Observers Needed --
Now is the time to plan for Election Day!
Don't wait till the day after the election and then complain that "they" didn't do it right!
No one will serve us "democracy" on a silver platter!
Participate or lose it!
Election fraud typically involves insiders because they have access to ballots, tallies, and electronic vote data. This is why democracy requires citizen participation and vigilance during the entire process of conducting an election -- from designing the ballot to certifying the final tallies.
--Now is the time to identify a group of citizens who have time to prepare and observe the election process in your area. If computerized voting equipment will be used, you need some people with computer knowledge.
--You need to find out in advance what legal requirements, restrictions, regulations, scheduling, and procedures apply. Observers may need to be authorized by a political party or candidate.
--This is the time to get to know the people who work for your local Board of Elections as well as vendor personnel. This will enable you to observe more accurately. For example, instead of reporting that "a tall man rushed in and logged into the computer" you would able to report "Mr. A, Director of Computer Operations, ..."
B. THREE RESOURCES
--What election irregularities have occurred in the past? This gives you an idea of what can happen.
How They Could Steal The Election This Time by Ronnie Dugger, The Nation, Aug. 16, 2004 gives an overview of our current situation and the issues.
America's Election Snafus: 2001-2002 by People For the American Way (PFAW)
The Long Shadow of Jim Crow, Voter Intimidation and Suppression in America Today, by PFAW Foundation and NAACP
--What groups are organizing observers for 2004?
TechWatch, http://vevo.verifiedvoting.org/techwatch/ is organizing computer technologists
Join with a group near you, so you can coordinate your efforts with theirs. These web sites have lists of organizations you can contact
VerifiedVoting.org (click in the "Select Your State" box on the left side)
--What can computer technologists look out for?
Failures of computers used in elections
Jeremiah Akin's 9/9/03 report of problems in Riverside County California's logic and accuracy test of their Sequoia voting machines
Dr. Douglas Jones' recommendations for Miami-Dade, Florida, 6/7/04, gives a broad overview of considerations.
California Voter Foundation's Ten Steps if Electronic Systems Are Used
C. WHAT MIGHT YOU BE WATCHING FOR?
1. Safeguarding the ballots
States have different laws about election procedures. You need to know the procedures so you can observe whether they are being carried out properly. Contact your county election office and find out:
- Who is legally allowed to observe the handling of ballots, whether paper, punch card, or electronic memory cards or cartridges (which are electronic ballot boxes).
- When and where the handling of ballots occurs.
- What legal procedures are the election officials (including poll workers) supposed to follow in handling the ballots.
- Which officials are supposed to each part of the procedure.
1.a. Safeguarding paper ballots or punch cards
Ballots and ballot boxes must be watched/guarded at all times -- before and after the election. They should never be left unguarded in the possession of one party, in unlocked offices, in locked cubicles where anyone can climb over the partitions, in unsealed boxes or bags, in a locked vault that several people can open, or in any other place where they might be open to tampering.
As an observer, make sure that:
- The ballots are securely stored when they are delivered to the polling place.
- A representative of each party is present to observe that the ballot boxes are empty before the election.
- An election observer is present in the polling place from the time the election begins until the polling place closes.
After the election, a member of each party may need to be present with the ballots at all times until the election is certified. In some areas the law requires police officers to be present 24 hours a day for that period of time.
1.b. Safeguarding electronic ballots
Electronic voting equipment records the ballots on small memory devices which may be called cartridges, memory cards, or some other name. These must be watched/guarded in the same way as paper ballots.
Before the election:
One way to start becoming familiar with electronic voting equipment is to attend public training sessions for voters. Call your Board of Elections and ask when and where voter training will take place.
You can also learn a lot about electronic voting machines and procedures by attending the pre-election public testing. This typically takes place a week or more before the election.
At the public training or testing, find out the answers to these questions:
- How many cartridges are in each computerized voting machine?
- How many cartridges will be in each machine and how they will be labeled?
- What is the procedure for inspecting these cartridges at the beginning of the day to ensure that they do not have ballots or tallies already recorded on them?
- What is the procedure for removing these cartridges at the end of the election day?
- What procedure is used to securely transport these cartridges to the central office?
- What procedure is used to safeguard these cartridges once they arrive at the central office?
- What procedure is to be followed to secure the computerized voting equipment once the election day ends? This equipment
may need to be examined later. It should be locked and securely transported to secure storage. Who is responsible? Who observes that procedure?
- What procedures are used to guard the electronic voting equipment from the time it is checked out in public before the election until the time the final tallies are certified after the election?
During the election:
Do not be shy about asking to inspect the cartridges up-close. They are small and you cannot see the labels from several feet away.
- Make sure that cartridges are labeled correctly with precinct, voting machine serial number, and other required information.
- Watch when the cartridges are taken out of the machines and put into a secure bag or box to be transmitted to the central office. Make sure that all of them are taken out of each voting machine. Make sure that all of them are labeled correctly and stored securely.
- Make sure the bag or box of cartridges is sealed before it is transported and that it is always accompanied by observers from both major parties.
- Make sure that all computerized precinct tallies are posted for public viewing at the polling place before the cartridges and computerized voting equipment is taken away.
2. Do paper ballots accompany each voting machine?
If voting machines of any kind are used, a sufficient number of paper ballots must accompany the machines so that if they break down, voters will not be prevented from voting.
