

II. Without even touching a single AVC Advantage, an attacker can install fraudulent firmware into many AVC Advantage machines by viral propagation through audio-ballot cartridges. The virus can steal the votes of blind voters, can cause AVC Advantages in targeted precincts to fail to operate; or can cause WinEDS software to tally votes inaccurately. (WinEDS is the program, sold by Sequoia, that each County’s Board of Elections uses to add up votes from all the different precincts.)

III. Design flaws in the user interface of the AVC Advantage disenfranchise voters, or violate voter privacy, by causing votes not to be counted, and by allowing pollworkers to commit fraud.

IV. AVC Advantage Results Cartridges can be easily manipulated to change votes, after the polls are closed but before results from different precincts are cumulated together.

V. Sequoia’s sloppy software practices can lead to error and insecurity. Wyle’s Independent Testing Authority (ITA) reports are not rigorous, and are inadequate to detect security vulnerabilities. Programming errors that slip through these processes can miscount votes and permit fraud.

VI. Anomalies noticed by County Clerks in the New Jersey 2008 Presidential Primary were caused by two different programming errors on the part of Sequoia, and had the effect of disenfranchising voters.

VII. The AVC Advantage has been produced in many versions. The fact that one version may have been examined for certification does not give grounds for confidence in the security and accuracy of a different version. New Jersey should not use any version of the AVC Advantage that it has not actually examined with the assistance of skilled computer-security experts.

VIII. The AVC Advantage is too insecure to use in New Jersey. New Jersey should immediately implement the 2005 law passed by the Legislature, requiring an individual voter-verified record of each vote cast, by adopting precinct-count optical-scan voting equipment.

Judge Suppresses Report on Voting Machine Security

A judge of the New Jersey Superior Court has prohibited the scheduled release of a report on the security and accuracy of the Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machine. Last June, Judge Linda Feinberg ordered Sequoia Voting Systems to turn over its source code to me (serving as an expert witness, assisted by a team of computer scientists) for a thorough examination. At that time she also ordered that we could publish our report 30 days after delivering it to the Court–which should have been today.

Three weeks after we delivered the report, on September 24th Judge Feinberg ordered us not to release it. This is part of a lawsuit filed by the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, seeking to decommission of all of New Jersey’s voting computers. New Jersey mostly uses Sequoia AVC Advantage direct-recording electronic (DRE) models. None of those DREs can be audited: they do not produce a voter verified paper ballot that permit each voter to create a durable paper record of her electoral choices before casting her ballot electronically on a DRE. The legal basis for the lawsuit is quite simple: because there is no way to know whether the DRE voting computer is actually counting votes as cast, there is no proof that the voting computers comply with the constitution or with statutory law that require that all votes be counted as cast.

The question of whether this report can legally be suppressed was already argued once in this Court, in June 2008, and the Court concluded then that it should be released; I will discuss this below. But as a matter of basic policy–of running a democracy–the public and legislators who want to know the basic facts about the reliability of their elections need to be able to read reports such as this one. Members of the New Jersey Legislature–who need to act now because the NJ Secretary of State is not in compliance with laws the legislature passed in 2005–have asked to read this report, but they are precluded by the Court’s order. Members of the public must decide now, in time to request an absentee ballot, whether to cast their ballot by absentee (counted by optical scan) or to vote on paperless DRE voting machines. Citizens also need information so that they can communicate to their legislators their opinions about how New Jersey should conduct elections. Even the Governor and the Secretary of State of New Jersey are not permitted, by the Court’s order, to read this report in order to inform their policy making.

Examination of the AVC Advantage. In the spring of 2008, Judge Linda Feinberg ordered the defendants (officials of the State of New Jersey) to provide to the plaintiffs: (a) Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines, (b) the source code to those voting machines, and (c) other specified information. The Sequoia Voting Systems company, which had not been a party to the lawsuit, objected to the examination of their source code by the plaintiffs’ experts, on the grounds that the source code contained trade secrets. The Court recognized that concern, and crafted a Protective Order that permitted the plaintiffs’ experts to examine the source code while protecting the trade secrets within it. However, the Court Order, issued by Judge Feinberg on June 20, does permit the plaintiffs’ experts to release this report to the public at a specified time (which has now arrived). In fact, the clause of this Order that permits the release of the report was the subject of lengthy legal argument in May-June 2008, and the plaintiffs’ experts were not willing to examine the AVC Advantage machines under conditions that prevent public discussion of their findings.

I served as the plaintiffs’ expert witness and led an examination team including myself and 5 other computer scientists (Maia Ginsburg, Harri Hursti, Brian Kernighan, Chris Richards, and Gang Tan). We examined the voting machines and source code during July-August 2008. On September 2nd we provided to the Court (and to the defendants and to Sequoia) a lengthy report concerning the accuracy and security of the Sequioa AVC Advantage. The terms of the Court’s Protective Order of June 20 permit us to release the report today, October 2nd.

However, on September 24 Judge Feinberg, “with great reluctance,” orally ordered the plaintiffs not to release the report on October 2nd, and not to publicly discuss their conclusions from the study. She did so after the attorney for Sequoia grossly mischaracterized our report. In order to respect the Judge’s temporary stay, I cannot now comment further on what the report does contain.

The plaintiffs are deeply troubled by the Court’s issuance of what is essentially a temporary restraining order restricting speech, without any motion or briefing whatsoever. Issuing such an order is an extreme measure, which should be done only in rare circumstances, and only if the moving party has satisfied its high burden of showing both imminent harm and likelihood of success on the merits. Those two requirements have not been satisfied, nor can they be. The plaintiffs have asked the Court to reconsider her decision to suppress our report. The Court will likely hear arguments on this issue sometime in October. We hope and expect that the Court will soon permit publication of our report.

Election Machinery blog

Students will be studying election technology and election administration in freshman seminar courses taught by at Princeton (by me) and at Stanford (by David Dill).  The students will be writing short articles on the Election Machinery blog.  I invite you all to read that blog over the next three months, to see what a small nonrandom sample of 18-year-olds is writing about the machinery of voting and elections.