For example, in San Diego California in March 2004, when electronic machines didn't work, some voters had to scribble the names of their candidates on torn-off pieces of paper grocery bags. In contrast, in New York City, sufficient paper ballots are stored in each mechanical voting machine so that all voters in each election district can vote if the machines fail.
Preparation of paper ballots takes relatively little time, but if paper backup is not legally required you must take action now. If your jurisdiction uses voting machines of any kind, call your local Board of Election and find out if paper ballots accompany each machine, or are provided for each polling place for the races to be voted on in that jurisdiction. What procedure will be used to enable voters to vote if the machines fail?
3. Working at the polls
Would-be voters can be prevented from voting by poll workers who do not know or follow the legal requirements or procedures. Now is the time to sign up to work at the polls. Find out and fulfill the requirements for working on election day.
4. Paper Absentee Ballots
Many people and organizations have called for voters to request and vote on paper absentee ballots. This may be due to lack of confidence in electronic voting machines that do not have a voter-verified paper audit trail, expectation of computer failures due to outside hackers, or other reasons.
Each state has different laws and regulations concerning who may request an absentee ballot, when the request must be made, and when and how the ballot must be returned to the Board of Elections.
Observers are needed to:
- Ensure proper handling of absentee ballots so that legitimate ballots are not lost, nor false ballots introduced.
- Watch the delivery of absentee ballots to the Board of Elections, examination of absentee ballots for validation, and their storage, handling, and counting.
5. Early voting
Some jurisdictions allow early voting that may start as much as several weeks before the election. The handling, storage, and counting of these ballots needs to be observed.
D. Be ready to report election fraud
Rebecca Mercuri says that if you believe an election has been corrupted through voting equipment, you should:
- collect affidavits from voters;
- get the results from every voting machine for all precincts;
- get the names and titles of everyone involved;
- inventory the equipment, including the software, and try to have it impounded;
- demand a recount;
- go to the press.
E. What Others Are Doing to Protect the Election
Public interest groups are mobilizing to head off another Florida. Here are some of the things they are doing. (This information comes from How They Could Steal the Election This Time" by Ronnie Dugger, The Nation, 8/16/04.)
Signing Petitions. Petitions calling for a paper trail for DREs have attracted something approaching half a million signatures. Lou Dobbs's quick poll on CNN on "paper receipts of electronic votes" was running 5,735 to 85 for them on July 20. Greg Palast and Martin Luther King III have more than 80,000 signatures on their petition against paperless touch-screens and the purging of voter rolls.
Inviting International Observers. Global Exchange, the San Francisco-based organization, is inviting twenty-eight nonpartisan foreign observers to monitor the US election. Eleven members of Congress asked Kofi Annan to send UN monitors.
Filing Lawsuits. Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is organizing attorneys for litigation against paperless electronic voting.
Developing Standards. In mid-June the California secretary of state approved the nation's first set of standards for a verified paper trail for touch-screen machines. A recent "Voting, Vote Capture and Vote Counting" symposium at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government has produced an "Annotated Best Practices," available at http://designforvalues.org/voting/bestpract.html.
Recommending Security Measures. On June 29 the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Brennan Center for Justice, with the endorsement of Common Cause, the NAACP, People for the American Way and most of the leading scientific critics of paperless touch-screen voting, sent the nation's local election officials a "call for new security measures for electronic voting machines," including local retention of independent security experts; the full report is available at www.civilrights.org/issues/voting/lccr_brennan_report.pdf.
[uuvv.org regrets that even if these recommendations were followed, they create neither security nor the transparency appropriate for election integrity and voter confidence in a democracy. Many technologists endorsed or approved of the suggestions, but only as a first step. As Aviel D. Rubin, a computer security expert at Johns Hopkins University, said... "If your child was going to drink and drive no matter what you did," ... carrying out the recommendations of the report "would be like convincing them to wear a seatbelt."
Few people seem to have the courage to say that computers are an inappropriate technology for use in elections because they prevent the kind of human oversight and public participation that election integrity requires. Computerized devices may be used to assist voters with disabilities to mark a paper ballot without assistance from other people, but the paper ballot needs to be primary. Computers are inappropriate for recording and counting ballots.
The package of materials produced by LCCR and the Brennan Center include an estimate of the cost of implementing their recommendations. For a fraction of the same money, bonded accountants, bookkeepers, bank tellers, auditors, or other appropriate professionals could count the votes on paper ballots before an audience of spectators, and eliminate the controversy caused by the use of computerized voting systems.]
Suggesting Remedies. Douglas Kellner, the New York City election expert, believes the best practical remedy for the dangers of computerized vote-counting is voting on optical-scan systems, posting the election results in the precincts and keeping the ballots with the machines in which they were counted. In all computerized vote-counting situations the precinct results should be publicly distributed and posted in the precincts before they are transmitted to the center for final counting, Kellner says. Once they are sent from the precinct the audit trail is lost.
Keeping Informed and Sharing Information. Citizens can stay current on election developments via several websites (which will link to many others):
a reliable and up-to-date source;
- VerifiedVoting.org, David Dill's group;
- notablesoftware.com, Rebecca Mercuri's site;
- blackboxvoting.org, Bev Harris's site;
- countthevote.org, the site of the Georgia group led by Roxanne Jekot;
- VotersUnite.org, Ellen Theisen and John Gideon's site.
For a steady flow of news stories on this subject (and a few others) from around the country, get on the e-mail list of firstname.lastname@example.org. Official information concerning each state is available online at each state's website for its secretary of state.